One of the most incredible lies that went the rounds this election, shared in a thousand or more algorithms on social media, was that Leni Robredo cheated Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the 2016 vice presidential race.
It sounded as if we were in a dystopian world so that I had to re-read the press briefer of the Supreme Court:
“Today 16 February 2021, the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal unanimously dismissed the electoral protest filed by former Senator Bongbong Marcos against Vice President Leni Robredo.
This is in connection with the Presidential Electoral Tribunal case entitled: Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr., protestant vs. Maria Leonor “Leni Daang Matuwid” G. Robredo, protestee, PET Case No. 005.
Out of the 15 members of the Tribunal who were present in today’s meeting, 7 members fully concurred in the dismissal while 8 concurred in the result.”
To describe that lie as incredible or absurd does not even come close to its cold detachment from the truth. Repeated through a million clicks on social media, it became clickbait truth. And then it became a yardstick of political choice.
But who really won the election? It is not Marcos Jr. Disinformation won.
That lie was not the solitary weapon in the war against the truth. Another was the name-calling simply to destroy the person. I am very certain that many of us saw dozens of threads commenting about “Leni lutang,” “Leni lugaw,” “Leni boba,” “Leni walang nagawa kundi photo ops lang.” In the end, those inanities too became truth. And they too became a gauge for electoral choice.
The guns, goons and gold of Philippine trapo elections have become a thing of the past. Perhaps the gold is still in the equation, paying the hakot crowds (captured in several videos) and funding local government officials (the reason why many mayors and governors did not shift to any candidate other than Marcos Jr.). But most importantly, so much of it subsidizing a very intensive, systematic disinformation campaign.
That gold was used to spin the Tallano myth. It was effective. There are those who stood by on the belief that the treasure would be divided among the people after a Marcos victory. The lies, false promises, and malicious labelling were spread by a well-coordinated, well-scripted, and well-oiled troll army.
A “cluster head” troll became P2.5 million richer in this election. His confession, recorded with his full knowledge and permission, was uploaded on YouTube. He described his job: sustain Robredo’s demolition.
“We worked in clusters. I represented only one cluster,” he revealed. Bereft of a conscience at first, he had to confront his demons and realized too late what he had done. Distressed, the man went on radio to come clean. He apologized for this, saying “it was partly my fault that Leni lost but…a job is a job.” Listen to his confession.
Disinformation is now the standard for cheating in elections. But we had ample warning about this.
The May 9 elections was a key topic in the Southeast Asia Digital Conference on ”Finding an Antidote to Cyberattacks, Fake News, and Disinformation Amidst Election Fever in Southeast Asia” on Press Freedom Day last May 3. Resource persons at the joint undertaking of the Advocates for Freedom of Expression Coalition Southeast Asia, the Institute of Human Rights of the University of the Philippines Law Center, and the Center for International Law Philippines tackled the impending doom.
Among the documented observations articulated there were that the frontrunner in the presidential surveys was being propped up by disinformation; the number two candidate was adversely being affected by the disinformation; truth has been devalued and reason displaced from public discourse; avoiding the debates was part of curating the theme.
This is what we must grieve: the assault against truth. In an election, the usual norm is to seek the truth in order to make an informed choice. In this election, the people made a disinformed choice. Democracy was murdered in cold blood by disinformation.