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Brave patriots online

01:13 AM October 12, 2016

Civil war has befallen the Philippines.

No, this isn’t the administration’s continuing war on drugs. And no, this isn’t the endless shouting matches and presentations of witnesses in the halls of Congress. This, my friends, is a war for the very soul of the Filipino nation, and it’s closer to home than one thinks. All you have to do is log onto any social media network, and boom, you’re in the middle of one of the most volatile conflict zones known to man, where both angels and demons fear to tread.

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Alongside the violence rampant in the streets and countryside, and surpassing the vitriol oozing from the hearings in Congress, the Philippines’ Social Media War of 2016 is getting out of hand. Thankfully, it hasn’t resulted in refugees and orphans, though it has made me conclude that international aid agencies should consider sending teachers and psychiatrists into the aftermath of any conflict, virtual or violent. Indeed, education and mental health both seem to be the origins of and solution to the conflict, as with many problems of Philippine society.

No one knows who fired first, but the war is now in a new stage where the online forces of freedom are on the defensive (think of World War II in 1940). After the enemy’s astounding blitzkrieg that helped bring about “change” in the Filipino order of existence, the online forces of freedom have retreated in Dunkirk-like fashion to regroup and prepare for the next onslaught. Truly, the war conjures images of the Battle of Britain, where supremacy over the skies determined the fate of freedom. Today, supremacy over the internet is crucial for the survival of the very ideas of freedom, democracy, and yes, human rights.

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On the frontlines and in the skies fighting for freedom are the righteous aces of political wit—those who deign to take time from their busy lives to at least counter the growing ignorance and hatred that the enemy propagates, wittingly or not. Invading the democratic spaces these aces protect is an army reminiscent of the bad guys in the “Star Wars” trilogy: evil geniuses corrupted by their lust for power and fame that lead hordes of single-minded storm troopers who take orders without question (but who also of course handle their logic blasters poorly), and even droids in the form of fake bot accounts. Imagine seeing the daily salvos—every post, comment, tweet, and retweet as they emanate from laptops and phones into the sky like the incendiary rounds of antiaircraft guns.

But as in any war, there are casualties and destruction. One side has clearly done away with any rules of war by adopting the foulest language, by ignoring history and even the most basic tenets of logic, and by harassing any dissenting voice into silence. Timeless Filipino values such as decency and good sense are, like London during the Battle of Britain, being reduced to rubble, and this will only breed more ignorance among our people—even if they are educated in our brightest schools. To paraphrase the 2000 film “The Patriot,” this war is indeed being fought among us, among our homes, and regrettably, the Filipino youth are learning of it with their own eyes.

As a victim myself of this conflict’s “war crimes” (I was recently threatened and called a “f*ck face” on Twitter by an ambassador-who-should-not-have-been-named), I have this burning instinct to survive and prevail. This war will surely come to an end in favor of the side of freedom, and the aftermath will require the rebuilding of the national psyche after so much damaging online activity. But until then, there is much typing to be done.

Unlike past wars, this one will probably not have monuments and markers erected to its painful yet important memory. So lest we forget, we must thank our unsung heroes. To the brave patriots fighting the good fight online: Thank you for your service.

Paolo Celeridad is a lawyer (UP College of Law) and was vice chair of Volume 87 of the Philippine Law Journal (2012-13).

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