Losing in your home court
It was supposed to be an investigation into a network of anonymous Web sites put up to attack President Rodrigo Duterte, his officials and all other people supporting his administration. Instead, it turned into an ugly, partisan battle waged about a new media platform long popular among millions of Filipinos—but still largely terra incognita to our politicians.
As is usual in such politically toxic us-versus-them encounters, the hearing of the Senate committee on media headed by Senator Grace Poe quickly degenerated into a hardening of positions by both camps. But because of the very conspicuous absence of Edward “Cocoy” Dayao, the former Aquino-era IT consultant at the center of the controversy, his alleged puppet-masters among the opposition senators took it upon themselves to discredit the pro-administration social media resource persons who exposed him—thereby revealing to all that their two objectives were to protect Dayao and to exact their pound of flesh from the popular pro-Duterte social media personalities.
But that didn’t happen mainly because of the ignorance of most senators about the ways of social media. And when they presumed to do battle with those who had way more knowledge about the platform on the latter’s virtual home court, it was clear that the senators had lost soon after the fighting began.
The senators from the opposition, in particular, thought that they would be shooting fish in a barrel since the hearing was in the Senate. But because they really did not know what they were talking about, they were taken to school by Rey Joseph Nieto, a.k.a. Thinking Pinoy, and his online comrades, who ran rings around them on the subject.
Sure, former Aquino propagandists like Edwin Lacierda and Abigail Valte were present, even if Dayao was not there. But they really weren’t about to save their supposed overall Web administrator, whom they probably threw under the bus with their denials of involvement.
If the strategy was to hide Dayao in order to prevent the total collapse of his string of anonymous anti-Duterte Web sites and the unmasking of the people pulling the strings above him, it failed. Instead, the senators who had an axe to grind against Dayao’s scurrilous sites, like Senator Tito Sotto, had a field day attacking the Yellow blogs, with no one coming to their defense.
And yes, the Yellow senators led by Senator Bam Aquino may have thought that they scored big points against Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, whom Aquino angrily bullied. But that was not nearly enough to veer the discussion away from the real topic, which was how the pro-Aquino forces were using anonymous sites and blogs in order to malign Duterte and people aligned with him, like Sotto and the six other senators who were accused of being “dogs” for not signing a resolution they said they never saw.
I don’t know what legislation is supposed to come out of this investigation, since if it is true that the rules of mainstream journalism should apply to social media. If we agree that free and protected speech is enjoyed by both blogger and journalist, then the only thing that government should do is to allow the public to decide what news and opinion they want to patronize.
It is useless to even attempt to craft legislation that will only erode the constitutionally provided freedom of speech and the press. In the case of criminal abuse of this freedom like libel, both in mainstream and online, there are already enough laws that aggrieved parties who do not have the luxury of calling people to the Senate in order to humiliate them have.
Unless Dayao surfaces with his confederates, I don’t think there will even be a lot of new stuff that will be uncovered in this investigation. The woeful lack of knowledge about social media of our senators, who only consider the platform as a necessary expense in order to get more votes during elections, doesn’t count, obviously.
I think the only winners in this sordid affair are the pro-Duterte bloggers, who finally generated enough noise to get the Senate’s attention and then withstood the usual cheap shots fired by payback-hungry senators with aplomb. The bloggers slew their senator-critics outside of cyberspace after a long career of beating them senseless online.
Not bad for amateur pundits long accused of catering to an ill-informed and intellectually challenged majority. Of course, they were only up against a bunch of Yellow senators who didn’t have enough sense to avoid going head-to-head with bloggers in a contest where the lawmakers couldn’t decipher the rules or even find the playing field.
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As for mainstream media, I think fellow journalist Roby Alampay said it best when he humbly admitted during the hearing that journalists are not perfect and that we do commit mistakes, adding that we should always make the effort to rectify errors when we find them. Of course, Alampay’s admission only applies if media is only doing its job and not allowing itself to be used by powerful and moneyed interests.
And as Cocoy Dayao’s case teaches us, that’s not always the case. It’s not even a problem that’s exclusive to mainstream media, obviously.