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False stories about historical events

The proliferation of false news on social media is bad enough in a society where politicians peddle propaganda for news—like that obtaining in the Philippines. 

What is strikingly alarming is the dissemination, also on social media, of what are supposed to be claims or accounts of certain historical events, but are essentially unverified tales of speculation and conjecture. 

A recent documentary program on television featured ghost stories about the Manila City Hall building, which were mostly accounts given by veteran employees who had been working in that building for decades.  Whether the supposed “sightings” of phantoms and paranormal activity inside the old building are true or not, is beside the point.  What was disturbing is that there was a side comment by the narrator, which made it appear that the city hall building had already been around during the Spanish colonial era in the Philippines.  That information is false.  The Manila City Hall was inaugurated in August 1941, months before the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific. 

Diligent research would have avoided the broadcast of that erroneous information.  Sadly, viewers who do not know any better will get the wrong impression as to how old the Manila City Hall building really is.  That dissemination of false information is a disservice to the people.

Another disturbing story about Philippine history is currently disseminated on social media.  It’s about a certain account which states that Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, was once offered the presidency of the University of the Philippines in 1920.  It is claimed that the Board of Regents of U.P. considered Wilson as an ideal president for the state university, and that Wilson was offered an annual salary of about US$100,000.00 in 1920.

Truth to tell, Wilson was an intellectual giant and would have made an excellent university head, as seen in his academic credentials.  Wilson had a doctorate degree, and he wrote extensively on political science and the American government. In 1902, he became president of the prestigious Princeton University. After that, he got elected governor of New Jersey under the Democratic Party.  In 1912, he was elected president of the United States.  Wilson was re-elected president in 1916, when Europe was at war.     

According to the account on social media, Wilson did not accept the post, and so it went to another American, Guy Potter Benton, who became the third president of U.P.  

That story about Wilson having been considered for the top post in U.P. is highly unlikely.  Wilson himself could not have possibly even considered the offer, as the historical record will reveal.   

The historical record indicates that Wilson’s health began deteriorating in September 1919, when he collapsed in the course of a nationwide speaking tour.  A few days thereafter, Wilson suffered a stroke which paralyzed most of his body, and which incapacitated him for the rest of his term, which ended in January 1921.  Since 1919, Wilson avoided public appearances. Cabinet meetings were held in Wilson’s absence, and many bills passed by Congress lapsed into law without his signature.  During this period, Wilson’s wife kept the president away from even his close advisers.     

Considering that Wilson was seriously incapacitated as early as the last months of 1919, it is doubtful if Wilson was seriously considered for the U.P. presidency, much less offered its presidency, in 1920.      

Wilson, a Democrat, was succeeded as president in 1920 by Warren Gamaliel Harding, a Republican.  Had Wilson, a Democrat, been the president of U.P. during the incumbency of a Republican US president, Wilson would have had a very difficult time getting political and financial support for U.P. from Washington, D.C.

Another story circulating in the social media is that President Ferdinand Marcos placed the entire Philippines under martial law in September 1972 by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 1081.  That is a false account.  The operative act which paved the way for martial law in the country in 1972 is Presidential Proclamation No. 1081, and not a presidential decree.  For the record, President Marcos started issuing presidential decrees only after he had placed the entire country under martial law by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 1081.   

There is another account in the social media which says that the proclamation of martial law in September 1972 abolished Congress.  That is misleading information.  The proclamation of martial law did not abolish Congress.  It was the 1973 Constitution, which replaced Congress with the National Assembly as the legislative body, that did away with Congress.  More specifically, it was the decision of the Supreme Court, promulgated in April 1973, which declared the 1973 Constitution in force and effect throughout the archipelago, which effectively abolished Congress.

It will be recalled that elections for, among others, eight seats in the Senate of the Philippines were up for grabs between the pro-administration Nacionalista Party and the opposition Liberal Party (LP) in the elections set for November 1971.  The LP held its proclamation rally at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila on the night of Aug. 21, 1971.  That evening, two grenades exploded at the makeshift stage of the event.  Many were killed, and scores were injured. 

Stories in the social media today erroneously recall that incident as the LP miting de avance, when it was actually the LP proclamation rally.  A proclamation rally kicks off the campaign, while a miting de avance culminates the campaign, usually two or three days before election day.  Since the election was in November 1971, it would have been unlikely for the LP to hold a miting de avance in August 1971.

That error may seem minor, but the wrong information has a tendency to be disseminated and, after some time, the wrong information is assumed to be gospel truth by many, simply because it’s on the social media and they don’t know any better.

It’s time accounts of historical events disseminated on social media be subjected to verification.

Topics: Victor Avecilla , false news , historical events , social media , Manila City Hall
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