Trial by publicity?

Former Armed Forces Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes remained a strong force behind former president Gloria Arroyo even during the series of corruption scandals that rocked her nine-year administration. Now being accused of corruption, the former defense secretary chose to end his life than to continue defending himself.

His death is a tragedy and some people are blaming “trial by publicity.”

It is true: The news media are obsessed with allegations of wrongdoing, especially when hurled against individuals in power. It is hard to tell if it is solely to fulfill their social roles as watchdogs or just to satisfy the perceived fetish of their audiences for scandals involving the mighty. The news media can be harsh—with or without solid proof.

But we are talking about the same news media that provide people the avenue to defend themselves from falsehoods, the same news media that make people think, scrutinize and care. Those who blame the news media for being cruel to those in power forget that the same news media are criticized for providing routine access to the powerful—something that ordinary people, like soldiers deployed in battlefields, do not have.

His death is clearly a tragedy. His family, friends and supporters are entitled to despise the senate and congressional investigations and the media fanfare they have spawned. But rather than shoot down the inquiries with emotions and doubts, what happened should clarify what this is really about. Letting nameless soldiers and policemen suffer and die because criminals have more funds and better guns is a bigger tragedy–especially because there is a chance to stop it.