Chicken Little in media and the Duterte government

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Greg B. Macabenta

Posted on January 11, 2017

There’s this folk tale about a fowl named Chicken Little who spreads the news that the world is coming to an end. His paranoia is triggered by an acorn falling on his head. Panicking, he concludes that the sky is falling and quickly runs all over town to sound the alarm. Needless to say, a lot of folks -- mostly dimwitted -- take the news seriously.

It looks like, a blogger who sports the byline Thinking Pinoy, is the social media version of Chicken Little and some folks in the Duterte Cabinet, as well as in the legislature and the media, have been dimwitted enough to take him seriously.

The news that the blogger recently spread is about a “plot” among Filipinos in America to dislodge President Rodrigo Duterte from Malacañang, reportedly with the active involvement of the US Central Intelligence Agency. The ultimate beneficiary of the dastardly plot would be Vice-President Leni Robredo -- a reprise of the expulsion from office of President Joseph “Erap” Estrada and his replacement by then Vice-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The “dastardly scheme,” according to the blogger, was hatched at a Christmas party at the San Francisco, California residence of a Filipino-American lawyer and community activist, Rodel Rodis, with wealthy Filipino-American business leader Loida Nicolas-Lewis masterminding it.

To add more spice to the tale, the blogger claims have picked up the news via an online leak among the plotters, with the trail leading to VP Robredo. Thus, either the imaginative blogger or someone in media dubbed it the “Lenileaks,” in the Pinoy tradition of copying foreign titles and terminology (such as Wikileaks, which is currently bedeviling the incoming Trump administration).

Post-New Year must have been a dull news period for Philippine media, such that it called for some creative reportage (a euphemism for what the late BusinessWorld Managing Editor Letty Martillo Locsin and I learned during our tabloid days as “masturbating the news”).

Unbelievably, the Manila dailies unthinkingly picked up the blog of Thinking Pinoy and called it “the biggest scandal” involving Robredo.

One major daily, not knowing how to treat the story, ran the contradictory headline, “Ouster plot vs. Duterte downplayed; House to probe ‘Lenileaks.’”

How’s that?

The plot is “downplayed” or considered unimportant, but the honorable members of the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, will go ahead and conduct an investigation anyway. Does that make him Chicken Little Alvarez?

Another major daily ran the headline, “Duterte says he doesn’t care about ouster plots after ‘Lenileaks.’” But the same news story reported that “Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said he wants the ‘Lenileaks’ issue to be discussed during Monday’s Cabinet meeting.” Andanar reportedly asked National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. to “look into the matter.” There goes Chicken Little Andanar.

Senator Dick Gordon, who is usually precise in his rhetoric, was quoted by one newspaper as follows, “Why should you oust him? That is a snake bite of a toxic level that is a nuclear bomb.”

Try figuring out what “a snake bite of a toxic level that is a nuclear bomb” means. If Gordon was misquoted, he should tar and feather the reporter. Otherwise, that makes him Chicken Little Dick.

But the biggest equivalent to “the sky is falling” panic is the allegation by the blogger of “threats from a famous opposition senator.”

In social media, the fellow claimed, “I have been informed that an especially famous opposition senator with a reputation for scandal has mobilized his men to track me down. I have taken the appropriate steps to increase security. But if I end up dead in some alley or missing, you will know who to blame.”

Such melodrama! What is more likely to happen is that those who have been criticizing Duterte will “end up dead in an alley or missing” and you know that somebody’s death squad would be to blame.

At any rate, I’m sure it was not for fear of being summarily exterminated that journalist Benjamin Pimentel and Prof. Randy David, Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist and University of the Philippines resident intellectual, denied having been present at the Christmas party where the plot to “oust Duterte” was ostensibly hatched. I’m sure it was simply to put the record straight. David wrote about it in his column and Pimentel posted his clarification on Facebook.

I can attest to their clarification. Neither David nor Pimentel was at the Rodis residence. But I was.

And so was Loida Nicolas-Lewis. And so were many other prominent Filipino Americans who have been openly condemning the burial of the late President Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and have been bitterly protesting Duterte’s anti-drug campaign -- a campaign that has made accusers, judges, and executioners out of unidentified vigilantes and members of the Philippine National Police.

Most of these Fil-Ams were in the thick of the campaign against the Marcos dictatorship that eventually caused the government of President Ronald Reagan to tell Marcos to “cut and cut clean.”

For sure, all of those at the party would like Duterte to respect due process and the value of human life, but not everyone would like to see a coup or an uprising by civilians or the military. As I pointed out in a recent column, that would be like falling from the frying pan into the fire.

I myself have been very vocal against Duterte’s methods and I have suggested less bloody means to combat drug abuse, specifically, a massive information campaign. But it seems to me that even among some of my friends, who are knowledgeable and God-fearing, the idea of a bloodbath, as a short cut to solving the drug menace, is appealing and has affected their perception of right and wrong.

Were those at the Christmas party demanding Duterte’s resignation? Of course, but simply to taunt him for his bluster during the election campaign, when he promised “to resign” if he did not solve the problem of drugs and crime “in six months.”

These are the same people who have offered to purchase a jet ski for Duterte, so he can make good on another one of his kayabangan, to the effect that he would ride a jet ski to the Spratlys and dare the Chinese to shoot him down.

They are realistic enough to know that it will take more than taunting to cause Duterte to step down. But, at the very least, it should remind his fanatic supporters that they should be less incredulous (Tagalog translation, uto-uto). In fact, a number of these Fil-Ams would like to help Duterte succeed, if he would only listen to reason.

There’s nothing secret or conspiratorial about their disapproval of Duterte’s bluster and his deadly methods. These are not trolls such as those who have reportedly been hired by Malacañang’s information specialists to insult and intimidate critics of Duterte and extol his “achievements.”

Is VP Robredo part of a plot to topple Duterte? I did not hear that discussed at the Rodis residence. We were too busy plotting against the lechon and the potluck food provided by the guests. What we did discuss -- and will continue to discuss -- is how we can help to stop the killings and the virtual reign of terror that has created fear even among Duterte’s most fanatic supporters.

There’s no need for a Lenileaks to make that known. And if the fears of Chicken Little are being stirred by a blogger and believed by dimwits in media and government, they should not blame Loida Lewis or Leni Robredo for that.

In this connection, concerned Filipinos in the Philippines and overseas should be reminded of what the English parliamentarian Edmund Burke said:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.