‘The Internet is a weapon of mass distraction’

Community News & Features Oct 26, 2018 at 4:32 pm
PALATINO at Wilson Hall University of Toronto on Oct. 15

PALATINO at Wilson Hall University of Toronto on Oct. 15

Former Member of the Philippine House of Representatives MONG PALATINO

By Irish Mae Silvestre
The Philippine Reporter

Jamal [Khashoggi]’s story signals the fast deterioration of press freedom across the world” — Mong Palatino

Attacks against the media expose how democracy is under attack from powerful forces, which are bent on preserving their interests.” — Mong Palatino

Analyzing Duterte

On October 15, Mong Palatino put the Duterte regime under the microscope during a talk with the Filipino-Canadian Writers and Journalists Network (FCWJNet) at the University of Toronto.

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Mong Palatino, who was in Toronto for an IFEX meeting (the global network defending and promoting free expression) is in a unique position to provide insight into the state of the press and politics in the Philippines.

Palatino, 38, is, after all, the chair of the Metro Manila chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), a multisectoral alliance of people’s organizations. He represented the Kabataan Partylist in the 14th and 15th
Congress of the Philippines. He started blogging in 2004 and has written for Tinig, Bulatlat, Manila Today and New Mandala. He is the Southeast Asian editor of Global Voices and the Asia-Pacific content editor for IFEX. Palatino chats with The Philippine Reporter to discuss politics, fake news and youth activism.

AUDIENCE in the forum organized by Filipino Canadian Writers and Journalists (FC-WJNet)

AUDIENCE in the forum organized by Filipino Canadian Writers and Journalists (FC-WJNet)

The Philippine Reporter: What influenced your interest in politics?

Mon Palatino: During the 1997 charter change issue, I was a student at the University of the Philippines Diliman. President Ramos wanted to change the constitution and I joined study groups opposing it. The following year, I ran for student council.

TPR: Did your family try to discourage you from your interest in politics?

MP: Discourage, yes, during my first few years. They express concern until today. But, all the way, they never stopped supporting me, which made it easier for me to engage in political activism for more than two decades already. My family is based in San Francisco by the way [so] part of my political awakening was the understanding of how the socio-political and economic conditions in the homeland are forcing many Filipinos to migrate, separating families, and depriving the country of the skills, talent, and new thinking that migrants bring with them when they leave.

TPR: What was it like when you started blogging in 2004?

MP: I was amazed by this platform and saw its potential in amplifying what activists want to express. I appreciated how it can reach a broader audience. It was through blogging that I became involved in citizen media work when I was asked to join Global Voices as a contributor in 2006 and then editor for Southeast Asia in 2008. I blogged my way to become a representative of Kabataan Partylist in the 14th Congress.

Photo op with Palatino

Photo op with Palatino

TPR: What’s your take on the attacks against Filipino journalists and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

MP: Jamal’s story signals the fast deterioration of press freedom across the world and it’s a reminder of Saudi’s brutal regime. It mirrors the conditions in the Philippines, which has been tagged as among the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. The Philippines has no censorship board; we don’t censor the press but the killings [of journalists] represent a permanent form of censorship. Attacks against the media expose how democracy is under attack from powerful forces which are bent on preserving their interests.

TPR: Are the social savvy Filipino youth more engaged in politics?

MP: Social media savvy, yes, but not necessarily taking an active role in politics. We need to provide more encouragement and opportunities for youth participation in politics. Beyond voting, young people must strive to be a more active force in politics. I believe the role of young people is to shape public opinion. The power to do this is boosted by new media but, sadly, the machinery of lies, fake news and disinformation are undermining this.

TPR: Is this due to lack of information?

MP: Not lack of information but too much information, maybe. The Internet is a weapon of mass distraction.

TPR: Is Duterte adept at controlling the narrative?

P1_IMG_1106MP: Yes, but not completely. He’s overestimating the reach of his cyber army. And he’s underestimating the influence of opposition forces in retrieving the narrative against him. I think he’s afraid of the latter, thus the use of strongman tactics to create fear.

TPR: Such as threatening and undermining journalists?

MP: Always. Ranting incoherently, attacking everyone, spreading lies and [creating] fake news by his cyber army.

TPR: Why isn’t Philippine corporate media more critical?

MP: Because of corporate interests, Duterte’s threat to cancel the franchise of media, and oligarchs supportive of Duterte are also ad spenders. And there’s also the media orientation of refusing to directly attack any government in power.

TPR: There are so many similarities between Duterte and Trump.

MP: Trump, yes. But Duterte could be worse. Is Trump accused of abetting the killings of 20,000 plus people?

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Duterte’s ‘True Colours’
“The War on Drugs wasn’t really a war against drugs but a war against the poor.”

Oplan Galugad
“If you’re a ‘tambay’, you’re arrested. They’re criminalizing unemployment…”

Red October
“This was concocted by the military to distract the public from issues that affect everyday concerns of the people such as soaring prices.”

The Green Agenda
“It has nothing to do with environmental protection but the appointment of retired military officials in his cabinet. He doesn’t need to declare martial law – he just has to convene the cabinet and he has the military controlling the bureaucracy.”

Public Pressure
“[After the murder of a Korean businessman and Kian Delos Santos], Duterte suspended tokhang twice. He bowed to public pressure so don’t be fooled by his strongman tactics.”