Fighting disinformation

[OPINION] Honor and excellence in the age of disinformation

Antonio T. Carpio
[OPINION] Honor and excellence in the age of disinformation

Nico Villarete

Doing what is right and telling the truth is all about honor. Doing your best is all about excellence. That is what honor and excellence means.

Note: This is the address given by retired justice Antonio T. Carpio on May 27, 2022 at the online induction of some 100 new members of the Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society, University of the Philippines Chapter.

A pleasant day to everyone. Thank you for inviting me as your guest speaker at your induction ceremony to the prestigious Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society.

The University of the Philippines’ motto is Honor and Excellence. Honor and Excellence is now being tested in this age of massive disinformation in social media. Recent elections, in our country and abroad, have shown that history can be rewritten, lies can spread fast and overwhelm the truth, and large numbers of people can be misled, due to the depth, reach, and velocity of social media in our daily lives.

This phenomenon has been made possible because anyone can post a comment on social media anonymously without revealing his or her real identity. Almost all these false histories, lies and half-truths are posted by anonymous persons. We know many of these people work in troll farms in China, funded by state or political actors. These trolls, pretending to be Filipinos by using Filipino names, attack the political opposition in the Philippines and denigrate the West Philippine Sea arbitral award that the Philippines won against China.

I have proposed that those who post comments on social media must reveal their real identity, either in the comment itself or upon registration with the social media platform. The reason is obvious. Those who use their real name on social media will act responsibly in their postings for they can be held accountable for any falsehood in their postings. Those who use fictitious names will not hesitate to dish out falsehoods because they know they cannot be held accountable.

My proposal was incorporated in the Sim Card Registration Act passed by Congress last February 2022. However, President Duterte vetoed the bill on the ground that the disclosure of identity allegedly violates freedom of expression. But those who reveal their real name on social media can still say anything they want without any prior restraint or censorship. There is no violation of freedom of expression. Freedom of expression does not include the right to libel another person on social media anonymously and escape being held to account.

During seminars or webinars, those who comment or ask questions are routinely required to state their name and affiliation. That requirement does not violate freedom of expression. All these years nobody ever questioned that the requirement to state one’s name and affiliation violates freedom of expression. That requirement is for the sake of demanding responsibility and transparency.

And what do we, alumni of UP, imbued with a sense of Honor and Excellence, do about the massive disinformation in our daily lives that will continue and even intensify in the days to come? The incoming administration has already announced that it will revise the history textbooks to remove the alleged lies about Martial Law and the Marcos family.

I am often asked by young people for advice about their careers. I always tell them: in everything you do, just do what is right, tell the truth and do your best. Doing what is right and telling the truth is all about Honor. Doing your best is all about Excellence. That is what Honor and Excellence means.

When we are bombarded every day with falsehoods, telling the truth only when asked is not enough. We have the positive duty to proactively spread the truth to counter the massive disinformation that is misleading our people and the world. As the premiere institution of higher learning in the country, our University has the twin duty to search for the truth and to spread the truth. In fact, a university exists to search for the truth and to spread the truth as well – that is the reason for existence of any university.

We should not be deterred by the massiveness or audacity of the disinformation. China touted its nine-dash line claim as rooted in its 2,000-year history. The West started to believe in this story since China has a very old civilization. But we exposed this as a blatant historical lie, using China’s own historical and contemporary records. Now China is being ridiculed in the West for peddling a gigantic historical falsehood.

And we should also not be afraid to speak truth to power. When President Duterte announced in his State of the Nation Address that China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea, I publicly corrected him that China is not in possession of the West Philippines Sea, a maritime area larger than the total land area of the Philippines. China reclaimed seven tiny geologic features in the Spratlys, representing less than 3% of the total area of the West Philippine Sea.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. stated last January 2022, “That arbitration is no longer an arbitration if there’s only one party. So, it’s no longer available to us.”  Marcos Jr. has adopted the official position of China that the arbitration at The Hague is null and void because China did not participate in the arbitration. This position of China has been debunked by the arbitral tribunal and by practically all scholars of the Law of the Sea outside of China.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which China and the Philippines are parties, provides for compulsory arbitration in its dispute settlement mechanism. Annex VI of the Convention expressly states, “If one of the parties to the dispute does not appear before the arbitral tribunal or fails to defend its case, the other party may request the tribunal to continue the proceedings and to make the award. Absence of a party or failure of a party to defend its case shall not constitute a bar to the proceedings.”

Clearly, contrary to the obviously false claim of Marcos Jr., the truth is the arbitral award is valid and binding between China and the Philippines. The position of Marcos Jr. is infinitely worse than the position of President Duterte. While President Duterte’s policy has been to put aside the arbitral award but to raise it at the appropriate time in the future, Marcos Jr.’s policy is to completely adopt the position of China that the arbitral award is null, void, and utterly useless.

The arbitral award will remain valid and binding forever between China and the Philippines, unless waived by the President under the international law Doctrine of Unilateral Declaration. Under this doctrine, the President can waive the arbitral award by his unilateral declaration, and the waiver becomes effective and binding on the Philippines once the waiver is accepted by China. In certain cases decided by the International Court of Justice, acceptance by the other state is not even necessary to make the unilateral declaration effective and binding.

In a webinar last May 6, just three days before the national elections, I described Marcos Jr.’s position as “a betrayal of the country because he has completely sided with China that the arbitral award is null and void and thus useless.”  I added that “if elected, Marcos Jr. will be the first head of state to reject an international arbitral award that is overwhelmingly in favor of his country.”

Happily, on Thursday, May 26,  president-elect Marcos Jr. announced to the nation that as president he will uphold the arbitral award against China.  Marcos Jr. stated: “We have a very important ruling in our favor and we will  use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It is not a claim. It is already our territorial right.”  Marcos Jr. promised to defend our full 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, stating: “We will not allow a single square, and maybe make it even smaller, a single square millimeter of our maritime coastal and up to 200 nautical mile rights to be trampled upon.” 

We certainly welcome this new position of Marcos Jr.,  which is the only correct position that a president of the Philippines can take on the West Philippine Sea issue. While we can now breathe a sigh of relief, we must remain resolute, redouble our efforts, and be ever more vigilant, in defending the West Philippine Sea.

Our motto of Honor and Excellence demands that we act proactively to uphold the truth about the arbitral award, that we speak truth to power about the arbitral award, and that we protect and defend what belongs to present and future generations of Filipinos as guaranteed in the arbitral award.

The Constitution, moreover, mandates that the State shall protect its marine wealth in its exclusive economic zone and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipinos. The Filipino people constitute one of the essential elements of the Philippine State. So it is our solemn duty – yours and mine – to protect and defend our exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.

The arbitral award is the legacy of my generation to your generation. As the ranks of my generation become thinner, we ask your generation to begin manning the ramparts in defense of the West Philippine Sea. Safeguarding our maritime zones in the West Philippine Sea is an inter-generational duty of all Filipinos. Present and future generations of Filipinos must discharge the solemn duty to defend the West Philippine Sea, with utmost Honor and Excellence.

Thank you and congratulations on your admission to the Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society. –

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