Kris to marry Robin, and other bloopers galore
There were many shining moments in the 25 years that the Inquirer has been in your homes. But there were times, too, when we wished the ground had swallowed us. Still, being a hardy lot, we are able to look back at those embarrassments and laugh at ourselves.
Remember that April 24, 1992 morning when we sprung on you the news that Kris Aquino and Robin Padilla would finally march down the aisle after a three-year, off-and-on romance?
We had the wedding date pinned down—Oct. 11, the wedding anniversary of the bride-to-be’s parents, Cory and Ninoy Aquino. We also said Kris would wear an Inno Sotto gown of pink and lilac and that Robin was rushing to build their dream house in Quezon City.
“Love conquers all,” we even said.
The dream house never got built, the vision of Kris in pink and lilac remained a fantasy and, of course, she ended up in other people’s arms—and so did he.
Rescue that never was
Show biz being built on illusions, journalistic mishaps like that may be easy to forget. But how does one live down our banner story six years earlier which said kidnapped activist priest Fr. Rudy Romano had been found alive—with his tongue sliced off?
The Redemptorist priest was abducted in Cebu in July 1985, allegedly by military agents. The country was then under martial law and Romano was a well-known human rights activist. His disappearance was international news.
“Fr. Romano found alive,” read the Inquirer’s five-column, two-deck headline in the April 3, 1986 issue.
The joy his friends and family must have felt on seeing the headline would have turned into horror after reading the lead paragraph. It said the priest had been “found alive but with his tongue cut off and apparently suffering from torture at the hands of his captors.”
The scoop appeared under the bylines of two of the Inquirer’s best reporters. Their source was a Protestant pastor who said another pastor had told him that Romano was “rescued” by a group of rebels from his military captors.
It was the talk of the town.
The pastor who was the original source of the report later said it was all based on a rumor circulating in Cebu. The Inquirer acknowledged it had erred.
To this day, Romano has not been found.
Cardinal rule of reporting
It was a lesson in humility for the news desk. It also underscored a cardinal rule in all newsrooms—stories must be double-checked. And a story, especially a big one, must be seen by as many pairs of eyes as possible before it gets into print.
News reporting carries a heavy responsibility. In June 2004, the Inquirer launched a Correction Box. It is the only newspaper in the Philippines to have done so.
From 2004 to October this year, we have published a total of 1,929 corrections. That comes down to 276 corrections a year, or 25 per month—less than the average number of errors committed by some of the biggest newspapers in the United States, we are told.
The 1,929 corrections over seven years involved factual errors, incorrect names and addresses as well as grammatical lapses, among others.
Correction to a correction
It wasn’t funny but we also erred in one of our correction notices. We wanted to correct the identity of a woman bayoneted to death by Japanese soldiers during World War II, but again got the names mixed up.
We had to issue a correction to the correction.
In another truly sad case, we had to apologize to the family of a Sorsogon school official that our reporter had quoted for a story. The official, it turned out, had been dead for some time.
Only a few months later, we said that a police official had been killed in a violent incident in Camp Crame. The official was very much alive.
Major mistakes have resulted in investigations conducted by the Inquirer publisher. The culprits, editors and reporters alike, have been penalized with suspensions, written warnings and admonitions.
The Inquirer has not shirked publishing apologies for the lapses, as in the case involving the former president of the Philippine National Oil Co., Eduardo Mañalac.
In March 2008, we reported that Mañalac would testify as a “surprise witness” in the Senate investigation of alleged kickbacks in the controversial $329-million NBN-ZTE telecommunications deal with China. The story was based on information that the editors obtained from “highly placed” official sources.
Mañalac denounced the story as “a complete falsehood” and threatened legal action. Convinced that the story was flawed, the editors issued an apology.
A single word can make a world of difference. Our main story in October 2007 proved that. It dealt with Malacañang’s distribution of cash handouts to politicians amid moves in Congress to impeach President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The story quoted a lawmaker as saying that Arroyo was present when money changed hands. What the congressman actually said was that Arroyo was not present when it happened.
The reporter had inadvertently dropped the word “not” when he wrote the story. The piece that came out said the distribution of the cash “was done in the presence” of the President.
We wrote in our public apology: “To the Inquirer, respect for the truth also means if we are wrong, we correct it promptly.”
The Inquirer prides itself on its fairness. Even relatives of the owners of this paper have not been spared from our in-your-face reporting.
In August 2005, an Inquirer story suggested that former presidential political liaison officer Joey Rufino had been confined in the intensive care unit of a leading hospital. He was never, it turned out, in the hospital’s ICU.
There were other lapses. One occurred in 1986, a tumultuous year for the then fledgling Cory Aquino presidency.
“Surrender or else,” screamed an Inquirer headline after soldiers loyal to the deposed dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, took over the Manila Hotel in a comic uprising, and Cory forces threatened to attack.
The headlines of rival newspapers said something like “Coup fizzles out.” They were correct.
How did that happen?
The original crew of Inquirer reporters covering the 36-hour revolt had been pulled out and replaced by a new team. It was around that time, too, that the Marcos loyalists had decided to surrender.
In the changeover, our new team was apparently unaware that the Marcos rebels had begun leaving the hotel.
Victimized by hoaxes
We also fell victim to hoaxes.
In May 1992, we reported that a young man named Carlo was “pregnant” and would be delivering a baby soon.
Carlo (real name Edwin Bayron) said he was a hermaphrodite, was raised as a male but was surgically “renovated” into a female. The pregnancy was “confirmed” by the then chief of clinics at the Bukidnon Provincial Hospital.
The Inquirer went to town with the story, as did several international news organizations.
Unmasked as a fraud, Bayron said it was all a “joke that went out of hand.”
Reports of apparitions by the Virgin Mary are not uncommon in a country where religious beliefs sometimes border on fanaticism.
In 1993, the Inquirer reported extensively on the claim of teenager Judiel Nieva that he had seen the Virgin on a hill in La Union. Some 1.5 million streamed to the site.
The Church would later dismiss it as a hoax. The late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin was quoted as saying such visions came from people with empty stomachs.
Three times during his presidency, deposed President Joseph Estrada banned us from Palace press conferences, accusing us of malicious reporting.
After the ban was lifted, the Inquirer annoyed Estrada yet again with an article in February 2000 which said he breached protocol when he skipped a state dinner hosted by the Thai government for visiting heads of state and dined instead at a Bangkok seafood restaurant.
Denying he had committed a diplomatic faux pas, Estrada said: “I don’t know why this newspaper is always singling me out.”
There was one hoax that appeared in the Inquirer during Estrada’s presidency that many found amusing. An October 1998 obituary, apparently taken out and paid for by a prankster, announced the “death” of Charlie “Atong” Ang, an Estrada gambling buddy. The obituary asked “the pious readers to pray for the eternal repose of his soul.”
Atong Ang was not amused.
It was also early in his presidency that we reported that Estrada was set to appoint kidney specialist Dr. Enrique Ona as his new health secretary.
The story was not really that awfully wrong: Ona did get the appointment—but not until 12 years later and under another president, Noynoy Aquino.
It was not only Atong Ang who got “killed” prematurely in the Inquirer’s pages.
In October 2005, a story in the entertainment section referred to “the late Lucrecia Roces Kasilag,” the Philippine National Artist for Music. Kasilag has since passed on but at the time the story appeared, she was very much alive.
A year later, we corrected a news caption which said GMA 7 reporter Jay Taruc had accepted a “posthumous” Hall of Fame award for his father, Joe Taruc. Of course, we continue to hear Joe’s voice on the air to this day.
And then there was that June 10, 2006 story about an eruption of the Bulusan volcano that blanketed towns with ash fall. We said Sorsogon division superintendent Nelly Beloso had announced the suspension of classes in 23 public schools.
The Beloso family wrote to the Inquirer to say that Nelly had been dead for a month.
The reporter, who said he thought the official he talked with on the phone was Beloso, was appropriately dealt with.
Memories of careless news headlines, some so glaring as to make your eyes pop out, keep coming back.
In June 2002, we apologized for the offensiveness of the headline of a Page 1 story—“Erap eyes FPJ for 2004/‘Ang Panday’ to battle ‘Ang Pandak.’” It was obvious from the headline who was FPJ’s rival that we were referring to.
FPJ’s main rival was the then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who stands at 4’11”.
And what about our headline in November 2009 about the arrest of two drug couriers bound for Macau? It read: “Heroine shipment foiled, mule rescued.”
Saved from embarrassment
But this is not all about blunders.
Alert editors have saved the day for us, sparing us further embarrassment.
One copy that landed at the desk had a line about “the driver of the plane.” The reporter meant the pilot, of course.
Another copy mentioned “the fingers of the feet.” For some reason, the reporter couldn’t seem to remember the word “toes.”
Another reporter wrote about a “decapitated hand,” whatever that meant.
Sometime in the not-too-distant past, we also moved a story online about a man found dead in the Visayas with “a decapitated penis.”
A new editor on board grimaced at the phrase and filed a corrected story. The unfortunate male organ became “a severed penis.”
Which is to say all is well in the blue building on Pasong Tamo Street.
By Ruben G. Alabastro, Tony Bergonia, Minerva Generalao, Kate V. Pedroso
Philippine Daily Inquirer