Marawi on the French Riviera
Over the weekend, some of us saw the most bogus of all news ever to have been attributed to the Duterte administration. Some of us have by now acquired a good sense of sorting out fake news from the real. Only recently, Wikipedia deftly put out a list of fake news outfits in the Philippines.
But that most bogus of fake news was astonishing not for its audacity, but for its sheer insensitivity to the M’ranao and the Marawi crisis. Created as a meme in the mold of a breaking news television format, the screenshot contained a beautiful aerial view of a waterside city dotted with yachts anchored on its marina.
The outfit that created it was called “Duterte Media” and immediately took a potshot at its perceived antithetical counterpart. In Filipino, it bragged: “Wow, sobrang laki na pala ng improvement ng Marawi ni hindi nga magawang ibalita ng mga mainstream media. Kayo na lang po ang magbalita mga kababayan.” (Wow, what a huge improvement Marawi has become that mainstream media cannot even report.)
The scenery one sees in the meme is not Marawi’s but that of Nice, France, that elite retreat on the shores of the Baie des Anges on the French Riviera. Thereupon one sees the raison d’être of such crassness: It is designed to spin the minds of millions of Filipinos who cannot afford to bask under the sun in Nice, France, let alone afford the prohibitive costs of travel to the French Riviera.
It is, of course, meant to mislead. The intent is outright malicious. More importantly, it is perhaps the most impervious, insensitive affront to a people scarred by war and homelessness.
Immediately as the fakery was circulated on social media, photos of architectural perspectives of the new Marawi were put out by the government’s interagency, Task Force Bangon Marawi. Was the release of the fake news coincidental or synchronized? But the more principal question foremost in the minds of nongovernment organizations attending to the internally displaced was: Were the M’ranao people consulted? M’ranao civic leaders will have to answer that, if and when their voices are not muffled, silenced as they already are.
But NGOs at the forefront of the Marawi crisis tell us differently, that many of the evacuees continue to languish in makeshift camps. The end does not seem to be in sight.
Almost two years after this administration had come to power, it is still a sensible question to ask: Is the Duterte administration officially but secretly behind the proliferation of fake news?
Most of these fake news outlets carry the Duterte name in one version or another. An administration that rose to power from populism certainly cannot be said to have a complete hold on many of its fanatical followers. Fanaticism logically follows populism. It is thus sober to say that not many of these outlets are directly controlled by the administration.
But did it lift a finger to stop or even just quell the proliferation of misleading news? The head of the grammar-beleaguered Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) once testified in the Senate that he would look into it. After that, nothing was heard of the matter.
One, of course, can take that promise with tongue in cheek. The PCOO would be the last institution to safeguard the value of news. One prominent purveyor of fake news sits behind a desk with a monthly basic gross of P106,454, not counting allowances and travel perks (and how). Writing fake news does pay, as the PCOO’s message seems to say.
But we continue to be bewildered that followers of fake news do not exclusively belong to the hoi polloi. Many friends who are can hardly be called plebeians. I can count doctors, intellectuals, and executives in well-paid jobs.
The Duterte administration has not attempted to stop fake news because almost two years after it has come to power, it is still on a campaign mode. It appears to mitigate its eventual decline of popularity and, thus, sees it necessary to preclude that omen by means of propaganda.
The moral maxim that the end does not justify the means serves as an unchangeable guide in holding government accountable.