BERN, Switzerland (9 June) – Is it just the time of COVID-19 that is driving us crazy, or is Philippine society entering a phase of social distrust and political paranoia that will slowly tear it apart?
I asked myself that question today after hearing parts of the congressional committee hearings on the franchise of ABS-CBN. I was aghast to hear parts of the session turn into a congressman’s bully pulpit against an ABS-SBN reporter who, according to the congressman, had wronged him and therefore did not practice “Filipino values”.
How could the committee leadership have allowed a hearing on a media conglomerate’s franchise turn into a tirade on media ethics? And who is supposed to enforce now the rules of media on fair reporting – the newsroom and its internal factcheckers, or the people who are elected to make laws?
A few days ago, Ed Lingao, a well-known journalist, posted on his Facebook page what he termed as a “surreal” item. This was over the tweeted photo of Teddy Casino, a former partylist congressman and known political activist, posing beside the Jollibee mascot with the following caption: “Alam mo ba ang sabi ni best friend Jollibee sa akin? Ituloy nyo yang paglaban sa anti-terror bill na yan.” The hashtag was “JunkTerrorBill” referring to the Anti-Terror act of 2020 that was passed by congress over the week.
The activist was grinning, the bee looking even more silly with its innocent smile. The intention was obviously at light-hearted humor.
But what made the group Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption see red over this incongruous couple? The VACC wrote a letter dated June 5, 2020 to the president of Jollibee Foods Corporation, saying it wanted to know if Jollibee Foods has the same stance as Casino, who is opposing the controversial anti-terror bill. If so, the VACC reasoned, then groups supporting the terror bill can call for a boycott of Jollibee and its subsidiary firms, claiming that a boycott is part of their constitutional right to express their sentiments.
Is the VACC serious? How could this volunteers group, formed as a foil to all things grim and grimy, accuse one of the country’s top food corporations of aligning itself with a patent call of the political opposition? Was this insinuation about Jollibee’s covert political moves still part of the fallout over a supposedly foreign-sourced “matrix” of coup plotters (one that included an incongruous mix of lawyers and journos and a female gold medalist weightlifter) that roiled the country when Malacañang rolled out the list in April last year?
But life is truly stranger than fiction or the made-up lie. A high-ranking government official took the weirdness even farther, posting on social media that she really wants to know whether Jollibee had allowed Casino to pose with its mascot, and whether Jollibee actually endorses the junking of the controversial bill.
I can discern, however, a method to this madness. And that method – consciously repeated over and over in social media and the internet – lines up critics of the government against the fanatic defence of the presidency. On one line: the opposition and the greedy oligarchs, and the supposedly biased media and corrupt journalists that continuously attack the president; and on the other, the leader weary of taking on all the corruptness in the system.
What else can you make of this recent meme on Facebook dividing the camp of artistas into those who are patriotic and those whose legitimate outcry is supposedly tainted with a foreign ideology? The meme portrays several actors who are clad as soldiers as “Artists na Makabayan”; and those who have voiced opposition to the Anti-Terror bill as “Artists na Maka-Komunista”. The intention to divide the society is clear.
And so on lurches this period of lunacy and unreality in the time of COVID-19. The narratives that are coming from the government are becoming stretched: the pasaway na masa who are inviting new infections in their crowded hovels; the flattening curve that is being slowed down by defective test kits; the lifting of the lockdown that is being sabotaged by protests; the economic stimulus that will be funded by loans and future taxes.
I expect more items of the absurd, the preposterous and the rambling nature to be still coming from our politics in the next half of this difficult year.
(Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps.)