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DUTERTE REGIME: A propaganda war with dire consequences

in Countercurrent
by Erika Hernandez

Neophyte Senator Ronaldo “Bato” dela Rosa, the controversial Philippine National Police chief of the Duterte government, recently led a public inquiry in the Senate and instantly spurred controversy and criticisms. He attempted to link progressive youth organizations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).

He presented two witnesses who claimed they were “students by day and NPA by night”—a giveaway phrase as to where it came from: the military. That he sought to turn a public inquiry, purportedly in aid of legislation, into a witch hunt immediately became obvious.

The frontman in President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” also presented parents of youth activists, who apparently had been goaded to vilify leaders of Anakbayan and Kabataan Partylist as “kidnappers who brainwash their members.” Bato’s witch hunt came with memes on social media showing NPA martyrs from the youth sector and victims of state-perpetrated enforced disappearances with a theme, “Sayang ang buhay ng kabataan (Youth lives just wasted).”

Military officers, who had been invited as resource persons, called for a review of an agreement between a youth leader and then defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile, prohibiting the presence of state security forces in the universities and colleges. They gave lame excuses, such as to prevent “front organizations” from recruiting students to join the NPA; avert the proliferation of drugs in schools; and give the military an equal opportunity to explain government programs.

Following the Senate inquiry, members of the PNP attempted to conduct “mandatory” drug testing on students at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP). Courageous PUP scholars who knew their rights valiantly resisted, driving away the cops from the university premises.

Bato couldn’t wait to use the Senate as platform for pushing the propaganda line against the CPP-NPA of the Duterte regime in its bid to defeat the revolutionary movement before the end of its term.

By striving to directly link the progressive youth organizations with the CPP-NPA and the armed struggle against the reactionary state, the fascist regime aims to justify its red-tagging, harassment, abductions, and killings of youth leaders and activists. The regime blurs—if not totally removes—the distinction between the armed revolutionary movement and the legal, above-ground democratic mass movement fighting for the people’s legitimate demands. It regards the open democratic mass movement as the propaganda component of the armed revolutionary movement.

Thus in the following weeks, the Duterte regime’s red-tagging spree, branding almost all legal organizations as “fronts” of the CPP-NPA, was raised a notch higher. Duterte’s rabid pro-US defense chief urged the illegalization of these organizations by reviving the Anti-Subversion Act of 1957 (the cold war-era legislation that illegalized the CPP; it was repealed under the Ramos government in 1992 as it entered into peace negotiations with the NDFP).

Myth-making through red tags and incessant lies

Red tagging and vilification of people’s organizations is a key facet of the “strategic communication” thrust under the “whole of nation approach (WNA)” of the Duterte regime’s counterinsurgency program. Under this overarching WNA concept—applied unsuccessfully by the US in its unending wars of intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 and 2002—the regime seeks to “create a movement of and crusade against communist ideology starting with the youth.” It also aims to “assess and conduct counter measures on the current tri-media and social media being infiltrated and targeted by the “CNN [CPP-NPA-NDFP)” through inter-agency collaboration to counter and contain the spread of extremism and revolution.”

What the regime is trying to portray is a supposed state inter-agency collaboration with civil society collaboration against the Left revolutionary movement. While Bato exploits the Senate as platform, Congress is poised to enact repressive measures such as the revival of the Anti-Subversion Law, amendments to the Human Security Act of 2007 (the anti-terrorism law), mandatory military training in schools, among others. The Anti-Subversion Law and Human Security Act amendments portray critics and activists as “terrorists,” to justify unrelenting unarmed and armed attacks against them.

Red-tagging and vilification have preceded many cases of extrajudicial killing, torture, arrest and detention and other human rights abuses against farmers, workers, environmentalists, Church people, lawyers, human rights defenders and other sectors.

The Duterte regime’s propaganda machinery involves both the military and civilian bureaucracy, with the former taking the lead role. The composition of the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), formed through Executive Order No. 70 and headed by President Duterte, shows how civilian agencies are being mobilized for counterinsurgency operations.

The NTF has been busy in its efforts to red tag and vilify the legal and progressive mass organizations critical of the Duterte regime and its continuing subservience to US imperialism and obeisance to China as the rising imperialist power.

One of the most glaring incidents of red-tagging happened during the May 2019 elections. PNP men and women in uniform were caught on camera in the act of distributing a PNP newsletter linking Makabayan Coalition-affiliated partylist groups to the underground revolutionary movement.

In other areas such as Panay, Negros, Davao, Cagayan de Oro, leaflets containing a list of persons alleged to be communists were distributed by state agents. In the list are human rights activists, lawyers, members of the religious, journalists, and academics.

Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade, AFP deputy chief of staff for civil-military operations, is one of the most vociferous in publicly labeling human rights organizations and sectoral groups as “CPP-NPA fronts” and in peddling the lie that these organizations are involved in “terroristic” activities.

The regime also takes advantage of social media to vilify its the most vocal critics. The Philippine News Agency (PNA) and the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) makes use of fake photos, fake statements, and incredible claims against leaders of the people’s organizations.

The regime has spent tremendous amounts of taxpayers’ money in disseminating its propaganda against the progressive movement to the international community. The NTF-ELCAC went as far as dispatching a team that visited officials of European Union (EU) member states to red-tag Karapatan, Ibon International, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Gabriela, among others. The task force urged these EU countries to cut funding for organizations serving the most neglected rural communities in the Philippines.

The NTF-ELCAC sent a delegation to the United Nations Working Group on Involuntary Disappearances in Bosnia-Herzegovina and egregiously urged that body to delist 625 cases of enforced disappearances in the Philippines, mostly attributed to state security forces. NTF members also furiously lobbied against the passage of a resolution filed by Iceland in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), urging the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to look into the spate of extrajudicial killings and make a written comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the Philippines. Their lobbying failed; the UNHRC adopted the resolution.

Even the academe, hospitals and other civilian agencies are not spared from the witch hunt. Policemen did rounds in schools, government hospitals and other offices, profiling the members and officers of employees’ unions.

The AFP and PNP have been spreading outright lies. They claim to have succeeded in ending the “insurgency” in some provinces—claims that have repeatedly been belied since the Ramos government first declared, in 1994, that it had strategically defeated the NPA (which it admitted to be untrue several months later). They present to the media fake surrenderers, mostly farmers they either coerced, deceived, or bribed—through the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP)—into admitting they were NPA members. They churn out these falsehoods to conjure the illusion that they are winning against the revolutionaries.

But when their most heinous crimes are exposed, they readily put the blame on the CPP- NPA. This has been shown in the case of the extrajudicial killings in Negros Oriental. Braving threats and the pain of repeatedly recalling the tragic massacres, families of the victims have testified how their loved ones were killed in cold blood during the joint AFP-PNP’s Oplan Sauron operations.

When members and other paid elements of the AFP and the PNP get killed in legitimate armed encounters, they try hide their defeats, or worse, misrepresent these incidents as violations by the NPA of international humanitarian law.

Criminalizing dissent: the biggest lie

Through the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA), the AFP and the PNP jointly try to use the judiciary as a weapon against critics of Duterte and his corrupt and bungling regime. The following are just some examples showing how this administration is criminalizing dissent: the perjury charges filed by Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, the president’s national security adviser, against Karapatan, the RMP, and Gabriela; the sedition and cyberlibel cases filed against Vice President Leni Robredo, political opposition candidates in the May senatorial elections, and some Catholic bishops; and, the kidnapping charges against youth leaders and former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.

A similar ridiculous and malicious kidnapping and child abuse charges were earlier filed against Bayan Muna President Satur Ocampo and Representative France Castro of Act-Teachers partylist in late 2018, when they helped rescue Lumad students who had been forced out of their school that was shut down by the military.

A number of activists, service providers of progressive NGOs and organizers or campaigners of legal progressive organizations, have also been arrested based on patently made-up accusations including illegal possession of firearms and explosives. In most cases the arresting teams have planted the “evidence” in the activists’ bags they seized, in vehicles or residences as in the case of labor organizer Maoj Maga, long-time peace advocate and NDFP peace consultant Rey Claro Casambre, and NDFP peace consultants Vicente Ladlad, Adel Silva, and recently Esterlita Suaybaguio.

Professional “witnesses” or “surrenderers” dragooned as witnesses are used from one case to another to churn out false testimonies, almost always bordering on the ridiculous. The use of arrest warrants against “John Doe” and “Jane Doe” have become the norm to justify the illegal arrests of any targeted person.

The “multiple murder” case involving, as supposedly prime evidence, “travelling skeletons”—first allegedly dug up from a mass grave in Baybay, Leyte then years later supposedly dugged up again in Inopacan, Leyte—has been discredited and should have been laid to rest long ago.

But, no! The biggest legal fiction of Gloria Arroyo’s Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG)—the filing of trumped-up murder charges in 2007 against Ocampo (then Bayan Muna congressman) and several others was questioned before the Supreme Court, which granted Ocampo bail. However, the case awaited action by the highest tribunal for seven years. Only in 2014 did the SC, mostly with new justices sitting, referred the case for trial to a regional trial court. Then after hearings held over about five years, the prosecutors recently asked the court to issue warrants of arrest against 38 of the co-accused, including NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison. The court issued the warrants.

In another case, the Court of Appeals recently junked both the petition for writ of amparo and writ of habeas data filed by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and a similar petition filed by Karapatan, RMP and Gabriela (the NUPL is the groups’ legal counsel). The parallel rulings indicate the sway of military influence on the judiciary. The rulings, issued by different CA divisions, practically denied the human rights defenders the legal remedies sought for their protection against political persecution and threats to their personal security and their lives.

Silencing the media

As part of its “strategic communication” strategy, the Duterte regime has been discrediting the journalism profession in an apparent bid to drown out the truth in media reporting and spread more lies. By calling journalists as bayaran, “press-titute”, and other derogatory labels, Duterte wants the Filipino people to doubt and reject the media’s role as watchdogs in society.

  1. The Duterte regime is trying to intimidate the more critical journalists using some of these methods: Producing fabricated matrices that link to a conjured ouster plot against Duterte the media organizations—the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the Vera Files, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)—and individual journalists such as Inday Espina-Varona and Danilo Arao.
  2. Threatening non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise, a virtual Damocles sword on the broadcasting giant.
  3. Filing a string of charges against online news site Rappler and twice trying to detain its CEO.
  4. Conducting “background checks” on journalists. Members of the Philippine National Police Press Corps have reported police visits and interrogations.
  5. Visiting media outfits in the pretext of “getting fair stories” regarding the bloody war on drugs, such as in the case of two media outfits in the Visayas. Some journalists have been included in the drug watch list even though there is no evidence on the alleged use or trade in illegal drugs.
  6. Red-tagging of the NUJP, the largest organization of journalists in the country, for being vocal in its defense of press freedom. Individual members of the NUJP have also been red-tagged.
  7. Utilizing trolls to harass critical journalists. Some of these include, among others, death threats and threats of raping women journalists.
  8. Launching systematic cyber attacks against alternative media websites Bulatlat, Kodao, Altermidya, Pinoy Weekly and NUJP. The cyber attacks have also targeted the websites of Bayan, Karapatan, Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, Ibon and scores of other organizations, including the CPP’s Philippine Revolution Web Central (PRWC). Sweden-based Qurium Media Foundation’s forensic report on the cyber attacks revealed that the attacks were launched on websites which are based in the Philippines.

The escalation of cyber attacks and vilification of media outfits, critical think tanks, progressive service-oriented NGOs and people’s organizations are also part of the Duterte regime’s “strategic communication” plan. The AFP first announced its creation of a cyber workforce in 2017. Since then until 2019, the AFP, the PNP and the Philippine Coast Guard have yearly held a Cybersecurity Summit.

Early this year, the Duterte regime launched a national cybersecurity plan. It created a cybersecurity management system “to monitor cyber threats,” headed by the Integrated Computer Systems (ICS) and the Israeli surveillance company Verint, with an initial licensing period of three years. Verint is a billion-dollar company with a global interception and surveillance empires.

The Duterte regime’s dirty propaganda tactics are coupled with heightening repression.

Labeling activists interchangeably as “terrorists,” “suspected drug addicts,” “kidnappers,” and the like aims to demonize and criminalize dissent and justify their killing and other human rights violations against them.

All these latest misuse of new technology to spread lies, combined with the age-old armed repression, are like carpetbombs seeking to harm not only the armed revolutionaries. Mostly targeted are citizens critical of the regime, the activists, the Church, the media and any other supporter of human rights and the struggle for genuine democracy.

The intended victims of this campaign are unarmed, visible and easy targets. The Duterte regime is fighting a truly dirty war. But the more it lies and kills even non-combatants, the more it reveals the bankruptcy of any promised good inuring to the people that it trots out to justify this dirty and costly war.

As such, the Duterte regime and its dirty war will not likely last long. With every attack it reveals its true face, the face of a rotting government that is puppet to foreign interests and seeking to maintain a crumbling status quo. It only highlights the correctness of waging and advancing the now 50-year national democratic revolution.

To break the cycle of lies and killings being perpetrated by this fascist regime, the people here and abroad should harness the courage and will power to expose and denounce its lies, and call for ever-broadening people’s resistance.###

#DuterTerorista
#FightTyranny
#DefendPressFreedom
#MakibakaWagMatakot

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Duterte and the Philippine Mass Media

in Countercurrent
by Leon Castro

Since the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship, freedom of the press and freedom of expression in the Philippines have never been threatened as viciously as these are today.

As an important part of the struggle to oust the Marcos dictatorship, the 1987 Constitution of the reactionary Philippine Republic includes provisions to safeguard the mass media from attacks by succeeding regimes. Section 4 of the Bill of Rights eloquently states, “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

Alas, such eloquence and grandness of purpose may prove no match to Rodrigo Duterte’s vindictiveness and viciousness against those he perceives to have an axe to grind against him.

Duterte’s attacks against the mass media apparently stemmed from a perceived slight. He has accused giant media conglomerate ABS-CBN of taking money but refused to run his campaign advertisements during the anomalous 2016 presidential polls. He also accused the Philippine Daily Inquirer of consistently running stories pointing out his bloody human rights record as Davao City mayor to ruin his candidacy. For these and other perceived slights, Duterte embarked on a vicious campaign and direct attacks against Philippine mass media.

A regime propped by trolls

Duterte started out by deploying his army of trolls and bloggers, led by a former broadcaster who himself had a checkered career before parlaying his political connections to land a job as presidential communication secretary. The regime hired and pays expensive social media influencers who have no qualms in putting out outright lies and disinformation to undermine the credibility of critical media outlets. The lies of the likes of Mocha Uson, RJ Nieto, Sass Sassot and other highly-paid bloggers have been consistently exposed, yet they blithely keep at it as they enjoy Duterte’s unwavering support and encouragement. They have replaced the likes of Jim Paredes, Leah Navarro, Cynthia Patag, among others, of the notorious Yellow Brigade of the past Benigno Aquino regime.

Paid online trolls under the direction of the regime’s black propaganda operators work round the clock to undermine reports of highly-regarded outfits such as Vera Files and Reuters and cyber-bash respected journalists like Ed Lingao, Raissa Robles, Inday Espina-Varona and many others with pre-formulated “comments” they did not even bother to change even as they were blasted on the same threads one after the other. Many other journalists have reported threats and harassment by either trolls or known Duterte supporters.

All too willingly Duterte does his part in undermining mass media and the journalists’ credibility in the eyes of the people. His arsenal of attacks was not limited to a steady stream of invectives but include outright false accusations as he did with Inquirer’s Karlos Manlupig. He also catcalled female journalist Mariz Umali of GMA 7 on live television. Woefully, his tirades are often met with laughter and approving applause by his blinded supporters. Duterte himself is his regime’s worst troll.

Attacks against media outfits

But Duterte’s growing tyranny has gone beyond verbal assaults. His regime is making good his threats against his perceived enemies in the mass media. Duterte’s threats to punish the owners of Philippine Daily Inquirer forced them to negotiate a sale with San Miguel Corporation tycoon Ramon Ang who is known to be friendly with the tyrant. There are rumors that notorious attack dog Rigoberto Tiglao would be appointed as the newspaper’s new editor in chief once the sale papers have been signed.

“Supermajority” minions in Congress are heroically aiding the tyrant in his attacks against the mass media. They have refused to table the bill granting a 25-year extension to Catholic Media Network’s broadcast franchise which operates 54 radio stations nationwide. In a statement, international media group Reporters Without Borders expressed concern that the “refusal” of lawmakers to renew the franchise appeared to be “politically motivated,” given the Church’s critical stance on President Duterte’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs. The Protestant group National Council of Churches of the Philippines, which consistently denounces human rights violations by the Duterte regime, is facing similar problems with its broadcast franchise extension. It too operates several radio stations nationwide.

On January 9, 2017, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) suffered a denial of service on its website, www.nujp.org. Prior to the attack, the group released a statement against President Duterte’s declaration that he was “playing” with the media. Duterte said in a CNN Philippines interview on 29 December 2016, “Nilalaro ko kayo. Mahilig talaga ako (sa) gan’un. Alam ng team ninyo mahilig ako magbitaw ng kalokohan.” The NUJP statement was flooded with hate comments from Duterte supporters.

In January this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission, acting upon direct orders from Duterte, declared Rappler’s license as violative of the Constitutional provision on foreign ownership of mass media organizations. Despite the government’s legalese and vigorous denials by its mouthpieces, it could not be denied that Duterte wanted to punish the online news outfit for its reportage of human rights violations in the country.

In February, alternative media outfit Kodao Productions’ website www.kodao.org was hacked with a code injection attack that prevents its webmasters from logging in and its growing number of readers from accessing the site. Kodao said online forensic investigations it conducted lead them to believe the attack could only be the handiwork of top-tier hackers, such as those employed by governments and intelligence agencies. As the media outfit that most comprehensively reports on the peace process between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines as well as other social justice issues, the temporary loss of Kodao’s website denies the public of a chance to weigh in on the peace agenda.

Media killings continue

Much like when he was Davao City mayor, Duterte’s presidency is littered with the dead and wounded bodies of working journalists. A joint statement by the NUJP, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) last November 23, 2017, on the 8th anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre, said six journalists have been killed under the Duterte regime while eight have survived slay attempts and received death threats.

The situation can turn for the worse with the likes of blogger Nieto encouraging his fellow Duterte blogger to confront photojournalist Jes Aznar once he leaves Marawi City or trolls threatening Al Jazeera reporter Jamela Alindogan and Malacañang beat reporter Pia Rañada with rape. Just recently, Rañada was also banned from covering Malacañang simply because she is from Rappler.

Three libel cases have been filed against journalists under Duterte and four old cases have led to the arrest of the accused.
NUJP, CMFR and PCIJ have also complained that the Duterte regime puts journalists’ lives in danger by compelling them to participate in so-called raids that all too often end up in the killing of poor drug suspects. In addition, the police tries to influence how Duterte’s drug war is being reported. “Against their will, media personnel are sometimes compelled by police officers to sign on as witnesses in police anti-drug operations, supposedly as mandated by the law. Media team members are asked to sign on to the police’s inventory reports on the items that had been seized during police operations, in the form and manner that the police had prepared these,” the group said. This practice exposes media personnel to serious legal implications and real conflict of interest, they added.

On Sept. 13, 2017, the Philippine National Police, through its spokesperson Supt. Dionardo Carlos, ordered that spot reports would not be released to reporters unless the “head of office, his duly [designated] representative, his PIO (public information officer) or his spokesperson” determined that such release would not affect an investigation. Carlos reportedly said that the directive restricting journalists from obtaining spot reports was issued as early as Feb. 18, 2014. This goes against the very grain of another of Duterte’s campaign promise, that of freedom of information.

NUJP, CMFR and PCIJ said that the Duterte regime’s flow of official information has been mired in apparent propaganda. “Although a Freedom of Information policy has directed all offices in the executive branch to respond to requests for information, far too many exceptions and denied requests have rendered the supposed policy of openness a farce,” the groups said. They also complained of a remarkable scarcity of substance of the information fed them in official press briefings during milestone events, such as the most recent ASEAN Summit or during the war in Marawi. They complain of Duterte’s communication team’s cavalier stance in throwing around facts out of context, and dishing out partial truths, and even fabricated stories and photographs.

Weaponizing fake news

As the regime attacks journalists who publish critical reports, it also unleashes fake news to supplant legitimate media outfits to mislead the people from Duterte’s human rights violations, corruption, foreign subservience and other inanities. As armies of trolls bombard websites and social media platforms with lies and threats, pro-Duterte websites abound, publishing fake news that twist facts in all incredible manners.

This compelled the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to issue a list of fake news sites in January 2017, followed by a pastoral letter June of last year. After the list’s publication, some of these websites have been “killed” or their urls changed. Still, a good number of these remain.

The NUJP, in cooperation with an advertising agency, also launched in 2017 an advocacy website called Fakeblok that red-flags websites publishing fake news. This earned for the organization and the ad agency multiple national awards for confronting the fake news phenomenon that is being used with abandon by the Duterte regime.

But fake news is not confined to online platforms. Fake news is in fact wielded as a black propaganda weapon by the Duterte regime that not only victimizes netizens, it also abets the regime’s killing spree. The Philippine National Police (PNP) use these fake news sites to blame extrajudicial killings victims for being illegal drug peddlers and criminals.

But nothing beats the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in its mastery of news fakery. It starts from consistently issuing news releases filled with lies and conducting press conferences that twists facts like no other. The mercenary forces of the reactionary state use fake news to cover up both its many battlefield losses and its atrocities against civilians and their communities. This is never been more blatant in its handling of Filipino journalists covering the Marawi siege for six long months. Never was a news coverage been so managed as Marawi that very few reports actually described why an entire city has to be totally destroyed and hundreds of civilians killed just to flush out a handful of gunmen.

Thankfully, these fake news sites and its entire machinery under the Duterte regime is being exposed and the people are already starting to dismiss them as nothing more than lies, albeit dangerous.

Militating the press

Duterte is making the same mistakes his idol Marcos did during his dictatorship. He is not only alienating the mass media, he is making them his enemies. His toxic mix of tyrannical power and violence and public censure against legitimate mass media, on one hand, and lies and misinformation peddled by his trolls and paid hacks, on the other, will likelly revive the phenomenon called the “mosquito press” which contributed to Marcos’s downfall.

Responding to attacks against media outfits and reporters, journalists from all over the country are bonding together—organizing forums and rallies to condemn attacks against press freedom. More and more journalists are publishing articles reporting on the regime’s corruption, subservience to foreign powers, human rights violations and even the Duterte family’s incredible and tasteless sense of entitlement.

All these would only help bring the current Malacanang tyrant to his knees and help cause his eventual and inevitable downfall.

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