Let us speak of “estorya,” Binisaya not only for story or narrative, but also the fib, the tall tale.
A Radyo Mindanao Network report out of General Santos City in 2017 once headlined a Mindanao opposition politician’s criticism of the President in this way: “Pangulong Duterte pulos estorya lang sumala sa Bayan Muna” — President Duterte all talk, says Bayan Muna.
The lead paragraph begins: “Pulos estorya lang si Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte ug walay aksyon” — President Rodrigo Duterte is all talk if he doesn’t take action…
In this instance, the use of “estorya” does not only denote “talk”; it also connotes “mere rhetoric,” the lie of cheap words at the expense of the truth of action. And in fact that is one way of understanding the President’s serial and characteristic exaggerations: as cheap talk, as baseless rhetoric.
“There is one aspect to his presidency that bodes ill for our democratic project,” I wrote in October 2017. “It is his confabulations — thinking that the Philippines is in danger of being ejected from the United Nations, rejecting aid from the United Kingdom that wasn’t even offered, asserting that the Marawi conflict started from a drug bust, and so on. This is ominous, not only because he lashes out at perceived enemies based on mistaken information, but also because our democratic project is a republic and (borrowing from Montesquieu) based on virtue… ‘Pataka’ is Bisaya for baseless talk.”
“Pataka,” in other words, is another form of “pulos estorya lang.”
But a rhetoric of lies is the primary tool in another kind of deliberate forgetting: the blurring of facts, the erasure of truth. Since 2016, “fake news” and other forms of disinformation have been an “established possibility” in our current historical situation. [This is a reference to the late philosopher Ramon C. Reyes’ framework for understanding history.] In January 2017, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a trailblazing set of “Pastoral Guidelines on the Use of Social Media,” and supplemented it with a list of known fake-news websites. The guidelines offered an overview of the massive, metastasizing problem:
“Today, the dark side of social media has become a very powerful tool for destroying people. It has become a quick arena for cyberbullying, black ops, propaganda, and the derailment of objectivity and truth. It is heavily populated by bots, trolls, manufacturers of lies and rumors, news fakers and bullies.”
But it isn’t social media alone that is shadowed by a dark side; other forms of digital media, and traditional media, too, have their own dark side.
“We need to unmask what could be called the ‘snake-tactics’ used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place,” Pope Francis advised us in his message for World Communication Day last year. “This was the strategy employed by the ‘crafty serpent’ in the Book of Genesis…”
In the original Spanish, the Pope uses the phrase “logica de la serpiente” — the logic of the snake. I find it superior, as a metaphor, to snake-tactics, because as I wrote elsewhere, the logic of the snake is better at suggesting the deliberateness, the rationality, the sheer evil, at the center of “fake news” and other forms of disinformation. Also, the logic of the snake runs parallel to the phrase Pope Francis uses in the original Spanish to describe the problem at the root of it all: “esta lógica de la desinformación” — this logic of disinformation.
Under a President who is an estoryador, a teller of tall tales, the logic of the snake has rattled many of the institutions of society. Orchestrated campaigns of organized disinformation have caused many of us to ignore the facts, enabling Sen. Leila de Lima’s calculated harassment and unjust detention, or avoid the truth, prolonging unrehabilitated Marawi’s undeserved agony.
The “estorya,” the rhetoric of lies, serves the objectives of Dutertismo…
As an ideology of negation, Dutertismo demands total control; together, the 7 No’s [see “The rot at the core is Dutertismo,” 11/27/18] set in motion a new historical development, a counter-history of the Filipino. Not a false history, but an alternative one. The distinction is important, because President Duterte is only right when — to give one example — he insists that the whitewashing of American atrocities in the Philippines in the early 20th century should be undone. But his alternative history is highly selective; to give only the most egregious instance, he completely glosses over the abuses and atrocities perpetrated under the Marcos regime, because the Marcos children are his political allies.
The effects of his counter-history are a deliberate forgetting of what it means to be Filipino. It is the negation of many of the values that define us — our generosity of spirit; our faith in redemption and our tradition of second chances; our commitment to democracy, forged by our long, formative struggle for civil liberties; our desire to take our rightful place in the community of nations. This counter-history threatens to turn a nation of martyrs into a country of killers.
Excerpts from the paper I read at the 2019 Ramon Reyes Memorial Lectures, on the consequences of “deliberate forgetting.”
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand
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