Selling the drama


ONE thing I have learned (and by no means the only thing) from covering the continuing misadventures of Jacinto and Erlinda Ligot, an ex-general and his wife accused of accumulating around P740 million on a soldier’s salary, is that we in the media make a lot of these things up.

Not the facts, obviously. But the urgency and the drama of it.

The day after the Senate took custody of  former general Ligot for “contumacious conduct” towards the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, there were updates on him virtually every hour on the hour.  They said the same thing, pretty much: that Ligot was fine except for elevated blood sugar. This went on until Ligot wrote a letter asking the committee to let him go home, the only actual development that day.

The couple have certainly helped things along by invoking their right against self-incrimination at every turn even when threatened with being cited for contempt.

Mrs. Ligot declined to answer questions saying she would simply invoke her right against self-incrimination on each one.  When Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada moved to have the couple cited for contempt, and then gave her a last chance to answer questions, she responded, “Am I not already in contempt?”

This, plus Mrs. Ligot’s weeping under questioning and an episode where her blood pressure rose and she had to be excused from the hearing made the Ligots easy to hate, easy to paint as people who insist on their innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Erlinda Ligot being brought to the Senate clinic

Showing up at the next hearings, candidly disclosing she was on Valiums, and answering senators in a manner that bordered on flippant made things even easier to editorialize. As did claiming to be sick on the day of a hearing, and then turning out to to be well enough to attend when examined at their home by doctors sent by the Senate.

Ligot’s arrest for contempt was treated like a showdown between the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms and a hardened criminal armed with guns and a determination to not be taken alive, not a military bean counter. When reporters on the scene could not find Ligot, it was suggested that he was on the run.

“The question now is where is Jacinto Ligot?,” a news anchor asked on national TV. A question answered  minutes later when the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms said Ligot was already in their custody and had been for at least 30 minutes.

Maybe it was a bias against injustice. While many reporters have to wait for seat sales on budget airlines, here was a woman who reportedly flew out of the country 34 times without even knowing who paid for most of her trips, and had to be pressed to recall where she went. Here was a man who, on P30,000 a month, had as much as $1.6 million in a Citibank account, just one of many in his name. More accounts were under the names of various relatives.

Here were their children, who had at least P1.4 million in their bank accounts. One worked as a farm manager, another was a call center agent, one Ligot didn’t even have a job.

Maybe there’s something gratifying about seeing them squirm or taken into custody, or getting some sort of comeuppance for what they allegedly did.

Maybe it was an addiction to keeping things exciting, of looking for an angle that will (it is hoped) hold our audience’s attention.  Maybe it was just a really slow news day.

How does one come up with compelling stories without resorting to drama?

I’m making no judgments or excuses here. I am just as guilty (or not guilty) as everyone else, and not above being carried away with all this drama. I told my editor that the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms failed to arrest Ligot, only to backtrack minutes later. It’s just one of those things that rookies have to go through, I suppose.


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