‘Social media serves as tool for change’

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

THE response to the video of a priest berating a 17-year-old unwed mother during the baptism of her son shows the power of social networking sites in effecting change, said lawyer-blogger Ethelbert Ouano.

“Social pressure is a very powerful moral and political tool. It is indispensable in any society,” he said in an interview through Facebook. “It (social pressure) is enhanced and amplified by social media.”

The video was uploaded last Sunday night on Facebook by the mother of the 17-year-old mother, a few hours after the baptism ceremony.


Carlota, Kaye’s mother, said she had no intention to shame Fr. Romeo Obach at the Sacred Heart Chapel of the Redemptorist Church in Barangay Jagobiao, Mandaue City. She only wanted to show her friends the pain that Kaye went through.


The following morning, she was stunned when she learned the two-minute clip was shared a thousand times already.

On Tuesday, Obach issued a public apology and described his behavior as “cruel” and “unbecoming.” The priest also spoke with Carlota.

By Wednesday night, the video was shared about 43,000 times and earned 12,500 likes.

Aside from a handwritten apology to Kaye, Obach, accompanied by two priests, visited Kaye's family at their house in Jagobiao that night. During the visit, Obach cried.

Kaye and her parents forgave him.

Last Thursday, Carlota took down the video from her Facebook account fulfilling her promise to Obach. “I have already moved on,” she said in Cebuano.

No crime

Ouano said the video presented clerical abuse, an issue that dates back to the early history of the Roman Catholic Church.

He said Carlota's posting of the clip is no criminal act.

Lawyer Ian Vincent Manticajon agreed. He said the mother was only reacting to the priest's behavior.

“It was a normal reaction on a perceived provocation coming from a priest,” he said.

Did Carlota violate Republic Act (RA) 10175 (the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012)?

Under the law, the person who can be charged with online libel is the original author.

The persons who receive or react to the post cannot be penalized.

No malice

Manticajon said the mother cannot be charged with violation of RA 10175 or slapped with defamation because the video was taken in a public place and she did not write below-the-belt comments in her Facebook page against the priest.

For Ouano, he said the video shows no malicious imputations of a crime or vice.

He urges social media users to be responsible because they can make or break persons or institutions with what they post and share about them in the Internet.

“Social media is a free market of information. An offended party can always make a reply on the accusations. Notwithstanding, our criminal laws are already in place,” said Ouano.

During their meeting last Wednesday night, Carlota said she apologized to Obach for posting the video.

“I did not expect it would catch attention,” she said in Cebuano. “A neighbor told me the video went viral and I don't even know what the word means.”

Carlota works as a tanod at the Jagobiao barangay hall, while her husband is an ambulance driver.

Virality, said Ouano, is achieved when videos or pictures are spread rapidly and widely if they present a “specific human interest and extraordinary experiences.”

“One can't exactly compute these echoes in social media. Virality has no specific formula,” he said.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 12, 2014.

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