Our #SochiFail

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Since the recent start of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, organizers have been accused of being unprepared, not only to address the basic requirements of the athletes, but also the needs of visiting media, tourists and just about everyone else who made the long trip to witness the Games.

The popularity of the hashtag #SochiFail was best exemplified by an American athlete who, after he had gotten inadvertently imprisoned in his hotel bathroom because of a faulty lock, twitted about how he destroyed the door to escape.

Here in the Philippines, our homegrown Sochi story revolves around Michael Christian Martinez, an asthmatic 17-year-old from Muntinlupa City who pulled off the near-impossible and qualified for the men’s figure skating event in Sochi to become the first Filipino (and Southeast Asian) to ever compete in that elite Winter Games discipline. What made Michael’s story so improbable was not only his personal struggle against his chronic ailment and the lack of suitable training facilities and exposure here, but also the financial woes he and his mother, Maria Teresa, had to go through on their road to Sochi.

In an interview with the Catholic Register newspaper last month, Teresa was particularly critical of the Philippine government, which she said gave no support to her son, despite repeated requests. “I don’t even think anyone at the President’s office knows there’s a Filipino skating in the Olympics,” said Teresa, who explained that she had written Malacañang several times asking for help.

Christian’s only support came from the SM mall chain, which operates the ice skating rink where the boy learned to skate and which gave him P1 million, and the Philippine Skating Union, the sport’s association that, by necessity, has very close ties to SM and which pitched in half of that amount.

Teresa told the newspaper that she had to mortgage her house to fund Christian’s training and participation in various international events as well, to pay for a coach who would teach her son world-class skating. “It’s a crazy investment,” she admitted.

Of course, now that Christian’s historic feat of becoming the first Filipino to compete in the figure skating event has gone viral in the media, Malacañang Palace is suddenly very supportive. “We hope the Filipino people are behind Christian and his quest for gold at the Sochi Olympics [and] we hope God will bless you,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said over the weekend.

On the off chance that Martinez wins a medal, I’m sure the government will say that it was there for him all along, too. And if that happens, we will have a #SochiFail to beat anything anyone can dream up.

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Another impending “fail” seems to be the “slam dunk evidence” that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima says she has unearthed in the testimony of Ruby Tuason, the former social secretary of ex-President Joseph Estrada who worked for his son Senator Jinggoy before the pork barrel scandal came to light. Since declaring that Tuason - one of the co-accused in the plunder case that government has been pushing against three senators, their staff and alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles - has the goods, De Lima has dialed down her enthusiasm somewhat.

After independent legal experts, some senators not involved in the case - like Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III - and even Vice President Jejomar Binay doubted Tuason’s importance, De Lima has even become a bit defensive. She was particularly offended by Binay’s less-than-sanguine reaction, saying that “instead of encouraging us to further strengthen evidence, [they] belittle [it] or they’re even scoffing at our evidence.”

And why wouldn’t people with an understanding of the law that is better than what De Lima has displayed in the past urge her to slow down on the importance of Tuason’s testimony? Well, first of all, as Far Eastern University law dean Mel Sta. Maria argued, the government may not need Tuason’s testimony at all, because it already has that of Benhur Luy and the other whistleblowers.

According to Sta. Maria, it would be exceedingly difficult to make Tuason a state witness - and besides, her testimony could even damage the value of other evidence already offered by government in the case. “Tuason cannot be made a state witness if her testimony is not indispensable (considering, for example, that other witnesses such as Luy, who is not a conspirator, can prove the crime and the culprits),” Sta. Maria wrote.

“As an alleged conspirator, in other words, she must defend herself like any other accused,” he explained. “Should the court reject the government plea for Tuason to become a state witness [because she is a conspirator], her affidavit or sworn testimony will become, stunningly, inadmissible. Its probative value will disintegrate. It will become a useless scrap of paper.”


A legal slam dunk by De Lima? I’ll believe it when I see it; but for now, it certainly looks like De Lima’s record will remain - as they used to say about one former top government lawyer - unblemished by victory.