Remember that time presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo went ballistic over a manipulated photo of him that appeared in a humor and satire social media page, showing him seemingly endorsing opposition senatorial candidates for the 2019 midterm elections?
So allergic apparently was Panelo to the idea of even remotely being associated with the Duterte administration’s perceived enemies that he denounced what clearly was a lampoon, a sardonic meme as “defamatory imputation” and “nothing but false news.”
Ah, but that was then, and this is now.
When the military released on Dec. 26 a photo that supposedly showed communist rebels in Masbate surrendering and returning high-powered firearms, eagle-eyed citizens were quick to point out that it was a doctored image, and so amateurishly done that an ordinary person could see where the attempts at digital manipulation failed.
The 9th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army eventually owned up to the fake photo, sheepishly apologizing for it and offering the head-scratching explanation that it was an “honest mistake” and that they had digitally edited the photograph “for the sole purpose of ensuring the safety of the lives of the [former rebels] and their families.”
Fine — at least the military was contrite enough to admit the falsity of the photo, “honest mistake” or not. But the presidential spokesperson seemingly could not leave well enough alone, not even with the Army having apologized for its actions, and proceeded to justify the lie with his own bizarre take on the incident.
There was no manipulation, said Panelo — it was just a “collage” of two separate “authentic” photos put together: “The two [photos] were combined. That’s not manipulation.”
Said the guy who, not too long ago, was so miffed by a meme that did exactly the same — combined a photo of him with another image, if only for political comedy.
There is nothing comic, however, about the photoshopped image that the military had recycled, repurposed and released as part of an official statement showcasing the supposed success of its program to lure rebels and their families back to the fold.
There is, after all, a sizable money component to the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), which incentivizes New People’s Army and Militia ng Bayan members and their families to give up their fight and their arms.
Under the E-CLIP grant, former rebels and their beneficiaries are entitled to benefits ranging from guaranteed safety and security to monetary assistance such as P50,000 in livelihood assistance and P15,000 for “mobilization expenses” and firearms remuneration, equivalent to the value of surrendered firearms.
Hence, the questions arising from the doctored photograph: Was money paid out for these fake, nonexistent surrenderers? How many times have such deceptions happened or been attempted, and how are the funds accounted for every time an alleged new batch of returnees is presented to the public?
According to Bayan Muna Representatives Carlos Isagani Zarate and Eufemia Cullamat, the doctored photograph was just “the tip of the iceberg,” and reveals a system of “fake surrenderers and bounty collection racket of state forces.”
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, himself a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, disputes that assertion, laying out figures to buttress his argument for the program’s effectiveness: P171.6 million in financial assistance released to 2,882 rebel surrenderers under the E-CLIP of the Interagency Task Force Balik-Loob from July 2018 to November 2019; 2,635 granted immediate assistance; 1,788 with livelihood assistance; and 655 with firearms remuneration.
The scale of the program and the possibility of corruption do demand, however, that the AFP take a hard look at the workings of the E-CLIP and account for it before the public.
The embarrassment and suspicion the organization has reaped over the manipulated photo do not help matters, and to this end, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana — notwithstanding Panelo’s unwarranted exoneration of the erring Army communications team — has promised a probe, declaring the incident as “unacceptable.”
“Sanctions will be meted to those who perpetrated it,” he said. “This is very serious because it undermines the efforts of the whole organization.”
Outgoing AFP Chief Noel Clement offered the same assurance: The military “upholds the highest standards in reporting and delivering information to the public. And everyone adheres to it as our credibility no less is at stake.”
Paging the presidential spokesperson.
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