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MANILA, Philippines – On Team PNoy, the targets have been the survey frontrunners. Over at the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) camp, it’s the ones who have been figuring in the Top 12.
Who else, but the likely winners, would be targeted for black propaganda? And which camp would be responsible for attacks against one but the other?
As the campaigns drew to a close, re-electionist Sen Loren Legarda, the consistent topnotcher in pre-election polls, had had enough of it that, on the same day she denied accusations of not truthfully declaring her posh New York City apartment in her assets list, she dropped a name of somebody who was behind it on Thursday, May 2.
She said it was a certain "Willie F," who was later revealed as Willie Fernandez, a publicist who was said to be working for a fellow Team PNoy candidate.
A few weeks earlier, Loren also cried foul over another smear campaign against her. Text and email blasts were spreading about her supposedly filing a fictitious bill to reduce retirement benefits of government workers.
Again, Legarda said a fellow candidate was behind the propaganda in an attempt to pull her down from the top spot.
Reports link Fernandez to Sen Alan Peter Cayetano, who has hovered between the 2nd and 3rd spot in surveys, always tailing Legarda. Cayetano is a member of the Nacionalista Party, while Legarda is from the Nationalist People's Coalition.
But Cayetano too has been the victim of black propaganda.
A video on YouTube published also on Thursday, May 2, entitled "Ang Totoong Cayetano" (The Real Cayetano) questions Cayetano's character. It accuses him of pocketing money from Taguig, where his wife Lani is the mayor, to use for his campaign.
The video showed various newspaper clippings on Taguig irregularities, accused Cayetano of spending up to P7.5 million a day on television ads, and asked where he got the money. It was supplemented by an anonymous email slamming Cayetano and linking to an Inquirer story on unaccounted community development funds in Taguig worth P140 million.
The Cayetano video came just two days after another clip was posted on the video-sharing site called "Loren Legarda: Lady Corona?" It compared her to impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was removed from his position for failing to honestly disclose his assets.
Both accounts that posted the videos were anonymous, with only one video each under their names.
Unlike Legarda, Cayetano has chosen to ignore the slew of allegations.
The days following the first YouTube release of Legarda's allegedly dishonest Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) saw an increase in text blasts attacking both Legarda and Cayetano.
Text messages sent to reporters said Cayetano paid Fernandez P10 million every month to help him rise in surveys and to spread black propaganda against Legarda, and fellow topnotchers and administration candidates Sen Chiz Escudero and Grace Poe.
On Saturday, May 4, an anonymous number sent texts to media saying "Loren with brother Edgardo Legarda of DBS to be charged in the US for perjury and money laundering in relation to hidden Manhattan condo." It was again in reference to the NYC apartment that Legarda supposedly tried to conceal in her SALNs.
On the same day, text messages and emails entitled "Binugbog ng Cayetano" circulated, accusing Cayetano's people of beating up his wife Lani's opponent for mayor, Rica Tinga, and her supporters.
The texts and emails turned out not to be entirely false.
Tinga had not been one of the victims, but her supporters did sustain injuries after a violent encounter with Cayetanos' supporters and Taguig City Hall police. Legarda too has been on the defensive as her SALNs revealed inconsistencies.
Tied to surveys
While Cayetano and Legarda have been the most targeted victims of smear campaigns, it is Escudero who has been on the receiving end of negative text blasts throughout the campaign.
Text messages slamming Escudero, an Independent, circulated as early as September last year and intensified in April. The accusations ranged from rice smuggling accusations to filing fictitious bills.
Escudero too has chosen to stay mum about black propaganda against him.
But the constant text blasts, in addition to a controversy between Escudero and the parents of his actressgirlfriend Heart Evangelista, appear to have had some effect on Escudero's numbers.
Before the start of the campaign and up until February, Escudero’s rankings were consistently high, second only to Legarda’s. In March, he suffered the biggest loss in a Social Weather Stations survey, wherein he dropped 14 points and slid to rank 3rd to 4th.
The new second placer was Cayetano. It was the first time he had ever occupied the second spot after consistently ranking 3rd.
Escudero continued his slide in April, when he reached the lowest rank ever at 5th place in SWS surveys, but seemed to have recovered the month after. The latest Pulse Asia survey shows Escudero ranked 1st to 2nd, while an 8.7-percentage point drop in Cayetano’s numbers lowered his ranking from 2nd to 3rd in March, to 3rd to 7th in the April survey.
There have been no surveys following the recent black propaganda on Legarda and Cayetano, but UNA secretary general and spokesperson Toby Tiangco said the attacks of the bets on each other is a sign that "Team PNoy is disintegrating, and everyone can see that the cracks are getting bigger and wider."
Incidentally, the only other anonymous text blast reporters receive aside from black propaganda are survey results – literal proof of how intertwined the two are.
Fake Enrile PR; Migz: ‘the Ladlad bet’
Over at the UNA camp, Cagayan Rep Juan Ponce “Jack” Enrile Jr was the favorite target of black propaganda. From the start of the campaign, he was the subject of text blasts, negative e-mails and websites, and, lately, even fake press releases.
Enrile’s detractors latched on to controversies involving him and his father, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile: the Senate Christmas bonus controversy in January; a Commission on Audit (COA) report released in February showing his father used his pork barrel for a dubious NGO; and their alleged links to the importation of used cars in Port Irene.
For the younger Enrile, the biggest issue his critics focused on was his alleged involvement in several murder cases.
An entire website, www.jackenrile2013.com, discusses the cases, with posts dating back to December 2012. It has a photo of Enrile with the sign below, “Caution: When you see this person, do not attempt to approach him. He is armed and dangerous.”
The campaign against Enrile intensified following the release of a Wikileaks cable in April where former US Ambassador to Manila William Sullivan said National Bureau of Investigation sources told him Enrile shot Ernest Lucas Jr.
This fuelled text blasts with links to news reports and opinion columns on the cable.
Another murder linked to Enrile, the death of actor Alfie Anido, became the topic of a fake press release. Three weeks before the elections, a statement was emailed to reporters using the name of Enrile and his staff. It was titled, “Jackie Enrile: Forget Anido. Let’s Unite and Move On.”
Enrile’s survey ratings have consistently declined from an initial ranking of 3rd to 5th in September 2012. He is now down to 11th to 16th place.
The congressman denied the issues against him, branding the murder charges as “crazy allegations.” Enrile though admitted that he is affected by controversies involving his father and has asked the Senate President to keep a low-profile.
Resigned Sen Juan Miguel Zubiri was also the target of phony text messages – ranging from his allegedly junking UNA, meeting with the Ampatuans, to supposedly being endorsed by Ladlad, implying that he is gay.
Yet Zubiri gave his critics ammunition when he accused Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III of being a wife beater on live TV. The blunder, widely criticized as below the belt, sparked a flurry of text messages blasting him.
Nancy Binay, meanwhile, was the subject of text blast that asked those who were interested to join her Senate staff to send in their application papers, obviously wanting to paint her as presumptuous.
Black ops or legitimate issues?
UNA has repeatedly condemned the black propaganda and pointed to LP as the one responsible.
Tiangco claims “trolls” of LP’s Special Media Operations Group (SMOG) are doing the dirty tricks.
“The objective of the demolition crew is 3-pronged: first is to take out our leading candidates from the race: second is to embarrass the Vice President, President Erap and JPE; and finally, to secure the 12-0 scheme of the administration party,” Tiangco said in a statement on April 5.
UNA attributed the slate’s poor showing in a February Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey to the black propaganda against its top leaders. The poll showed only3 opposition bets in the magic 12.
Reacting to the survey, Nancy Binay then labeled as a smear campaign the Port Irene issue against Enrile, and reports of the Sandiganbayan’s demand that former President Joseph Estrada pay in full the P189.7 million judgment cost of his 6-year plunder trial.
The alliance said after targeting its leaders, the SMOG went on to attack the children of the so-called 3 kings.
Yet UNA also considered investigative reporting and government audit reports as a demolition job.
Estrada’s son San Juan Rep JV Ejercito cried black propaganda when the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) reported in April that he owned a secret offshore account in the British Virgin Islands, a privacy and tax haven.
PCIJ said the congressman did not confirm or deny his ties to the offshore company and instead questioned the timing of the story.
Ejercito said the report was part of the series of attacks against him including an ABS-CBN report that he snubbed the daughter of Sen Jinggoy Estrada in a San Juan rally, and a Commission on Elections resolution showing him to be one of the top spenders for TV and radio ads.
UNA also denounced the COA report on the alleged misuse of the pork barrel of Enrile, Sen Estrada, and Sen Gregorio Honasan II as black propaganda.
But aren’t these legitimate issues that candidates or their relatives must address?
UNA bet former Senate President Ernesto Maceda said in March, “How many COA reports have come out and resulted in actual convictions? Maybe hundreds of COA reports have come out. In the fertilizer fund scam, there were so many COA reports but still, nothing happened.”
Is satire black propaganda, too?
Even humor and satire evolved to be black propaganda for UNA.
After the Senate word war on the fund controversy, the satirical and fictional news website, “So What’s News?” came out with an article in January saying Jack Enrile supposedly backed out of the race.
The post quoted “Enrile,” “Gustuhin ko man na makamit ng sambayanang Pilipino and murang pagkain, maraming pagkain (pause), mas nararapat siguro na umatras muna ako kesa masingil pa ako ng tatay ko sakaling maupo ako sa pwesto.” (I may want Filipinos to have cheap food, lots of food (pause), it will be better for me to back out because my father might charge me when I am in office.)
Enrile took the post seriously, quickly issuing a denial and calling the authors “misguided minds poisoning social media through tweets and misleading news.”
Nancy Binay also did not distinguish between satire and black propaganda. The UNA bet said she was hurt by vicious personal attacks on social media and satirical articles that dragged her son into the picture.
In response, So What’s News? commented on Rappler that it was a parody about her “non-existent 8-year-old son.”
“The public clamor is for you to appear [in] a debate, not a beauty pageant. And still no mention about her platforms and detailed explanation on how to achieve them? Back to square one,” So What’s News? posted.
Other netizens and social media users have been calling on Binay to agree to a debate, saying questions about her qualifications and platform are valid issues.
Binay though stood her ground and said that she prefers to campaign on the ground and would rather debate after the elections.
Despite the social media storm, Binay is still within the list of winners. In the SWS April survey, she even soared to 3rd to 4th place but dropped 5 points in the Pulse Asia survey that same month.
On the black propaganda, she said, ‘Di nila alam ang trademark ng Binay: ‘pag lalo mong inaapi, mas lalong lumalakas.” (They don’t know the trademark of the Binays: the more you attack us, the stronger we get.)
We will know that when the polls close on Monday, May 13. – Rappler.com
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