red-tagging

[PASTILAN] Snooze fest: The Office of the Accomplice

Herbie Gomez

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[PASTILAN] Snooze fest: The Office of the Accomplice
May the Office of the Ombudsman finally get up from its comfy chair and do something worth the pay, or else it might as well change its name to the Office of the Accomplice, the enabler of state-sponsored Badoyism

It’s supposed to be the watchdog of the land, the in-house monitor of the government, making sure everyone stays in line and plays by the rules, but it’s been more like a lazy puppy just lounging around. 

IBON Foundation filed a complaint and the Office of the Ombudsman was supposed to jump into action. Instead, it just hit the snooze button, rolled over for a nap, and dropped the ball like a hot potato. It’s been dozing off, snoring through the entire thing, and totally flunking at handling the complaint. It’s a case of fido-fail!

IBON filed the complaint against some former government officials over what it calls “malicious and baseless vilification,” which is just a fancy way of saying these people were bullying Filipinos who wouldn’t keep their mouths shut.

This thing about the state carrying out a massive smear campaign is in the same playbook used by the previous administration against ABS-CBN, Nobel laureate Maria Ressa and Rappler, and other critical media.

So, IBON wanted the Ombudsman to step in and put a stop to it. But instead, it passed the complaint on to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). 

It’s a real circus. The Ombudsman’s move in August 2022 was to pass the buck, and that didn’t sit well with IBON. They’re not impressed with this so-called “progress,” and who can blame them? 

It was an administrative complaint passed on to the top dogs in crime investigation as if IBON was alleging a criminal offense. And the closest crime to that would be none other than the ancient and mysterious art of libel which, in this country, is a criminal offense.

Yet the bullies’ favorite punching bag didn’t go ahead and file a libel complaint. They had a different plan in mind and filed an administrative complaint to stop all the red-tagging madness. 

The Ombudsman’s response only added to the absurdity of the situation. As a matter of principle, IBON won’t file a libel complaint because it has been consistent in its advocacy for the decriminalization of the draconian and archaic law, which has been used, time and again, to reduce the judicial system into a tool for stifling freedom of expression and dissent. 

The administrative complaint was a chance for the Ombudsman to shine, but handling it was like trying to catch a greased pig. Three whole years went by and it was as active as a lazy cat in a sunbeam and moved like a snail in the garden. 

By not taking any action, the Ombudsman allowed the country to turn into a land of paranoia and watered this variant of McCarthyism even after the respondents said goodbye to their positions.

The complaint was made in February 2020 against Lorraine Badoy, Antonio Parlade Jr. (a retired lieutenant general), and Hermogenes Esperon Jr. (a former national security adviser) for the repeated labeling of IBON as a front for Maoist rebellion over the course of more than a year. At the time the complaint was made, the three were the prime movers of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

Despite their pleas, the Ombudsman still refused to budge. All they offered were flimsy excuses, couched in obscure language. It was like trying to get a straight answer from a slippery eel, with even less satisfaction and fewer chances of getting a real response.

The Ombudsman was more tight-lipped than a clam at high tide, and every time IBON thought it was getting close to seeing some action, they would slip away. 

Come to think of it – if the Ombudsman was serious, it could have easily directed the respondents to answer the petition at the very least. Yet it sat idly by, doing nothing, until the end of Rodrigo Duterte’s term and the departure of the red-tagging officials from government employ.

They could have chosen to work on it, but no, they just sat there and watched as the red-tagging and bullying went on. It looked like a case of, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

It’s a wild world out there and sometimes the craziest things just seem to be the norm. 

Take this one respondent, Badoy, for example. This unique earthling, which I still think is a Homo sapien, seems to be acting in complicity with the NTF-ELCAC, a questionable entity that has seen its funding increase under the Marcos Jr. administration. 

She’s been sustaining her red-tagging antics against IBON and other groups. And she has this show on a platform that, at first glance, looks all serious and professional, but it’s run by a Goebbels-style machinery that’s taking orders from a wealthy senior citizen by the name of Apollo Quiboloy. The old guy is tight with Duterte, who’s the biggest bully on the block. 

He has some titles that are so impressive, even universities on other planets are like “Whoa, hold on a minute!” He calls himself the “appointed son of God” and the “owner of the universe” with a straight face.

Have you ever heard of a PhD in “World Domination”? Or a Master’s degree in “Being the Most Amazing Person Ever”? This guy is one-of-a-kind, and the universities of the world just can’t keep up with his awesomeness. 

It’s a long story, but let’s just say the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has a different take on things. They placed him on the most wanted list in the United States for some serious charges, like sex crimes, human trafficking, and money laundering. In a way, all that has something to do with his self-given titles. But what’s a little rock ‘n’ roll in the grand scheme of things, right?

It gets even more interesting. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has an October 2022 media partnership agreement with his group. With this teamup, it seems like the government is behind the very thing it should be stopping: Philippine-style McCarthyism, which is just another way of saying they’re backing the bullying.

The message is, “Step right up, bullies! We have the resources you need to get your intimidation game going!”

This whole McCarthyism (or Badoyism) situation is a bit concerning. It may be all fun and games to some until someone gets hurt – or until the government gets caught.

Offhand, no reputable media outlet anywhere where democracy is strong would want to partner with a government, especially one that’s into repression. I know it’s an entirely different situation yet this kind of partnership brings to mind how the Makapili squealed and collaborated with the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. 

A crucial role of the media is to act as a watchdog and hold those in power accountable. If this isn’t what the media is all about, then I don’t know what is. 

Media should always strive to report the truth and challenge those in positions of power, not act like sit-down puppies or submissive spiritual wives of some prophet of doom on a street corner without a microgram of self-esteem.

In Australia, for example, even public-funded media maintain their editorial independence because their loyalty is to the people, the taxpayers, and not to the powers-that-be. And any attempt by those in power to interfere or influence their editorial judgment becomes a big public issue. Ideally, privately owned and public-funded media should be like that. But here, they’re just government-owned, if not politician-owned, which simply means, they’re shameless mouthpieces of whoever sits in power.

On second thought, this platform belongs and is accountable only to an entertainer, a master showman on a pulpit, and not governed by any media code of ethics. What’s the “owner of the universe” for if he can’t make his own rules and decide what’s ethical and what’s not, right? 

To the brave souls at IBON, I tip my top hat and raise a glass in your honor. May the Ombudsman finally get up from their comfy chair and do something worth their pay, or else they might as well change their name to the Office of the Accomplice, the enabler of state-sponsored Badoyism.

C’mon Ombudsman, you’re supposed to be keeping the peace, not snoozing on the job. Pastilan. Rappler.com

Herbie Gomez is Rappler’s Mindanao bureau regional coordinator.

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