Capitol spokesman driven to anger when girlfriend fired from Johnson-owned school?

A former business associate, media colleague and best friend of Iloilo Capitol spokesman Nereo C. Lujan told the Iloilo Regional Trial Court yesterday, Feb. 16, that he was so angry his girlfriend was axed from a nursing school owned by Dr. Evangeline Johnson and this drove him to publish blog articles derogatory to the owner of the Great Saviour International Hospital.

Ms. Joy de Leon said Lujan also sent her and another friend, Pinky Evidente, text messages through his cell phone and Chikka.com for a period of three months until January 2009 to vent his anger at them and warned them he will “put off the source of power to turn off the bulb”.

This was the gist of her testimony in the civil case entitled “Evangeline C. Johnson vs. Nereo C. Lujan, et al” as the trial continued before the sala of RTC Branch 28 presiding judge Loida Diestro-Maputol at the Hall of Justice.

De Leon, who described Lujan as “more like a brother” to her for a long time, said Lujan demanded that she cause the termination of Evidente, who works as Great Saviour Nursing School college secretary, following an altercation between the latter and his alleged paramour, Ritchel Gabutin Jacela.

At the time, Jacela had been working at the nursing school upon the recommendation of Lujan. As a result of the spat, Jacela resigned, de Leon told the court.

De Leon said Lujan began having an affair with Jacela while they were still business partners in the advertising outfit, Lujan and Associates.

“He demanded that I cause the termination of Pinky (Evidente) as college secretary,” de Leon, who is the executive assistant of Dr. Johnson, said.

However, de Leon said she didn’t want to intervene as it involved an internal matter in the nursing school. Lujan went ballistic in anger, she added.

“He (Lujan) started sending us messages containing expletives like ‘puta’, ‘deputa’, ‘bilat tibay’ and ‘mga buang’,” de Leon said.

De Leon said she downloaded and preserved the chat messages that Lujan sent them over Chikka.com. Upon questioning by Johnson’s lawyer, Nelson Loyola, she identified several pages containing print-outs of the supposed chat conversations between her and Lujan.

After a while, de Leon said her attention was called to a blog site with the URL, www.saviourinternationalhospital.wordpress.com, which contained malicious and derogatory articles about Dr. Johnson and her hospital.

She said she knew it was the handiwork of Lujan. “I called him up and asked him to stop it,” she said.

Dr. Johnson filed this civil case for damages against Lujan for the humiliation and shame she suffered as a result of the blog articles. Lujan is represented by Atty. Guillermo “Boy” Alcantara and an associate.

But Lujan only replied: “Bwahahaha!”, she said.

Asked how she came to know about Lujan’s love affair with Jacela, she said the woman had worked for their advertising company, Lujan and Associates. When Jacela became unemployed, Lujan approached her asking to help her get hired at the nursing school also owned by Dr. Johnson.

De Leon said she declined the request, but eventually, Jacela was accepted because she was the only one who met the qualification requirements.

She said Lujan is married to Ruth Lujan nee Aguilar. Jacela is likewise married, she added.

Forgiving and redemption

Dr. Evangeline Johnson didn’t show a feeling of bitterness on Friday night when she sat before RMN 774 broadcaster Rhod Tecson to pour out her hurt feelings arising from the long-drawn attacks against her by the radio anchorman three years ago. “I have been taught by my God to forgive,” Dr. Johnson, who owns the Great Saviour International Hospital in Molo, Iloilo City, said. But she took the opportunity to admonish Tecson, softly, that he didn’t have the right to judge her character.

It wasn’t a scolding, but it made Tecson understand better the dynamics of his job. Individuals who are subject of radio commentary have a right to their privacy and protect their reputations. Perhaps their actions, especially when it affects the public, might be open to criticism, but definitely media persons should refrain from hitting them below-the-belt. There are limits to what a journalist can say about a public figure, and this is why we have libel laws.

I think all media persons in the country should learn from this experience if we want to raise the standards of journalism that got its biggest black eye from the bloody Augd. 23 hostage crisis. As a former editor and broadcaster, I feel heavily for the slide in the quality of our media institutions and the people in them. This is most perceptible in radio where there is almost no opportunity for editing before words are uttered over the airlanes. And the problem is compounded by the declining advertising revenue of radio, forcing networks to hire less than qualified individuals as reporters and anchors.

Iloilo has been a battleground for the major networks. That’s probably because Bombo Radyo Philippines is based here, and the competitors are forced to field anchors with razor-sharp minds. I think Iloilo has had among the best anchors in the country. Not so long ago, the late Rino Arcones was even featured in The New York Times and Asiaweek magazine. Herman Basbano is now national president of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkasters ng Pilipinas. The present crop of anchors — John Paul Tia, Rhod Tecson, Ronel Sorbito, Don Dolido, Henry Lumawag, Novie Guazo, Jonathan Gellangarin and Joel Tormon among others — are intelligent and talented. Unfortunately, the environment in which they are working do not encourage them to elevate their standards. That’s because they don’t get good support from reporters and researchers.

This environment is perhaps to blame for the tendency of most anchors to just blast away on issues without careful study and regard for the reputations of individuals who happen to be on the firing line. The standard is no longer how well the anchors elicit competiting ideas on issues and the basic journalism tenet of getting all sides. Commentaries are often one-sided and unfair. As a result, reputations get trampled upon, just as what Dr. Johnson experienced. And very often, commentaries deteriorate into name-calling and personal insults.

The civil confrontation between Rhod Tecson and Dr. Johnson can be a start for local media to look deep within themselves and find out what can be done to change the parameters for the industry. Broadcasters must come to realize this kind of journalism doesn’t contribute to making society better. It doesn’t help develop a thinking audience, where listeners are able to hear clashing opinions and form their own judgments. This would be an abdication of the media’s role as a crystalizer of public opinion. And in the ranks of broadcasters, network executives must strictly screen those who have access to broadcast airtime. Pardon me for being blunt, but more than half our radio reporters are an embarrassment to the industry. We have to professionalize the radio industry.

Media, radio in particular, wields tremendous power. But as Spiderman said, “with great power comes great responsibillity.” In forgiving between Rhod Tecson and Dr. Johnson, we hope to see the redemption of the media, especially after the Aug. 23 hostage crisis where its name was also dragged into the messy affair.