The Philippine Star : Pageant

27 January 2022

By Alex Magno | The Philippine Star

It pains me every time this photo lands in my inbox, disseminated mainly by Leni supporters.

It is a photo of a group of writers, bloggers and broadcasters gathered around Bongbong and Liza Marcos. The photo is labeled “BBM’s trolls” and presented like it was sort of scoop or at least privileged information. Seated beside Bongbong is former Manila Standard columnist Jojo Robles.

Those who know Jojo would also know he died two years ago.

Those who knew him really well would also know how he disliked the sanctimoniousness and hypocrisy of what he called the “Dilawans.” If he were alive today, he would probably be supportive of the BBM campaign – emphasis on “probably” because the man is dead.

But he would never be a troll. Everything he wrote had his by-line on it. He was an opinionated man but he owned the opinions he made. We disagreed on some things, but I always respected the passion with which he pursued his advocacies. He was always fiercely independent.

I hate it that he is now being caricatured as a “BBM troll” by purveyors of partisan propaganda. This is plain disinformation.

Yet this obvious case of disinformation, portraying an individual long dead as party to a current presidential campaign, appears to have been conveniently ignored by the hundred or so groups that banded together to “fact-check” the on-going electoral campaigns. It seems this is a coalition aiming to “fact-check” only one candidate and protect the prejudices they hold dear.

I know some of the other “influencers” in the photo mentioned above. They are strong-minded individuals who freely arrive at their own political and electoral conclusions. Yet they are conveniently tarred and feathered as “trolls.”

They would not be “influencers” if they were of flimsy thought. If they arrived at their conclusions and decided on a candidate to support, it is something we must respect. There is so much ill will among the most sanctimonious that they readily brand as evil anyone who disagrees with their prejudices.

Debates

There has been much debate about the so-called “debates” that have happened in several media channels. The fact is, there have been no debates yet – only interviews.

That is an important point. Debates involve some sort of engagement between two distinct positions. An interview happens between an interrogator (presumably without a predisposition) and a subject.

Yesterday, I was invited to participate in an online panel to discuss the presidential “debates” held so far. I declined: first, because the premise was wrong and, second, because I had not invested time tuning in to the interviews the past few days.

There is a reason I have invested little time watching these interviews. There is a certain dissonance between the medium and the professed event. Television and radio are fast-paced media. The audience is lost if the interaction is prolonged and the subjects grind into the details of their positions.

This is the reason why the interviews end up like some sort of quick-answer episodes that we see in beauty pageants. Imagine a Miss Universe contestant being asked to answer in about three sentences complex issues such as climate change. In the interviews, the subjects are asked to give one-word answers to what are really complex questions. The glib triumphs; the ponderous is lost.

What these media events accomplish is to simply reinforce existing preferences. For instance, Leni Robredo’s supporters hailed her participation in the Jessica Soho interview as some sort of turning point in the campaign. The same pink supporters flooded media with denunciations of Marcos for declining an interview.

None of the pink supporters bothered to remember that Fernando Poe Jr. declined every interview and every debate during the 2004 campaign – and nearly won. No one remembered that Noynoy Aquino did not participate in the 2010 debates. In the latter case, it was a correct tactical decision: Aquino was leading all rivals. No one remembered that when Marcos submitted to a Jessica Soho interview in 2016, the venue was filled with LP supporters who heckled his every answer.

Nor did anyone bother to check the audience turnout. According to YouTube, the Jessica Soho-Leni episode has garnered 76 thousand views. By contrast, the Boy Abunda-BBM episode has 3.6 million views and running.

According to insiders, some advertisers decline to place their ads if BBM is not participating because this meant low viewership and therefore low return on the placement. It seems the market has decided – harshly as it always does.

Are these contextual assessments part of the “fact checking” process? They should be.

Truth

I recall my college days when we invested on so much beer and denied ourselves so much sleep arguing how to “elevate facts into truth.” That was the crucial procedure for what was then called “critical theory.”

The argument was not a futile exercise. It educated us about the error of “abstracted empiricism” and trained our minds in uncovering processes operating underneath what is evident. That served all of us well in understanding social phenomena.

In this electoral campaign, disinformation will no doubt abound – simply because it is so easy to disseminate it electronically and so hard to curate social media. But disinformation is easier to check. What is more difficult to screen is wishful thinking passing off as analysis or proffered solutions that are fiscally improbable. For instance, when Pacquiao promised to double the salaries of schoolteachers, had he worked out how much this would cost?

The task at hand is to introduce some rigor into the electoral debate.