Fellow columnist Rigoberto Tiglao, whose journalistic resume includes Manila correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review newsweekly and founder of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, raised the concern in three articles this past week on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) partnership with the Rappler online news site.
In his February 28 column Tiglao warned of “that last-resort move by the Pinks (Robredo’s camp) to prevent Marcos assuming power. (https://www.manilatimes.net/2022/02/28/opinion/columns/through-rappler-comelec-gives-pinks-and-us-govt-monitoring-authority-in-may-2022-elections/1834569)
The US State Department and US media’s huge effort to portray Maria Ressa as the champion of freedom of the press in the Philippines, to the extent they worked on getting her the Nobel Prize nobody believed she deserved, is intended for this project. Imagine US newspaper headlines the day after voting: ‘Nobel Laureate declares failure of Philippine elections, based on reports by Rappler’s countrywide monitors.'”
Will we believe election-failure claims?
Tiglao’s columns already covered the possible use of Rappler’s reporting and MovePh community network to highlight election anomalies or generate false or faulty accounts, which could then be used to allege failure of elections.
This column will address a related and crucial question: Will the nation and the world, especially the tens of millions voting for Marcos, assuming he wins, accept the claim of election failure?
After all, in a Marcos victory, especially a landslide, there would probably be far more Filipinos disputing claims of poll irregularities than supporting them. How can their collective voices be countered or silenced?
READ: Is Rappler inciting another Ukraine in the Philippines?
READ: Rappler funder Omidyar helped topple Ukrainian president https://www.manilatimes.net/2022/02/04/opinion/columns/rappler-funder-omidyar-helped-topple-ukrainian-president-in-2014/1831764
Well, let us count the ways.
First, the Comelec partnership projects Rappler as an impartial, expert election news and information source, despite its widely perceived leanings against the Duterte administration and the Marcos family, and in favor of the opposition, especially Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo.
Indeed, the news site is tapped as an arbiter of what constitutes factual reports and fake news, even though its CEO Maria Ressa was convicted of cyberlibel, as noted by the National Press Club of the Philippines, one of the leading media associations in the country, in its February 24 letter opposing the Comelec-Rappler partnership (https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1168500).
Second, Rappler has the most powerful ally in projecting and propagating its reports and views as valid, fair and true, especially on the biggest and most influential social media platform wielding immense sway across the Philippines and the planet: Facebook.
Since 2018, Rappler has been FB’s fact-checking partner in the country. Hence, in social media jousts between Rappler and groups disputing its accounts, no prizes for guessing which of them FB’s fact-checking partner would likely disparage as dubious or even block altogether.
Agenda trumps truth
Through Rappler, Comelec gives Pinks — and US govt — monitoring authority in May 2022 elections
The third and perhaps biggest factor in propagating Rappler’s perspective on the elections is the West’s agenda for the Philippines, which is now dominated by the geopolitical rivalry between America and China.
While American Embassy charges d’affaires Heather Variava maintains that the United States can work with whoever becomes the next Philippine President, it much prefers a leader who would fully implement the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), allowing massive rotations of US forces in the country with access to our military bases, starting with those in Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Cebu, Puerto Princesa and Cagayan de Oro.
As noted by Washington think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, the US Indo-Pacific Command sees EDCA, long stalled under President Rodrigo Duterte, as crucial in countering China’s immense military prowess in nearby seas by setting up rocket batteries in the Philippines to attack its forces (https://www.manilatimes.net/2021/07/22/opinion/columns/the-deadly-treason-of-aquino-and-del-rosario/1807920).
Will Western media and tech giants go along with the West’s agenda and affirm claims of election failure in the Philippines? Well, that same media adopted as gospel truth one untruth disseminated by Rappler for years: the false report that the Philippine National Police (PNP) had killed 27,000 people in President Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign.
No matter that the PNP had repeatedly clarified that the term “deaths under investigation” referred to all the tens of thousands of fatalities every year being investigated, not just drug-war casualties and certainly not people killed while under police investigation.
That figure first reported by Rappler in 2016 has been widely and routinely cited in Western media and human rights entities, prompting statements and actions against the Philippines in the European Union, the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Human Rights Council.
When democracy censors
What’s worse, over the past year, Western media and Big Tech have been using their dominance to block reports and perspectives that do not agree with the preferred views on major issues, from vaccination against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) to the current Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In online censorship, social media has blocked or disparaged even leading medical experts, including top vaccine developer Robert Malone, credited with inventing messenger RNA jabs, with little or no explanation why.
With the Ukraine war, Western governments and media are openly banning entities taking Russia’s side. Reports Caitlin Johnston, a staunch critic and victim of online censorship (https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2022/03/02/defending-freedom-and-democracy-sure-requires-an-awful-lot-of-censorship/):
“Kremlin-backed media outlets have been banned throughout the European Union, both on television and on apps and online platforms. … In the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Latvia, speaking in support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine will get you years in prison.”
Now, if the West decides that voiding a Marcos victory and supporting a power grab by a losing candidate willing to implement EDCA is in its geopolitical interest, then we may see Rappler’s claims of election anomalies played up across the world, while contrary reports and opinions are silenced, just like perspectives supporting Russia or opposing mass Covid vaccination.
At that point, the only question remaining is whether the Armed Forces of the Philippines, with its decades of close relations with the US military, would back another “people power” uprising, fueled by claims of election fraud.
In such a scenario, which would hopefully never happen, Philippine democracy and independence may well be lost.