The badvocacy of Amnesty International-Netherlands

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SASS ROGANDO SASOT

“GOOD evening, Sass, have you seen this?” a friend of mine asked me after she received a message from her colleague about the advertisement of Amnesty International-Netherlands (AIN) on NPO1, one of the television channels under the Dutch public broadcasting system.

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The 30-second ad in the Dutch language has three versions. They all start the same way: Accompanied by a dark, ominous, and foreboding soundtrack are bluntly cut clips of seven world leaders — Putin (Russia), Assad (Syria), Maduro (Venezuela), Duterte (Philippines), Orbán (Hungary), Kim Jong-un (North Korea), and Trump (United States).

And they end with three different calls to action meant to encourage viewers to join Amnesty International (AI): 1) “Evil is coming closer. How far should it come? 2) More and more leaders threaten our freedom. Do not let them win; and 3) More and more leaders threaten human rights. Together we can do something about it!

The message: Duterte, like the six other leaders, is evil, a threat to freedom and human rights. By joining AI, Dutch people could help defeat evil Duterte and avert the threat he poses to freedom and human rights.

This is a textbook case of badvocacy. Badvocacy refers to advocacy done bad. It proceeds to condemn without first understanding the subject of its condemnation. Oversimplification and sensationalism are some of its hallmarks. It is often based on the supremacy of Western solutions to problems divorced from the context of their application.

AIN’s badvocacy prescribes that Duterte must be removed to save the Philippines. After all, what else must be done to evil but to uproot it? Luring Dutch people to join their cause could be effective. For besides the emotional pull of the ad, Dutch people have already been conditioned to hate Duterte since the 2016 elections.

Most Dutch people only rely on what the media shows them about Philippine politics. Since the 2016 elections, Dutch TV has been inundated by sensationalist stories about Duterte, without a balancing perspective or any follow-up reports.

Furthermore, it is not only Duterte who is being portrayed with an oversimplified and sensationalist bent. Even his supporters are portrayed as nothing but blinded supporters or worse — an army of online trolls hired by the government.

Right after I saw the commercial, I issued a call to action to the readers of my Facebook Page @forthemotherlandph. I asked my readers to make this their status: “Dear Amnesty International Nederland: I am a Filipino citizen. President Duterte is not a threat to my freedom. (Write this message in your FB status. Don’t let Amnesty International speak for you).”

Some who heeded that call posted it directly on AIN’s Facebook Page. Others commented with their own take on AIN’s portrayal of Duterte. To which, AIN’s Facebook page manager reacted in a comment: “Hallo internet-trollen uit de Filipijnen…als je ons spamt moet je niet vergeten de instructies (van de overheid) weg te laten anders ziet het er een beetje dom uit.” Translated: “Hello internet trolls from the Philippines…If you’re spamming us, do not forget to remove the instructions (from the government), otherwise it looks a little stupid.”

I called AIN to ask where they got the idea that it was an instruction from the government. At first I spoke with someone named “Thijs,” who upon learning that I was one of those who commented on their video, refused to continue to speak with me in English. I then contacted Paul Helsloot, head of media and political affairs.

Mr. Helsloot told me that governments hiring “internet trolls” is “what is commonly happening…Who else would be instructing to write in support of their country?” He told me that based on their experience, embassies do that. Then he told me that if I have information to the contrary, they would “rectify” it. I then told him that it was I who had issued the call to action. I sent him an email providing him the evidence that it was I who did that.

I volunteered before in the Philippine section of AI and that was where I learned the “call to action” tactics. AI started by asking people to write governments to free particular political prisoners. To make the process easier, AI posted sample letters or post cards that people could just send to governments. It was simple.

AIN portraying the same form of call to action directed against them as mere trolling and spamming is no different from how the Israeli newspaper Hareetz characterized AI’s call to action last July 31, 2017. The headline reads: “Amnesty Wants You to Troll Hamas Leaders for Release of Two Israelis Held in Gaza.” AI encouraged their supporters to fax and email Hamas leaders, who I believe considered the surge of letters they received as spam.

AIN’s dismissal of dissent to their portrayal of Duterte as mere trolling simply echoes the narrative of Filipino opposition politicians who have been trying to foment an international hysteria against Duterte. But certainly, AIN will not really care about entertaining a perspective on Duterte that does not reflect their preconceived notions.

Duterte is evil and AIN has appointed itself as the exorcist the Philippines needs. I am sure narco-politicians and drug syndicates in the Philippines are glad that an organization as powerful as AIN shares their assessment of Duterte — that he must be defeated.

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