POSTSCRIPT / October 19, 2017 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Salute to the troops for freeing Marawi!

WE SALUTE the armed forces for liberating Marawi City from pro-Islamic State terrorists. We hail the Filipino soldiers’ patriotic performance of the job that the Constitution has assigned to them as “the protector of the people and the State.” (Art. II, Sec. 3)

As the military sweeps the ruins for the squad of stragglers holding hostages to shield their escape, civilian agencies are preparing to start early next year the arduous rebuilding of the proud Muslim city on the northern shore of Lanao Lake.

The government is expected to spend at least P100 billion to bring back Marawi to its former splendor and vivacity. Several countries are chipping in. The United States, whose advanced war gear helped pinpoint and hit the terrorists, is donating an initial $15 million for rehabilitation.

The displaced residents, thousands of them still in tent colonies, have shown a healthy impatience to rise quickly from the rubble of war and restart their interrupted lives.

We are happy to note in TV reports that special attention is being given to the children and the elderly, but saddened by the death of more than 1,000 Filipinos during the almost five months of intense fighting.

Even with the killing Monday of two of its local leaders, Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, the IS hierarchy is expected to pick replacements to continue their campaign. Hapilon, wanted by the US, was the IS Southeast Asian “emir.” Maute was one of two brothers leading operations.

• Lift martial law in Mindanao now?

WITH the continuing threat and the restiveness of other armed groups, it may be advisable to continue the martial law regime in all of Mindanao until its scheduled lifting at the end of the year – provided no abuses or human rights violations are committed by the authorities.

With the liberation of Marawi (whose IS-inspired siege was the trigger for the ML proclamation) and with the apparent absence of invasion or rebellion (the crisis situations required by the Constitution), it may be legally untenable to refuse to lift martial law now.

But as has been amply demonstrated, when Duterte forcefully insists on his wishes, there is hardly a way that any entity can stop him – unless the parties questioning his moves are ready to risk a constitutional crisis or a bloody civil strife.

By continually pushing the borders of his autocratic tendencies, Duterte has succeeded in conditioning the public mind to the inevitability (not necessarily the desirability) of his leading the nation to embrace a revolutionary regime or any of its variations.

Despite its setback in Marawi, meanwhile, the IS and its satellites in Mindanao might still launch terror events in urban centers, including the national capital, if only to serve notice that while two of their top leaders have been neutralized, they are still a force to contend with.

They may attempt to dramatize this capability by carrying out a major attack while some world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, are in town for side-summit talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations gathering in Manila late this year.

Such violence erupting in Manila with the world watching could boost Duterte’s argument for a strongman (himself) to throw out constitutional niceties — and take full control of the government — to save the nation.

• CBCP victimized by ‘fake news’

WHILE the fighting in Marawi was winding down, partisan bloggers have been busy adding to the noise and confusion complicating the conflict by propagating “fake news” about targeted individuals and groups they see on the “enemy” side.

One fake news was posted days ago by a “Rodrigo Duterte Supporters” saying that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines regretted the killing of Hapilon and Maute. Passed on, shared or retweeted by allies of “Rodrigo Duterte Supporters,” it went viral on social media.

The fake report forced normally quiet Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, CBCP president, to issue a statement:

“Once more, CBCP is the hapless victim of fake news. Going viral on social media is a ‘report’ that the CBCP regrets the killing of Messsrs. Hapilon and Maute.

The CBCP never made such a statement. On the contrary we laud the gallantry of our soldiers and their heroic effort to free Marawi. We will gladly join government in rebuilding the city in the measure we are able.

“We pray for all the dead, and for lasting peace in Mindanao.”

The deliberate propagation of false reports – now the land mines in social media — is substantially different from the occasional errors in new reports and articles in mainstream media.

In the fake report on the CBCP, for instance, the story was maliciously spread with the full knowledge of its falsity. In the mainstream press, errors committed by writers and editors are promptly corrected or withdrawn upon discovery.

One element giving courage and cover to purveyors of fake news in social media is the anonymity of their cryptic usernames. The author and his handler are emboldened by the thought that they cannot be identified and made to account quickly during their demolition job.

Such is not the case with mainstream media where authors carry by-lines and sometimes even have their pictures displayed. They take responsibility for what they write or say. What’s more, their news organizations stand by them, and fully own their lapses and errors.

Anyone with a cellphone or such device can instantly upload or post any thought, comment or report without sufficient reflection or fact-checking. The lack of verification, editing, supervision and a sense of responsibility contribute to misinformation or outright disinformation.

The gatekeeping and the public taking of responsibility by mainstream media do not always save from errors the news bureau and the public it serves, but there is always accountability – the element that protects both the journalist and his reader from fake news.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 19, 2017)

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