COMMENT: The elections may be over, but the fight for truth goes on

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President-elect Ferdinand 'Bongbong
President-elect Ferdinand 'Bongbong" Marcos Jr., 4th from left, poses beside, from left, Senator Imee Marcos, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Imelda Marcos, House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, Irene Marcos, Maria Louise Marcos and House Majority leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, during his proclamation ceremony at the House of Representatives, Quezon City, Philippines on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Marcos Jr. was proclaimed the next president of the Philippines by a joint session of Congress Wednesday in an astonishingly huge elections triumph 36 years after his father was ousted as a brutal dictator by a pro-democracy uprising. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

What else is there to say about the national elections?

They were nothing short of tragic and terrifying. Bongbong Marcos, a convicted tax evader and the late dictator’s son and namesake, and Sara Duterte, the daughter of the polarizing Rodrigo Duterte, swept the polls. More frustrating, amidst a pool of advocates, educators, environmentalists, lawyers, and labor leaders, Robin Padilla (whose only notable credit to his name is being a movie star) was the top-voted senatorial candidate.

Suffer the children who will live under a regime that buries its history. One that tramples on the memories of Leticia Ladlad, Rizalina Ilagan, and Jessica Sales among many other Martial Law desaparecidos, and Kian de los Santos, Carl Arnaiz, and Reynaldo de Guzman, the poster children of the failed Philippine Drug War.

But light still shines even in the darkest of times. On May 13, an eve of thanksgiving became Robredo’s launching pad for an Angat Buhay non-government organization (NGO). While sharing her hopes for “the largest volunteer network in the Philippines,” Robredo also declared war against disinformation and historical revisionism.

Joining or establishing the NGO is and will never be the endgame. However, there is wisdom in Robredo singling-out disinformation, and perhaps this is something that every Filipino needs to understand.

May 9 was a day of ballots and bullets, with cases of vote-buying and violence confirmed by electoral watchdog group Kontra Daya. Even before these, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) not only failed to ensure that vote-counting machines (VCMs) would work properly, but also junked several disqualification cases against Marcos (even with his criminal history) and spearheaded the despised Oplan Baklas that saw murals defaced and voters harassed.

Now, recent reports of missing certificates of canvass (COCs) only cast more doubts in the elections’ legitimacy.

While all of these are factors, one must not overlook how in recent years, disinformation has swarmed then gnawed through the public consciousness. Fatima Gaw, an associate professor and researcher from the University of the Philippines (UP), said that propaganda thrives in YouTube under the guise of being legitimate news sources and by being patterned to appeal to the site’s algorithm (e.g. same topics and tag, as well as title formats, etc.).

She lamented that while YouTube did remove videos that violated community guidelines, there were still propaganda channels that garnered sponsorships. “And that's paid for by YouTube – they’re kind of paying for disinformation,” she said in a 2022 report by Wired!

The same issue persists in Facebook, with the now defunct Cambridge Analytica being exposed to have used private Facebook information to sway voters (including those in the Philippines) to support a seemingly ideal candidate. In reality, deleted documents from Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL Group suggested that they manufactured the public image of someone like Rodrigo Duterte to make him more appealing to voters.

A type of chilling effect can be felt in trolls commenting off of different scripts (from erroneous messages of support for candidates to posting misleading, often hyper-stylized images) and at times even harassing journalists in their own handles. In TikTok, one can see how historical revisionism burned through public consciousness by peddling the narrative of Marcos being the victims and the Martial Law era being a missed moment of greatness in time.

But the issue of disinformation does not boil down to social media alone. It also concerns the quality of education in the country. An example being Araling Panlipunan (AP) and other of the country’s history subjects failed to educate students about the importance of things past. In a study by the Far Eastern University (FEU) Public Policy Center, AP was more for memorization than for critical learning, leaving students vulnerable to lies and deception.

If one were to speculate, it wouldn’t be hard to say that disillusionment in past administrations may have played a part as well.

For every Marcos or Joseph Estrada booted from office, there is someone like Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who was ready to allegedly manipulate votes (also worth noting was how ex-agriculture secretary Jocelyn Bolante reportedly masterminded the theft of fertilizer funds to finance Arroyo’s 2004 campaign). Someone like Noynoy Aquino fumbled in fighting for the straight and narrow path with failures such as the Dengvaxia scare and the devastating fallout of Typhoon Yolanda.

The Philippines should not stomach another golden calf that spouts vulgar gags or rides on the coattails of their dead dictator father. This is simply to say that for others, the more “unconventional” candidates are the ones to trust or, in times when the words of Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) and National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) are treated as “legitimate,” to worship.

We keep flies away from open wounds since maggots growing in human tissue can cause serious harm. By the same logic, we ought to keep corrupt and incompetent officials away from office because letting them thrive will be dangerous to the nation’s health.

I wouldn’t say Robredo declaring war against disinformation and establishing an NGO instead of calling-out COMELEC’s many mishaps as admitting defeat. I’d call it more as an acknowledgment of a more cultural itch that cannot be scratched so easily.

If I were to give an advice, I’d say that, especially for first-time voters like me, we should view the whole elections as a part of a lengthy social practice. Some forms of knowledge worked for us while some didn’t, much like how there are those that worked at first but are now deemed obsolete after different experiences. Building-up on this, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t any chance for those who chose Marcos and Duterte to reflect and reassess.

Reach-out to people who can be talked to, but draw a line in red-tagging, harassment, and other foul acts or forms of discriminatory language. As much as we want to be empathic to all voters, aiming for radical love should not mean enabling every single wrongdoing on the premise that “they don’t know any better.”

At the same time, calling any wrongdoing out should not come to the point that people would be willing to joke about Martial Law killings and red-tagging: acts that indirectly normalize the human rights abuses we have worked hard to never happen again. Be steady and fair while being vigilant and assertive when demanding accountability from the likes of COMELEC, disinformation peddlers, and their large army of supporters.

Most importantly, concert rallies, unity statements, and house-to-house (H2H) initiatives have planted the seeds for a better outcome in the future. It is through these activities that partly led to different supporters across all sectors to hop into other rallies and learn more about the world around them. As many before have said already, some never carried placards or chanted with activists until they did so with warm company.

What better time to continue the fight than now.

As long as there is a message to deliver, peaceful protests must continue. As long as there is a truth to uncover, educational discussions on human rights and other issues must be organized. As long as there is injustice, the people must unite and march even without popular artists or preferred candidates to excite the crowds.

The streams of information may run red with disinformation and Marcos and Duterte may have returned to power, but one setback can never kill a movement.

Reuben Pio Martinez is a news writer who covers stories on various communities and scientific matters. He regularly tunes-in to local happenings. The views expressed are his own.

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