MANILA, Philippines – Journalists and other groups linked to the so-called “Oust Duterte matrix” on Tuesday, May 7, slammed what they called the government’s pattern of attacks to “vilify or demonize” them. (READ: Human rights law group calls Oust Duterte plot ‘rubbish’)
In the “This is the matrix” public forum organized by the Third World Studies Center of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, the panel tackled the “dangerous implications” of the “fabricated accusations” thrown against them by the the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. (READ: Malacañang’s copy of ‘ouster matrix’ came from unknown number)
Though the matrix was “false,” Vera Files president Ellen Tordesillas said that they could not just sit back as the allegations showed how far the Duterte administration could go just to harass them.
“‘Yung imagination nila hindi ko alam kung anong limit…. Wala na e. It’s not based on reason…. Hindi ko alam kung hanggang saan, kung anong next ( I don’t know the limits of their imagination…. It’s gone. It’s not based on reason…. I don’t know how far they can go what’s next),” she said.
The so-called matrix linked the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) to media groups like Rappler, Vera Files, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism in a supposed plot to oust the President.
Tordesillas said the Duterte administration’s actions threatened democracy.
“Ang alam kasi namin, hindi sila hihinto. Ano ang objective nila? They will not stop until they will destroy democracy. Papatayin nila ang demokrasya kaya anyone who helps in strengthening democracy, which reveals what we’re doing, sisirain nila kasi media is one of the pillars of democracy,” she said.
(What we know is that they won’t stop. What’s their objective? They will not stop until they will destroy democracy. They will destroy democracy because anyone who helps in strengthening, which reveals what we’re doing, they will destroy this because media is one of the pillars of democracy.)
Tordesillas added: “Media can only thrive in a democracy. There is no democracy if there is no freedom of the press kaya kailangan nilang patayin ‘yung malayang pamamahayag (so they have to kill press freedom).”
NUPL Secretary-General Ephraim Corte said that the temerity of the President’s office to peddle an “obvious lie” demonstrated the Duterte administration’s lack of respect for the rule of law, and demonstrated what it could do to its critics.
Cortez said that when Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo confirmed the plot, he made an official announcement and accused those included in the “matrix” of wrongdoing. (READ: Lawyers score SC victories vs army harassment, West PH Sea neglect)
“This is very dangerous. A presidential pronouncement, whether directly from the President himself or through his spokesperson, or through any of his alter egos are statements regarding official actions or directives that are required to be implemented,” he said.
Cortez added that the supposed ouster plot was not a laughing matter because of the serious implications to the security, liberty, and even the life of those in the matrix.
During the forum, Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa mentioned “astroturfing” as she tackled the serious implications of the matrix.
Merriam-Webster.com defines astroturfing as an organized activity “intended to create a false impression of a widespread, spontaneously arising, grassroots movement in support of or in opposition to something (such as a political policy) but that is in reality initiated and controlled by a concealed group or organization (such as a corporation).”
Ressa said Manila Times owner and publisher Dante Ang “seeded” the astroturf by publishing the story in his paper, prompting the resignation of its managing editor, Felipe Salvosa II. She said that while Salvosa’s resignation showed cracks in the allegation, the matrix had been echoed on social media.
“I’ll use the term astroturfing. This means fake grass, so you know you put all these fake ideas in it, you count it ‘til it looks real and it creates a bandwagon effect and convinces other people who are looking, or reading, or listening that that’s the truth. So if you say a lie a million times, it becomes the truth in the age of social media. That’s the reality,” Ressa said.
Given the continuous threats to media and rights groups, UP Faculty Regent Ramon Guillermo aired his concern over the red-tagging of academic institutions and professionals.
Guillermo cited the military’s claim of a supposed “Red October” plot wherein communist rebels were supposedly recruiting students in 10 universities for their alleged plan to oust Duterte. He also mentioned the red-tagging and profiling of the members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers.
He also cited the case of Sociology professor Arnol Alamon who was accused several times on social media of being a communist propagandist.
“That red-tagging, some say it’s just an objective classification of individuals, but you can see today that it’s a very dangerous thing that once it happens, then other things can happen in this way,” he said.
Guillermo said that given the pattern of the Duterte administration to “mount massive fake news, disinformation, and vilification” against its critics, the question now was how can institutions and individuals protect themselves, and protect press freedom and academic freedom as well?
“I think, ang trabaho ng ating Unibersidad ngayon (what our university has to do now is), we have to show the Filipino people that we’re relevant to them, that we perform an important function in Philippine society. So that we can win over the people to defend our democracy, our civil liberties, with us,” he said. – Rappler.com