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Editorial

Misrepresenting reality

/ 05:10 AM September 27, 2017

All governments try to massage the message; this does not necessarily create “fake news,” but represents an effort to either accentuate the positive or contextualize the negative.

The key is not to turn reality on its head. What makes the Duterte administration different in kind, not in degree, from previous post-Edsa administrations, is that it and its social media allies have frequently been guilty of “misrepresentation of reality.”

That damning quote is from the Malaysian Foreign Minister Aniyah Aman, who took issue with Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano’s statement, issued as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.

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The statement had merely “expressed concern over the recent developments in Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar,” without even mentioning the Rohingya.

Given that these “recent developments” are actually a humanitarian catastrophe, involving at least 400,000 people, the chief Malaysian diplomat took the Philippines to task: “Malaysia would like to disassociate itself with the Chairman’s Statement as we are of the view that it is a misrepresentation of the reality of the situation.”

This uncharacteristic putdown came on the heels of a sweeping statement the Department of Foreign Affairs issued regarding the human rights situation in the Philippines, after the periodic United Nations Human Rights Council review.

The country “scored a big victory in Geneva,” the statement read, after the international organization “overwhelmingly adopted Manila’s human rights report card.”

In truth, “adoption” included not only the Philippine report but the recommendations of other states to investigate extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

Cayetano then claimed that the “adoption” meant that the Philippines “has nothing to hide with its human rights record.”

This is standing reality on its head — considering that the administration is averse to any visit by the UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial killings and was openly hostile to the Commission on Human Rights.

In marked contrast, the last time the Philippine government came under fire for alleged human rights abuses, during the Arroyo administration, the administration itself hosted visits by the UN special rapporteur for EJKs and supported investigations by the Commission on Human Rights.

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If the Duterte administration does not in fact have anything to hide, it should not impose conditions on specialists working for the same international organization it helped found, or threaten the CHR with the prospect of a P1,000 budget.

In the same week, supporters of the administration also popularized two false stories, one involving the American ambassador to the UN and another featuring the prime minister of Canada. Both stories were subsequently, and thoroughly, debunked.

Columnist Yen Makabenta tried to hype up the false story about Ambassador Nikki Haley by calling her a superstar. That may be the least arguable of his assertions.

But she did not in fact say that “The Philippines is suffocating. We must give President Duterte the space to run his nation. We must respect their independence… It is not in our purview to decide administrative issues for the Philippines…”

A statement from the US Embassy in Manila made short work of that fake story: “There has been reporting recently incorrectly quoting a speech that was never made.”

In other words, it was all made up.

The same source for Makabenta’s whopper, a known fake news site mimicking the al-Jazeera website, also circulated a story about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supposedly asking: “Why is the world fighting the Philippine government under president Duterte instead of focusing on ‘the real threat’ from N. Korea’s Kim from his nuclear programme?”

The Canadian embassy in Manila informed the Inquirer that “The website ‘aljazeeranew-tv.com’ wrongly attributed a quote to Canada’s Prime Minister in his address to the UN General Assembly of Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.”

Again, and in other words, it was all made up.

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TAGS: Alan Peter Cayetano, Aniyah Aman, fake news, Inquirer editorial, misrepresentation of reality, Rodrigo Duterte
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