Calling a spade
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 18 August 2012


The reaction to the Carabuena-Fabros incident, captured on-cam by TV-5 employee Karen Bernadette Keith who just happened to be on the scene and had the presence of mind to record the event, was instantaneous. It occurred on Saturday, was aired on TV-5 the following Tuesday (apparently, identification and statement-getting took time), and went on the Internet immediately after. It went viral, and the public outrage was almost palpable, they say. Today marks one week after the incident, and already the following have happened:

First, Robert Blair Carabuena has been suspended by his employer, Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp. (PMFTC). According to the company (it refused to issue a statement until after the incident went viral), it “would obviously not condone inappropriate conduct by any of our employees,” and will “closely monitor” the investigation of the case.

In this regard, I frankly don’t know what else there is to investigate, because the whole incident was recorded on film or tape or whatever it is one uses in a camera nowadays. Unlike in the case of human eyewitnesses (although I am sure there will be people who will come forward), there is no chance of memory failure over time. No need to cross-examine, because the camera’s testimony cannot be impeached.

Of course, there are two sides to a story: Carabuena’s father claims that his son was goaded into action because Metro Manila Development Authority traffic enforcer Saturnino Fabros “repeatedly” hit the side of his son’s vehicle. The TV-5 employee who recorded the incident, on the other hand, avers that Fabros knocked on the car only once, presumably to call Carabuena’s attention. Okay, so there is a he-says-he-says aspect. But no amount of goading can and should excuse the behavior of Carabuena that was captured in living color for posterity.

But more to the point, if PMFTC really “cannot condone inappropriate conduct,” why doesn’t it just part ways with Carabuena?  Maybe it should borrow a page from the book of Ictsi’s Ricky Razon:  Razon immediately terminated the employment of one of his staff who was part of the foursome accused of cheating in the annual Alabang golf tournament (former Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez was in that infamous foursome).

Turning now to Fabros: MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino, his big boss, filed charges with the Quezon City prosecutor’s office on his behalf against Carabuena (and his brother?) for “direct assault,” the conviction for which apparently carries a penalty of imprisonment from six months to six years. At the same time, apparently to show appreciation for Fabros’ behavior while being assaulted, there is a move to promote him. (If the reports are true, and Fabros only earns P8,000 a month after 27 years with the MMDA, it is certainly about time. And I sincerely hope the man is a permanent, not a casual, employee.)

Not only that. The director of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) in the National Capital Region, Teofilo Guadiz III, has announced that once his agency has received a formal complaint from Fabros, it would impose a 60-day preventive suspension of Carabuena’s driver’s license, and if the succeeding investigation so warrants, it may even recommend the cancellation of the license.

Quick response, right? How much the glare of publicity has influenced all these actions—i.e., whether any of these would have been taken if the incident had not been recorded, but merely reported by Fabros—one will not dwell on. But it should be pointed out once again how important is the public’s right to information (pushing for the passage of the Freedom of Information Law).

But we are not finished. Let us now compare and contrast the Carabuena-Fabros (CF) incident with the Duterte-Andres (DA) incident that occurred on July 1,2011, or over 13 months ago. The earlier incident involved Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and Sheriff Abe Andres.

The similarities are that both incidents were caught on video; both involved a law enforcement officer being directly assaulted; the victims made no effort to retaliate; both incidents went viral and were met with public outrage; and both had the fathers of the assailants defending their offspring.

What are the differences? The CF incident involved slapping, while the DA incident involved punching (five times), the latter in full view and seemingly implicit cooperation of the police; the CF incident involved a private citizen against a person in authority while the DA incident involved a person in authority against another person in (lower) authority.

The major differences, it would seem, are that charges of direct assault were filed in the CF case, while in the DA case, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo recommended the filing of a much lighter charge of misconduct against Duterte. This sorely disappointed the Sheriffs Confederation of the Philippines, which filed a direct assault charge against Duterte at the Office of the Ombudsman (Sheriff Andres himself refused to file—for obvious reasons). Moreover, Duterte was not suspended, not even for a day.

And try though I did, I could find no subsequent news report that showed a) whether Malacañang followed the Department of Interior and Local Government’s lily-livered recommendation; or b) how, if at all,  the Ombudsman has acted on the direct-assault case one year later.

Question: Both MMDA’s Tolentino and LTO’s Guadiz emphasized that the direct assault was aggravated because of the laying of hands on a person in authority. Does the DILG’s mildness imply that a direct assault on a person in authority is mitigated if the assailant is another person in higher authority? Just asking.