Bully pulpit

In this era of social media, the term “bully pulpit” has taken on a character that US President Theodore Roosevelt never imagined when he coined the phrase to describe the presidency as an excellent platform for speaking out. Nowadays, any demagogue with a few thousand followers on Facebook and Twitter can use social media to browbeat and bully other people.

Bully pulpit

A case in point was last week’s kerfuffle involving columnist and broadcaster Ramon Tulfo, who took to Facebook and Twitter to launch attacks on emergency room personnel at the Philippine General Hospital and University of the Philippines students, in general.

On the evening of Aug. 15, Tulfo and his entourage brought a nine-year-old girl to the emergency room of PGH, after his driver had bumped her in Navotas. They were immediately led to the triage desk, which assigns degrees of urgency to injuries or illnesses to determine the order of treatment among a large number of patients who need medical attention.

The triage officer that night attended to the victim and while attempting to perform his tasks, saw that several of Tulfo’s staff taking video recordings of the victim and himself. The doctor immediately admonished them to stop what they were doing. But instead of complying, Tulfo shouted at the doctor, cursed several times, and gave him the “dirty finger” several times. 

The girl’s mother pleaded with Tulfo to stop his harangue so they could focus on getting treatment for her child. When it was clear that neither the insults nor the video recording would stop, the doctor on duty left to call a senior medical officer to intervene.

Shortly afterward, security and police officers of PGH arrived and Tulfo was asked to leave the premises. His staff however, remained at the hospital and asked for understanding and “pasensiya” for their boss. 

Later, Tulfo posted a video of  the incident with the following account:

“My staff and I rushed the child to the Philippine General Hospital emergency room.

“The ER doctor, Jay Guerrero, did not want to give the child first aid treatment, saying he didn’t want it recorded on video.

“No amount of pleading from me to attend to the young patient would budge the good doctor.”

Later on, on Twitter, he posted: “Most interns and resident doctors at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) are haughty (matapobre). They don’t care much about their poor patients as all they’re interested in is learning medical skills. Why? They are rich kids who graduated from UP, premiere govt school. Shame!”

PGH has since issued a statement denouncing Tulfo’s behavior and demanding that the video on his Facebook page be taken down and that he issue an apology—all of which he has refused to do.

In its statement, the hospital said Tulfo disrupted ER processes and could have endangered the lives of patients. It also observed that the videotaping of the incident and the subsequent uploading of the video violated the Code of Ethics of Media Practitioners “when the face of the minor victim was displayed in the Facebook video without prior consent and with the obvious displeasure of the minor and guardian.”

In refusing to take down his video—“not in a million years”—Tulfo said he wanted to make it “a point of discussion.”

Anyone not blinded by self-importance and arrogance might see that he was on the wrong side of that discussion, and admit fault. But that is simply unthinkable for a bully, who would see this as a sign of weakness rather than as a sign of humility and decency. 

Curiously, Mr. Tulfo has not referred to the nine-year-old girl in his subsequent social media posts. She is fine, thankfully, and was discharged the next day after a battery of tests—thanks to the good doctors and medical personnel of PGH.

Topics: bully pulpit , President Theodore Roosevelt , Ramon Tulfo , social media

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