Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Headline

My family normally subscribes to the Philippine Daily Inquirer as our newspaper of choice, although I'm not sure if it's really out of any personal preference. I like to think that it's because of the entertainment value — I feel that the Inquirer has a tendency to be too sensationalist sometimes, which fits my general view of the local news.

Every now and then, however, our paperboy will leave the wrong paper in our mailbox. This doesn't stop us from reading it, though, and occasions like these do give us an opportunity to see how the other publications are treating their news. There's been talk of shifting to either the Philippine Star (too religious), the Manila Bulletin (too wordy), or the Manila Times (too off base), but we've stayed with the Inquirer for the most part.

That said, today's issue of the Philippine Star amused me greatly. It happened to arrive in our mailbox in lieu of the Inquirer's Sunday edition, and we tore through it to see how it was treating its headlines nowadays.

The local buzz nowadays seems to center around the sex video controversy involving a certain young man, a young model with a history of revealing photoshoots, and a trail of unsuspecting lovers that includes a well-known cosmetic and dermatological surgeon. I'm certain that everyone out there has read about the issue from one source or another, so I won't go into the salacious details. It was an article about the controversy that caught my attention today, however, if only because it reduced me to hysterics.

It started innocently enough by noting that the aforementioned surgeon had been the target of extortion tries by an unknown party:

MANILA, Philippines - A lawyer representing cosmetic surgeon Vicki Belo yesterday revealed efforts to blackmail her and former lover Dr. Hayden Kho over another sex video.

According to Adel Tamano, a group is demanding P4 million from Belo and Kho for not releasing their sex video to the public.1

It was a simple enough summary, and it does make sense. Assuming that a sex video between Kho and Belo does exist, it's likely that someone would try to get money from them under the threat of releasing the video the the general public.

Reading further, however, a few more details emerged:

In an interview with “Startalk” on GMA-7 television yesterday, Tamano suggested that the video was among those retrieved from Kho’s computer.1

This filled a significant gap in my perception of the issue — I had been wondering how the original videos had been acquired and disseminated online. Given that the source apparently involves the young man's computer, it doesn't take a huge leap of logic to conclude that somebody must have gotten access to it, picked up the videos, and then put them up.

The article then proceeded to name a possible suspect, as identified by lawyers representing the unfortunate pair:

Kho’s lawyer, Lorna Kapunan, also accused [Eric Chua, a mutual friend of the two] of stealing the racy videos from Kho’s computer.

Kapunan alleged Chua had access to Kho’s laptop and made copies of the videos showing her client’s sexual escapades with Halili and several other women.1

This laid out the entire sordid story for me: Young man takes videos. Young man stores videos in computer. Friend of young man accesses computer and finds videos. Friend of young man makes copies of videos. Hilarity and hijinks ensue.

The lawyers did their job perfectly up to that point, I think — they raised a complicating factor in the case, clarified something that was a likely origin for the videos, and identified a suspect. I assume, of course, that they mentioned all this in the relevant PR-legalese; You really couldn't ask for anything more.

But that's when it got surreal.

Kapunan said that Chua, known for his computer skills, was the person who allegedly uploaded the video on the Internet.1

This statement puzzled me, because you obviously don't have to have above-average technical knowledge in order to upload videos to the Internet. Speaking as a writer, I felt that you could leave out all mention of the computer skills and simply state that the man was the one who uploaded the stuff. I'm not sure if this strange slip of the tongue could be attributed to Kapunan the lawyer or Clapano the reporter, but it struck me as out of place here.

Kapunan said when Kho and Belo broke up some two years ago, Belo asked Chua to get Kho’s computer and retrieve the videos from the hard drive.

Kapunan stressed Belo merely wanted to erase sexual encounters with Kho.1

Wait, so he was asked to remove the videos from the guy's computer? That just... raises so many questions — such as, why didn't she just ask her (former) lover to remove the videos himself? (I mean, it was his computer, after all.) For that matter, does this imply that our erstwhile suspect knew where the videos were located? That's a bit... icky, no matter how you want to look at it.

But Belo, according to Kapunan, was told by Chua that he gave the task of retrieving the videos to another computer technician.

Kapunan also clarified that her client was not even aware that his computer was taken from his home.1

And this made even far less sense. So a friend asks you to remove some very private and racy videos that are in your ex-lover and mutual acquaintance's computer. What do you do then? You remove it from the guy's home, take it to an anonymous technician outside, and get him to find the stuff. This is... brilliant, really. It's the only way I can possibly describe it.

It raised another question, though: Why on earth would you take the computer to an outside resource just to remove a bunch of videos that are inside? The last time I checked, you could just get in there yourself, find the files, punch the Delete button a few times, and then empty the Trash / Recycle Bin. I mean, we are assuming that the "expert" had access to the computer itself, or could at least find a way to get in.

I must also point out that Clapano cites Kapunan in virtually every line here — most likely this exchange was taken directly from the interview; the Star's reporter probably isn't injecting speculation at any point. That just makes things stranger, in my opinion.

Fortunately, Belo's lawyer had a ready explanation for that:

Kapunan said the files in Kho’s computer had a complicated encrypting system, making it difficult to access.

This prompted Belo to ask Chua, whom she trusted, to retrieve the files.1

That bold text is most definitely mine. The computer had a complicated encrypting system? Really, now? Like what, a username-and-password requirement?

Visions of science fiction just swam through my head at that point, and I began to laugh. I imagined the young man organizing his videos into a single folder, then running some incredibly-complicated program that would do nothing but translate those videos into incomprehensible dots and bytes. The image didn't fit at all. The psychology didn't fit at all. And darn it, if I had software like that, I could probably make a financial killing on the international celebrity market.

I'm not sure as to who was the source of the unexpected comedy here: Either our noble dermatologist has no idea how a computer works, or our esteemed lawyer has no idea what she's talking about. Or maybe they were trying to simplify the explanation for greater public consumption — I don't know, but the result was an absurd summary in a serious news article, and I couldn't help but laugh at it.

I do also wonder if the mutual friend, the so-called "man with computer skills" who suddenly finds himself at the center of the issue, is still around. I wonder how he felt when he was asked to intervene in the middle of something that didn't demand his involvement. I wonder if he knows that he was asked to perform a relatively simple computer-related operation (Find videos. Delete videos. Have lunch.), and that he somehow screwed that up completely.

Above all, however, I wonder if the total explanation above makes sense as a whole. I mean, it starts out fine, but then it starts piling the blame on a Mr. Eric Chua and his l33t skillz to find an outside technician. It's no better than a wild story for me, fresh with little touches of speculation and exaggeration, and it entertained me greatly this morning.

After all, isn't that what the news is for?

Tamano, meanwhile, said Belo cannot be blamed for her effort to retrieve the racy videos.

“The biggest victim here is Dr. Belo. She and Hayden had a consensual agreement. The video was taken, but they agreed that after watching it they would delete it. I think she felt there is a breach of agreement,” Tamano said.1

1 Clapano, JR. (2009, May 24). Belo's lawyer bares P4-million extort try. The Philippine Star. Retrieved from

* I don't look to criticize the article in question, only to bring up some insights that came to mind after reading it. As you may surmise from the footnote above, I'd like to make the proper acknowledgements and attributions here. If you are connected with the Philippine Star, which is the proper owner of the original article for all intents and purposes, please contact me with regards to any issues you may find; This will allow me to improve my writing further. Cordial contact will, of course, get a better response. Don't sue me.


cstiu said...

this sounds like a complete copy of Edison Chen's fiasco will gillian and cecilia Cheung...=.=

Tibibord said...

I don't have your e-mail so I put my thoughts here.

Sean said...

cstiu: Except that we hardly got any details on the Edison Chen issue over here. Thirty years from now, people will probably be wondering who these people were, and why they captured our imaginations like they did. Or maybe they'll call us old fogeys and go back to watching the sex scandal videos of their generation...

Tibibord: It was good to see those thoughts of yours available to a lot of people, actually. I thought that they helped clarify things from a lawyer's standpoint.