We all know what echo chambers are and its appropriateness to the times. A chamber can be as confining as a jail cell or as vast as a Chinese cavern of coronavirus vampires outside Wuhan. And because of the echoes, the resonance of repetitive voices can either be real or disembodied. The former from legitimate calls. The latter, from anonymous, ghostly demons.
Where the unified opposition under presidential candidate Leonor Robredo has what some fear is merely a brilliant and enlightened echo chamber that needs to be broken out of and expanded to be more inclusive, the ruling parties under the various administration’s coalitions of dummies, surrogates, proxies, and placeholders likewise have theirs.
Diverse at best, multi-polar, however simultaneously sweet, and sour, it is unfortunate that Robredo’s senatorial slate is limited to twelve where there are many more of the best and brightest who share the same hope and are willing to take the challenge to veer from the darkness Duterte has taken us and the infernal nightmare his allies dug up, exhumed, and seek to resurrect.
Duterte’s chamber is, however, dark, and dank, echoing ghostly whispers and screams from the pained souls of the dead and the tortured, killed from the Marcos years and perhaps also recently from those systematically slaughtered in a campaign to instill fear and control. The voices also belong to those who have donned two-face Janus masks, straddling hollow Trojan horses to pander to both the opposition and ruling party constituencies.
While there has been some hemorrhaging from the ranks of those like Francisco Domagoso who, at some point, enabled Duterte’s grip on power, the supermajority of shadowy suck-ups still overwhelms and presents a formidable juggernaut that Robredo’s supporters will have to contend with.
One hurdle is the use of the same counting machines behind the 2016 and 2019 mandates. Smartmatic owns the “Contract for the Procurement of Automated Elections Systems Software for the Election Management System, Vote Counting Machines, and Consolidated & Canvassing System to be used in the 2022 National and Local Elections’’.
Add Duterte’s echo chamber of chorusing media. At least three print and online third-tier rags continuously attack Robredo and the legitimate opposition with falsehoods and fake news. Pandering to the shallow and hollow, two are owned by hucksters, one bankrolled by a political operator. A third is owned by a politician. All provide Duterte a chorus line and a medium for troll armies.
In “Troops, Trolls and Troublemakers: A Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation” by Samantha Bradshaw and Philip Howard, the Philippines was cited employing troll armies deployed by government. The scholarly treatise revealed messaging and valence on social media commentary and automated fake accounts.
The following is a verbatim quote. “In the Philippines, many of the so-called ‘keyboard trolls’ hired to spread propaganda for presidential candidate Duterte during the election continue to spread and amplify messages in support of his policies now he’s in power’’.
Now note the institutional bailiwicks, the armies and the arsenal assembled to ensure electoral outcomes.
There is the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) comprised of Duterte appointees, four from Davao, a fifth is his lawyer. By election day, all seven will have been appointed by Duterte. Analogous demographics likewise populate the electoral tribunals.
The COMELEC has not been circumspect. The company awarded by the COMELEC the logistics and transportation contract for the 2022 elections contributed P30 million in cash to Duterte’s 2016 campaign. Its founding chair contributed P3.5 million. An ally owns the company. His wife contributed P1 million.
Authoritarian regimes facilitate mass manipulation in numerous ways through the electoral processes, ballot logistics, regulatory agencies, the courts, or through social and mainstream media trolls.
We have seen overwhelming support for Robredo from across social classes, but much more will be needed where Duterte and his solid mantle of bailiwicks are structural, ingrained, and institutionalized are all marshaled to support his anointed.
(Dean dela Paz is a former investment banker and a managing director of a New Jersey-based power company operating in the Philippines. He is the chairman of the board of a renewable energy company and is a retired Business Policy, Finance and Mathematics professor.)
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.