Start with this admin
Filipinos who tuned in to the Senate hearing last Tuesday hoping to see some heightened sense of urgency and seriousness on the government’s part in responding to the novel coronavirus (nCoV) outbreak were in for a jolt.
There was Health Secretary Francisco Duque III effectively demonstrating the best way to ward off the illness — the thorough washing of hands — but for an egregiously wrong reason: to throw his own department under the bus, as he castigated his subordinates for their “incompetence” when it was revealed that only 17 percent of the flight copassengers of the country’s first two confirmed nCoV cases had been contacted so far, days after such confirmation had been made.
Adding to the picture of a flailing, clueless leadership was Senate president Tito Sotto’s decision to use his question time by showing a video touting the outlandish conspiracy theory that the virus was a form of “biowarfare” unleashed by the United States on China. Never mind that the video carried zero authoritative sourcing; Sotto said the matter was “my concern and [of] some other members of the Senate.”
There is somewhat of a silver lining to Sotto’s wild conspiracy-mongering right on the Senate floor as the country is confronting a public health crisis: It should be Exhibit A of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) order to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate alleged acts of fake news and misinformation that “create or aggravate public disorder, or undermine government efforts during a state of public emergency.”
Run after alleged fake-news peddlers at this time? Talk about priorities, but the DOJ is sallying forth to make itself appear useful in the time of the coronavirus despite the hugely inconvenient fact that there is as yet no law in this country defining or punishing “fake news.” But Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the NBI’s cybercrime experts would know what to do. “I suppose they’ll scope the field muna and see if there’s a malicious scheme or pattern somewhere.”
The Philippine National Police and the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) have also been conscripted into the preeminent job of tracking “misleading information” on the nCoV. Which is rich, considering how the police are routinely unable to demonstrate basic honesty and transparency in their own reports on “Tokhang” operations, while the PCOO — funded with millions of taxpayer money to provide fact-based information about the government’s programs — has just gone through a thorough public drubbing with its much-debunked premature report on the “legacy” of the Duterte administration.
(Check out PCOO official Lorraine Badoy’s self-immolation on TV, when she blithely attempted to red-tag the think tank Ibon but was rendered dumb when asked for her own figures to counter Ibon’s data.)
In fact, if the DOJ, NBI, PNP, and PCOO were to be dead-serious about their drive against nCoV misinformation, they needn’t trawl far from the government backyard. Sotto, for instance, is not the only administration supporter promoting addled thinking about the outbreak.
In an obvious bid at distraction, to dampen the public ire at Malacañang’s unabashed concern for Beijing’s feelings over the issue of a temporary ban on travelers coming from China, propagandist Sass Sasot asked why Filipinos are agog over nCoV when TB “is far more infectious and deadlier.”
“Imagine,” said a horrified, horrified Sasot, “if the rest of the world BAN you from traveling just because you are from the PH where the highly infectious and fatal TB is VERY prevalent?”
Perhaps the Netherlands-based academic hasn’t heard yet, but TB has long been curable; there is no vaccine yet for nCoV.
The same ignorance, willful or otherwise, informs an even more odious attempt at diversion by the former broadcaster Jay Sonza, who wrote: “iba ang Pinoy. nagulantang sa ncov scare. pero sa 77,000 pinoy na HIV positive, deadma lang!” (Roughly, Pinoys panic over the nCoV scare but not over the 77,000 HIV-positive Filipinos.)
Where to begin with this exceedingly malicious and misleading observation? HIV, unlike nCoV, is not transmissible by touch or through droplets in the air, and available drugs have now made the virus undetectable and untransmittable in those who take the treatments.
The most number of false assertions in one blow, however, emanated from Malacañang itself. After days of seclusion, President Duterte appeared at a press conference to offer one spurious claim after another: that HIV is “nawala na,” that nCoV, “gaya ng SARS, even without the vaccines, will just die a natural death,” and that nowadays “you cannot die of cancer.”
Misinformation, rumor-mongering, fake news? Guevarra et al. should start with the administration.