WE know when someone is genuinely concerned about our well-being and health. If there is a selfish motive in asking about the health of someone, it is usually because we depend on him and we are anxious of what will happen to us if he dies.
And this is not what is in the minds of Carlos Celdran, Jim Paredes and Vicky Garchitorena.
They, and their kind, are not genuinely concerned about the health of the President. They raised questions about the status of his health in order to paint a scenario of doubt on his fitness to continue in office. They are not worried about the fate of the country, which at the moment is battling terrorists in Marawi. They are more eager to paint an image of the President being incapacitated so that Leni Robredo can ascend into the presidency, paving the way for the return of their kind of politics. They are so used to having someone die for them to have political power, and they are hoping for a repeat of the same narrative.
Carlos Celdran was the one who posted in social media that the President was in a coma. The twitter account Alt Malacañang helped the spread of the canard by conjuring images of a Palace in panic, and of a Cabinet meeting being hastily assembled. This spread like wildfire in social media through the posts of anti-Duterte netizens, ironically and hypocritically the same crowd which viciously attacked and accused Mocha Uson as a propagator of fakery. And the messaging was clear. Memes and posts exclaiming where is the President, proclaiming Leni as Acting President, and celebrating that real change is coming all painted a scenario that something bad has happened to the President.
It would have been easy to ignore these as part of contentious politics. One approach to crisis communication is to ignore noise. But many of the theories in strategic communication were crafted prior to the age of the Internet, where the spread of propaganda and disinformation was slower, and their penetration into the public consciousness was shallower.
But not in the age of social media when lies travel faster and go deeper to a point that even pro-Duterte netizens are beginning to be worried and fall for the lies.
This is an entirely different ballgame. The rules of conventional media warfare have been radically altered.
And this is also not the best time to let the rumor of a sick and dying President fester for so long. Soldiers of the Republic are fighting the forces of terrorism in Marawi City. Even in the battlefield, they have access to social media. They needed an assurance that there is a Commander in Chief that they know they can trust and not someone whose legitimacy is under protest and whose capability is questioned.
Images of a healthy President came out in media to assure the public.
But this was not enough for those who wanted so badly to believe their lies. Doubts were raised as to the authenticity of the pictures, with Jim Paredes demanding that images are not enough, and that the President should be shown live giving a speech.
A healthy and able President was shown getting off a helicopter. But this did not satisfy Vicky Garchitorena, who continued to cast doubt on his wellness, even to the point of suggesting that this image was deceiving the people and hiding something because of what the President wore. Garchitorena wondered why the President would wear a leather jacket when according to her it was too hot. In her earnest desire to propagate the lie of an ill President, she forgot to consider that he took a helicopter ride and would have needed protection from the wind and cold air at higher elevations.
The health of the President is indeed a matter of public concern, more so in times of crisis. However, there is a big difference between genuine concern, and indecent speculation driven by political malice and callousness.
The President is 72 years old. He is not immortal. At his age, he is bound to get sick, and would need rest. He is entitled to his cold, and his allergies, and his fever, just like any senior citizen. He has been transparent about his health, even publicly admitting taking fentanyl to relieve his body pains.
The President is also human. He should be given the same latitude to be like any normal human being and fall ill sometimes. What he deserves is for us to wish him good health always, regardless of our opinions about his actions. And when he is ill, and regardless of whether we have ill-feelings towards him or not, we should wish him a speedy recovery. That is what decent human beings do.
But decency seemed to have escaped his haters. When they peddled the rumor that the President was in a state of coma, and when they do not even try to hide their celebratory mood, they have practically lost their humanity.
And when they wish the President death when our soldiers are fighting a terrorist rebellion that can have the effect of emboldening the enemy, then they are also wishing the entire country ill. And it amounts to the crime of inciting to sedition as defined in Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code.