The other day, the broadsheets reported the relaunch of a fact-checking alliance with broader planks of membership and goals. Twenty-three academic institutions, media organizations, and civil society groups decided to come together again, more of them this time, as “a coalition to combat disinformation in the 2022 elections.”
This revitalized coalition alliance which calls itself Tsek.ph was birthed in time for the mid-term elections in 2019. It now includes academic partners such as the Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University, Colegio de San Juan de Letran, Trinity University of Asia Communication Department, University of the Philippines Los Baños, the UP Department of Journalism’s Fact Check Patrol and FactRakers, and the University of Santo Tomas Journalism Program.
The media partners are ABS-CBN, Baguio Chronicle, DZUP, FYT, Interaksyon, MindaNews, PhilStar Global, Philippine Press Institute, Press One, Probe and VERA Files. The civil society organization partners are Akademiya at Bayan Kontra Disimpormasyon at Dayaan (ABKD), BarangayHub, Fact Check Philippines, and the Philippine Association for Media and Information Literacy (PAMIL).
This initiative could not be more needed than today.
We are going into the most important electoral exercise in which we shall elect the next set of leaders, particularly the President of the Republic, who will lead the nation for the next six years. With our past experience with corruption and plunder during the Marcos years, and the failure of leadership during the pandemic years 2020 and 2021, electing the right candidate is the best means to secure our nation’s destiny.
But we cannot properly exercise this right of suffrage if our basis is only twisted facts and outright lies that we might have ingested from social media. Our basis for choice should not be loathsome fake news but upright fact-checked information. Only justice should be blindfolded.
The Filipino electorate should have the facility to fact check those ludicrous claims in social media before embracing them as facts to guide us in our May 2022 decision. Tsek.ph promises to be a partner in combatting election-related disinformation by re-organizing itself with more adherents and leveraging on their expertise and commitment.
UP’s Dr. Elena E. Pernia was spot on when she described the initiative as vital and necessary, especially at this time when an enlightened Filipino citizenry “is key to our elections.”
The initiative is not a small one, definitely a cut above Leo Tolstoy’s “anything is better than lies and deceit.” For if the initiative gains some traction, and those in power are held accountable and our vibrant democracy is protected, then people are able to “make decisions freely based on correct information,” as ABS-CBN’s Ging Reyes would have wished.
Reputable fact checking is not going to be a walk in the park.
The task is awesome. As UP Mass Communications’ Rachel Khan explained: “Since 2019, disinformation has multiplied exponentially especially during the pandemic, with everybody dependent on social media for news and information.”
In fact, for some candidates, they have been reportedly preparing for their presidential campaigns with disinformation for the last five years, creating in the process a core of die-hards who could not know any better because they have no alternative truth to turn to. Some of them are too young to know or to remember what happened during martial law, or to realize that based on documented data, there were 3,257 extrajudicial killings, 35,000 tortures, 77 disappearances, and 70,000 incarcerations.
It is sad that even some of those in the AB group could not come around to the fact that the Supreme Court and other courts in the Philippines have already ruled on stolen wealth and tax evasion. For instance, it would be a great resource for Tsek.ph to refer to the case Republic of the Philippines v. Sandiganbayan penned by Justice Renato C. Corona which forfeited $658 million owned by Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in favor of the Philippine Government.
As we wrote a couple of columns ago, this money was kept in multiple layers of front foundations and organizations. The High Court ruled the amount was not in proportion to the “known lawful income of the (Marcos couple from 1965-1985) since they did not file any Statement of Assets and Liabilities, as required by law, from which their net worth could be determined.” Their lawful income only totaled $304,372.43. Anything above this was considered ill-gotten.
Other Supreme Court rulings which forfeited assets and other properties held by Marcos’ cronies also confirmed that the Marcos years, were not quite the golden years of the Philippines, were actually under a “well entrenched plundering regime of 20 years.”
Even Congress passed a law providing for reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime. Tsek.ph should be familiar with Republic Act No. 10368, approved on Feb. 25, 2013, where it was declared that it is state policy to “recognize the heroism and sacrifices of all Filipinos who were victims of summary execution, torture, enforced or involuntary disappearance and other gross human rights violations committed during the regime of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos covering the period from Sept. 21, 1972 to Feb. 25, 1986 and restore the victims’ honor and dignity.”
Anyone who denies the rulings of the High Court and the acts of Congress is either ignorant, or he simply rejects the truth. He should be rejected in the polls.
Tsek.ph commits to verify and fact-check various election issues namely, candidates’ platforms and campaign promises; election-related statements and remarks; and election-related posts on social media and other online platforms. Perhaps, the coalition may also wish to validate the candidates’ educational attainment, experience in the various branches of government or in the private sector, and even the sponsorship of bills in Congress, or the projects the candidates claim to be their initiatives.
Will Tsek.ph disclose their findings on social media or in the traditional press?
Based on their agreement, the members of the alliance will conduct their own respective fact-checking initiatives. The findings and other data will be pooled with the Tsek.ph secretariat. This is like building up a common data warehouse where answers to questions of fact can be drawn by different entities responding to the same question with the same uniform answer for fact-checked consistency.
The task will be made simpler by having five ratings in classifying claims: accurate (demonstrably factual); false (demonstrably contrary to available facts); misleading (gives a vague/different impression); no basis (cannot be verified or fact-checked); and needs context (requires more facts or clarification).
How President Duterte’s threat “to reveal faults of presidentiables” will play out with this modality of classification will be most interesting. He claimed that except for one, all the presidentiables have unpleasant issues ranging from corruption, qualification, truthfulness, entitlement, and even intelligence.
Tsek.ph commits to leverage on its experience during the 2019 mid-term elections that familiarized them with the insidious techniques of conveying lurid disinformation not on a weekly basis, but on a more grueling daily basis.
By involving each of the institutions in the coalition, Tsek.ph hopes to mobilize them precisely for flushing out disinformation and, more important, preparing them for lobbying against it by including disinformation and media literacy courses in the academe. To make fact-checking almost a more engaging, more normal activity, Tsek.ph will endeavor to shift from text-based to more interactive mode. After all, it is easier to tell the truth than to twist facts and deceive people.
Will Tsek.ph. allocate a column in the entry based on those five classifications of claims to identify their source so that in the future, when another claim comes from the same source, our algorithm will kick in and raise a red flag?
How to disabuse civil society about disinformation is no different from the reply of Michelangelo to the Pope who asked him how he created David’s statue. “It’s simple. I removed everything that is not David.”
Diwa C. Guinigundo is the former deputy governor for the Monetary and Economics Sector, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). He served the BSP for 41 years. In 2001-2003, he was alternate executive director at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC. He is the senior pastor of the Fullness of Christ International Ministries in Mandaluyong.