Published on April 13, 2010.
It was a real privilege to serve as a resource person at a roundtable conference organized by the National Academy of Science and Technology last week. I hope to set aside some space sometime soon to discuss the provocative insights of eminent economist Emmanuel de Dios, the other guest speaker; for now, allow me to acknowledge the stimulating company of National Scientists Gelia Castillo, Mercedes Concepcion and Teodulo Topacio Jr., as well as (ceteris paribus!) of Deans De Dios and Raul Fabella of the UP School of Economics.
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I am looking for a copy of Anthony Reid’s “Imperial Alchemy,” published by Cambridge University Press last December. Not even Borders in Wheelock Place in Singapore has a copy in stock. If someone can point me in the right direction, I would be much obliged.
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It may be a mere truism to say that the ongoing election season is the dirtiest in memory. Allow me to add some text (literally) and pretext (figuratively) to the discussion.
The use of so-called text blasts to spread rumors or to attempt misinformation has come into its own in the 2010 campaign. About two years ago, I wrote in this same space that an operator with ties to Malacañang had once admitted to me that he was responsible for about 2,000 telephone lines or telephone numbers, with which to help shape the results of text-in surveys then popular on TV. This election season, though, the text blast has become a strategic weapon of choice.
In the beginning, right about September last year, I started receiving from various anonymous senders negative, sometimes downright scurrilous, text messages about political personalities. (I’m certain the case is the same with other journalists.) I used to delete the messages right away; they always left a pungent taste in the mouth. Then, starting on Oct. 10, I decided to create a separate folder in my phone for these messages, to keep them in. I had the vague idea that, if time allowed, I could look for patterns in these messages—and perhaps identify the campaigns behind them. Today, there are 197 messages in that folder, most of them negative indeed.
I seem to remember that Sen. Manny Villar was the principal target (“Villarroyo”) of a plurality of these messages, but on rereading much of the folder’s contents I have since realized that, especially in the early months, Sen. Noynoy Aquino (and ABS-CBN, with the Inquirer dishonorably mentioned a couple of times) came in for their share of negativity. Overall, however, the surprising thing was some of the most intriguing negative text messages came from Team Chiz Escudero and Team Jojo Binay.
The number 09199600863, on Oct. 10, carried a charming message. “Dahil birthday ko naman, libre kita dimsum…. so I can “siomai” love for you 🙂 INGAT. SUPER CHIZEE.” This was one of the few “Super Chizee” messages I was able to keep, from that heady time (September to October) before Escudero decided to postpone a presidential run. The same number popped up again, on Mar. 1, this time with the following anti-Villar message: “Nabwisit ang mga motorist sa convoy nina Manny Villarroyo at Loren LegardAngara sa Rosales, Pangasinan noong Sabado, humaba ang trapik kaya mura ng mura ang mga paluwas ng Maynila at paakyat ng Baguio. Sa halip na tumabi ay ipinagyabang pa ni Villarroyo at LegadAngara [sic] ang kanilang mga mamahaling sasakyan. Hindi pa panalo pero MAYABANG NA!”
Par for the course, right? After all, Team Chiz is now a close-in group of Aquino’s. But back in October, from two obviously related numbers, 09396315311 and 09396315312 (perhaps the SIM cards were bought at the same time), Team Chiz (still hoping to lead the NPC) had nasty things to say about Noynoy. On Oct. 11: “Nagka-kagulo daw sa kampo ng NPC. Pero sino ba ang naghahabol at idinadaan sa gimik at media manipulation ang pagkakandidato (Noynoy)? Sinong partido ang kakarampot na lang ang miyembro nalagasan pa ng 8 (Liberal)? Sino ba ang desperado makatambal si erap (noynoy)? Basta ang NPC, No Problem (WITH) CHIZ.” And on Oct. 12: “Si Erap may jeep ng masa. Si Villar may Bilyon. Si Chiz may NPC. Si Noynoy? Nakikiangkas lang. Sumakay sa pangalan ng ama at ina. Sa ads puro TY dahil may ABS CBN at Inquirer naman. Pati sa donasyon at kampanya humihingi pa ng piso piso. Hanggang kalian ka aasa sa pera at kasikatan ng iba? Be ur own man.” The courageous sender, in his industrial anonymity, could not resist offering such obvious counsel.
Team Binay did not pop up in my phone’s burgeoning folder (at least as far as I can determine) until this year; but it certainly made up for lost time. I have several messages for instance, from different numbers, carrying the following talking points: “Ang bise president ay pinahahalagaan ang kabataan at ang edukasyon. Dahil kay Jojo Binay, libre ang edukasyon, mga aklat, school supplies at uniporme ng mga bata sa Makati. Kay Binay gumanda ang buhay ng kabataan sa Makati.” But one of those numbers, 09183621622, sent me another message four days later, on Mar. 17, as follows: “Pakiusap po sa mga tagasuporta ng United Action team ni VM Mercado. Huwag po tayong maglaglagan//. May naririnig kami na may mga kandidato tayong konsehal na nagkakanya-kanya na. Huwag po tayong padala sa junking.”
The message, as read, sounds as though it came from Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, who is battling Binay’s son Jun-Jun for Binay’s old seat. But in fact it is deliberate deception. It feigns concern about junking, but in truth it seeks to throw Mercado’s camp into turmoil or, indeed, trigger the actual junking it is allegedly concerned about.
Nice work, if you can get (away with) it.