IN my column on Monday, September 25, (“The DU30 opposition is here, not ‘Yellow,’ but Church-based”), I wrote the following: “The latest unofficial count has placed the extra-judicial killings at 14,000. But the Philippine National Police admits no more than 3,800 and an official Philippine statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which had condemned the killings, said no human rights violations exist. This means you and I and everybody else have simply been imagining things; we need to have our heads examined.”
I also wrote about the reported false post in the social media on US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley allegedly making a spirited defense of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been widely condemned for the extra-judicial killings in his murderous drug war, on his right to have his “space” in running the Philippines. I noted a Makati reader’s reference to my learned Manila Times colleague Yen Makabenta’s highly supportive column on September 23, “Superstar speaks: Give DU30 space to run the Philippines.”
Fake news as fake news
I could not take the reader’s text at face value, I had to confirm it. I contacted Molly Koscina, press attache and First Secretary at the US Embassy, for assistance, and she had to work during the weekend (Saturday and Sunday) to respond to my query. Her search yielded negative results: Ambassador Haley never made the remarks attributed to her. Somebody clearly fabricated the social media post, just as some months ago somebody fabricated the false posts attributed to the Emir of Qatar against his neighbors in the Gulf, prompting Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to cut off diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar.
That’s how dangerous and costly fake news can be.
There were a few other items in that column, but these two have provoked the most controversy.
First on the extra-judicial killings. My esteemed colleague Rigoberto Tiglao’s September 27 column screamed, “Tatad’s fake data: ‘14,000 EJKs’.” He conveniently omitted the next sentence after that, which referred to the PNP official figure of 3,800. The 14,000 was culled from highly reliable police sources which had never given me any false information at all, and it was not the first time I had used it. In a previous piece, I compared this 14,000 human rights incidents during the first 13 months of the DU30 administration, as against the 9,400 reported such cases during the whole 21 years of the Marcos administration, and the 100,000 cases in eight years of one particular Latin American regime.
The complete statement, however, should have read, “The latest unofficial count has already placed the extra-judicial killings AND OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS INCIDENTS at 14,000.” This figure, my sources told me, was being used in PNP internal briefings. Two months ago, the figure was 12,000, they said; this month, it is 14,000.
Regrettably, I did not notice that I had failed to include “the other human rights incidents” in that critical sentence until Tiglao bristled in his column. As a matter of habit—a very bad one, I must admit—I rarely read my column after I have written it; I read it again after it has been printed. In this case, I was more concerned with a more obvious omission in another part of the same column—-a missing negative in the sentence, “We also, NOT the hierarchy, must provide the real opposition to despotic rule.” The absence of the negative NOT completely changed the meaning of what I was trying to say, and I had to correct it in my September 27 column.
Sources insist on the figure
Without proper documentation of every drug killing made by the police and the so-called vigilantes, no independent observer or DU30 defender could claim that the figure they quote on the police murders is absolutely the right one. But while writing this column, one of my highly classified sources called to tell me that my inadvertent figure of 14,000—which had provoked a few more pro-DU30 apologists—was right spot on. But in order not to exacerbate their wounded feelings, I would leave this matter to the sound discretion of the competent authorities to act on. They could allow an impartial and independent body like the UN or the Commission on Human Rights to declassify the currently classified information, or they could do it themselves at the proper time.
No fighting on the Times
For now, I would just want to have normal relations with my colleagues on the front page of the Manila Times. It would be a shame to have two columnists on the same page caught in a cat fight over these controversial figures. In any case, the readers are far wiser, they will believe what they will. I therefore see no need to pursue this matter any further, and no reader should feel short-changed if Bobi Tiglao and I are somehow able to carry on as editorial neighbors on the same page, without exchanging any ad hominems.
Now, on the Nikki Haley fake news. Enough has been said about it, I hope. I have stated my position on the matter, both as a journalist and as a dear friend to my fellow Manila Times columnist Yen Makabenta, who had written the column praising Ambassador Haley for her alleged defense of PDU30, which turned out to be a baseless invention. Contrary to Tiglao’s earlier reading, there is not a word of ridicule or censure of Yen Makabenta in what I have written. We are more than fellow columnists and co-workers, we are the best of friends.
In fact, I was the first one to alert Yen about the “fake news” report, as soon as Makati reader James Velina texted me about it. Unfortunately, Yen was out at the time, and had left his phone at home, so I left my message with his wife, Micky. I do regret, however, that my learned friend failed to verify the authenticity of the speech before commenting on it. Verification is a cardinal rule, well-known to one who has edited several newspapers for years. But as I said earlier, it could happen to the best of us, and there is no shame in saying sorry for one unintended (call it mindless) lapse.
Governing space defined
This is what the readers would like to hear from my well-read friend. The issue is not whether or not DU30 has the right to have his “governing space,”—no one questions this—but simply whether the US Ambassador to the UN ever made the alleged statement on DU30’s behalf in a UN speech. It has been established that Ambassador Haley never did, so what is there to quibble about? Not even Vice President Leni Robredo is ambitious enough to want to deprive DU30 of his “governing space”.
But this “space” is defined by the Constitution and by moral convention, among other things, and is not unlimited. It does not allow DU30 to legally run the judiciary or the Congress, nor to redefine society’s moral or spiritual code or how the citizens will regard adultery, fornication, pornography, or how they will worship God. It does not even allow him to enter their home through a televised speech and inflict upon young and old family members alike his offensive vulgarities and invectives. It does not allow him to use the people’s money to hire hoodlums and harlots for public office.
Therefore, what many question is his tendency to overreach, and to regard killing and threatening to kill the helpless and the unprotected without due process as the right, prerogative, mission and mandate of government. What many disapprove of is his apparent belief that he can do anything outside the law, and that no one can touch him because he is, in fact, the law. He has produced the most outrageous copycats in Congress and in the Executive Department and the most awful admirers and apologists in the press whose public behavior makes one wonder from what depths of depravity have they found their chosen models to imitate.
It seems they have never heard that brutality is not strength, and that civility is not weakness, or what Dirty Harry Callahan in that famous Clint Eastwood police film tells his adversary before he finishes them off, “A man must know his limitations.” DU30 refuses not only to recognize his limiations but even his need to have any limitations. It does not, therefore, seem unusual that 14 months into his six-year presidency, he seems to have exhausted all his political capital, and more and more people seem to be talking of a post-DU30 scenario. They are seeing that the DU30 regime has reached a deadend, and will have to go soon, even though no one seems to know exactly how or when.