The so-called mosquito press in the years before Marcos’ fall refers to the anti-dictatorship newspapers that broke that regime’s tight hold on information. These ranged from left-leaning publications to college newsletters to weeklies such as intrepid Eugenia Apostol’s Mr. & Ms. (initially a lifestyle magazine) and Jose Burgos’ We Forum. (Mrs. Apostol would set up the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Dec. 9, 1985.)
Ironically, it was Marcos who inadvertently invented the term when he referred to these papers as “merely irritating like mosquitoes.” They had miniscule circulations, but their anti-Marcos articles were disseminated widely among the middle and upper classes through what was called Xerox journalism.
While President Aquino’s government is certainly not a dictatorship kept in power by the military, it is hegemonic with mainstream media’s unquestioning support of his regime, and his control over Congress.
Against such media hegemony has risen what could be called the mosquito press of our time.
Some observers dub this newspaper as well as The Manila Standard Today and The Daily Tribune as making up today’s mosquito press. However, the bulk of the mosquito press of the present are in cyberpace: websites, blogs, and Facebook accounts. Philippine netizens have become overwhelmingly anti-Aquino, even virulently hating the President, and posting venomous statements and even vulgar caricatures of him.
The street-language term Abnoy—Filipino term for nuts and derived from the word abnormal—is routinely used to describe Aquino, a reference to opposition claim during the 2010 elections that he had mental-health problems requiring psychiatric treatment.
I counted four anti-Aquino Facebook accounts with Abnoy in their name: Abnoy Nonoy, Daang Abnoy, Abnoyski Panotski, and Nonoy “Abnoy” Aquino.
There is a Facebook account named Benigno Simeon Aquino III, which even has the president’s portrait. However, it was obviously set up by a cyber-activist hijacking the name in order to ridicule the President. It recently posted “Sinu kaya ang babaeng nararapat sa akin! Mukhang hinde namn ako type ni Grace ! Hmmmm. Nabalitaan ko na si Maya dela Rosa daw ay may pagtingin sa akin!”
There are, however, serious Internet sites at the vanguard of today’s digital mosquito press:
Getrealphilippines.com was set up way back in 2000 by a Filipino working in Australia, who goes by the pen name BenigNo. It has well-thought-out and researched articles not only on politics but culture, written by over two dozen contributors, with new articles appearing almost biweekly.
Polbits.com and her Facebook account are veteran political columnist Belinda Olivares-Cunanan’s migration to the digital world, after being fired in 2010 from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, where she had written influential columns for 25 years.
Tanggulang Demokrasya is the Facebook account of a very admirable group of nonpartisan crusading citizens now focusing on exposing the anomalies of the past two elections.
Showbiz Government, a Facebook account, has sharply irreverent political satires, whose clever spoof of a Time Magazine cover of President Aquino, with his mouth wide open, was taken as authentic and used to accompany a front page article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Spinbusters.wordpress.com should be getting awards from democratic and press-freedom foundations as it has been providing much-needed critique of the Philippine media, a task well-funded foundations as the Center for Media and Responsibility has been reneging on. What I’m surprised about Spinbusters is its writers’ intimate knowledge of media outfits, which could only come from inside these outfits.
One of its favorite targets is rappler.com, a richly funded news site, which on paper is owned by the aggressive tycoon Benjamin Bitanga, but which, a very reliable source alleges, is bankrolled by the Ayala clan. (One of Bitanga’s biggest corporate coups was his establishment of MacroAsia in 1993, which he sold at a huge profit to Lucio Tan two years later.) The long-term strategy, I was told, was for rappler.com news to be distributed free to Ayala-owned Globe cell phone subscribers.
Antipinoy.com (“Who really is the anti-Pinoy?” is its slogan), while apparently a one-man show (by a writer identifying himself only as BongV), has occasionally brilliant essays, such as its recent “Aquinomics and the Cult of Hope.”
But these websites and Facebook accounts make up merely the tip of the iceberg of the growing protest movement against Aquino in cyberspace.
The mosquito press of today is in a sense embedded in Facebook accounts, and there are—believe it or not—28 million such accounts in the country. That means one out of four Filipinos has a Facebook account, making us the 8th largest user of that social media in the world. About 200,000 accounts are being created by Filipinos every month.
Studies show that it is your Facebook account you go to right after switching on your computer.
I have peeped into friends’ Facebook accounts and no longer are there those yellow slogans, and support-Aquino clichés that appeared in 2010. Posted aren’t the propaganda lines of this government such as “P18k per estero family” or “Palace: P2.3 trillion budget for 2014 doable.” But articles such as “Daang Matuwid or Reign of Terror”, and one with the sarcastic title “Hindi sangkot si Ate Ballsy sa extortion dahil anak siya nina Ninoy at Cory.”
Unlike the mosquito press of the 1980s, bad news about this regime is not constrained by the speed of copying machines and handing the copies over by hand or mail. These are transmitted with the speed of light, through the Internet, and could create a groundswell of protest in an instant.
That is no longer hypothetical. What explains the speed of the Arab Spring, despite Muslim populations’ conservatism and their country’s tight military rules? Their mosquito press in cyberspace.
www.trigger.ph and www.rigobertotiglao.com