Red-tagging and troll journalism

Notebook Oct 26, 2018 at 4:20 pm

HG_Notebook_color-picIt’s a classic case of “Missing the point, beating around the bush and jumping to conclusion.”

It’s way of emphasizing what a writer or journalist should not be doing. I remember it said a long time ago by a dean of student affairs in the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

Funny but if a writer does those then the product of his or her writing effort, no matter how pretentiously appearing expert and how arrogant the tone is, the readers will see through. And the author loses credibility. So what’s the point of writing when nobody believes you?

Screenshot-2018-10-25-02.08Why is it missing the point? The Philippine Reporter news story being criticized is about a Statement of Claim filed in court that asserts that the transfer of the three properties of Balita’sTeresita Cusipag to his three sons was fraudulent. It argues that the defendants knew all along that there were defamation cases filed in court against the main defendant, Cusipag. In fact one of them, by the late Sen. Tobias Enverga, Jr., had just concluded in his favor, imposing general, aggravated and punitive damages (amounting to $250,000 plus $90,000 on legal costs) a month before the transfers of titles were started. It was to support the argument that Cusipag was trying to avoid paying her financial obligations to the plaintiff as imposed by a court decision on the Enverga case and in the possible damages from then ongoing three similar other cases of defamation.

The opinion piece criticizing the Philippine Reporter news story, however, ignores these and asserts that the story’s use of the word “fraudulent” was based on a claim by an unnamed lawyer. What kind of a sloppy “journalist” misses these information in the story? Was he so blind to miss these or was he just blinded by his eagerness to attack the perceived enemies of his boss, and therefore, by his own logic, are also his enemies?

But any student of journalism or any high school student can’t miss these if he or she is just conscientious. But as a saying in Tagalog goes, “mahirap gisingin ang gising” (it’s hard to wake up someone who’s not sleeping.) Or maybe, this is more appropriate: “Natutulog sa pansitan.” (Roughly, caught sleeping on the job.)

Beating around the bush. The critic goes on to speculate that the Reporter writer “was too insecure to own it” for not using a byline in his or her name; or it’s a press release written by one who has a legal background but not necessarily a lawyer; that the “undated, unattributed” photo might have been “shot in a studio or laboriously photoshopped and because Oswald Magno was smiling in the photo, it could have been taken when he was awarded “$400,000 in damages from a defamation case” which Cusipag and the critic writer lost. OMG! How much idle speculation, foolish hunches or malicious innuendo can you inject in an article to prevent the reader from focusing on the claim of the plaintiff that the transfer of properties was “fraudulent”?

Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara was a Brazilian Roman Catholic Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, serving from 1964 to 1985, during the military regime of the country.

Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara was a Brazilian Roman Catholic Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, serving from 1964 to 1985, during the military regime of the country.

To use the same term he used, this is subterfuge! The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines subterfuge as “deception by artifice or stratagem in order to conceal, escape or evade.”

Oxford Dictionaries define the term as “deceit used in order to achieve one’s goal.”

What’s the goal? To discredit the editors of The Philippine Reporter so its news reports will not be credible and to establish himself as the journalist extraordinaire because he’s objective, investigative and brave enough to take on anyone or any group in the community.

As if it’s not enough to beat around the meat of the Reporter story, he floats a sinister intrigue by mentioning my supposed aliases at a time when myself and my wife were in the political underground to fight the repression of Marcos’s martial law. Then he claims that we “were both jailed on suspicion of being communists”.

Sloppy journalism is again exposed here. (Or is it a case of pure deception, and hoping to get away with it?) If he had done a little research, online and offline by asking some available sources, he could have discovered, to his amazement, that there was no charge called “suspicion of being communist” and no one got jailed on that basis. You cannot find that phrase in the ASSO (or Arrest, Search and Seizure Order, the martial law term for search warrant and warrant of arrest) The activists, anti-Marcos dissenters and leaders and members of the legal opposition or the people’s mass organizations were arrested and charged with rebellion, subversion (Republic Act 1700, which was repealed years after martial law) or both and also with common crimes like illegal possession of firearms, murder or the silly charges of “rumour-mongering” or as funny as it sounds, “impersonating an activist”. (Was this a joke?)

Reds-3

Reds By Dee Ayroso, Bulatlat.com

For his information and inasmuch as he chooses not to be specific or he’s just too lazy to research in his futile red-tagging campaign against us and The Philippine Reporter, myself and my wife were charged by the Marcos military with rebellion but nothing was proven in a court, whether civilian or military. Mila was arrested in 1974 by Philippine Constabulary intelligence agents under Fidel Ramos and the NISA, the National Intelligence and Security Agency under Gen. Fabian Ver. She was isolated, tortured and detained for more than two years. I was arrested in 1974 by agents of ISAFP or Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, detained in isolation, tortured and kept in three military camps (Crame, Aguinaldo and Bagong Diwa) and the National Bilibid Prisons for a total of six and half years. We kept our sanity intact in these prisons under repressive conditions and managed to maintain our democratic and anti-dictatorship sentiments with the help of hundreds of other political prisoners.

Mila was released in 1976 as a result of a two-week hunger strike by more than 130 political detainees in Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan. I was released in 1981. Both of us were not convicted of any crime. We both returned to writing and immediately were hired by daily newspapers and weekly magazines in Manila.

The Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board of the Republic of the Philippines recognized in a formal resolution dated 10 February 2017 that both of us were victims of human rights violations during martial law for our arrest, torture and imprisonment and we were subsequently compensated with a modest amount. We proudly show to our children, grandchildren, relatives and friends these resolutions from the Philippine government as a proof that when our country needed our people to resist dictatorship and tyranny, we heeded the call and suffered the repression.

In the Philippines, there is the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, the massive wall with the names of those martrys who sacrificed their lives in the time of martial law. These are thousands of heroes that included people from different political and ideological beliefs from the Right to the Left. They were either political dissenters or armed rebels from all sectors of the population, and they include communists, that group of people demonized and maligned by the critics of our paper just for believing in a set of principles which the latter hate or just couldn’t comprehend.

Where does jumping to conclusion come in? Consider this – just so he paints me and my wife as having been jailed during the Marcos martial law regime (“on suspicion of being communists”), therefore people should not believe us because we’re the bad guys. This is red-tagging, pure and simple, the same tactic employed by the Philippine military especially at present when repression is intensifying under Duterte. Then our critic goes on to mention that President Duterte declared the communists in the Philippines “terrorists” and by thinly-veiled implication, we’re terrorists too. What a bankrupt logic.

This is jumping to conclusion. Guilt by association. I want to wonder aloud how a so-called journalist who unabashedly claims a string of accomplishments and a veteran status for decades of journalistic assignments could have this illogical mind. No sane editor worth his salt would tolerate this practice of red-tagging and imputing motives.

While still ignoring the main story in the Reporter story, that the plaintiff asserts that the transfer of properties was fraudulent, the critic goes back to his torturous scrutiny of the word “lawyer.” He focuses on the comment of the source, which actually is not used in the story as a main support for the claim of the plaintiff. It’s a diversionary tactic to prevent the reader from looking at the main point in the story. Sometimes it’s called “squid tactics” – to squirt ink to blot away the truth.

Then comes the silly question – who is the enabler of who? Might as well do an “Eeny, Meeny, Miny Moe” to save you the trouble of dealing with a foolish intrigue.

Then the coup de grace, the outlandish claim that The Philippine Reporter “has many axes to grind against Balita,” perennially described without an iota of humility, it being not one of its “virtues”, as “the largest newspaper in the Filipino community” in the GTA. Largest what, some people ask me, does it have something to do with the large financial obligations of the paper from its losses in the defamation cases?

Us, wanting to “dislodge the competition”? Excuse me, I wouldn’t want to compete with a paper that has longest list of defamation cases and substantial amounts in damages to settle, in the history of Filipino newspapers, not only in the Greater Toronto Area but in the whole of Canada.

If the critic thinks, his paper, published by his partner in these losses, is the envy of Pinoy newspapers in Toronto, he should think again. With two convictions of defamation charges and one criminal contempt of court ruling that resulted in a jail term, who will envy them?

Incidentally, what’s constantly being described by this critic as a “left-leaning” or “leftist” newspaper, The Philippine Reporter, is archived in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Libraries, Toronto, for many years now. Hard copies of the issues of the past 29 years are available for academic research by students, faculty and the public. That library is the largest collection of rare books and publications in North America. Our newspaper is the only ethnic newspaper archived in that library, after it was recommended by an academic and approved by the library officials.

Check the graphics included in this article and read the texts to remind the critic to do his due diligence about the communists in the Philippines and in Europe. Check the poster for some historical facts. Some people may not agree with the ideology or the politics of the communists, but ignoring these historical facts, what they did in times of intense political crisis, is tantamount to being selective in realizing the truth and separating it from the lies and myths in history.

It’s been years since I replied to this constant barrage of abuse in the forms of red-tagging and false accusations coming from one source in the community. I have only dealt with a few issues here, there are other issues I have to deal with in the future if I need to. But let me end here to say that troll journalism, which these attacks have essentially been from the very start, has its limits, and thinking readers are not stupid as these critics believe they are. The incendiary language, the sensational spins and improvised falsehoods have their momentary appeals but eventually they lose their “novelty” in the intelligent readers’ minds and are exposed for what they are.