“THEY are slaughtering us like animals.”
This is the opening line of a photojournalist’s report on the killings inside President Duterte’s war on drugs on the front page of the December 7, 2016 issue of The New York Times. The report runs into the next two pages of the paper’s first section, and shows 57 bodies which Daniel Berehulak photographed in 41 murder scenes during his 35 days in the Philippines.
The report has unleashed a virtual tsunami of rage from US-based Filipinos who have read it. The anger is directed not only at the DU30 government but also at the Philippine press for failing to do what the NY Times has done. Why does it have to be the foreign press to do it always?
Even without this complaint, the Philippine press needs to re-examine itself. It is becoming more and more of an ordeal to read it, largely because of fake news and idiotic analyses and commentaries. One is not the same as the other, but it is not always easy to tell the difference. Especially in terms of effect upon the reader.
The Pope as victim
In a recent interview with the Belgian Catholic weekly Tertio, Pope Francis likened fake news to excreta, and warned against sinking into an undue interest in it, which he calls coprophilia. In the last US election, some fraudsters claimed falsely that the Pope had endorsed President-elect Donald Trump, which he never did. But the Pope is not the only one with a reason to complain.
In the last few days, we have been assaulted by fake news and plain stupid commentaries in our own press. Nothing as big and as false as the election report on the Pope has surfaced. But we have had some fake news and some inane analyses from readers of animal entrails and tea leaves in the garb of analysts. They tended to create so much public anxiety without the right premises. Let us look at some cases.
A US Embassy bombing hoax
On November 28, 2016, an improvised explosive device was discovered inside a trashcan 200 meters or so away from the end of a row of buildings of the US Embassy on Roxas Boulevard. The device, according to the report, consisted of an old 81mm mortar shell, a cellular phone, SIM card, blasting cap and nine-volt battery. It was discovered by a street sweeper, who reported it to the police. The police bomb disposal unit doused it with water, and it disintegrated in 35 minutes. Since then, at least three “persons of interest” have been interrogated by the police. The search for the guilty party, who had planted the “dud” device, continues.
We need not doubt that an IED was, indeed, found inside the trashcan. What we must question though is the suggestion that the device was meant for the US Embassy or even some unknown, nameless pedestrian on Roxas Boulevard. Whoever had planted it obviously intended the police to believe it was meant for the embassy, but only as pure propaganda. The possibility of damaging the embassy did not arise: the building was not within reach, assuming the device had detonated. But it could not have detonated, for the simple reason that the components were not all wired together, it was not a functional bomb. It was a hoax pure and simple, and should have been left at that.
Still, the story has been kept alive with suggestions that it is related to the September 2, 2016 bombing of the night market in Davao City, which killed 14 and injured 70 others, and prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare a “state of national emergency on account of lawless violence,” and lately to the activities of the so-called Maute group in Butig, Lanao del Sur.
A non-existent ambuscade
On November 29, 2016, an attempted ambush was reported against a presidential security convoy on the road to Marawi City in the village of Matampay. The convoy formed part of the advance party of PDU30, who was visiting the next day, reportedly “to help boost the morale of government troops fighting the Maute group,” who had effectively occupied Butig. It appears that before entering Marawi, one open security vehicle hit a big bump on the road, causing it to jump and one soldier at the rear to accidentally pull the trigger of the firearm on his lap.
The accidental firing provoked an instant response from the rest of the convoy, who apparently thought they had been ambushed. But a highly informed local who claimed to know what happened said no hostile engagement took place, and the wild shooting from the convoy left one or two dead civilians on the roadside. They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The next day, DU30 came to Marawi, “unmindful of the ambush,” but accompanied by all the mayors of the province. This is how some people begin to manufacture myths about some men of rare courage undaunted by bullets and the threat of bullets.
Trump and the drug killings
On December 2, 2016, DU30 made a congratulatory telephone call to US President-elect Donald Trump. The private conversation lasted seven minutes. This has since become the most publicized private telephone conversation between DU30 and any other party, or between Trump and any other party.
DU30’s people tried to milk the conversation to excess, for political propaganda, by quoting freely from it. From complete animosity towards the US President, when talking of Obama, DU30 has adopted a posture of utter friendliness to the president-elect, offering to work closely with his government, despite his earlier announcement to “separate” economically and militarily from the US, and align with China and Russia “against the world.
According to DU30, Trump wished him success in his war on drugs, and assured him of “non-interference” from the Oval Office. This has been hyped to mean that the Trump administration, which enters into office on January 20, 2017, will not say anything on the extra-judicial killings in the drug war, which now number over 5,000, and which had created “bad blood” between DU30 and the outgoing Obama administration.
It is further suggested that if the US ignores DU30’s human rights violations, the United Nations itself will have to do the same, despite the announced threat of the UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions to open an inquiry into the killings. After the NY Times special report, this appears to be entirely wishful.
As leader of the world’s most powerful nation, the US President cannot afford to turn a blind eye on human rights abuses anywhere in the world, even if he decides to adopt an “isolationist” foreign policy posture for his government. This is a solemn commitment to humanity, which began when Eleanor Roosevelt initiated the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
Beyond the fake, the stupid news
Aside from fake news, we are similarly punished by stupid news and idiotic commentaries. Here are some.
“Go ahead, impeach me”
Since he came into office, DU30 has repeatedly dared his critics (some newspapers erroneously call them ‘detractors’) to impeach him, and the media have faithfully quoted him without providing the proper context to help readers see why he is so brave in making this dare. In the beginning, DU30 would make this dare, even without apparent provocation, whenever he wanted to impress a provincial audience.
He recently reiterated his dare after the National Bureau of Investigation said the killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, inside the sub-provincial jail in Baybay, Leyte, at four o’clock in the morning was a rubout, and yet he promised that none of the policemen who had taken part in the killing would go to jail. The press quoted his dare, but no one bothered to explain why.
It is not enough for any newspaper to just quote the man. The Nobel Laureate novelist, essayist, playwright and journalist Albert Camus says, “Do not quote without judging.” The journalist who quotes nonsense must make it plain to the reader that he is quoting nonsense. No newspaper can just quote DU30 as saying, “Drop the talk. Go ahead, impeach me” without explaining why he is able to say that without fear that he would be impeached and removed.
But impeachment is dead
The newspaper must point out that although the Constitution provides for the President’s removal upon impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust, the Constitution is not working precisely because this President has put himself above the Constitution. Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment. The Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment.
But the two Houses of Congress are virtually inside the pocket of the President. With a few notable exceptions, they are occupied by lackeys and sycophants who will do anything at DU30’s bidding. In B. S. Aquino 3rd’s time, the President had to bribe both Houses of Congress to impeach and remove the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona on a non-impeachable crime. In DU30’s case, he need not bribe anyone anymore; by simply talking endlessly of “killing” those he would like to see killed, he has so terrified them all that they will do anything at his command. Who will dare impeach him then?
This is what any responsible and intelligent newspaper should point out to the reader.
Insanity on stilts
These are two recent headlines: Leni will finish her term—Duterte. Rody will finish his term—-Leni.
I have not read anything more presumptuous and insane. After DU30 sacked Vice President Leni Robredo as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, there was a huge outcry from her, the Liberal Party and its political and social media trolls who said DU30 was out to oust her as vice president. This had clearly no foundation. There is a pending electoral protest from former Senator Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr, who insists he was the actual winner in the vice- presidental election. But this case is before the Supreme Court, in its capacity as Presidential Electoral Tribunal. It is not in Malacañang and DU30 has nothing to do with it.
But apparently feeling remorse for the way he had sacked Robredo from HUDCC without even personally talking to her at his Pangarap Guesthouse, DU30 reassured her she would “finish her term as Vice President.” This was insanity on stilts. First, it is for the Supreme Court, following a recount of the votes, to decide whether Robredo is, in fact, the country’s legitimate Vice President. Assuming the PET rules in her favor, DU30 cannot promise her anything he cannot even promise himself. As a great saint puts it, how can you be sure of tomorrow, if you can’t even be sure of the next few minutes?
Likewise, even if she is confirmed as Vice President, and she does not involve herself in any plot to oust or get rid of the President, she is in no position to say “Rody will finish his term.” DU30 has serious health problems, and he himself says he may not last six years. B. S. Aquino 3rd, at the height of his power, could not promise Robredo’s husband Jesse that he would live through Aquino’s term; he was killed in a mysterious plane crash, which Leni has not bothered to look into until now.
So we have two self-seeking high officials who say the most idiotic things, and a press that merely repeats the most idiotic things they say, without asking why. This is a curse we can’t even wish upon our worst foes.