Monday, 31 March 2008

Because People Asked

First of all, a "shout-out" to my brother David. It's his birthday today.

(I can't believe I just posted a "shout-out"...well, neither can he!)

I'm looking out at all the smog covering the city. It really has an uneasy purplish-gray knife-and-fork consistency today.

So do some Manilans.

That's what I'm writing about today...some Manilans...because people asked me. I've received many mails, texts, and one-on-one requests to offer my musings on the current controversy that is rocking Manila. It is a controversy begun here on Blogger by an Australian, Brian Gorrell, who was swindled US$70,000 by his Filipino boyfriend, "DJ" Montano (Delfin Justiniano Ocampo Montano II to be precise).

You'll find his blog here.

Here is a quick rundown as found on Wikipedia:

Gorrell (a landscape designer) published his blog on March 4, 2008, using He claimed that he had been sending money to his former boyfriend as a "silent investment" for a restaurant called Bonza in Makati City. He soon realized that the money was used to pay the ex's own debt. Gorrell then narrated that he confronted the former flame about the money at a hotel room in Makati, which resulted in a public altercation. He said he was charged with assault through the help of the ex's friends, but was later dismissed. The blogger then posted entries involving the "Gucci Gang"—consisting of prominent young Manila socialites who are close to Gorrell's former boyfriend including scions of political families and media personalities—accusing them of infidelity, cocaine abuse, cover-up, and crassness.

He stated that the blog was put up when he was told by Philippine lawyers that the soonest Gorrell could recover the money, totaling to US$70,000, is three years. The blogger also wrote that it also aimed to shame his former lover (as well as the Gucci Gang) into paying him back, and would erase the blog from the Internet once the debt is paid. Gorrell said he plans to use the money as treatment for his HIV. As of March 14, 2008, the blog has received 270,000 visits, amounting to 36,600 visits a day and each lasting an average of 52 minutes. Gorrell wrote that he has received over 3,000 e-mails since the blog opened, apart from hundreds of comments.

Legal action

Gorrell claimed that the Gucci Gang chose to attack him instead of paying the debt. On March 11, 2008, the blogger stated in his site that officials from the Philippine consulate in Sydney and Australian Federal Police took away his computer and questioned him. He wrote that he challenged the officials to check the blog's contents for accuracy. The former boyfriend and his family are exploring possible legal actions against Gorrell. He has also contacted the entertainment section staff of Philippine Daily Inquirer, which first published an article about the blog, saying "no comment" and that he would only issue an official statement if Gorrell filed a case "in the proper forum". Gorrell said in an interview that he was not inclined to do so as of the moment, stating that he has consulted three lawyers in Manila and all of them declined to take the case, citing conflict of interest. He also stated that he does not consider taking the case to the Philippines, saying that "the thought of spending years within the Philippine court system is not even an option for (him)".

Meanwhile, a lawyer of socialite and lifestyle columnist Celine Lopez (who was also mentioned in the blog) sent a letter to Gorrell, which states that "(she) is no longer in communication with (Mr. Former Boyfriend) and in as much as she wants to help (him) with (his) problem with the latter, (she) does not have the capacity to assist (him) as she was not privy to the transaction which only (him) and (his ex) can properly resolve". The letter also pointed out that Lopez and her friend Marco Antonio have been persistent in asking the former boyfriend to pay back the debt, but the latter would only provide "vague answers and a series of denials".

Gorell's blog shut-down and reopening

Gorrell closed his blog on March 12, 2008, after several readers commented on the site telling him to stop the "verbal violence" especially those who were not involved. The blogger, however, kept his first post published. He added that the blog "became bigger than (him)". Gorrell also greeted the Gucci Gang to have fun at their "anti-Brian blog" party that same night. However, the blog re-opened a day later with a series of new posts, although the "Comments" section remained disabled. He insisted that he has not been paid. On March 17, 2008, Gorrell published in his blog a receipt from Western Union money transfer as proof that he was sending money to the former boyfriend. He added that it was one of ten such documents in his possession.

Gossip and discussion topic

The blog and the people mentioned in it have become a major topic of gossip in Manila, and has also gotten people in local showbiz industry hooked. The local entertainment media first got hold of the blog on March 11, 2008, when Philippine Daily Inquirer published an article about it. The newspaper wrote that the blog (unnamed at that time, but provided keywords for googling) "made Gossip Girl looked like a Disney musical". Meanwhile, critics claimed that the series of events could be a gimmick to promote one of the Gucci Gang's nightclubs, which said to have held an "anti-Brian blog" party. Witnesses at the party commented on Brian's blog, saying that the club was a "drug den" with one of its high-profile owners as a "drug dealer". Gorrell's blog was also discussed in Media in Focus, a program in ABS-CBN News Channel on March 27, 2008. It was the first time the issue was brought up to mainstream television.

Legal and social issues

The blog raised questions about the extent of Philippine and Australian libel laws, with jurisdiction being the key issue. In the Philippines, a person may be accused of libel in any place reached by the publication where the alleged libel appeared. However, such law suffers from loopholes if the publication in question appears wherever Internet access is available. Laws of both countries differ on what statement can be defined as libelous. While Australian libel laws give greater weight to the veracity of the statements, its counterpart in the Philippines defines anything written with "malice afterthought" as libelous. This means that a simple mention of a name in a "malicious" article, no matter how true it is, can be cited for libel in the Philippines. The blog has also brought out issues of race, gender, and media responsibility particularly on how modern platforms and technological innovations have changed the landscape of journalism. Other vital issues such as freedom of the press and right to privacy were also discussed in the blog's comments section. Meanwhile, Bong Austero of Manila Standard Today stated that the issue has raised the need for "a more realistic appraisal of the authentic social value that these so-called 'socialites' provide", that there is "something not right in a setup where wealth and excessive lifestyles are flaunted and regularly splashed across the pages of newspapers as if they are the most natural things in the world while the majority (of Filipinos) live below the poverty line".

Randy Dellosa, resident psychologist of the Pinoy Big Brother series, weighed in on the Philippine entertainment industry's fascination with Gorrell's blog. According to Dellosa, the local show biz people are experiencing "scandal fatigue" within their own industry and that they "secretly aspire to become part of high society".

Criticisms on freedom of speech in blogging

Self-proclaimed "eventologist" Tim Yap, who has been mentioned in the blog, indirectly responded to the gossip on his weekly Philippine Star column, saying: "Freedom of speech is one thing, abuse of speech is another." Meanwhile, lifestyle columnist Malu Fernandez, herself a victim of a blog attack in 2007, questioned the extent of freedom of speech applied in blogging, stating the blog about the Gucci Gang as an example. She wrote that journalists like her do not hide behind an anonymous name, while lambasting those who "place vicious comments and slanderous statements in blogs yet sign their names as 'anonymous'", calling the act as "plain cowardice". Austero wrote in his column at Manila Standard Today that "the latest scandal validates the emerging power of blogging as medium of our times and consequently and necessarily opens, once again, discussion on the ethics of blogging". He also added that the Filipinos' "collective tolerance for dirt and sleaze has breached new levels".

Now, if all of that seems a bit like watching the second season of Gossip Girl before it has even happened, you're right.

As the Wikipedia entry notes, the so-called "high society" of Manila is furiously fighting anything that tarnishes their reputations, as if 95% of Manila gave a damn. These are people who have everything in a nation where the vast, vast, vast majority have nothing; and still they fear for something as flimsy as their reputation. They have exceeded "American" in their litigious response to anything said that paints them in unflattering terms.

DJ and the so-called "Gucci Gang" are selfish, spoiled, simple-minded, narcissistic, hollow shelled creatures.

Brian, while obviously the victim here, isn't much better himself.

As a story, it reads well and has great character development; though we can't quite feel for him as we should. Mark Twain said that in a story the reader should
feel a deep interest in the personages of (the author's) tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the (DJ + Brian) tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.

Twain was referring to Fenimore Cooper's The Deerslayer, but it could just as easily be this story, albeit reality, not fiction. Everyone drowning together would be a beautifully operatic tragic way to end it all.

The local media and "high society" members are seeing their reputations tarnished, many beyond repair in this scandal. The "it" club they frequent is well-known to be the place to go for drugs. Even in the US I already knew of the reputation one of the club owners has for being a dealer. It is all over the internet. But because of his wealth, nothing will ever become of it. At worst he'll pay off some officials to stay clean. Everyone in authority in the Philippines from the president down to the cop on the street can be bought.

Now, none of the people involved in Mr. Gorrell's blog do anything for anybody. They have no value to society at all, really. They, like the Paris Hiltons and Britney Spears of the world, are nothing more than fodder for tabloids, attention starved transparent cocoons filled with the purplish-gray smog I'm looking at out my window. They are those who really have no other talent than flaunting their parent's wealth. Their parents (who may have actually had to work for that money) are ultimately to blame for how their children came to be.

Some say these spoiled kids (whether it is here, the US, or elsewhere) are just victims of the media. Of course, since the media in any given country is controlled by parents, not kids, it is ultimately parental fault. Parents either allow their kids to be polluted with garbage like MTV's My Super Sweet 16 or worse, produce and air it. The current generation of twenty-somethings have grown up on this. Time magazine, in their Style & Design supplement, features the millennials, and how this generation "doesn't feel that it needs to 'earn' luxury. Yachts, vacation homes and tech gadgets are all on its proverbial 'to do' list."

Most Filipinos are looking down their noses at DJ, the Gucci Gang, and Manila's socialites. There is overwhelming support for Brian. I found this on Pay Up DJ:

But I do hope Mr. Gorrell gets his $70 grand back. He has effectively had his ex fired from his job at The Star and, at this point, DJ would have to change his name before anybody ever trusts him again. Though I'm sure he still has his friends who enjoy laughing with him and how he got all that money out of his Australian boyfriend.

But again, my take on it all would be something of a big yawn...if I weren't so afraid I'd choke inhaling the smog. In a quick sound byte: Filipinos love their drama!

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