Wednesday, October 27, 2021
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Cola wars 2.0

Tito Sotto is at the receiving end of some very bad legal advice.  On the heels of his election as Senate President, he composes a letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer asking it ever so politely to take down articles about him written in 2014 that are posted in the newspaper’s online portal.  The articles in question, written by a United States-based contributor, resurrect a ghost from the new Senate President’s past.  Strictly speaking, it is not the Senate President the spectre should be haunting, but he is close enough.  You see, the Senate President is taking umbrage—if someone had told me when I started writing for this magazine that, in the future, I would be using “umbrage” and “Tito Sotto” in the same sentence, I would have choked on my lozenge—articles’ implicating him in the suicide of a now-little-known starlet by the name of Pepsi Paloma.

That is not her real name, by the way, and this may be hard to believe, but at a certain point during the eighties, Pepsi and a bevy of other potably memorable beauties were the last words in movie titillation.  She was one, joined by Coca Nicolas as well as Sarsi Emanuelle, and collectively, they were known as the “soft drink” beauties, as opposed to the “hard drink” beauties with the likes of Brandy Ayala and Vodka Zobel.  I know, right?  What these girls had in common was a hard-knock life and a determination to carve a name for themselves if that meant using their faces and bodies as capital. Among them, Pepsi did manage to carve a name for herself—writing her own epitaph when she hanged herself in 1985 at the age of 19.  It is her suicide that now so haunts Tito Sotto, but not for what you might think.

Tito Sotto is demanding that the Inquirer take down two articles titled “The Rape of Pepsi Paloma” and “Was Pepsi Paloma Murdered?” written by the paper’s columnist Rodel Rodis.  He also asked the paper to take down a third article, “Tito Sotto Denies Whitewashing Pepsi Paloma Rape Case” by another reporter.  Tito Sotto does not stand as the accused rapist here; it is his brother Vic Sotto and his fellow TV host-comedians Joey de Leon and Richie D’Horsie who Pepsi accused of drugging her and another starlet then raping them.  From the titles of the articles, you can judge Tito Sotto’s role in the scandal, which was the biggest of its time.

I opened with the assertion that Tito Sotto was given some ill-conceived legal advice.  As debate raged after Tito Sotto made his demand on the Inquirer, I heard weaving through the argument whispers of “the right to be forgotten, the right to be forgotten.”  No such right is recognized by our Bill of Rights, by the way; rather, it is predicated on European Union laws governing data protection.  Tito Sotto’s beef with the Inquirer is that there is absolutely no truth to the implication that he “whitewashed” the Pepsi Paloma case to defend his brother, that the continued availability of the news online has been “negatively affecting [his] reputation for the longest time.”  In his letter to the Inquirer, Sotto claimed, “My efforts to clarify my side were somewhat ineffectual by reason of the above-cited articles were shared by your readers to the social media, and those readers who knew nothing about the issue took them as the version of truth considering that those reports came from a well-trusted company like Inquirer.net.”  He hastened to add that he had nothing against freedom of the press.

Tito Sotto’s grandfather, by the way, gave his name to Republic Act No. 53, which shields journalists and their newspapers from being compelled to reveal their sources.  Sotto points out that asking the Inquirer to take down the offending articles was preferable to being sued for libel.  Sounds reasonable, but that’s as close to a threat of subsequent punishment as you can get, that tends to have a chilling effect on freedom of the press.

Under EU law, the “right to be forgotten” basically entitles an individual to ask search engines like Google to  remove damaging articles about himself if these happened a long time ago and have no relevance to the present.  The right has been claimed with regard to stories of past criminal convictions if, for example, the individual had been acquitted of the charge.  The right is an evolving one given the youth of the Internet, but the premise is that stories of that nature unjustifiably harm a person’s reputation, as when he is starting a new chapter in his life and seeking new employment.

It should go without saying that the right “to be forgotten” should be balanced by the people’s right to know.  The past does not strictly belong to the past because it forms part of the present and informs the future.  Wrongly used, it will lead to the forgetting of the past and the rewriting of history.  Can you imagine if the Marcos family got hold of such a right?  Future generations of Filipinos would then be ignorant of their own history which, in turn, breeds the perfect petri dish for the repeating of it.

So why was the legal advice given to Tito Sotto so ill-conceived?  In the paradox of paradoxes, in trying to erase, bury, delete from the public record, a story that, however tragic, is a mere footnote in showbusiness history, he drew even more attention to it.  So today’s generation will read about his written demand to the Inquirer, which itself is news, so will he write another letter demanding that news of his first demand be deleted as well?

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