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Top Gear Philippines

Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge advocate of social media, especially when it is used to achieve something positive. We have a very engaging Facebook page that has played host to a number of posts that strove to shape public opinion, solicit aid for the needy, and rebuke the scumbags that managed to put themselves behind the wheel of a car. Last year, in particular, we enjoined our readers to condemn the violent action committed by Robert Blair Carabuena against MMDA traffic officer Saturnino Fabros by reporting the incident on our website and sharing it on our social-media channels.

Social media, utilized properly and responsibly, can work for the common good. But we need to temper its use, and we as a decent society need to learn how to intelligently evaluate what is being shared online--specifically when the only source of the story is the complainant and there is no other way to prove its veracity.

Yesterday, a blog called Kupal People Files appeared online with its maiden offering: An unidentified private motorist ranting about an unpleasant encounter he had with a San Miguel Corporation employee named Noel delos Santos. (The post has been taken down as of this writing.) Because I do not wish to bore you, here is the gist of the incident as far as I can recall:

The complainant brought his nine-month-pregnant wife to the hospital for her scheduled checkup. Upon arriving at the hospital, they found the parking area on the ground level to be full, so the complainant drove their Suzuki Swift to the second level. There were many available slots on the second level, but the complainant picked one that was close to the stairs as he didn't want his expectant wife to have difficulty walking. And because he wanted his wife to be able to get out of the car easily and comfortably, he parked the car such that the passenger side had more space than the driver side. Which meant that the Swift's driver side overstepped the demarcation line.

But before the couple could alight from their car, a pickup with SMC branding abruptly took the slot next to the Swift's driver side, making it difficult for the complainant to get out. The complainant honked at the pickup driver--who turned out to be an SMC employee based on the shirt he was wearing--and asked him to move his vehicle so the complainant could get out, adding that his wife was pregnant. The SMC employee refused, got mad and just hurled a stream of invective at the complainant as he walked away, saying he had parked properly and the complainant had not.

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Later, when the couple returned to their car after the wife's checkup, the complainant started taking photos of the pickup with the intent to report the incident to SMC. This was where it got a little messy, as the SMC employee caught him doing his impromptu photo shoot. The SMC employee confronted the complainant and let out more cuss words, even saying he didn't care if the complainant's wife was pregnant. The SMC employee even threatened to hit the complainant if the latter didn't delete the photos he had taken. Through all of this, the wife was able to take pictures of the two men passionately arguing from inside the Swift, hence the notorious mug shot of the SMC employee now spreading on social media.

Now, it should be noted that the above story was narrated entirely by the complainant. It was completely his version, and it's a bit tricky to assess whether the account is 100% accurate or not. From experience, I have often found this to be true: There are always three sides to a story--those of the complainant, the accused and the CCTV camera. Unfortunately, in this case, there is only one side presented to the public, and this very side was packaged in such a way that the complainant would look like a meek, helpless victim and the accused like the most demented person on the planet. It doesn't take a psychologist to correctly guess whose side people took.

To be honest, I saw a big-ass asterisk when I read this story. First of all, I don't like that the complainant did not identify himself, only the accused. That alone is a significant blow to the report's credibility. Second, I have serious doubts about the motive behind the post. According to the account, the incident took place on October 21 and the complainant was writing to SMC to file a formal grievance report so that the SMC employee could be meted some sort of disciplinary action. If this was sincerely his goal, why did he have to air it on social media just one day after the incident? An online rant like this should always be the last resort, when all options have been exhausted to no avail. The purpose, obviously, was to humiliate the SMC employee and crucify him in the digital court of public opinion.

After reading the story, I wasn't fully convinced. In fact, I did not want to believe that a gainfully employed SMC worker could be as insensitive, as rude, as abusive as he had been painted in the narrative. Something had to be missing there. Which was why--when I shared the blog on our Facebook page--I asked this question: "Who is really at fault here (assuming the story is 100% true)?" I wanted to find out if there were other people who could see through the dramatic storytelling and assess the case objectively. As expected, many of our Facebook followers quickly denounced the uncouth behavior of the SMC employee, cursing him and even challenging him to a fistfight. Thankfully--and I'm truly proud of this--we also have social-media followers who posted sobering and insightful comments.

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"Too little information," wrote Jonz Sandoval. "I'm not siding with anyone. You'd have to be an ultimate prick to do that to a woman regardless of her condition."

"One side of the story," Bernard de Rosales said. "Maybe he shouted at the SMC employee."

"Assuming the story is true, it wasn't the fault of the SMC employee since it was the complainant who parked the wrong way in the first place," added Mark Bren. "This is a parking issue."

"Both parties are at fault here," opined Christian Velasquez. "To the husband, you can't really use your wife's pregnancy as an excuse to not park properly."

And my favorite comment of all:

"Lines are there for a reason," pointed out Francis de Guzman. "Follow the lines; without them, there will be chaos. Your limited capability--wife is pregnant--does not exempt you from the rules. From the pictures, the SMC employee parked his car properly; you didn't. Sorry, but I think you placed yourself and your wife in that situation, if ever the story is true."

With Facebook, Twitter and Instagram being the rage these days, and most everyone having round-the-clock access to the Internet, it is now all too easy to report another person with whom we've had a heated exchange on the road. It's fine if that other person is truly an asshole, and we're genuinely without fault. Most of the time, however, we have a tendency to embellish the truth in our favor. I'm not saying the complainant did in this case. I'm just saying that we as a rational society should be able to hold back before dispensing quick judgment on allegations like this, especially if the person making the claim isn't even transparent enough to identify himself.

Who knows? Maybe this blog entry was a prank after all, designed to rile people up, the author curious to see if the figment of his imagination could go viral. But if it's true, we can only hope he told it like it was. And until we hear the other party's version of the story, it's best to refrain from racing to conclusions.

This is far from being a Carabuena story. Last year's bullying incident was recorded on video by a third party. This latest claim involving a parking-lot altercation, however, is totally one-sided, told from the point of view of a man who felt offended by another person's perceived rudeness--a man who was himself in the wrong in the first place, and whose motive for sharing the incident on social media is glaringly suspect.

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Vernon B. Sarne
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