By Malou Guanzon-Apalisok
Cebu Daily News
The Thrilla in NAIA, as the brawl between Inquirer columnist Ramon Tulfo and celebrity couple Raymart Santiago and Claudine Baretto is now billed, has spawned countless media and Internet materials that have gone viral after news of the airport bakbakan became public. From funny video clips featured in prime time news, witty memes to hilarious video games, the file seems endless
and each time the slant is funnier than the last.
One poster had the Tulfo brothers in a virtual boxing arena ranged against the Santiago siblings together with Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Another had boxing champion Manny Pacquiao in a supposed prize-match with Claudine. One video reproduced the brawl with the cast donning Power Rangers costumes. Last and certainly not the least, the cast wearing Marvel comics series costumes, with Mon sporting a huge black eye and Claudine looking every inch the ethereal diva.
Set in the airport arrival area that closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras were unable to capture, the fight by the “mightiest men in the world” poster was the funniest. I can’t wait to see how the Department of Tourism would turn this unfortunate incident around before it sets back the “It’s more fun in the Philippines” tourism campaign because the fistfight, which was set off by Cebu Pacific’s decision to offload excess baggage in a flight from the Caticlan airport, confirms at the very least the inefficiency if not disrespect of the airline to the riding public. Or was this the airline’s way of getting back at bakasyonistas who virtually haul their houses to places where they’re supposed to travel light?
When I read the news in the Internet, the only available video was the scene where the Santiago couple was hitting Tulfo, who traded blows with a guy in pink polo shirt. As the columnist slumped on the ground, Raymart held him up to let the other guy rain punches on their adversary. Tulfo is said to be a martial arts expert but he had no chance against two young men and a woman with an adrenalin burst. Because the blows landed mostly on Mon’s face, I heard he is extremely
worried because he just underwent an eye operation.
The question as to who started the fistfight remains unanswered. But as updated news clips continue to pour, the picture offers a different view of what we thought happened in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) last Sunday.
A witness, a woman passenger from Iloilo who arrived at the same time with Tulfo and the Santiagos, told ABS-CBN news the other day that it was Tulfo who landed the first blow. The conflict started when Raymart noticed Tulfo taking pictures of Claudine berating a Cebu Pacific ground attendant. In various interviews, Tulfo said his refusal to give Raymart his celll phone angered the actor, leading him to hit the columnist.
However, the woman witness told a different story, one that corroborated the celebrity couple’s version. She said the columnist took offense at Raymart’s behavior and since the couple was closing in on him, he punched the actor and kicked Claudine in the thigh. The witness, who was not identified in the report, called on other witnesses to tell the truth.
When a badly battered Tulfo came out in TV interviews shortly after the bakbakan, I was struck that he sounded almost conciliatory. While his brothers were hopping mad, Mon, although aggrieved, seemed ready to reconcile with the Santiagos who did not offer any apology or compromise. Still, credit goes to Mon for telling his brothers not to counter force with force and to be “consoled by the fact that public opinion is on his side.”
I say the jury is still out on that, but I agree the violence could have been averted had Mon pacified Claudine and in the process spared the Cebu Paccific ground attendant public shame and, who knows, with Claudine as witness and Mon as a crusading journalist, bring concrete solutions to the never-ending travails of airline passengers in this part of the world.
The Thrilla in Manila has exposed NAIA’s inefficiency. First, the CCTV is not working, a telling security lapse in the airport that was given a huge makeover budget this year. Second, the security guards were inutile in preventing people from engaging in fights. Reports say the NAIA management will review its contract with a security agency.
Congress is also set reopen its probe into abuses committed by airline companies. I just hope this will not be resolved by what Bayan Muna party-list representative Teddy Casiño is suggesting to end the Tulfo-Santiago ruckus: free airline tickets plus hotel freebies in Boracay.