Too big to kill
The topic arose when a reader said the current spate of killings will eventually go from the lower class to the middle class. I wondered what would stop the extra-judicial solutions from moving from drugs to other threats to the nation.
Well, not the nation, exactly. But to the people running it. There is a difference.
But let me back up a step before addressing this.
The Duterte Administration has taken the highly successful campaign machinery that leverages the ideas of a few people skilled with communications strategy and tactics and deployed the ideas to promote the Duterte brand. Well, promotion has both an offensive and defensive component, in this particular configuration, with offense being a lot of positive messages talking about what a great man and program we have going here. Defense is an attack on the “yellows” or anyone else who questions the programs and priorities of the Administration.
There is a media component. Major media (no more presidential press conferences but wholesome photo-ops and programmed press releases are okay). Social media (the internet army). And new media such as the proposed government broadcast network patterned after the BBC. There is also an element of the message that I would call distortions, or propaganda, that could easily be be expanded to include managed transparency.
Propaganda encompasses a wide range of methods including criticisms outside of context, memes, lies, dirty tricks and all the techniques we saw during the campaign. I suspect it is no accident that we are seeing efforts to demean Senator De Lima who is proposing an investigation into the widespread killings emerging from the war on drugs.
Managed transparency would be if record keeping on the types and results of PNP drug incidents were stopped so that the transparency effort would be fulfilled by reporting nothing at all.
Social media represent a fertile playing field for distortions. We have an audience that laps up rumor and sensationalism and various discussions where nonsensical arguments are cast as wisdom. We see moralizing condescension toward those with different ideas, denigration of the opposition and praise toward the Duterte Administration. This is all is consistent with the global trends of the dumbing down and emotionalizing of debate. Media players love this playing field.
I think it is the ease and success of manipulating social media that may have led the administration down a dangerous path. There is a certain amoral nastiness to this kind of work, if it is pursued by a government. It is not a service to the people at all, except to the extent that the leaders believe the people belong to them rather than the other way around. It is for sure a large step away from the integrity of a free-speaking democracy built on service, honesty and being trustworthy.
Well, if you were the propaganda minister for any aggressive political entity, what would you do? You’d control and shape the information. And you would control and shape the ideas. And you would control and shape the media.
What are the hints that this manipulative mindset is now in operation? It is the same mindset that embraces the killing of drug users and peddlers as if they were alien creatures rather than Filipinos.
Are there other hints that amoral dishonesty, manipulations and expedience are the operating theme of government.
Well, we have DFA Secretary Yasay saying one thing in the Philippines, another to the US and quite another to ASEAN representatives. We have spokesmen arriving on scene and rationalizing any and all unfavorable publicity. We have a President relentlessly inconsistent in saying one thing and then another.
At a less prominent level, we see amoral gameplaying in the field of media, where all communication between government and the people occur.
Raissa Robles has been under attack since the release of her book on the dictatorship of President Marcos. Her site was shut down by hackers. Trolls are on the hunt here and there trying to denigrate her. The aim is to diminish her credibility as an authoritative source of information and ideas.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) published two reports on the history and drug confiscations of the current and past administrations . . . questioning the successes of the drug war . . . and immediately got hacked. The government is silent about this blatant, offensive attack on free speech and transparency.
In our own discussions here, we’ve seen a resurgence of that old nationalist attack: “You are American, Joe. You are not qualified to have opinions. Shut up.” It is a nonsensical argument because the blog is not just Joe America’s preaching, but is Filipinos teaching Joe America and each other.The trolls visited during the campaign but didn’t gain much. After all, when red-nosed clowns in floppy shoes arrive in the university seminar room, they are quite noticeable. Now this manipulation of ideas is not campaigning. It may be government-inspired operations.
So what’s next? We are now at the point where readers start to warn, “Take care, Joe. All they have to do is throw a bag of shabu onto your property and come after you.”
So it is natural to follow the amoral expedience to its terminal conclusion and ask, “What prevents the killing of anyone who is ‘in the way’?
It clearly is not conscience.
Look at the unfolding scene . . .
The administration is receiving blows each time there is another tragic case, two students today, a mistaken girl, a young honor student, a child bloody in the car seat. And yet the campaign persists. Nay, the President announces a trebling of effort during his SONA, because this is, after all. War.
So on the timeline of getting to a deadened, soulless population immune to the killings surrounding them, we are not there yet. But progress is good.
Progress is good.
But it’s still too early for a “name” killing, or for a killing outside the bounds of the drug war. People who are “too big to kill” include top government officials from the past, senators, oligarchs, media owners, journalists . . . even big drug bosses . . . the “public relations” damage would be too great.
The amoral strategists know they must, at all costs, avoid another EDSA or people’s movement. Because, once that arises, they are done. When people hit the streets, they lose control over the media and the message. A thuggish response by government to innocents working their free speech rights would be the end of the line.
Bottom line. You know and I know that these deceitful manipulations and killings are not what we want for the Philippines. With them, we no longer have earnest governance in a modernizing land of wholesome friendship and fun. Gone is the generous nation that gifts a grand fiesta welcome to strangers from around the world. Now we gift fear. We have dead shoeless bodies in the gutter. Taped up bodies in the trash pile. Dead mothers and children, some just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Corpses to the left, gore to the right, great big puddles of blood on the ground. No explanation anywhere, no accountability anywhere. Guilt? Innocent? Who knows?
We have a whole nation of participants . . . enablers . . . of congressmen and media pundits and entertainers who add their endorsement to the slaughter taking place on the streets of cities across the land.
Integrity in the Philippines today is a bullet in the head of some poor addicted slob and thousands of “leaders” with their hands over their eyes. And ears. And mouths.
THIS is not the Philippines we have come to be proud of, that we have come to enjoy for the promise and the friendship and the goodness of its peoples. For its rise to prominence as a leader in Asia.
The war on drugs has taken the dark underbelly of the nation and put it on front pages around the world and said “this is us!” A troubled, crime-riddled, drug-addled dirty shoeless murderous sesspit.
This is what it means to be Filipino.
Well, that wasn’t us a few months ago.
We used to be a rising star.
These killings are not done in a vacuum, out of sight, out of mind. They are in our face every day.
We should be happy, I suppose, that it is not Christians being executed . . . and not yet bloggers and journalists and others who are defined as objectionable . . . but just people who use and peddle drugs. Just them.
As I was wrapping up the article, this appeal came across my desk:
MANILA—Student council leaders from the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP) and other organizations link arms and wear placards with their aspirations written on cardboards as their latest act of condemning the deaths of youth and students due to extrajudicial killings, in solidarity with the Commission on Human Rights.
“We again implore President Duterte, keep us alive. Don’t kill off the youth in this war on drugs,” said Nancy Fernandez from SCAP.
“Young people have dreams. It’s sad that all these hopes and dreams can be erased in an instant. We all want peace and order. However, these cannot come at the cost of innocent lives.” she added. She cited the death of Rowena Tiamson, a 22 year-old honor student in Pangasinan, who was gunned down after being mistaken as a drug user.
“We applaud the recent pronouncements of Ateneo and La Salle Presidents condemning extrajudicial killings. We must come together to fight against these acts of inhumanity,” she said.
“We urge Miriam College, the University of the Philippines, and other colleges across the country to issue similar statements,” Fernandez said. “
Growing clamor for vigilantism and police brutality should be countered by a sober and humane narrative.” she added.