It’s normal to see stars at their best on television, being all nice and perfect in public for the sake of their image. But being human, this sort of control can’t always be exercised, and when a star goes wild in public, it’s the media’s turn to become the “good guys” and feed their audiences the truth and nothing less.

Recently, news broke out about a clash at the airport (NAIA, Terminal 3) between Ramon Tulfo and Raymart Santiago (and company) last Sunday, May 6, 2012. According to reports, Santaigo and Barretto (his wife) had just flown in from Boracay via Cebu Pacific and were informed that their luggage weren’t with them on the flight. Due to this, Barretto allegedly berated two airline ground staff and threatened to have them fired from their positions. This in itself wouldn’t have become a “scandal” as the headlines put it, but the presence of Ramon Tulfo, a journalist from TV 5, changed everything.
Tulfo, who had also just arrived from a trip, saw what was going on and, being the journalist that he was, took out his cellphone and started taking photos. This was what set the celebrity couple off. To avoid tainting their image to the public, Santiago was said to have ordered Tulfo to surrender his phone. Of course, who in his sanity would give a stranger, though a celebrity, his personal belongings? Taking photos is legal, and just because the subject is a celebrity, it doesn’t mean one can control the system to his/her liking.

There are so many opinions and versions to the scuffle that finding out the truth might be impossible. Without the CCTV cameras which were supposed to be functioning properly and solid proof (witness accounts aren’t really reliable in my opinion) that have no biases, how would the court rule out which is truth and which is drama?

As a student who sees journalism as a tool for spreading important news and relaying information just as it is, I find it easier to believe Mon Tulfo’s version of the story rather than that of the celebrity couple’s. It’s not because he’s a Journalist, but based on what I see on the news, his reasons and explanation of how and why the fight started seems more credible. In the same way, celebrities tell the truth as well, but as actors, they have the talent for acting about being abused in a believable manner. Of course, I’m not saying celebrities, in this case, Barretto and Santiago, are outright liars.

As I researched about this event, I happened to come across certain images on the web, which show who was the “victim” and who was the “perpetrator”.


In the first image, Tulfo was under headlock (as described by Yahoo! OMG Philippines) by Santiago, whose efforts to immobilize Tulfo was a success. Claudine Barretto, as seen in the image, helped beat up Tulfo while her husband brought the latter to his knees. Also in the photo was the “pink man”, a friend of the couple, who charged towards the journalist soon after Santiago landed his first blow.
            In the second image, public opinion is, in part, represented. Statements such as “Porket ba artista honest na” and pointing out “faults” with the couple’s testimonies (like where traces of Tulfo’s kicks should be) contribute to the widening number of those who are against and for Tulfo and those who are for and against the Santiago’s. These divisions no doubt worsen the surrounding controversies.
            A lot of people (including myself) are now questioning the roles of the security guards and other staff present, about whether or not their presence alleviated or aggravated the situation. When I watched the video of the scuffle, I couldn’t help but become slightly irritated by the guards who mostly just stood by and watched the scene unfold. They looked like they were having second thoughts about who to help and to what extent they would show their handle on the situation.
Perhaps the reason why they acted so weakly was the fact that they were up against celebrities and the media, both powerful catalysts that give structure and provide influence to society. As for myself, I believe that when it comes to work, no personal feelings should be involved. The guards were placed at NAIA because the people who put them there know they can handle situations like these and be able to separate work from self-glorification (which in this case is the desire to be liked by powerful people) – unless of course, our system is already entirely corrupt, placing undeserving men and women in positions bigger than they can put up with.

In this light, I would like to present three different ways to perceive this event: as a Functionalist, a Conflict Theorist, and an Interactionist. But first, how do these perspectives differ?
A Functionalist sees things/events as contributors to the structure and stability of society and how its different aspects function as a whole. Conflict Theorists however thrive on seeing how inequality is present in all situations and normally see the negative, ever-changing nature of society. These people see how the rich and powerful control the poor and the weak. Finally, an Interactionist focuses more on how people behave in certain environments, how they interact with one another, and how symbols have corresponding meanings attached to them.

So how do we perceive the scandal at NAIA, Terminal 3?

For the Functionalist, the fight between Tulfo and the Santiago’s contribute to society’s structure, in the way that the “superiority” of celebrities and the media are definitely accepted. Structure calls for organization, and with organization comes social classes. Since the people involved in the controversy are people of status while the airline ground staff represent the “small people”, the word stability takes on a new meaning. Stability in this case means being steady in how we succumb to power and accept our lowly place in the social class. This perspective is best shown through the security guards, who were torn between becoming heroes or villains. They would be a hero to whoever they favored, and an enemy to the other. So, they surrendered their authority as guards and stepped behind whoever was more powerful, showing the strictness in structure between social classes. But isn’t it ironic how there is structure in treatment of people based on their importance yet none that is solid in the government?
Well, Conflict Theorists can say much about my last sentence above, though that can be saved for another time. In the video, it’s an obvious fact that Tulfo was outnumbered, and even though some of the people there tried to pull one away from the other, the “powerful” still had their way with him. Going back to my point in the first paragraph, I said that celebrities live by their public image, and once that is ruined, it would be hard to redeem themselves. If we look at the scuffle from a negative point of view, we’ll see that Santiago and Barretto acted out of selfishness and pride. They didn’t want others to see what they were really all about, so they tried to cover their shame by asking (or rather, demanding) for Tulfo’s cellphone. When the latter didn’t give in, competition to see who would throw in the towel first began, humorously with a punch on the face. 
Now, if you were a celebrity and you wanted your image to stay clean, why would you hit a public servant in such a public place and allow your companions to gang up on him? Why would you allow yourself to lose control of your emotions in front of onlookers, especially one who was recording every kick and punch you gave to your enemy? Then we see Santiago and his wife being interviewed, saying that they just defended themselves and were actually the true victims of the clash. Honey, if you plan to play victim in a fight, make sure you didn’t give the most blows and have an onlooker record every second of it. I feel for an article I saw on the ABS-CBN News website which questioned why Santiago was angry with Tulfo for taking pictures and dismissing the person who took the video of his outburst. Illogical, if I may say.

For the Interactionists, Tulfo’s act of taking pictures and Santiago’s talking with him before the fight began are symbols and the sort of face-to-face interaction from which people of society may eventually learn from. The way I see it, the cellphone may be seen as the eye-opener, given that it was the tool used to capture proof of a star’s real attitude. Again, I am not implying that Claudine is evil or bad – just perhaps, a little out of hand. In this case, the small talk-time between the taking of the photos and the fight itself was an essential, potential scene-turner. If Santiago’s way of asking for the photos taken to be deleted or handed over to him was calm or reserved, the clash might have been avoided altogether. However, knowing what happened, the manner in which he demanded that Tulfo surrendered his cellphone must have been quite harsh.
Since Interactionists rely on the usage of symbols and attaching meaning to them, one can assume that Santiago’s tonality, way and manner of speaking, and maybe even facial expression gave way to the scandal we know today. Perhaps, if Santiago used a different approach and if Tulfo responded in the same, calm way, this could have been avoided. But then again, I don’t really know what words were said, how they were said, and who intimidated who. Maybe if the CCTV cameras were working properly that day, we could see what truly happened, starting from the celebrity couple’s arrival until the end of the fight.

            The question “Who should be blamed?” is still left hanging. It’s probable that if only the guards were stronger and exercised more of the authority thrust upon them, there would’ve been no issue. Or maybe we can say that if only Claudine didn’t let herself lose her temper in public, none of this would have transpired. Or better yet, maybe if the celebrity couple’s luggage came in with them, Claudine would have had no reason to berate the ground staff, Tulfo wouldn’t have had to bother documenting the scene unfolding, and Raymart wouldn’t have had to punch the reporter in the face, and the person who took the video would have saved phone memory.

I believe that events are often like dominoes. Once a series starts unwinding, the rest may fall under its diminishing hold on stability. I hope that the next domino that falls starts a staircase that will eventually lead to the betterment of humanity’s social behavior and the Philippine society’s take on structure and influence, for the good of the economy, and for the country.