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Battling for the truth in the post-fact world


Living in this country, it doesn’t take too long to realize that the Philippines is the most Americanized nation in Asia. Signages are in English, as are broadsheets; pop culture remains heavily influenced by the west, and as a lasting testament to the American influence, a country with an average male height of 5’7” is deeply, emotionally invested with the sport of basketball.

But these days, the Philippines has managed to turn the tables. We got here first… well at least half a year ahead.

The US has alternative truths, while we have hyperboles and jokes. US President Donald Trump wants to make America great again by threatening corporations with punitive tariffs and forcing them to make consumer goods exponentially more expensive by manufacturing them in the US, while President Rodrigo Duterte wants to rescue his nation from the drug menace by purging the poor. Trump, from the outside looking in, and with his and his cabinet’s conflicts of interest, appear to have self-profit as the bottom line; while the Duterte administration, and this war on drugs, well… no one’s quite sure what the end game is.

The parallels have been well documented as early as last year when Duterte took his seat as the President of the Philippines, while Trump was spewing alternate reality pronouncements as the Republican party’s unlikely nominee.

But one similarity that could eventually rear with it an understated relevance is the two populist leaders’ relationship with the media, and ultimately, the truth. Trump has a very public beef going on with the media, while in much the same way, the Duterte administration has not taken too kindly to the media reporting what the President says.

Sowing seeds of distrust

The media has had a long history of having a hand in spreading propaganda, from proliferating the thought that marijuana “makes blacks and Mexicans rape white women” to the fear mongering that the 24/7 coverage of the “war on terror” brought.

And it is the accumulated decades of distrust that has led to this—the post-fact world—a world where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. There prevails a brazenness that allows the Trump administration to claim he had the biggest inauguration crowd ever, even when it cannot be more contrary to what everyone’s eyes suggest.

It is the same thing that empowers Duterte’s interpretation team to claim that the President didn’t say what he said in front of hundreds of people, video evidence be damned. It’s the very thing that leaves the public unblinking when the administrations says that people haven’t felt as safe on the streets as they do now, with crime rates supposedly down, and the President’s vice presidential running mate comparing the country to Singapore—all while over 6,000 people have been killed in six months, the country remains under a “state of lawlessness” and Duterte insists on keeping the threat of martial law lit.

State of confusion

As mad as the two leaders often appear to be, there seems to be a method to their consistent discrediting of the media. In a Philippine Daily Inquirer op-ed piece by John Nery titled “Why we MUST fight fakes,” he cites a chapter in Hannah Arendt’s “Origins of Totalitarianism,” which attempts to explain how crafting a state of confusion is indispensable to authoritarian rule.

“Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality… The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist,” reads an excerpt from Arendt’s book.

It appears we, or at least the ruling elite, have brought this upon us. Political outsiders have become strong, alternative choices as opposed to remaining with the status quo. And now, amidst all the issues the respective countries have, a battle between facts and how they are perceived has emerged.