Bias: Care and Feeding of the Beast

Blogger Ellen Tordisillas has come to be a fascinating case study for me. I’ve written several blogs about her.  I’m perplexed because I hold her to be a reasonably reasonable and well-intentioned person, yet we come down on opposite sides of the opinion line on many issues. Furthermore, I don’t think she is pursuing a destructive agenda as are other anti-bloggers. Maybe it just comes naturally for her, hahaha.

It seems that President Aquino is rather a litmus test for the two bloggers, Ellen and JoeAm. The President will make a statement or take a position on an issue, and the two of us invariably read it completely the opposite. Two examples:
  • ASEAN: President Aquino made a forthright statement subsequent to a recent ASEAN meeting that called host nation Cambodia to task for asserting a “consensus” had been reached regarding a statement to be issued. President Aquino said no consensus had been arrived at as the statement did not reflect Philippine complaints about Chinese claims on Philippine territory.
    • Ellen ridiculed President Aquino for making the Philippines look divisive and foolish and for undermining ASEAN.
    • JoeAm praised the President for having the courage to stand up to China’s effort to get ASEAN nations to comply with her wishes (essentially China drafted the conference statement). Joe claimed this represented a strong and independent Philippines, something most Filipinos want.


  • Sabah: President Aquino held a press conference and gave a group led by Sultan Jamalul Kiram III an ultimatum to leave Malasia or he could be charged with crimes. The Sultan, believing he is the rightful title-holder to land in Sabah and Sulu, had led a band of almost 200 Filipinos into Sabah, which is governed by Malaysia. Ownership of Sabah is a very intricate and delicate matter.
    • Ellen wrote the following about President Aquino: ” . . . the language he used reeks of arrogance that could only come from ignorance of the root of the issue.” She added: “This standoff came about because the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu decided to do it their way after Malacañang snubbed Kiram’s request for a meeting.”
    • JoeAm read of the President’s firm stand and said to himself “yes!” The Sultan first requested that the U.S. intervene in his defense and then requested an audience with President Aquino. In other words, the Sultan believes he can do as he pleases, stir up trouble for Malaysia and the Philippines, and summon other nations to his cause. President Aquino spoke firmly on behalf of the nation.


Here is a link to the President’s statement of February 26 so you may read it for yourself.  It is short and to the point.
Why do two people see the same statement and the same set of facts so differently? The known facts are the same. The Sabah issue has boiled hot and simmered cool for over a century. It is complex and has been made more complex by armed conflict in Mindanao.
Certainly Malaysia does not buy the Sultan’s claim. And President Aquino mentioned that there are conflicting claims about ownership. He further said that the Sultan’s letter requesting a meeting had come during the President’s entry into office and had been misplaced, not ignored.
So at that point, we get to speculation. In Ellen’s discussion thread, two commenters said they did not believe the President’s “excuse” about the missing letter. They believe it was a snub. They have no facts. It is guess. And it belies the “filter” through which people react.
Therein lies the real reason Ellen and JoeAm disagree. They operate with different fundamental assumptions or beliefs or “trust” about President Aquino.

  • Ellen’s starting  assumption is that President Aquino is arrogant and ignorant.


  • JoeAm’s starting assumption is that President Aquino has a very difficult job and is handling it responsibly.

All the President’s acts and facts get filtered through two different belief screens. Same acts. Substantially the same facts.
Different readouts.
It is actually rather amusing. We can conclude that the President’s acts are pretty much irrelevant to the discussion. The only relevance is the bias of the audience.
The President has the backing of a sizable majority of Filipinos. Therefore, he should simply do what he believes is correct, and most will filter those acts through a favorable lens.
  • That is why the LP senatorial candidates have risen in the Pulse Asia survey rankings.
  • That is why the Binay camp committed a huge mistake going to Cebu to pray with the petulant and misbehaving governor there, flaunting the beloved President.
  • That is why the Catholic Church’s political priests are undermining the Church in the Philippines by challenging, not President Aquino, but the people who support him.


The only way that President Aquino could lose would be if he became deceitful and manipulative. That is, if he let the people down.
As long as he is earnest and forthright and working hard, he has nothing to fear. Not even the complaints of those with a different agenda or different set of assumptions. Perhaps the only real flash points he has to deal with are the economy, FOI and China.

As I reported in a prior blog, transparency is more than simply reporting reams of facts. It is an attitude of being frank, honest, candid. Not sugar-coated or puffed up (beware a SONA with too much braggadocio).

Take the Sultan’s missing letter.
It would be a mistake for President Aquino to say it was “missing” if it had been set aside for a reason. It would be better to explain why it was set aside. And, indeed, if it went “missing” it would be wise to reprimand whoever let it slip between the cracks. Because it was a mistake.
But most of us will shrug. Small point. The bigger point is that President Aquino remains President of the entire nation and does not submit to the demands of a Sultan of no confirmed authority.

And he does not need to submit to the demands of those with a starting point that presumes “Mr. President, you are arrogant and ignorant.”

Listen? Yes he should.
Bow to the critics? No he should not. Shrug them off? Yes he should.
And those of us who are in the business of being critics need to take a mirror every once in a while and hold it up for a good stare. Are we being genuine and factual and forthright? Or are we filtering and manipulating the facts unfairly or irrationally?
To justify ourselves.
30 Responses to “Bias: Care and Feeding of the Beast”
  1. Edgar Lores says:

    1. Fascinating.2. Some essays ago, I said we start from different biases when I was discussing the Celdran case with Johnny.3. The bias is acquired as we grow up. It is our conditioning. And thereafter we see the world through that conditioning.4. It is hard to break through that bias. Our world is a shell, a cosmic egg, of our own making. We are comfortable in it, ensconced in its warmth.4.1 The shell can be broken from the inside or the outside.4.2. If the shell is broken from the outside, there is great danger – because we do not know if the self inside is at a stage of maturity and development to accept change.4.3 But if the shell is broken from the inside, there is wonder – because the self inside has determined it is ready to emerge and discover the new world outside the shell. Note: the world outside might be another shell.5. There is one other perspective: we all think that the cosmic egg we inhabit is the greatest, a mansion. The corollary is that the cosmic eggs of others are hovels. This might be true or it might be delusional. How to tell is the great issue of our time.5.1 I have a plausible solution, but at last count it was 6,383 words long.

  2. Superb characterization, that number 4. Outside: parents, friends/siblings, school, communities. Inside: demons, angels and cognizance.5. I'm reminded of Fabergé eggs and also scrambled eggs.Can you break the solution into 3 or 4 parts?

  3. andrew lim says:

    I dont think Ellen Tordesillas is a destructive force, either. But due to her frustration with some issues, esp the Burgos case, it carries over to other policy issues. That's a problem of many I've seen here. I am not immune myself, though my awareness of that malady enables me to fight it. It's the inability to separate persons from issues, feelings from fact. Just because you disagree vigorously with someone on a specific issue should not turn you into a perpetual enemy of that person on every single issue. I think that's what happened to Ellen. Contrast that with what Hillary and Obama were able to achieve after a bruising nomination battle.

  4. Ahh, that explains a lot, Andrew. Thanks. It is the bitterness of her comments that I couldn't comprehend, especially from a former journalist. So she really has a personal axe to grind, and she is grinding it in her blog.And, indeed, we all fight our limitations, the impositions of our personal history on what we see.I appreciate the perspectives. Eye-opening.

  5. Ella Tovara says:

    It depends on how we look at everything around us. Ellen is looking at everything that is happening around her on a very myopic view. She is just considering herself and a few of her compatriots.President Aquino is looking at things on how these would impact to the majority of Filipinos and thinks beyond present situations.So do not be surprised why you and Ellen are on opposite sides most of the time.

  6. Yes, that makes sense, so I shouldn't be surprised. I think I don't mind disagreement, but I really don't like it when she paints the President of the Philippines, who is an earnest and decent fellow, as "arrogant and ignorant". The President represents us all, as you say, so when we undermine him, we undermine our nation, and undermine our own best interest.

  7. Ella Tovara says:

    That explains how myopic Ellen looks at the stuff around her. I am surprised why there are people that still reads her blogs. As you have written in your past blog about how personal and sensitive some Filipinos are, Ellen is the perfect example of that kind of Filipino. she has no objectivity whatsoever.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Ellen was a die hard Aquino supporter, but maybe her new perspective comes from seeing the same old things we've all seen and heard from previous administrations. Choices were easy back then; Marcos bad-Aquino good, GMA bad-Aquino good. She's probably come to realize that nothing has really changed. I haven't seen any changes myself, but that's just me.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Somebody's probably going to say that change is always going to take some time, sure. But I just don't see any common sense being applied to any of the problems plaguing this country. Hmmmm, Philippine Department of Common Sense (PDOCS) Sounds catchy

  10. Well, in many respects, I agree with you. Like in a prior blog about education. DepEd sees the solution as getting a bigger budget to do more of the same rather than reconfigure the education model to take advantage of the internet. And smuggling remains rampant because, although the top level corruption is diminished, the corruption that is the Philippine economic model continues. And the President could have forthrightly pushed for RH early, and could push for FOI with determination. But does not. So the pace of change could indeed have been more "spirited".But I give him credit for stabilizing governance and ending (I hope) the coup mentality. And for certain accomplishmentsm even if slow. After all, RH had simmered for 20 years, and he has moved further toward peace in Mindanao than anyone. So he has stopped the Philippines from self-destructing and now the bricks are being laid . . . at least upward . . . if slow.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I think the stability you speak of comes from the media that toe the line for this administration. Ellen was part of that clique until recently. Funny I just read about the National Black Chamber of Commerce president, doing a complete turn around against Obama. As with Mindanao, all I hear are the same recycled lines that I've heard before. Maybe I just need to squint my eyes real hard and look at it from a different angle.

  12. Ha. Maybe so, or look for the positives. I think the stability is more than just media portrayal, but agree that it is rather thin. Economic progress rides too much on OFW's. There is not much of a core. More could be done to build that core. I also think that the agreement being worked on in Mindanao, if it holds up under the weight of the Sultan's recent Malaysian escapade, is very different and positive, but will be like the past if it is not backed with economic revitalization. That will be expensive, but necessary. So many demands for money, so little money . . . .I think maybe if we didn't expect government to be Jesus, we'd not be so disappointed. I also think it is hard to be President when there are power brokers out to get you, like the Catholic Church, socialists, rich businessmen who want to protect their rule, corrupt officials who like getting rich, and political opponents. It is rather a job with lots of powerful people taking every shot they can. You move any direction, they shoot . . .

  13. i respect our differences in belief and culture but by God, why do we always have to blame others for our wrong decisions? do we have to blame the govt every time we find ourselves in the shit of our own doing? it's utterly unfair for the rest of 90 million Filipinos who strive hard to make a decent living..let's be reasonable, moreso, act responsibly! so easy for the kirams to wage a battle of sovereign right but when they lose and get hurt; they blame, point fingers, and whine..ha!

  14. Anonymous says:

    i have a strong suspicion that Ellen views the President and the government with red tinted glasses. maybe Ted Casino lent them to her….loli've noticed that whenever Aquino does something good and you can't find any fault in it or twist it to suit your view, she won't mention it in her blog even if it is headline news.she's been like that since day 1 of Pnoy's presidency.

  15. Yes, Christian. It's hard to accept bad results from our acts, or failure. Everyone rationalizes to some extent. But when it is penalizes the wrong person, that's not good. President Aquino, I believe, did all within his power to direct the Sultan down a rational path, and the Sultan refused. So the Sultan made two unfortunate decisions: going to Malaysia, and refusing the Presidential demand that he return home. Seems to me he was committed to the path he took. No one put him on it. No one else deserves any blame whatsoever.

  16. Yes, red indeed. My comments are no longer published there. I think she banned me for being critical of her one-sided view. Lots of anger I'd say.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Before those armchair patriots shout "Invade Sabah!", they should first check if 1) the Kirams are actually claiming Sabah for the Philippines and not for themselves and 2) if the Philippines actually has the firepower to wage a winnable war against Malaysia.Otherwise, they should just put their feet where their mouths are and storm Sabah by themselves (read: no government assistance). Hindi lang dapat sa Facebook ang tapang.

  18. Two superb questions. Yes, and there is a very huge difference between calling for someone else to go off and stand in front of bullets, and doing it oneself. It noisy when one is actually there. And you never hear the bullet before it plunks you.

  19. Jetlag807 says:

    This is totally FUBAR! Brace yourself Joe… In this case, I have to agree with President Aquino. There! I said it! Rightly so, I might add. This situation is complete insanity! What did the Filipinos in Sabah expect from the Malaysian government? Flowers and candy? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! Could you imagine what would happen if a group of Mexicans crossed into Texas and laid siege to the Alamo claiming some 150-year-old document says it belongs to Mexico? Everyday Texans would have already slaughtered the "invaders" long before the Police and Federal Agencies arrived on scene! The reactions of the news media outlets and the public in general are just as insane! "Why isn't Aquino doing more to protect Filipinos in Sabah?" Maybe because they have, in effect, invaded a foreign country which also happens to be an ally! Duh! Oh! But what about the alleged ancient document which says Sabah is part of the Philippines? Well, by that logic, the Chinese have full rights to claim the disputed islands of the Spratly's and Scarborough Shoals! You can't have it both ways people!When all is said and done, the Filipinos in Sabah (those laying siege) have three choices; 1) surrender, 2) end up in a Malaysian prison or 3) die… Is that to harsh? Is that not "rosy" enough for Filipinos to grasp? If you ask me, President Aquino was not "harsh" enough! This is not an incident of some OFW facing the death penalty in a foreign land! This is an armed group who have illegally taken control of foreign territory and (as it is now being reported) taken Malaysian hostages! Aquino's next statement should be something like this… "Hey! Dip-shits! There is nothing the government of the Philippines can do until you put down the weapons and let the hostages go! Give up peacefully and pray the Malaysians will ONLY sentence your leaders to life imprisonment!"Totally FUBAR!

  20. Jet, I love it when you are so wishy washy on an issue. The Sultan's backers would give you a lot of yada yada yada about his rightful ownership, but it is like surreal to me. It is like trying to jam reality into a dream. It doesn't fit.FUBAR it is.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I'm willing to bet an entire month's paycheck that the GRP people are among those shouting "Invade Sabah!" You know, just to spite Aquino.

  22. Maybe. I don't visit there, I wouldn't know. I don't visit there anymore because I can't comment without getting spammed. I think the writers are actually pretty good at parsing an incident for understanding, but also good at twisting any action the President takes into a negative. It is rather genius misapplied.

  23. Galicano says:

    I am writing and loving your article for the same reason that I am positively 'biased'. I'd rather believe to the goodness of the President that I voted. When the reasons and motives behind the action cannot be explained for security purposes, there is but two obvious choices —- either trust that one is doing the right thing or, doubt and be on guard for the coming of more disappointing lies. Our views are ultimately shaped by our own perspective. In simplistic terms, it is like loving someone. When your husband did not call and was unreasonably late, the first sentence that comes from your mouth, speaks not only of the trust that you have of him, but the trust that you have of yourself, as a wife. Possible Reactions would be:1. Be thankful he is home, and see that he is alright. Thereafter, ask what happened; OR2. Berate him for being late, and accusing him of womanizing or drinking senselessly with his buddies.It is not only a question of trust to your spouse, it is an insecure belief of one's value — that one is not good enough to come home to. Some people's negative views are rooted on the same thing. It is a reflection of their own disappointments, boxed and compared to everyone else's. Deep inside, they have doubts that someone could love them, fight for them, and truly try to represent the general welfare over the good of an abusive few.I believe that when we see people with good hearts, we do not question them and shred them to pieces just to prove we were right. We can observe, and lest we have proof, support whatever good projects he has. I am more confident in this batch of top governors of the country, and rather than strike easily with negative comments, I'd rather trust. True, people may make honest errors in judgment, but at least, he is working to make hard decisions however unpopular. I trust my President, because I trust that he has been brought up to love and respect this country, more than some of us. It boils down to upbringing as well.

  24. Very rich statement Galicano. I'm reminded of the notion that many in embarking upon love are really loving themselves rather than the other person. That is like what you explain, a cheating person will always be suspicious of his partner, a trustful person trusting.I share your view of the President, and the core of people he has on his cabinet. Earnest and working on the many diffult problems facing the Philippines: lots to do; not enough money. And, indeed, he has an upbringing that is unique. A firmness the pops up from the easy-going nice guy every once in a while. Like, when Sultans run amuck.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I agree. Everybody who keeps on blabbering "Invade Sabah! Defend our fellow Filipinos!" should strap on a rifle, ride a boat and have them fight Kiram's war.-mami_noodles

  26. Yes, "noodles". It is amazing how easily people play with other people's lives, in the interest of arguing a point.

  27. Galicano says:

    But wouldn't an optimistic or positive person, win over a doubtful one, eventually? If that cause is lost, then there's no use discussing anything in the hope that, EVENTUALLY, we will agree to see some basic truth in the way that we view or perceive things. That is why, in most relationships, there should be a common core value. In marriage, it is LOVE. Stronger than that, is mutual RESPECT and COMMITMENT. In a country, it is PATRIOTISM tempered with WISDOM. One's expression of love of country may be misguided, but his heart is true. Where passion is left with little understanding, there is but, a simpleton run over by his feelings. I realize all the more, the benefits of school, and in staying in school. It has 'tempered' a child's tendency to push individualistic interests, to accommodate a common goal. Of course, I am talking about a school who has credibility not to have the rich and famous get away with blunders. Haha.

  28. Yes, I think you are right. Optimism wins, so President Aquino's LP party will do well in the Senate elections. I agree with your statement that education ought to teach "community" over individual interests, but I think the Philippine public school system does this by authoritarian mandate rather than instilling a spirit of personal pride in giving to others. To some extent this is necessary when kids are packed 45 per classroom. But the teaching mind set is to teach rote obedience rather than inspiration to do good deeds.

  29. ac says:

    Would you consider columnist Solita Monsod as being biased against PNoy? Though she does give praise once in a while but lately there seems to be a bias and I wonder where it emanates from. Here's her column on the Sabah issue:

  30. I'd have to read a variety of her comments to see if she can give credit as well as criticism. From this article, I'd say she is offering a distorted view of the President's engagement on Sabah. Based on this one case, I'd say "seems to be biased".

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