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Wednesday, January 16, 2019
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Wenceslao: Fake news and the 2019 elections

WITH the May 2019 midterm elections just around the bend, fake news is being distributed on social media again by diehard Duterte supporters (DDS) . They know, of course, that if they make their idol look good, the pro-Duterte bets, especially at the senatorial level, will have better chances of getting votes. The fortunes of the administration bets at the national level are much too dependent on the President’s approval rating.

One fake news posted on a recently created fake news website Insider had a United States “diplomat” supposedly claiming that the US returned the bells because of President Duterte. The three bells from the church in Balangiga in Samar were taken by the Americans to the US as war booty. The tolling of the bells was used as a signal by Samar rebels to begin the attack on American troops in Balangiga during the Philippine-American war.

The credit grabbing by the DDS sounds believable because the President once used the taking of the bells as one of the reasons for his foreign policy shift from the US to China. He called on the US, in one of his state of the nation addresses, to return the bells. But the US denied the President’s statement influenced the decision to return the bells.

But first a clarification. The “US diplomat” quoted in the fake news as having said that, “We returned the bells because of President Duterte,” is Daniel Russel, the former assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs. Molly Koscina, press attache and spokesperson of the US embassy in Manila, said Russel left his post in March 2017 yet. A search by fact checkers showed that Russel’s photo used by the Insider came from a Xinhua article in 2014.

The fake article was, as expected, shared by the hundreds of thousands on social media. Those who read it already must have been talking about it now to friends like the report is true. It isn’t. What is true is this statement by Kosina: “There are a number of presidents, a number of secretaries (of defense), a number of US and Philippine ambassadors who worked for the return of the bells. It was decades-worth of work and protest by the veterans, and the legal issues that come with it.

The credit grabbing did not end, there, of course. When the bells were finally brought to Balangiga, the Presidential Management Staff shooed away the bishops and the priests and when they didn’t go away, chairs were placed in front of them to hide them from view. Only the Archbishop of Davao Romulo Valles was favored. Incidentally, the church owns the Balangiga bells.

Again, with the 2019 elections just around the bend, there now is a resurgence of fake news distribution. The next time a friend on Facebook shares to you an article that has Pope Francis praising President Duterte to high heavens, tell that friend to stop the sharing. If he or she doesn’t do so, unfriend or block him or her. After years, all of us should have already known better.

Or are we really just gullible?


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