Capitalizing on A Victim’s Grief: GMA-7’s Insensitive Interview
AMID GOVERNMENT claims that it is now safer on the streets, the spate of killings in the war on drugs continues, with more children and minors added to the list of casualties.
Happening within two days of each other, the killings of 17 year-old Kian delos Santos and 19 year-old Carl Angelo Arnaiz sparked outrage and controversy. Police claimed that Delos Santos was a drug courier, while Arnaiz was a hold-upper who also carried drugs. Both teenagers allegedly resisted arrest.
Even more horrifying was the murder of 14 year-old Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman, whose body was found last September 5 in a creek in Gapan City, Nueva Ecija bearing 31 stab wounds, his head wrapped with packing tape. He was last seen with Arnaiz in Cainta, Rizal before both boys disappeared on August 18.
Whether any one of these boys was involved with drugs or any other crime remains to be established, but more often than not, the police narrative passes judgment on suspected criminals, both dead and living. It does not help that the media buy into this narrative.
CMFR jeers GMA-7’s Unang Balita for its insensitivity to the grief of Kulot’s mother, Lina Gabriel. On September 7, Unang Balita held a live field interview with Gabriel in Nueva Ecija, who, as expected, was still in deep distress over her son’s death.
The field reporter, as well as the anchors in the studio asked their own questions, in what seemed more like an interrogation, insinuating that the slain 14 year-old was a criminal. The questions asked seemed intent to discover evidence to justify the violence done against her son: “Ano po ang nakikita ninyong dahilan sa pagpaslang sa kanya?” (What do you think is the motive for his killing?); “Alam ba ni nanay na holdaper ang anak niya kung ganoon nga ang kuwento?” (Is she aware that her son is a hold-upper based on the story she was told?); “Ano pa ang alam niyong kababalaghan o pagyaya kay Kulot na ginagawa ng kanyang mga barkada?” (What other misdeeds of Kulot’s friends are you aware of?)
Pieced together, Gabriel’s statements sound inconsistent and illogical: Kulot is a good boy, but a friend of her son known as “MJ” told her that Kulot is planning a robbery; Carl Angelo and Kulot did not know each other, but they and three more friends plotted to rob a taxi driver; Kulot did not join the robbery, because he is incapable of doing such a thing, leaving Carl Angelo to do it by himself—a piece of information that she learned from TV reports; Kulot’s friends dissuaded him from joining the planned robbery, but Kulot was the kind of child who did not listen and did whatever he pleased. Her responses seemed cued to the information that she herself did not know about but had heard in the media.
In a September 8 exclusive report by 24 Oras, Kulot’s friend “MJ” denied telling Gabriel that Kulot was planning to rob a taxi. MJ and Kulot’s other friends have refrained from going out and attending their classes, claiming that men on motorcycles were frequenting their area and looking for them. In this same report, Kulot’s father, Eduardo, told the media that his wife was so distraught that she might have said things which were not true.
The media must remember to treat grieving families with sensitivity and respect, as tactlessly worded questions—and resulting answers said under duress—reinforce the position of certain quarters, that minors, whether innocent or not, are no different from hardened adult criminals, which is the basis of the proposed law to lower the age of the criminally liable to nine. The narrative established by the interview reflects this simplification of the complex problem of minors involved in crime. That the interview implied this position about a dead teenager is not just insensitive. It has added to the grief of the victim’s family, and condones the administration’s disregard for the welfare of the youth.