In their recent Statement, the CBCP condemned what they call the pandemic of lies: “We are appalled by the blatant and subtle distortion, manipulation, cover-up, repression and abuse of the truth… in order to influence the opinion of the people, to hide the truth, to malign and blackmail people.” (CBCP, “The truth will set you free”, 2022).
In reaction, the Marcos camp was offended for the Catholic Church’s “hateful and negative campaigning”; the clergy, they said, should be more circumspect, not meddle in politics and stop making reckless imputation which poison people’s minds.
Look who’s talking?
Historical revisionism by the Marcos camp started long time ago. Create the myth. Reclaim it. Destroy the enemy. That is the project.
I surfed Marcos camp YouTube videos and FB pages. Let me give few examples of the “truths” that I gathered. Marcos Sr. was the greatest president we ever had. For that, he was in the Guinness Book of World Record. He possessed enormous gold reserves from the Tallano Royal family whoever they were. Marcos was a “strongman” and authoritarian rule what the Philippines needed. Discipline was necessary. Infrastructure was great and martial law was the “golden age” of Philippine history.
So, we need someone like him today — enter Marcos Jr. With money and social media networks, the propaganda machine has been working continuously and effectively all these years. As Maria Ressa says: “Lies told a million times transform themselves into truths.”
The campaign program of Marcos Jr. intends to reclaim the myth. I also watched his campaign sorties: the singing of Bagong Lipunan hymn (that Martial Law hymn we were forced to sing in flag ceremonies, the red color reminiscent of KBL), George Canseco’s “Ako ay Pilipino” used to rally us to face the world with pride again. “Sama-sama tayong babangon muli!” (not quite far from Trump’s “Making America Great Again”). And Bongbong Marcos, the “Bagong Agila,” is supposed to lead us this promised land.
The UniTeam’s “gospel of unity” and “positive campaigning” is but a mere smokescreen and hypocritical façade.
Again, look who’s talking?
The seeding of lies and hatred has been done years ago. Duterte’s campaign also benefited from this—the vilification of the oligarchs, the demonization of the yellows, Manila imperialism, “laglag-bala,” the denial of EDSA, SAF44, Yolanda Funds, demonization of the drug addict and the “communists.” The litany is endless. All these provide ready retorts of Marcos-Duterte loyalists on Facebook debates.
More recently, “Leni lugaw,” “lutang,” “mahina,” “hindi kaya dahil babae.” I also listen to BBM media influencers as they describe Leni — kung maka “bobo”, talagang wagas! The hate campaign has been raging and people mimic them on the ground like facts. Talk to your friend who is a Marcos loyalist or DDS supporter and you will know what I mean.
If confronted about the undeniable atrocities of Martial Law, economic woes of 1980s or the Marcos loot, deny the link to the cherished myth. “Ang kasalanan ng Tatay ay hindi kasalanan ng anak.” Why will he ask pardon for something he did not commit?
Bongbong Marcos is in fact inconsistent on the Tallano gold. In 1990, he said: “Only I know where it is and how to get it.” When asked by Winnie Monsod in 2013, he replied: “Sa buong buhay ko hindi ko nakakakita ng gold na yan.” A campaign tactic for sure. Confuse the people and let lies live together with facts. Soon people will believe and tell you “respect my opinion.”
A UP-based research, “Marcos Truths: A Genealogy of Historical Distortions,” tells us that most of the propaganda content goes all the way to the Marcoses. But the program is “to saturate the audience with all sorts of information up to a point that the propaganda effort appears to be without an author, that the algorithm of the social media networks geared towards the new and the ridiculous hides the hands of the Marcoses themselves.”
This production of lies and disinformation, of spreading them through micro-targeting and algorithmic amplification, of managed fan pages and troll farms—of course, for a large fee—makes the lies “structural,” not just personal.
The “influencers” who have millions of followers merely popularize the lies with their vulgarity and nastiness. The producers of content are lurking at the background to hand manufactured materials.
These revised history, twisted facts, hate messages and created myths are ready to be fed into the algorithmic machines—Facebook, Tiktok, etc—who are cashing on the poisonous information ecosystem, and consumed by an unknowing micro-targeted population whose digital footprints were collected for a big price. It is one whole complex structure of lies and evil.
Sins are not just personal sins, something which we individually commit. St. John Paul II talks of “social sins,” “structural sins,” sins found in societal structures. They “cry to heaven because they generate violence, disrupt peace and harmony.” His examples are corruption leading to poverty, killings and violence, racism and arms race. They are started and perpetrated by persons; but they have vitiated society.
If John Paul II is alive today, he could have included the distorted use of social media from content production, to algorithmic targets, to data collection in surveillance capitalism. It is known that Marcos Jr approached Cambridge Analytica to “rebrand the family image,” a whistleblower tells us. He is personally complicit with these structural lies.
How can you attribute to Marcos Jr the sins of Marcos Sr? That is a narrow and “personalist” way to talk about sin and culpability.
Whether he knows of the gold or not, whether he asked the generals to bomb EDSA or not, whether he had a hand in the plunder or not, Bongbong Marcos is structurally guilty of benefitting from the loot and “blessings” the Marcos dictatorship (he was the executor of the Marcos estate, remember?) as well as participating in the “pandemic of lies” which the CBCP is talking about.
This is true for all the “enablers” of these dictatorial regimes—they participate in the structure of lies, corruption and violence.
And like all sins, beyond just asking forgiveness in “personal confession”, it also means remuneration, that is, returning the loot, facing the victims of violence and indemnifying them, or stopping the pandemic of algorithmic lies whose false accounts are said to be based as far as China and Russia.
Father Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M. is a theologian, professor, and pastor of an urban poor community in the outskirts of the Philippine capital. He is also Vincentian Chair for Social Justice at St. John’s University in New York.