POSTSCRIPT / October 17, 2017 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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‘Game of Trolls’: Do we just watch?

WITH the “Game of Trolls” raging in social media, do we in the mainstream press stay a safe distance away to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between those attacking President Rodrigo Duterte and those defending him?

Legitimate dissent is now being dismissed or discredited as destabilization – a tactic being used to scare into silence the growing number of Filipinos waking up to a perceived drift to one-man rule.

The battle lines have become so blurred that anyone criticizing the administration is liable to be lumped with the “Yellow” camp. This is to taint critics and dissenters with the partisan color of the opposition Liberal Party.

To corner organized opposition, Duterte taunts the Yellows to merge with the Reds (the radical Left, an entirely different force) so, he says, his fighters could focus their firepower on just one target.

The President’s “somos o no somos” categorization of the contending forces in the field has been extended to cyberspace, which his well-oiled army of trolls and bloggers is trying to dominate by harassing dissenters and influencing fence-sitters.

Their action has provoked an opposing reaction, resulting in a noisy atmosphere where rational debate on issues is hardly possible. The ensuing confusion works to the advantage of the administration, because of its overwhelming presence and resources (taxpayers’ money).

A veteran power player, Duterte is exploiting the fact that We Are All Sinners.

Almost everyone in government, including those in independent constitutional bodies – as well as in business, the media and even the Church – is vulnerable, or thinks he is. Left guessing if they could be the next targets, many would rather play it safe and lie low.

The end effect is that a wide swath of the population has been effectively intimidated – especially with Duterte having succeeded in projecting a fearsome image of one who would even kill if necessary.

Among other elements, we are disturbed about the recruitment of more fighters and the arrival of firearms from China and Russia in the middle of Duterte’s open threat to declare martial law nationwide and even of a revolutionary government if the need arises.

But the need for such extreme measures can always be made to arise in a nation under increasingly tighter control, oblivious of the rule of law, and away from the watchful eyes of concerned neighbors.

We cannot help being disturbed by Duterte’s frequent allusion to “my soldiers” (which sounds like a warlord’s reference to his private army) and the diversion of billions from other essential needs to keep the loyalty of “my” troops.

As we attend to our respective jobs, we can only hold on to the patriotism, honor and professionalism of our armed forces – which the Constitution refers to as the “protector of the people and the State” – and the officers and gentlemen who lead them.

And we pray that God will continue to watch over us.

• The press holds a mirror to society

SO BACK to the question: Do we just watch as the “Game of Trolls” in social media rages?

I can only answer for myself (and I’m sure for many of my colleagues), and my/our answer is: No, we will not be a passive crowd watching the game. We have work to do.

No matter how distracting is the exchange of fire between the partisans in cyberspace attacking or defending Duterte, we journalists will continue to do our job of reporting and explaining the news in context, even if we get sideswiped in the process. And as a columnist, I will continue to comment on public affairs.

The Press will not tire holding a mirror to society, so we can continue to view ourselves as we really are and inspire ourselves to grow into our full potential as a nation – regardless of whoever is leading or misleading us.

We will make mistakes as we plod along, but we will promptly correct them and make amends. We hope our elders, especially government leaders, will do the same when they blunder.

Of late, there has been frequent mention of supposed “fake news,” which presumably refers to false or falsified news reports. We have to distinguish between news and views (opinion). There can be fake news, but fake opinion?

Two persons may disagree or have a difference of opinion, but not peddle “fake opinion,” unless what is meant is that one pretends to hold certain views, but in fact does not.

Anyone – whether journalist or not — who expresses an opinion or uploads information on a social media platform is subject to the same laws on libel. A blogger hauled to court for libel cannot tell the judge, “But, your honor, I’m not a journalist!”

On a personal note, ad hominem, name-calling, and such rubbish do not affect me. It is useless to use them on me. When one starts cursing or throwing invectives, he is actually admitting that he has run out of arguments. For his own sake, he should just shut up.

Sometimes I’m asked why I criticize the Duterte administration when I spared previous presidents. The one asking is betraying his ignorance, his not having read my Postscripts during the past decades.

I hold Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, my cabalen, in high esteem. We’ve had friendly conversations, even went with her on one official trip to China when she was president. But that did not spare her and her husband Mike of my sharp criticisms. I’m sure she understands.

As for the Aquino presidents (Cory and Noynoy) I had deep personal reasons to be very supportive of them, but that did not hold back my criticisms when warranted – to the point that I may have harmed beyond repair my relations with the family. (I hope not.) Friends and colleagues who know of my close association with the Aquinos dating back to my kumpareng Ninoy know what I’m talking about.

Anyone who wants to turn back the pages should open my old Postscripts at

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 17, 2017)

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