The year 2017 is drawing to a close and, despite the emotional screeching of Philippine Opposition elements, the country does not seem any more “authoritarian” (or not authoritarian) than it was back at the dawn of 2016. Just the same, the objective fact that the Philippines remains as “democratic” as it’s ever supposedly been does not stop those who are busy scrounging around for morsels of bad things to say about the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte from packaging and repackaging old notional “threats” to “freedom” into the latest slogan.
Try as they might, proof that they are not succeeding amongst those who know the Philippines better than anybody else in the world — the Filipino people — keeps emerging at every measure of approval and confidence published by firms of good repute. Indeed, the failure of the Philippine Opposition to convince their own constituents has led them overseas where they now desperately pitch the Duterte-as-dictator narrative to Western media.
And why not? If you can’t seduce a sober chick, go for the dead drunk one.
The Opposition are a real class act that way. For so long, the Philippines has always flown below the radar of Western media — because, truth be told, beyond Filipinos’ quaint “people power revolutions”, the appalling death tolls they repeatedly cop from routine tropical storms, and the occasional beauty pageant title, Filipinos are not a particularly interesting or newsworthy people. Thus there are very few Philippine “experts” in the West. In contrast, lucrative careers have been built upon being experts on the Russians, the Japanese, the Arab World, India, China, and Europe where matters of global consequence brew. Being an expert on the Philippines is basically a career-limiting path for the average newsroom intern looking for a big break.
Thus, it is easy for outrage fad mongerers like Rappler CEO Maria Ressa to style themselves as such “experts” and fool Western “journalists” into thinking that the Philippines has degenerated into an authoritarian state. Because traditional news media in the West lacks a strong community of experts on Philippine affairs, they are quick to latch onto quack experts like Ressa and build entire tabloidesque narratives on what is going on there on the basis of dubious premises.
Blame this too on an industry that is utterly starved for eyeballs and click throughs. The mainstream broadcast and print industry has long seen the rise of social media and, in particular, Facebook as the reason for the irreversible decline of their once formidable empires. They see in Duterte, and his American counterpart Donald Trump, strawmen they could put up as “evil spawn” of a new industry that is eating their lunch right off their plates.
Thus, it is interesting to note the way Ressa also serves up Facebook — and its charismatic CEO and founder, Mark Zuckerberg — as the pièce de résistance of her menu of things and people for the world’s adult crybabies to chew on.
Ressa offers Western media — most especially American mainstream media — a packaged narrative they could not refuse:
Duterte the evil spawn of a social media giant, Facebook, that refuses to step up to its “information gatekeeper” role and, instead tolerates an underworld of “trolls” and “bots” that are “weaponising” it against political rivals
Really, it is not Duterte who is “weaponising” the Internet. It is Maria Ressa who is weaponising Duterte in the hope of turning the outrage she generates into the badly-needed profile — and cash — to prop up her dying media unicorn.
The fact is, the Philippines has not been nor is in any danger of becoming an “authoritarian” state any time soon (or ever) as Ressa is leading her clueless and gullible admirers in the West to believe. She and her ilk in the Philippine Opposition had failed to sell this lie to the Filipino people. Perhaps she may succeed to some degree selling bullshit to Western media. But there is a limit to how long one can profit off lies. Maria Ressa and her henchgirls at Rappler are likely already aware of that limit and are now gingerly staring down the abyss that lies beyond that limit.