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Crusader or censor?

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV sues Mocha Uson

Margaux “Mocha” Uson (photo right), the Philippines’ top blogger who became Assistant Secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, was afforded even greater status within the administration on Friday when diehard government critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV (photo), filed no less than six criminal cases against her with the Ombudsman.

She’s now right up there with Foreign Secretary, Alan Peter Cayetano; Justice Secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre II; Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III; Chairman of the Senate Justice and Human Rights Committee, Richard Gordon, and the country’s president himself, Rodrigo Duterte – all of whom have been at the receiving end of Trillanes’ ire.

At issue is “fake news” – a global catch phrase used by politicians to discredit anything they don’t like. In this particular case, Mocha Uson had published details of secret offshore bank accounts purportedly belonging to Trillanes. That information turned out to be wrong. But that makes the reporting ‘inaccurate’; it doesn’t follow that it’s fake.

There’s a very big distinction between the two. Indeed, if Uson can show that she had reasonable grounds to believe her statement was true and had taken steps to verify it, she might be able to claim “Qualified Privilege” as her defence.

But leaving that aside – it can be determined in due course – there’s a far bigger issue here, and that is, what really motivated Trillanes to go full on and sue Uson under the Revised Penal Code, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and the Cybercrime Prevention Act? To us that looks like overkill.

Trillanes may believe – or want the rest of us to believe – that he’s an anti-fake-news white knight, but that’s going to be an extremely hard sell for a man who seems to spend every waking hour finding new ways to attack President Duterte and his administration.

Destabilising Duterte has been his main mission which he’s pursued single-mindedly since the president took office 16 months ago. Based on that alone, his motives here must be queried. And so, our question for you in today’s Your Forum is this: Does Trillanes have a political agenda in taking legal action against Mocha Uson? 

Is she just another Duterte target he feels he needs to strike at? Certainly, she’s close to Dueterte; in fact she’s among his most loyal supporters. During Duterte’s presidential campaign, she came out fully to back him.

On 5 February last year, three months before Filipinos went to the polls, on her Facebook page blog she posted this: “Wake up! The continuous rise of crime in our country is now a concern for all … We need a tough and strong president. We need an iron hand in dealing with criminals in this country. We need a president who is brave and who has genuine concern for our country and that is none other than Duterte!” Not exactly sentiments shared by Trillanes, then.

Alternatively, does he simply want to ‘teach the girl a lesson’; to have her humiliated, disciplined, corrected? Pull her down a peg or two. Certainly, Trillanes likes the spotlight and doesn’t enjoy being upstaged. And there’s no question, Mocha’s irritated him and not just once.

Or is it something else – something far more sinister? There’s a perception – and a worrying one – that Trillanes is seeking to gag the press. And if that’s the case, then Mocha Uson would be the ideal place to start. With 5.3 million Facebook followers she’s the ultimate symbol of press freedom in the Philippines.

Take her down and it’d be a major blow to Philippine social-media and a major triumph for Trillanes. He’d be feted by the Liberal Party and the rest of the anti-Duterte patchwork more than he is already. Could that be his hope then; to bring down the soc-med edifice with cries of “fake news” as Joshua collapsed Jericho’s walls with his trumpets?

Fake news is a pestilence. It’s aimed – as we’re sure Trillanes knows – at distorting perceptions. Some weeks ago, The Volatilian™ itself was the subject of fake news by no less a figure than the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas. He claimed – without any justification – that we were purveyors of fake news. He had us on a list with a number of other news sites which had evidently displeased him. Open letter to Archbishop Villegas

Press freedom is vital to any functioning democracy – whether it’s mainstream, bricks and mortar, or social, online. It’s not there to be controlled by politicians, bishops or captains of industry. When it is it’s other things – political patronage; censorship; propaganda; media/press control and the muzzling of a watchdog.

The fact of life that Trillanes, Villegas and others like them need to learn is that the press is not there to seek their approval. It’s there to hold them to account. In their various roles they’re supposed to represent and reflect the people’s will. The media provide the mirror. That’s how it works; anything less than that and it doesn’t work.

In the absence of that we get a return to the Soviet-era Izvestia; Mao Zedong’s Guangming Daily; Nazi Germany’s Vőlkischer Beobachter and so on. Social media might be imperfect but believe us, it’s way better than the media-control model; the toothless, bark-less lapdog that is the obedient pet of social engineers, autocrats and oligarchs. It becomes – as the grand master of press control, Nazi Germany’s Reich Minister of Propaganda. Joseph Goebbels, described it – that “great keyboard on which governments [or whoever owns it] can play”.

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