CARMELA Fonbuena of Rappler could not have picked a worse target when she peddled an unverified hunch using her yellow-colored lens. Apparently assisted by some reports from Pia Ranada, and in possession of a complaint letter from Hyundai Heavy Industries Co, Ltd. (HHI), the winning bidder for the much-delayed Frigate Acquisition Project (FAP) of the Philippine Navy, Fonbuena thought the Rappler formula of smear now, ask later would work.
Using an attached post-it sent by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana asking the then FOIC of the Philippine Navy Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado to look into the matter—which appeared to have been referred to him by Special Assistant to the President Bong Go—Fonbuena readily concluded that Go was intervening in the transaction on behalf of the winning bidder.
The lie then took on a life of its own, and was further prominently featured in a front-page story in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The post-it was treated like a smoking gun, and the document to which it was attached was wrongly labeled as a white paper, when for all intents and purposes it was simply a complaint letter sent to the President.
A seasoned, true-blooded journalist would have sought Go to get his side, and even Lorenzana to complete the narrative. But this would have amounted to an inconvenient delay for a media entity—which incidentally is having an identity crisis because it sometimes officially declares that it is not a news organization—that is fixated on painting the President in a bad light in every way possible.
Bong Go is much more than an alter ego of the President. He is the President’s shadow. His being a regular photo bomber to countless images and representations of the President is apropos to his role in presidential politics. He is a silent but steady reminder of a loyal, behind-the-scenes worker.
As it turned out, it was one of Bong Go’s deputies who actually initiated the act of referring the complaint letter to Secretary Lorenzana. But granting that it was Go, it would not even rise to the level of interference to win favors. It was simply a routine referral of a matter to the proper official.
Rappler, Maria Ressa, and her coterie of so-called news gatherers and writers whose only advantage over seasoned journalists is probably their expensive gadgets, must have realized by now that picking on Bong Go was a wrong move. Bong Go’s appearance at the Senate hearing on the controversy was perfect political theater. In an unprecedented show of force, prominent Cabinet secretaries were inside the session room, even as Go’s supporters rallied outside the Senate building.
But all eyes were on Bong Go, as he calmly and in a very composed manner totally eviscerated Rappler and to a lesser extent the Philippine Daily Inquirer. In a very undramatic fashion, Go undressed the pretensions of these two media organizations which have been parading themselves as enemies of fake news, and revealed them as the ones who propagate fakery and yellow journalism.
The contrast, particularly when seen in the light of the theatrics and dramatics of some senators, left Senator Trillanes pitifully trying to connect Go to some kind of corruption, even as Senator Hontiveros struggled, and failed, to frame her interventions into a proper question. The anticipated explosives that were expected to be hurled against Bong Go turned out to be duds, with Rappler and Inquirer being the ones getting hit instead.
But lest we get lost in the euphoria of the moment, there are things that we should remain wary about.
What remains unsettled is how confidential pieces of information landed in the hands of Rappler, and apparently, of Senator Trillanes. This is a crucial question to ask, considering that the matters that have been leaked are on issues that may have national security implications.
Obviously, it is easy to suspect that the source would have probably been from the ranks of the Philippine Navy, some of whose prominent heads expressed their reservations on the terms and conditions of the FAP, particularly on which provider will be chosen to install the combat management system (CMS) on the frigate.
Internal conflicts and disagreements are natural in any organization. But high standards of discipline and professionalism are expected from our men and women in the armed services, and it is dangerous when internal organizational disputes lead to leakage of documents that are now used as fodder by yellow journalists and disgruntled senators to wage a proxy war against the President through his Special Assistant.
Senator Lacson asked Vice Admiral Mercado if Bong Go had directly intervened in the FAP.
What I was waiting to be asked was who gave the complaint letter of HHI, with that notorious post-it, to Rappler. And how come Senator Trillanes has copies of documents which are not supposed to be made public.
It is disconcerting that no one from among those in attendance at the hearing even asked the question. While some reference to confidentiality of papers that have national security implications was made, there was no frontal engagement made on the issue of the source of the information leak.
Bong Go’s successful offensive against yellow journalism must not lead us to lose sight of a more dangerous scenario. We face a new kind of threat when disgruntled elements of the armed forces would link with those who use the power of disinformation, and those who weave intrigues and spin lies, to undermine social and political order.
There is no other way but to secure classified information, more so if it will have implications on our national security.
We must find out how Rappler got hold of that letter. Senators should not let this pass in the next hearing. And should Fonbuena invoke, under oath, her media rights of not disclosing her source, then Rappler for which she is working can no longer use the excuse that it is not a media organization in its SEC case.