Monday ∗ 14 Jul 2008

kidnap: truth as tribute

for something that ABS-CBN hyped up to high heavens, and advertised like anything, there was nothing new or extraordinary about Kidnap, the story of how Ces Drilon and her cameramen Angelo Valderama and Jimmy Encarnacion were abducted in Sulu. in fact, it was so much worse than the standard Correspondents episode that the network churns out weekly, or even a Probe Team segment – which says a lot if you’re familiar with the usually shallow and biased (for big business and hacienderos/elite) slant that these two shows usually take.

Kidnap lacked focus, sold a false sense of truth (or the limited one that ABS-CBN wants to feed us), and really was a perfect example of journalism turned propaganda – and tribute.

the latter being the one thing that’s used to begin and end the documentary.

it starts off by establishing Ces as well-respected journalist, who worked her way to the top, and in the process found herself the head of a team that includes Angelo and Jimmy, both of whom she’s been with to Sulu before, and everywhere else including the Manila Peninsula siege. having established, at least the writers hope, that Ces is no pipitsugin journalist and is in fact at the forefront of the search for truth, they then start on the story of that fateful trip to interview Sahiron, the purported leader of the Abu Sayyaf.

the story is told through the interspersed voices of Angelo, Jimmy and Ces, with the latter insisting that she was warned by her superiors Chari Villa and Maria Ressa that what she wanted to do was too dangerous. Ces insists it was her sole decision to go through with a live meeting (as opposed to just sending go-between Prof. Dinampo with a list of questions she wanted to ask), and that she dragged her team down with her.

and then the show dragged all good sense down with it, too.

for one thing, it started to show reenactments of what Ces and her team went through, which really only meant showing us a group of actors walking through some forest, ending up in some makeshift camp, periodically being threatened with death, and being taken over by fear and tears and prayer. suffice it to say that showing us a random forest was pointless, missing as it did the rough terrain that the team seemed to have suffered through; in fact, showing us reenactments when there was real footage from Jimmy’s camera of life in the camp and of some of the traveling they did on foot, was a poor journalistic decision.

all the docu proved by interspersing the reenactments with real footage was the fact that they wanted to stretch the show, and waste all of our time, really.

and although the docu did have its high point in its use of both Jimmy’s real footage and the recordings of Ces’ cellphone conversations with brother Frank, as well as Ressa and Ces recalling the first conversations that they had about the kidnapping – all of which gave us a new sense of what was going on – this was all it had going for it.

because the truth stopped being the point at that very moment when the docu revealed that a 2-million ransom was paid by Ces’ family before Angelo was released, and at that very moment when Sen. Loren Legarda suddenly entered the picture – the one thing that seemed to have saved Jimmy from a beheading.

at this point, the docu’s chronological telling of the abduction becomes interspersed with a reenactment of Ces breaking down in the middle of the night, complete with a flashback of lighter moments with Jimmy and Angelo. and then Ces in the present, starts talking about taking responsibility, and insisting that she too, die with Jimmy, because she couldn’t let anyone die because of her, she wouldn’t be able to live with herself.

then suddenly, they were free, and all we see is footage that we’ve seen in the news before, with the same story that ABS-CBN has allowed us to know, nothing new, nothing special, just ABS-CBN’s brand of journalism with a penchant for covering up the truth, not revealing it – or at least revealing their interest in big bucks and sponsors and saving face, over and above anything else.

the docu ends with what sounds like a tribute to Ces, where Angelo and Jimmy say they don’t blame her for anything, and they would work with her again, no questions asked; and Ressa talks about why they only gave Ces a 3-month suspension because it’s Ces’ kind of journalism that ABS-CBN stands for and respects.

for more drama, the docu ends with interspersed images of the actors who played Ces-Jimmy-Angelo disappearing from the forest they used as setting, and the real Ces-Jimmy-Angelo disappearing from their seats at the end of their interviews.

in effect, the docu ends with silence. it ends without telling us what led to the team’s freedom from captivity; without giving us a sense of what Loren did or didn’t do; what ABS-CBN paid or didn’t pay; what role the military and PNP played; what technology they used, and at whose expense. it didn’t answer any of the questions we’ve had about the abduction – so much for the public’s right to know.

without knowing it, this uncalled for dramatic ending was symbolic of what it is that this whole show was about: the disappearance of the truths that surround that abduction, and a network’s news and public affairs arm protecting its own interests, conveniently forgetting that at any other time, given any other issue, they would insist on the public’s right to know.

what an absolute waste of time and i imagine, good money. but what does one expect with executive producer and writer Patricia Evangelista, who seems to have been given too much too soon. her brand of journalism – with no clear interviewer or narrative for Storyline, and often self-centered columns in the Inquirer, where she seems shallow and sophomoric more often than not – may work for certain subjects some of the time. but as Kidnap proves, it doesn’t work for everything, and certainly not all of the time.

and then again, maybe Evangelista just proves that she’s perfect for the kind of journalism that ABS-CBN wants to spread around: self-centered, shallow, usually ill-informed, and not at all about the public’s right to know. in fact, as with the case of Kidnap, it’s also quite insulting.  what, they thought we would be happy enough with some raw footage and taped conversations?  how little they thinkof their audience. how full of themselves they can be.

Posted in: kapitalista, komentaryo, media, review, TV

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13 Comments/Pingbacks

  1. Luis Lozada
    July 15, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    Nice…although I haven’t seen it, your review makes me all the more convinced that it is not worth watching. Indeed, the fact that most of the actual video was not used, and in place of it a re-enactment, seems odd. ABS could have at least copied a page or two from Zero Hour of NatGeo or Man Against Wild. I also like the way you slam ABS. Ces, Chari were my contemporaries in the 80s. I am not surprised that Ces was, for all intents and purposes, “nakuryente”, because all reporters experience that at least once in their lives; what galls me is that someone like Chari who has worked with Reuters has also been swallowed up by the system that prevails at ABS.

    The thing is, some of the talk about the whole affair has focused not on the whys and hows but whether Ces was sexually abused. I hope not, but given the rules of the jungle it would not at all be surprising.

  2. Patricia Evangelista
    July 16, 2008 at 12:38 am

    inggit ka lang kasi pangit ka.

  3. Patricia Evangelista
    July 16, 2008 at 9:24 am

    paretoke ka nalang din ng ilong

    and you can write a column about it like me!

  4. sarah
    July 16, 2008 at 11:33 am

    at last, a well substantiated feedback on abs-cbn’s construction of the abduction.

    radical chick is right in pointing out that what’s at stake in our interest in the unfortunate happening that was ces and company versus their abductors is the truth about the whole thing. after all, it did, for a moment captured the nation’s imagination.

    the slant is pretty interesting. you have a trusty journalist who is also , on account of her childhood experience, a daredevil. wasn’t she apologizing for just thinking about ‘getting a story’ instead of considering the more important things in life which for her are family and even life itself? that for me is ces’ moment of truth. but who is she getting the story for? certainly, not just for her. ‘getting the story’ means cracking big profit for the rareity of a particular commodity. that has been the game of media conglomerates such as abs-cbn.

    and now ces is suspended for 3 months precisely for being a ‘good subject’ ( in the althusserian sense as opposed to the ‘pasaway’)of the network’s primary interest. when ces was apologizing for her mindlessness, she was in fact apologizing for the logic that the network imposes upon its employees which she herself has completely internalized. that’s why it was so important for her to emphasize that she was warned several times by maria and charie (who enacted the role of the big other for ces) but none of these warnings stopped her from doing what she was “wired” to do. ces, in the end, owns up to that semi-tragedy.

    and so suddenly, all our doubts and criticisms about abs-cbn’s belief in the game of public service and truth are supposed to be erased by ces’ admission of human frailty. let’s give it to ces drilon then.

    but what about abs-cbn? the fact that the network had to stage the whole drama that was Kidnap in that manner shows that the issue that was ces drilon and the abu sayyaf must be understood in the network’s own terms. after all, only their employees (survivors of the abduction) know the facts, and as a network, abs-cbn is going to disseminate these in ways that will not be inimical to its interest as a media conglomerate.

    and so for a viewer like me who can only be empowered by my arsenal of theoretical tools (since the drama has already been staged and sold), i can only say: bukod sa gusto ninyong palabasin, meron pang ibang lumalabas: that their grief is your profit, the same grief that is supposed to be our gossip (hi vince rafael, don’t i owe you this one?).

    in the end, it’s a moral issue. it’s not about envy, or being ugly or pretty or the need to admit that one needs a nose job. once and for all, and in the name of all the feminists who lived and died fighting for a great cause: all talk of beauty is sexist.

    and morality has got nothing to do with self-rightteousness. it’s a stake that a lot of people have given up on (for the simple reason that nowadays, it cannot afford one a car or a nose job, not even a lover). thanks to radical chick for raising this wager on a higher plane.

  5. ina
    July 16, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    sir luis: there was a good amount of time spent talking about how the cameramen jimmy and angelo were responsible for having protected Ces from any form of sexual abuse. they apparently did this by showing her utmost respect, which according to Ces, set the tone for the kind of respect, or at least distance, she was to get from her abductors.

    of course this also came with stories of how both jimmy and angelo didn’t even want her to get mud on her shoes: “ayaw namin siyang maputikan.” it reeks as well of the hierarchy in that relationship.

    it reminds me of how jimmy’s daughter, pleading with the abductors during their captivity, mentioned that they didn’t know where they were going to get their “pang-tuition”. why couldn’t ABS-CBN alleviate them of that burden, seeing as their senior reporter was responsible for the missing cameraman. wala ngang iwanan sa bayan ni juan. :P

  6. The Professional Heckler
    July 17, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    the documentary was disappointing indeed. it was like re-reading news clippings on the abduction.

    but by industry standards, its rating was rather high… 13 point something on a late-night sunday – with commercials to boot!

    abs-cbn raked in revenues but didn’t add much to what we already knew.


  7. ina
    July 17, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    yes! those ads were something else pa, as in milking it all it was worth talaga. :) 13 points! talbog ang songbird on channel 7! probably the first time ABS-CBN raked in more than GMA 7 on that day and timeslot.

    i imagine they’re wanting to replay it? or maybe do a part 2? goodness!

  8. Juan
    July 17, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    I think the main purpose of the documentary is to: (1) Reiterate that there was no ransom paid by ABS-CBN contrary to news reports, the evidences gathered by the PNP, and the revelation of Ces’ family. Ces stressed in the documentary that during a phone conversation with Vice Governor Lady Ann that it was her who promised the kidnappers to pay P20 M just to let them go. And (2) Save Ces Drilon from embarrassment by showing how valuable she is to ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs Department, and more so to their viewers, even if she rebelled against her bosses and how her crew respect her.

    Does being Ces Drilon mean going after the real “Truth” or after exclusive report that her network insists to be the “Truth”? Does being a “fearless journalist” mean rushing to the extremely dangerous situation and pursuing the merely intriguing subject or story and then be sorry when it’s too late? Does being Ces Drilon mean “you can’t touch me” and not respecting other organization’s procedure by being uncooperative?

    Ces’ hunger for “scoop” will reflect on how her bosses and their office. They are no different to those rebels they are chasing. A rebellious reporter who chose to be with the rebels twice, flip flopped from being a fearless journalist to a frightened citizen in her quest for “scoop”. This can truly be a humbling experience for Ces Drilon. Now, who will teach Maria Ressa her lesson?

  9. ina
    July 18, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    truly humbling, i can imagine. but lesson learned kaya? for all concerned including Ressa? and for ABS-CBN?

    it would do them well to actually change their whole “in the service of the filipino” and “the public’s right to know” spiel, because as this case has proven, neither one’s the point naman pala of their journalism. of course i doubt they’ll ever do it. ;)

  10. qwerty
    July 18, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    abs-cbn will never change its stripes. why do you keep expecting a network that earns gazillions by low-level entertainment, gossip and sensation to actually be a bulwark of fair and decent journalism? ano ba? abs cbn peddles junk and is very successful at it. why would it actually tell the unvarnished truth?

  11. ina
    July 19, 2008 at 11:46 pm

    but how sad not to imagine change to be possible. it also fails to consider how historically, institutions do change the way society does, and vice versa. and when all else fails, one can’t be blamed for trying to insist on it. kahit suntok sa buwan. :)

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