Rambling speakers and smooth talkers

published August 17, 2013, MST page A5

Fascinating is the word that comes to mind when one reads the five-part series on the conversation between businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles and the reporters, columnists and editors of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

It is even more compelling because it was published verbatim. 

There was no structured introduction, body and conclusion, no 
thesis, no supporting arguments by a writer who had processed the information and sought to deliver it in a more intelligible form.

Precisely because of this, we get a picture of what was going on in the mind of the woman at the heart of the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund controversy who willingly went to the editorial office of PDI to talk to the editor in chief to appeal for some fairness in the stories, but later found herself in a roundtable.

We can only wish that she would exhibit the same willingness to turn herself in now that a Makati court has issued a warrant for her arrest for illegally detaining her cousin and former assistant, Benhur Luy. Luy turned whistleblower and gave the country a peek into the dark, complicated world of pork allocations made by lawmakers to bogus non-government organizations.  

But let us leave the legal and political aspects of the issue for a while and go back to the transcript. It was so bizarre that it had also been the subject of a Pugad Baboy strip in rappler.com. 

And why wouldn’t it? It’s at the same time amusing and irritating, confounding and indicative. It gives rise to more questions. You wonder how a woman who thinks and speaks this way could even successfully conduct a business and build a network among the most influential people in the country.  

There were too many unfinished sentences, too many mentions of “ano,” “kwan,” “syempre,” and “sa totoo lang,” too many unintelligible words the transcriber cannot make out. Mrs. Napoles invoked God often and repeatedly pleaded with the photographer not to take her picture, not because she was embarrassed at her involvement but because she looked haggard that particular day. 
She insisted she only had one foundation, that Luy was working for another boss, that the PDI reporters invented stories or misquoted her.  And yet, she cannot even state what exactly the wrong reports were, cannot remember the name of her business partner, refused to name her coal trading company in Indonesia or her other company in Surigao.

She may really be that way, which is bad enough. People who cannot speak coherently are said to be afflicted with various mental conditions such as schizophrenia, dementia, psychosis, delirium, alcohol- or drug-dependence.

She may also have spoken that way because she was nervous or uncomfortable. Imagine being in front of an army of journalists of a newspaper that has not exactly portrayed you in a good light.

She wanted the glare of media attention away from her and her family but at the same time knew more things she was letting on.  Some might even dare say she was guilty – but of course we would not be in our place to decide that. That speech pattern would thus indicate that a person was deliberately trying to confuse the people she was talking to.

Or she may be in denial – wanting to believe she was innocent, even as the actual facts would attest to the opposite.

Whatever the reason was, Mrs. Napoles’ interview only gave the people more ammunition to crucify her on the bar of public opinion.  Because she was not able to communicate well, it was easy to presume she was guilty or stupid, likely both.  


But not all guilty people get nervous and incoherent.  Sometimes, in their deliberate attempt to mislead or manipulate others, they speak the opposite way: Authoritatively, logically, pleasantly and 

Remember, too, that while Mrs. Napoles may indeed be guilty of creating shell NGOs to absorb the money given them by politicians, she is a private citizen who made no promises to uphold the common good.

Equally disgusting, or even more so, are those people who pretend to champion public interest, swear to serve their constituents and style themselves as honest public servants. Behind closed doors, however, they channel the funds put in their discretion to their own pockets. How that makes them any less accountable than JLN is beyond me.

Our saga will not end even if the rambling Mrs. Napoles is caught or tried or punished. It will end when we know who among our officials, from any side of the political fence, have been making fools out of us all along. It will end when we stop the practice of enabling lawmakers to act like magnanimous lords who dispense favor to their constituents even when they use public funds in the first place.

Let us not be swayed by the rallying words of suit-wearing, smooth-talking hypocrites we address as “honorable”. The thought makes me retch, because honorable is, really, the last thing they are.