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‘How many were not filmed?’: Calls to end police brutality renewed after cop killed mother and son in Tarlac

By Catalina Ricci S. Madarang – December 21, 2020, Philstar.com/Interaksyon

Calls to end police brutality dominated conversations online on Monday after a cop was caught in a viral video killing an unarmed mother and son in Paniqui, Tarlac.

Police officer later identified as Senior Master Sergeant  Jonel Nuezca on Sunday shot 52-year-old Sonya Gregorio and her son, Frank Anthony Gregorio, 25, over an altercation regarding the latter’s use of “boga,” an improvised noisemaker used during the holidays in the Philippines.

Nuezca, who was reportedly assigned to the Parañaque City Crime laboratory, surrendered at the Rosales Pangasinan Municipal Police Station an hour after the incident.

He also turned over his PNP-issued 9mm semi-auto pistol that was used in the crime.

In an interview with GMA News’ “Unang Balita,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Noriel Rombaoa, chief of the Paniqui Police, said that the suspect went to the victims’ houses to confront them.

“Pumunta yung police sa bahay ng biktima at nagkaroon ng pagtatalo, naungkat ang matagal na nilang alitan sa right-of-way,” he said.

Nuezca refused to say anything except he regrets shooting the two victims, Rombaoa added. He also stated that the former will face a double murder complaint from the local police.

Data from Police Regional Office III chief Police Brigadier General Val de Leon showed that Nuezca had faced grave misconduct or homicide cases in May and December last year. However, these cases were dismissed due to lack of substantial evidence.

Nuezca had faced grave misconduct (homicide) cases in May and December 2019. Both, however, were dismissed due to lack of substantial evidence.

Stop the killings

Several hashtags and the phrase “My father is a policeman”
dominated the top five spots on Twitter Philippines’ trending list on Monday as concerned Filipinos and human rights advocates called to end police brutality in the Philippines.

The phrase was uttered by the daughter of Nuezca during the altercation between the victims and her policeman father, seconds before the Gregorios were shot dead.

Nuezca’s daughter also received backlash online for this remark. Twitter user @lakwatsarah, said that the daughter might have been raised to believe that her father is above the law.

“She was probably raised to believe he can shoot anyone who messes with them. He shot them. He made that choice. The daughter is a victim of his parenting,” she said.

Aside from this phrase, the hashtags in the local Twitter’s top trending list as of writing are:

  1. #StopTheKillingsPH with over 670,000 tweets
  2. #JusticeforSonyaGregoria with over 360,000 tweets
  3. #EndPoliceBrutality with over 286,000 tweets
  4. #Pulisangterorista with over 191,000 tweets

The calls for justice for Sonya and Frank Gregorio were also launched on Facebook.

Progressive groups such as the League of Filipino Students and Gabriela Youth issued separate statements that denounced Nuezca’s brutal act and other cases of abuse and killings in the Philippines.

‘How many were not filmed?’

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said that the shooting incident in Paniqui is an “isolated incident.” He also said that “the sin of Nuezca is not the sin of the entire Philippine National Police.”

“This is an unfortunate but isolated incident. While there are unfortunate incidents like this, the vast majority of our PNP personnel perform their sworn duties everyday with honor and integrity to protect and serve the people,” Año said.

Writers Emiliana Kampilan or “Dead Balagtas” and Alfonso Manalastas, however, noted the possible deaths at the hands of the police and the military that were not caught on camera.

Bar 2019 topnotcher Kenneth Manuel echoed the similar view and questioned if there were more underreported victims.

“Minsan mapapaisip ka na lang, ilan na kaya nakitil nito pero hindi lang naibalita? Mas mapapaisip ka, ilan kaya sa kanila ang kayang pumatay ng ganito?” Manuel wrote.

Several concerned Filipinos also questioned this possibility, while citing that drug suspects were killed before because they allegedly fought back or “nanlaban” but there were no videos to prove them.

Detained Sen. Leila De Lima in 2018 called out the government and former presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo for using the “nanlaban” narrative.

“I cannot allow Panelo to continue to poison the public’s mind with the Duterte administration’s oft-repeated but flawed proposition that the increasing number of deaths due to the crackdown on drugs was because suspected drug offenders have all resisted police arrest with violence,” she said in December 2018.

Meanwhile, others lamented the Christmas bonuses police officers received despite the reported brutality.

“Tapos mas mataas ang bonus ng mga pulis kaysa health workers?” he said.

Not the first time

Data from World Population Review showed that in 2020, the Philippines ranked third among the countries with the highest cases of police killings wherein 3,451 people were killed or a rate of 322 victims per 10 million people.

In a September report from US-based Human Rights Watch, citing government data, the PNP killed 50% more people between April and July of this year despite the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

HRW noted that this figure is only for deaths in police anti-drug operations.

Last June, the rising cases of police abuse in the Philippines which happened before and during the pandemic were juxtaposed to the killings perpetrated by the police in the United States.

The death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black American who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis triggered a nationwide campaign for equal rights for all people of color.

RELATED: ‘I can’t breathe!,’ ‘Tama na po’: Police brutality in US, Philippines juxtaposed

Duterte’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ remarks

Some Filipinos blamed such rogue activities among PNP members on President Rodrigo Duterte’s continuous “shoot-to-kill” remarks since he took office in 2016.

In a televised address aired last December 16, Duterte denied ordering the police to “shoot to kill” civilians.

“May mga pulis na talagang may ano sa — diretso salvage ganoon. Wala akong inutos na ganoon. Remember, in all of my utterances, ang galit ko ‘yan when I say, ‘Do not destroy my country, the Republic of the Philippines, who elected me as President. Do not destroy our sons and daughters because I will kill you.’ Sabi ko — hindi ko sinabi, ‘They impede, they will kill you.’ The military will… I said, ‘I will kill you,’” the said.

“Pero sabi ko, ito, ‘Go out and destroy the apparatus.’ Iyan. Pagka nagkabarilan diyan in destroying the apparatus, goodbye ka. Kaya sabi ko, ‘Ako, I take full responsibility for my order.’ ‘But remember,’ I said, ‘enforce the law in accordance with what you have learned then self-defense.’ Defense of ano ‘yan. Stranger kung kasama mo. In law it’s called a stranger, maski kilala mo. Defense of relative,” he also said.

‘Walk the talk’

Amid the outrage on Nuezca’s brutal act both Paniqui Police chief Rombaoa and PNP chief Police General Major Debold Sinas reminded their colleagues to observe “maximum tolerance.”

“Sa mga kasamahan po natin sa pulisya, dapat self-control kasi nga maximum tolerance tayo, tayo ang may armas. Kung merong umaagrabiyado sa atin merong right forum po riyan, pwede nating kasuhan, not to the point na gagamitin natin ang baril natin,” Rombaoa was quoted as saying.“Lagi nating tandaan ang ating sinumpaang tungkulin bilang tagapagpatupad ng batas. We should walk the talk in the PNP,” Sinas said. #

‘Aswang’ Documentary Review: Do Not Dare Look Away

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - JULY 23: (EDITORS NOTE: Image contains graphic content.) Two women cry in grief after armed assailants in a motorcycle shot their loved one in a main thoroughfare on July 23, 2016 in Manila, Philippines. The victim was an alleged drug peddler a claim disputed by his wife and maintained her husband is nothing more than a pedicab driver plying his trade when he was shot in front of her. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared a war on crime and drugs after winning the presidential elections on May 9, 2016. President Duterte has recently been living up to his nickname, 'The Punisher', as Philippine police have been conducting night time drug raids on almost a daily basis. With reports of at least 300 drug related deaths since the start of July, Human rights groups and the Catholic church have objected to the use of brutal force by the Police. (Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)

July 20, 2020/

By L.S. Mendizabal

Kodao Productions

Pumarito ka. Bahala ka, kukunin ka ng aswang diyan! (Come here, or else the aswang will get you!)” is a threat often directed at Filipino children by their mothers. In fact, you can’t be Filipino without having heard it at least once in your life. For as early as in childhood, we are taught to fear creatures we’ve only seen in nightmares triggered by bedtime stories told by our Lolas.

In Philippine folklore, an “aswang” is a shape-shifting monster that roams in the night to prey on people or animals for survival. They may take a human form during the day. The concept of “monster” was first introduced to us in the 16th century by the Spanish to demonize animist shamans, known as “babaylan” and “asog,” in order to persuade Filipino natives to abandon their “anitos” (nature, ancestor spirits) and convert to Roman Catholicism—a colonizing tactic that proved to be effective from Luzon to Northern Mindanao.

In the early 1950s, seeing that Filipinos continued to be superstitious, the Central Intelligence Agency weaponized folklore against the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap), an army of mostly local peasants who opposed US intervention in the country following our victory over the Japanese in World War II. The CIA trained the Philippine Army to butcher and puncture holes in the dead bodies of kidnapped Huk fighters to make them look like they were bitten and killed by an aswang. They would then pile these carcasses on the roadside where the townspeople could see them, spreading fear and terror in the countryside. Soon enough, people stopped sympathizing with and giving support to the Huks, frightened that the aswang might get them, too.

Fast forward to a post-Duterte Philippines wherein the sight of splayed corpses has become as common as of the huddled living bodies of beggars in the streets. Under the harsh, flickering streetlights, it’s difficult to tell the dead and the living apart. This is one of many disturbing images you may encounter in Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s Aswang. The documentary, which premiered online and streamed for free for a limited period last weekend, chronicles the first two years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign on illegal drugs. “Oplan Tokhang” authorized the Philippine National Police to conduct a door-to-door manhunt of drug dealers and/or users. According to human rights groups, Tokhang has killed an estimated 30,000 Filipinos, most of whom were suspected small-time drug offenders without any actual charges filed against them. A pattern emerged of eerily identical police reports across cases: They were killed in a “neutralization” because they fought back (“nanlaban”) with a gun, which was the same rusty .38 caliber pistol repeatedly found along with packets of methamphetamine (“shabu”) near the bloodied corpses. When children and innocent people died during operations, PNP would call them “collateral damage.” Encouraged by Duterte himself, there were also vigilante killings too many to count. Some were gunned down by unidentified riding-in-tandem suspects, while some ended up as dead bodies wrapped in duct tape, maimed or accessorized with a piece of cardboard bearing the words, “Pusher ako, huwag tularan” (I’m a drug pusher, do not emulate). Almost all the dead casualties shared one thing in common: they were poor. Virtually no large-scale drug lord suffered the same fate they did.

And for a while, it was somehow tempting to call it “fate.” Filipinos were being desensitized to the sheer number of drug-related extrajudicial killings (a thousand a month, according to the film). “Nanlaban” jokes and memes circulated on Facebook and news of slain Tokhang victims were no longer news as their names and faces were reduced to figures in a death toll that saw no end.

As much as Aswang captures the real horrors and gore of the drug war, so has it shown effectively the abnormal “sense of normal” in the slums of Manila as residents deal with Tokhang on the daily. Fearing for their lives has become part of their routine along with making sure they have something to eat or slippers on their feet. This biting everyday reality is highlighted by Arumpac’s storytelling unlike that of any documentary I’ve ever seen. Outlined by poetic narration with an ominous tone that sounds like a legitimately hair-raising ghost story, Aswang transports the audience, whether they like it or not, from previously seeing Tokhang exclusively on the news to the actual scenes of the crime and funerals through the eyes of four main individuals: a nightcrawler photojournalist and dear family friend, Ciriaco Santiago III (“Brother Jun” to many), a funeral parlor operator, a street kid and an unnamed woman.

Along with other nightcrawlers, Bro. Jun waits for calls or texts alerting them of Tokhang killings all over Manila’s nooks and crannies. What sets him apart from the others, perhaps motivated by his mission as Redemptorist Brother, is that he speaks to the families of the murdered victims to not only obtain information but to comfort them. In fact, Bro. Jun rarely speaks throughout the film. Most of the time, he’s just listening, his brows furrowed with visible concern and empathy. It’s as if the bereaved are confessing to him not their own transgressions but those committed against them by the state. One particular scene that really struck me is when he consoles a middle-aged man whose brother was just killed not far from his house. “Kay Duterte ako pero mali ang ginawa nila sa kapatid ko” (I am for Duterte but what they did to my brother was wrong), he says to Bro. Jun in between sobs. Meanwhile, a mother tells the story of how her teenage son went out with friends and never came home. His corpse later surfaced in a mortuary. “Just because Duterte gave [cops] the right to kill, some of them take advantage because they know there won’t be consequences,” she angrily says in Filipino before wailing in pain while showing Bro. Jun photos of her son smiling in selfies and then laying pale and lifeless at the morgue.

The Eusebio Funeral Services is a setting in the film that becomes as familiar as the blood-soaked alleys of the city. Its operator is an old man who gives the impression of being seasoned in his profession. And yet, nothing has prepared him for the burden of accommodating at least five cadavers every night when he was used to only one to two a week. When asked where all the unclaimed bodies go, he casually answers, “mass burial.” We later find out at the local cemetery that “mass burial” is the stacking of corpses in tiny niches they designated for the nameless and kinless. Children pause in their games as they look on at this crude interment, after which a man seals the niche with hollow blocks and wet cement, ready to be smashed open again for the next occupant/s. At night, the same cemetery transforms into a shelter for the homeless whose blanketed bodies resemble those covered in cloth at Eusebio Funeral Services.

Tama na po, may exam pa ako bukas” (Please stop, I still have an exam tomorrow). 17-year-old high school student, Kian Delo Santos, pleaded for his life with these words before police shot him dead in a dark alley near his home. The documentary takes us to this very alley without the foreknowledge that the corpse we see on the screen is in fact Kian’s. At his wake, we meet Jomari, a little boy who looks not older than seven but talks like a grown man. He fondly recalls Kian as a kind friend, short of saying that there was no way he could’ve been involved in drugs. Jomari should know, his parents are both in jail for using and peddling drugs. At a very young age, he knows that the cops are the enemy and that he must run at the first sign of them. Coupled with this wisdom and prematurely heightened sense of self-preservation is Jomari’s innocence, glimpses of which we see when he’s thrilled to try on new clothes and when he plays with his friends. Children in the slums are innocent but not naïve. They play with wild abandon but their exchanges are riddled with expletives, drugs and violence. They even reenact a Tokhang scene where the cops beat up and shoot a victim.

Towards the end of the film, a woman whose face is hidden and identity kept private gives a brief interview where, like the children drawing monsters only they could see in horror movies, she sketches a prison cell she was held in behind a bookshelf. Her interview alternates with shots of the actual secret jail that was uncovered by the press in a police station in Tondo in 2017. “Naghuhugas lang po ako ng pinggan n’ung kinuha nila ‘ko!” (I was just washing the dishes when they took me!), screams one woman the very second the bookshelf is slid open like a door. Camera lights reveal the hidden cell to be no wider than a corridor with no window, light or ventilation. More than ten people are inside. They later tell the media that they were abducted and have been detained for a week without cases filed against them, let alone a police blotter. They slept in their own shit and urine, were tortured and electrocuted by the cops, and told that they’d only be released if they paid the PNP money ranging from 10 000 to 100 000 pesos. Instead of being freed that day, their papers are processed for their transfer to different jails.

Aswang is almost surreal in its depiction of social realities. It is spellbinding yet deeply disturbing in both content and form. Its extremely violent visuals and hopelessly bleak scenes are eclipsed by its more delicate moments: Bro. Jun praying quietly by his lonesome after a night of pursuing trails of blood, Jomari clapping his hands in joyful glee as he becomes the owner of a new pair of slippers, an old woman playing with her pet dog in an urban poor community, a huge rally where protesters demand justice for all the victims of EJKs and human rights violations, meaning that they were not forgotten. It’s also interesting to note that while the film covers events in a span of two years, the recounting of these incidents is not chronological as seen in Bro. Jun’s changing haircuts and in Jomari’s unchanging outfit from when he gets new slippers to when he’s found after months of going missing. Without naming people, places and even dates, with Arumpacletting the poor do most of the heavy lifting bysimply telling their stories on state terrorism and impunity in their own language, Aswang succeeds in demonstrating how Duterte’s war on drugs is, in reality, a genocide of the poor, elevating the film beyond numb reportage meant to merely inform the public to being a testament to the people’s struggle. The scattered sequence, riveting images, sinister music and writing that borrows elements from folklore and the horror genre make Aswang feel more like a dream than a documentary—a nightmare, to be precise. And then, a rude awakening. The film compels us to replay and review Oplan Tokhang by bringing the audience to a place of such intimate and troubling closeness with the dead and the living they had left behind.

Its unfiltered rawness makes Aswang a challenging yet crucial watch. Blogger and company CEO, Cecile Zamora, wrote on her Instagram stories that she only checked Aswang out since it was trending but that she gave up 23 minutes in because it depressed her, declaring the documentary “not worth her mental health” and discouraging her 52,000 followers from watching it, too. Naturally, her tone-deaf statements went viral on Twitter and in response to the backlash, she posted a photo of a Tokhang victim’s family with a caption that said she bought them a meal and gave them money as if this should exempt her from criticism and earn her an ally cookie, instead.

 Aswang is definitely not a film about privileged Filipinos like Zamora—who owns designer handbags and lives in a luxurious Ed Calma home—but this doesn’t make the documentary any less relevant or necessary for them to watch. Zamora missed the point entirely: Aswang is supposed to make her and the rest of us feel upset! It nails the purpose of art in comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable. It establishes that the only aswang that exists is not a precolonial shaman or a shape-shifting monster, but fear itself—the fear that dwells within us that is currently aggravated and used by a fascist state to force us into quiet submission and apathy towards the most marginalized sectors of society.

Before the credits roll, the film verbalizes its call to action in the midst of the ongoing slaughter of the poor and psychological warfare by the Duterte regime:

“Kapag sinabi nilang may aswang, ang gusto talaga nilang sabihin ay, ‘Matakot ka.’ Itong lungsod na napiling tambakan ng katawan ay lalamunin ka, tulad ng kung paano nilalamon ng takot ang tatag. Pero meron pa ring hindi natatakot at nagagawang harapin ang halimaw. Dito nagsisimula.” (When they say there’s a monster, what they really want to say is “be afraid.” This city, chosen to be the dumpsite of the dead, will devour you as fear devours courage. But there are still those who are not afraid and are able to look the monster in the eye. This is where it begins).

During these times, when an unjust congressional vote recently shut down arguably the country’s largest multimedia network in an effort to stifle press freedom and when the Anti-Terrorism Law is now in effect, Aswang should be made more accessible to the masses because it truly is a must-see for every Filipino, and by “must-see,” I mean, “Don’t you dare look away.” #

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References:

Buan, L. (2020). “UN Report: Documents suggest PH Police Planted Guns in Drug War Ops”. Rappler. Retrieved from https://rappler.com/nation/united-nations-report-documents-suggest-philippine-police-planted-guns-drug-war-operations

Ichimura, A., & Severino, A. (2019). “How the CIA Used the Aswang to Win a War in the Philippines”. Esquire. Retrieved from https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/features/cia-aswang-war-a00304-a2416-20191019-lfrm

Lim, B. C. (2015). “Queer Aswang Transmedia: Folklore as Camp”. Kritika Kultura, 24. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3mj1k076

Tan, L. (2017). “Duterte Encourages Vigilante Killings, Tolerates Police Modus – Human Rights Watch”. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/03/02/Duterte-PNP-war-on-drugs-Human-Rights-Watch.html

Cybeattacks:Black hat SEO operators sabotage PH news sites with toxic backlinks

Aug 8, 2022, PHT, Gemma B. Mendoza

EXCLUSIVE: Spammy domains have been attacking news websites with toxic backlinks since late 2021. A possible motive: to get these sites downranked in search results.

MANILA, Philippines – Ahead of the May 2022 elections, Rappler and a number of other Philippine news websites found themselves at the receiving end of heightened distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

A number of newsrooms, including ABS-CBN news, GMA News, Rappler, Philstar, Vera Files, Altermidya, Bulatlat, CNN Philippines, were affected by the attacks. At their peak, newsrooms struggled to keep their websites up while readers trying to access the sites affected were being served 403 or 404 error messages.

This was not the first time media organizations in the Philippines were targeted. Prior to the DDoS attacks, newsrooms and journalists were subjected to vilification campaigns on social media by pro-Duterte administration social media influencers and social media propaganda channels.

To unmask the attackers, we worked with Sweden-based digital forensics nonprofit Qurium Media to investigate data from the floods to Rappler, ABS-CBN, and Vera Files. Qurium found that one of the methods used by the botnet – the network of devices used to launch the cyberattacks – included tapping several thousands of domains classified as “referrer spam.”

Referrer spam is a black hat digital marketing technique that involves flooding a website with fake visits coming from fake referrer URLs so they would appear in the traffic logs of the target site.

CYBERATTACK. This was the error message that users of Rappler and other news websites were seeing while the sites were under heavy attack.

The goal of spammers, according to industry insiders, is to get the attention of webmasters and prod them to click on the URLs in their analytics dashboard.

This is abusive behavior as it slows down the target site and takes up resources without really resulting in pageviews. On a massive scale, and depending on how robust the hosting system of the target site is, this could cause websites to go down. This happened in the case of the newsrooms affected by the DDoS attacks.

More importantly, this further deprives the public of verified and valuable information, which is already being buried by memes and fake news. One of the incidents of these cyberattacks was staged while media groups were busy covering the impact of Typhoon Odette in the Visayas. Another attack was launched in the middle of a presidential debate.

New attacks

The DDoS attacks on Rappler and most of the news sites have since died down. Our tech team managed to implement a host of mitigating measures to stop the botnets from crippling us. We also published stories exposing potential actors behind the attacks. 

But it’s wishful thinking to believe they have stopped planning for the next round of attacks.

In late July, while investigating a sudden drop in traffic coming from search results, Rappler uncovered thousands of backlinks from what was flagged by a search monitoring tool as “toxic domains.” These are websites built through automated link-building schemes, often of poor quality and with very little content.

The tool found over 1,300 of these referring domains, which have very high toxicity scores, to have been barraging the site with a “suspicious number of backlinks.”

WARNING SIGNS. Alert notices on the dashboard of a search monitoring tool, informing news site webmasters of new toxic domains and domains sending in suspicious numbers of backlinks.
Impact of negative SEO

Getting linked to is desired by website owners. In fact, news websites – because they usually regularly produce updated unique, credible, and informative content – rank well in search results because they naturally get a lot of backlinks.

But numerous links coming from toxic, spammy sites is a different story. Left unchecked, this could bring down traffic to those targeted or affected sites.

This is double-whammy for news websites already struggling from loss of traffic from Facebook, which has steadily deprioritized news pages on its news feed over the past years.

News websites affected

The bulk of the backlinks to the news websites examined were from low-authority sites. This is not necessarily bad as some newly-created sites might only be starting to gain authority and quality backlinks.

What is alarming are indicators that a substantial number of backlinks are from potential spam sites.

An initial scan of backlinks to other Philippine news websites revealed that Rappler is not the only one being targeted by link spammers. Signs of potential spam attacks were found with respect to linkbacks to the websites of ABS-CBN News, Philstar, and Vera Files.

In the case of Rappler, the tool further uncovered 64,295 domains which could be potentially linked to one another through the same IP addresses, same Google Analytics IDs, same Adsense IDs, same url paths, same page title domains, multiple same root subdomains, or mirror pages. Backlinks with these markers, according to the tool, can signal link networks. It further said this could also be a sign of a spam attack.

In all, these potential spammy domains have created 400,351 backlinks that targeted Rappler.

POTENTIAL SPAM ATTACK. Screenshots from the dashboard of a search optimization audit tool alerts of potential link networks with backlinks to news websites. The tool says this could be a sign of a spam attack.

Of these domains, 50,452, accounting for a total of 221,067 backlinks to Rappler, have very low authority scores. A further 2,170 domains of these domains, accounting for a total of 10,676 backlinks, have very high toxicity scores.

In the case of Philstar, 52,558 domains accounting for a total of 357,889 backlinks bear the markers of potential link networks. Of these, 38,593 domains accounting for a total of 177,697 backlinks have very low authority scores, while 1,196 domains accounting for 5,772 backlinks have very high toxicity scores.

In the case of Vera Files, the other Filipino 3rd party fact check partner of Facebook, 17,753 backlinks were found, of which a total of 10,065 were from 2,179 potential spam domains. Of these linkbacks, 3,743 came from 1,373 domains which have very low authority domains. A total of 102 of these linkbacks are from 29 toxic domains.

Poor quality to no content

Backlink data for Rappler, ABS-CBN News, and Philstar show that a number of the top referring domains, meaning websites from which the most number of backlinks originated, have over 500 backlinks to these news sites.

A quick review of the “toxic” websites showed that many of the URLs linking back from these domains have either no content or very little content. In cases where the pages did have content, the content was either unintelligible or clearly produced through automated content spinning techniques. This means they are not real articles or real content at all.

Most of the pages found to be linking back to Rappler and Philstar were not even visibly linking. Instead, they were abusing website resources by “hotlinking,” or by directly rendering images from these websites on their webpages. Below are examples of these sites. 

LINK ABUSE. These are examples of dubious apps hotlinking to photos on Rappler and Philstar. Apps developed through Web services that simplify web app development, like Netlify and Firebase, have been used to launch the spam link attacks.

Hotlinking is also considered abusive and akin to stealing because it does not only use a target website’s assets, it also uses up that website’s bandwidth. In short, the target website owner bears the server costs without necessarily benefiting in terms of monetizable pageviews. It also potentially infringes on copyrighted material.

One of the keywords toxic backlinks have been targeting on the Rappler site is the keyword “crowdfunding.” What is significant here is that instead of linking to Rappler’s crowdfunding page, the spammy pages have been linking to non-existent subdomains on Rappler.

SABOTAGE. Automated link building schemes attempt to divert searches for “crowdfunding” to pages that do not exist on Rappler.

Similar abusive spammy links have been targeting odd keywords on the websites of ABS-CBN News, Philstar, and Vera Files.

The links below targeted the keywords “6841 philstar.com” on the Philippine Star website. A quick search on Google shows that Philippine Star does not seem to have this content.


RANDOM KEYWORDS. Example of random keywords being used to spam the website of Philstar.com

This type of spam attack was also observed on the website of ABS-CBN News using keyword “5651. Abs-cbnnews.com.”

MORE SPAM. Like Philstar and Rappler, the website of ABS-CBN News was also a target of spammy backlinks targeting random keywords.

Some of the spammy websites were flagged by Google Chrome as potentially dangerous. Below is a screenshot of one of the websites spamming the website of Vera Files, one of the two Filipino 3rd party fact check partners of Facebook.  

DECEPTIVE SITES WARNING. Chrome displays this notice when a user attempts to access one of the websites which has been spamming the website of Vera Files.
Election ramp up?

It is difficult to detect when exactly the spam operations began. Quick checks using the SEO audit tool showed that a number of these toxic backlinks were “recent.”

One indicator is the growth in the ratio of referring domains to backlinks, which went through the roof from November 2021 to June 2022 in the case of both Vera Files and Rappler.

Prior to this, the number of backlinks had been growing at a fairly similar pace as the growth in the number of referring domains – an indicator of healthy and organic link generation pattern naturally derived from quality and credible content. 

PRE-ELECTION BUILD-UP. The number of domains found by the tool to have a ‘suspicious number of backlinks’ increased exponentially ahead of the 2022 elections.

The fact that traffic to news websites tends to grow as election coverage heats up could partly explain this. But a closer examination of the top referring domains, which included the toxic sites identified, showed this does not fully explain this level of link buildup nearing elections. It is possible that this was the period when there was a buildup of websites which the tool described as having a “suspicious number of backlinks.”

This period is also right about the time when Philippine newsrooms were being subjected to numerous intense DDoS attacks. 

A website would normally not have that many backlinks to another website unless they are partners or are collaborating with each other. Examples of these were backlinks to Vera Files from Tsek.PH, an election-related collaborative fact-checking effort. Rappler also heavily linked to the websites of newsrooms it collaborated with under the #FactsFirstPH initiative. An indicator that would show this is related content, which would explain the cross-referencing, as in the cases mentioned.

Rappler found that some low quality domains to Vera Files had targeted the website of the fact check group with between 100 to over 300 backlinks. What is significant is that the content of these domains were not even related to the typical content on Vera Files.

A number of toxic domains barraged the websites ABS-CBN News, Philstar, and Rappler with as many as over 500 backlinks each.

Shifting attack tactics?

At the time we investigated these cyberattacks, Tord Lundström, technical director at Qurium Media, noted that the use of referral spam for DDoS was “a very specific signature” not often seen in typical denial of service attacks. “You need many IP addresses and many URLs to create this type of traffic.”

He concluded that the ones behind the attack probably hired one of the existing blackhat SEO operations that has access to this other type of business.

Spammy link referrals are discouraged by Google. It is not in the interest of the news websites concerned to engage in this practice both because of the impact on server resources and the resulting penalties that could be imposed on them if they are found to be engaging in manipulative link-building schemes.

The question is what do these attackers get from doing this?

Sabotage

Many of these potential spammy sites were produced using free services like Netlify, Firebase, and Blogspot. But this does not mean that the whole spam operation was not without costs.

For one thing, tools need to be bought. The software for building backlinks that Rappler found costs around P5,500. A tool that allows breaking through captcha mechanisms meant to prevent automated mechanisms for account creation costs around 7,700.  Another tool for automatically generating content costs another P7,400.

But even if the tools are already available, building these websites and backlinks – at the scale it was done here – still requires tremendous time and effort.

Considering potential penalties for unethical link-building schemes, using these techniques clearly does no good for the news websites concerned.

Since many of these do not even have content or have poor content, it is doubtful that the builders of the websites are able to monetize them through advertising as typically done before. Some of the pages that we found did not even have advertising. Below is an example.

Since there is very little other value the spammers themselves could derive from the websites we discovered, the only apparent purpose of the spam backlinks is sabotage.

Unfortunately, unless search giants recognize this as a threat to the information ecosystem, the only way to fend off these spam attacks is constant monitoring – something many newsrooms in the country do not have the resources for. – Rappler.com

‘Maid in Malacañang’: A biased review

By: Ambeth R. Ocampo – @inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer /August 05, 2022

Much of what is said online against “Maid in Malacañang” are from people who haven’t even watched the film. Full disclosure, I endured the film in Ayala Cebu the other day, so this frank review is not tsismis. But the film, largely based on one unidentified person’s jaundiced narrative, is tsismis.

Despite the distribution of thousands of complimentary movie passes and a captive 30 million fanbase, the theater was not as jampacked as I expected it to be. To be fair, viewers were attentive, laughed in the right places, and applauded at the end. I joined in the clapping too, but more from relief than appreciation. Almost two hours of Cristine Reyes as Imee Marcos bought me perpetual plenary indulgences. Imee was depicted as a pouting, petulant, entitled b*tch in the opening scene who degenerated into a shrill, hysterical banshee for most of the film. As creative consultant and producer of the film, one wonders if Imee approved of the director’s treatment that failed to encourage pity, or at least empathy, for the Marcoses in their last 72 hours in Malacañang before they were driven into exile by the 1986 people power.

In one scene, Imee emerges dolled up like Madonna to spite her terno-iconic mother, confident in the affection of her doting father. In contrast, Bongbong, in military fatigues the whole film, was depicted as a whimpering child of a man desperate for his father’s attention and approval. To add insult to injury, Bongbong appears in an Oedipal scene in bed with his mother, who wails about being driven from the Palace, never to return. Then and there, Bongbong vows that they shall return, with the scene concluding with the camera focusing on one pair of Imelda’s fabled 3,000 shoes, with an inventory tag that reads: “IRM 2022.”

Irene Marcos Araneta, the least political, the most good-looking, and lovable of the three Marcos children, was badly played by Ella Cruz, she who said “history is like tsismis.” Unlike the real Irene, the reel version is a clueless idiot. Cruz was provided with a dramatic scene, where she tries to convince her father to leave the Palace. Alas, her whining and mock tears will not win her a FAMAS Award and that is not tsismis. This pivotal scene has Cesar Montano as Ferdinand Marcos Sr. asking the viewers: “Masama ba akong tao?” History has answered that rhetorical question: He was driven from the Palace, hounded by lawsuits till the day he died in exile in Hawaii. The suppressed Marcos narrative, provided by Imee Marcos, is that the Marcoses were driven from Malacañang by fair weather friends who looked down on them for their provincial and nonelitist origins.

Some years ago, after a presentation on the Marcos Diaries at the East-West Center in Hawaii, the first question from the floor came from a crying lady who identified herself as one of the nurses who accompanied the Marcoses into exile. She took exception to my saying that the Marcoses fled the Palace in 1986, and declared: “Marcos did not flee, he was kidnapped by the Americans, and flown to Hawaii instead of Paoay.” I replied, “If the Marcoses and their close-in staff were not airlifted by the Americans from Manila to Hawaii and the mob caught them in Malacañang, perhaps you would not be alive to ask your question.”

The three maids in Malacañang echo the above sentiments with a new twist: The 1986 revolution was peaceful because the Marcoses didn’t retaliate; they didn’t want violence, pain, and death. Cesar Montano’s talents were not maximized in the film, his performance wooden and colorless as the grainy archival footage of Marcos declaring martial law in 1972. Marcos looks trim in a barong, weak in the crumpled clothes and funny hat he appeared with on his arrival in Hawaii, a far cry from the wasted man who left soiled diapers in Malacañang.

“Maid in Malacañang” is a film—it should not be judged as a doctoral dissertation in history. Our challenge is separating fact from fiction, recognizing history from the director’s artistic license or flights of fancy. Cory Aquino playing mahjong with Carmelite nuns when the fate of the nation hung in a balance is way over the top. Leaving the theater, I felt sorry for President Marcos Jr., who was badly portrayed. What the President and his supporters should ask in the aftermath of this twisted retelling of history is, with an ate or eldest sister like this, who needs enemies?

—————-

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

Pelikulang deodorizer ng mga Marcos

By Christian Esguerra, Aug 03, 2022

VERA Files welcomes Christian Esguerra, one of the credible journalists in the country today.

Starting now, VERA Files followers will be treated to Christian’s sharp and insightful commentaries once a week. Christian will be drawing from his experience as print and broadcast journalist and journalism professor. He is currently active online in his YouTube channel and his FactsFirst podcast (see here).

Watch his first commentary for VERA Files here:

‘Drug war’ victims’ kin still hopeful despite Marcos rejecting Philippines’ return to ICC

Xave Gregorio – Philstar.com, August 2, 2022

MANILA, Philippines — Families of victims of the “War on Drugs” waged by the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte still remain hopeful even as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. stated that the country “has no intention” of rejoining the International Criminal Court, which is pushing for an investigation into the bloody anti-illegal drugs campaign.

“Drug war” victims’ kin were “quite prepared” for Marcos to adopt his predecessor’s stance toward the international court that tries crimes against humanity, but still see “some glimmer of hope” in the president’s previous statements, said lawyer Kristina Conti, who represents “drug war” victims’ families through the group Rise Up for Life and for Rights.

“Marcos claims to want justice for all,” Conti said Tuesday on CNN Philippines’ “The Source.” “And in seeing this and in moving forward in this campaign on the war on drugs, we were thinking that he would not, or no longer continue the bloody campaign as embodied by tokhang.”

Conti is cautious, however, that Marcos’ position on not letting the Philippines’ rejoin the ICC may also mean that his administration would not cooperate with the tribunal’s potential investigation.

As far as Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra is concerned, Marcos considered “the best interests of our country, with utmost regard for our national sovereignty” in deciding not to return to the fold of the ICC.

Oplan “Tokhang” — a portmanteau of Visayan words “toktok,” which means to knock, and “hangyo,” which means to plead — was the name given to the flagship anti-drug campaign of the Duterte administration chiefly orchestrated by former top cop turned Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.

The government’s tally as of February 2022 puts the number of people who died in anti-drug operations at 6,235, but human rights groups say this is an undercount as they peg the number of people who have died throughout the campaign closer to 30,000.

Duterte and Dela Rosa are among the officials of the previous administration implicated before the ICC for crimes against humanity by kin of “drug war” victims, who see no other recourse but to seek redress from the international tribunal.

“There is no investigation, genuine and credible enough to mirror what the ICC is doing,” Conti said.

Roque: Duterte to seek restraining order

But lawyer Harry Roque, former presidential spokesperson who now serves as private counsel to Duterte, claimed Tuesday on ANC’s “Headstart” that the ICC should only step in if a country is unwilling or unable to prosecute crimes against humanity, which he said the Philippines is fully capable of doing.

“Our courts, our legal institutions, are neither unwilling or unable and complainants should file their cases before Philippine institutions and not the ICC,” Roque said.

While the Philippines under Duterte promised to conduct its own investigation on the “drug war” deaths, the ICC was left unsatisfied and is eager to conduct its own probe.

The country has until September 8 to provide the ICC a response to ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan’s request to pursue the investigation, while the victims and their legal representatives have until September 22 to submit additional reports to the tribunal.

Should the ICC decide to continue with an investigation and even issue an arrest warrant against Duterte, Roque said the former president would seek a local court to order police not to serve the warrant against him.

“He will argue that the Philippine courts are able and willing to prosecute these cases and therefore there is no basis for foreign institutions to interfere. And this is a consequence of being a sovereign country,” Roque said.

He reiterated a long-standing position of the Duterte administration that he served under —  during which he defended the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC despite having lobbied for it — and said that the president will only face trial for his alleged crimes before local courts.

“Under no circumstance will he allow any foreign prosecutor, any foreign judge, any foreign prosecutor to exercise jurisdiction over him,” Roque said.

Duterte pulled out the Philippines from its ratification of the Rome Statute after the ICC declared that it wanted to investigate the allegations of crimes against humanity in the Philippines.

The Philippines withdrew from the Court in March 2018, which then took effect the following year. While Manila is no longer a part of the ICC, the international body is still allowed to conduct investigations in the Philippines.

[OPINYON] Ang unang SONA ni BBM vs People’s Agenda

Jul 31, 2022 4:28 PM PHT

Tony La Viña, Bernardine de Belen

‘Nangingingibabaw pa rin ang paghahanap kung nasaan ang mamamayang Pilipino sa gobyernong ito’

Noong nakaraan, inilista namin ang mga dapat abangan at bantayan sa unang SONA ni Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Ngayong tapos na ang SONA, nararapat namang ikumpara ito sa 9-point People’s Agenda for Change na naglalayong ipahayag ang mga dapat pagtuunan ng pansin ni Marcos Jr. sa kanyang SONA. Nilikha ito ng People’s Summit kung saan bahagi ang IBON, Bayan, Makabayan Coalition, at iba pang mga progresibong grupo.

Una sa listahan ang ekonomiya. Sa People’s Agenda, sinasabing dapat nang tugunan ang inflation, suportahan ang national minimum wage, at wakasan ang kontraktwalisasyon. Binanggit din ang kakailanganan ng national industrialization upang mapalawig ang produksyon ng bansa. Sa SONA naman, nilatag ang pagbubuwis sa digital economy at pagpaparami sa tourism spots upang lumikha ng mga trabaho. Ang problema rito ay hindi agad mapapaginhawa ng buwis at turismo ang kamahalan ng bilihin. Kung iisipin, dagdag pa nga ang pagpataw ng buwis sa produkto sa kamahalan ng mga bilihin. Hindi rin mapatataas ng mga planong ito ang produksyon ng bansa.

Kasunod naman sa People’s Agenda ang agrikultura. Dinidiin dito ang pagsuporta sa agrikultura at food production ng bansa. Bahagi nito ang pagpapatigil ng land conversion, pagbibigay ng P15,000 subsidy sa mga magsasaka at mangingisda, at paglalaan ng 10% ng budget sa agrikultura. Kasama rin ang pagbawi ng Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) dahil lugi ang Pilipinong magsasaka sa nag-aangkat dito. Binanggit naman ni Marcos Jr. ang pagbibigay ng pinansyal at teknolohikal na tulong sa mga magsasaka pati na ang one-year moratorium sa pagbabayad ng lupaing sinasakahan. Sinabi ring magtatayo ng mga farm-to-market road para madala ang mga produkto sa merkado. Ngunit habang maayos ang mga planong ito, hindi binanggit ang RTL na direktang nagpapahirap sa mga magsasaka. Kailangan ding bantayan kung sino at gaano karaming magsasaka ang mararating ng tulong na sinasabi ng pangulo.

Susunod sa listahan ang proteksyon ng karapatang pantao. Ayon sa People’s Agenda, dapat nang itigil ang madugong drug war pati na ang NTF-ELCAC at ang Anti-Terror Law (ATL) na nandadahas sa oposisyon. Dapat ring palayain ang mga bilanggong politikal at bigyang katarungan ang mga biktima ng ng batas militar. Sa kabilang banda, binanggit sa SONA ang pagpapatibay ng Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act at pagbibigay ng counseling sa mga biktima. Walang ibang nabanggit ukol sa lantarang paglabag sa karapatang pantao sa drug war o ATL. Hindi rin humingi ng tawad si Marcos Jr. para sa karahasan ng batas militar ng sariling ama.

Isa pang mahalaga sa People’s Agenda ang pagtanggol sa freedom of expression at press freedom. Kasama rin dito ang paglaban sa disinformation na talamak noong kampanya. Bahagi rin nito ang pagbawi ng utos sa mga internet service provider na harangin ang ilang alternative media websites. Sa gitna ng paglaganap ng fake news at pag-atake sa malayang pamamahayag, walang binanggit ang pangulo na plano upang labanan ito.

Kasunod na hinihingi ang accountability sa pamahalaan. Dapat ay magkaroon ng zero-tolerance policy laban sa korupsyon pati na freedom of information. Ginagawa nitong accessible sa mga mamamayan ang mga operasyon ng gobyerno. Wala ring nabanggit tungkol sa accountability noong SONA.

Kabilang rin ang libreng health care at social services. Sa panahon ng pandemya at inflation, malaking tulong kung paglalaanan ng budget ang kalusugan, edukasyon at pabahay. Sa SONA, binanggit naman ang patuloy na pagbabakuna, at pagpapatayo ng Center for Disease Control and Prevention at mga health center upang makatulong sa pandemya. Ngunit sa kabila nito, walang nabanggit tungkol sa ibang social services at konkretong plano para sa ligtas na pagbalik-eskwela. Hindi rin nabanggit ang health care workers at nananatili pa ring walang DOH Secretary.

Nilatag din sa People’s Agenda ang pagtindig para sa ating soberanya. Kasama rito ang paggiit ng ating pagkapanalo sa West Philippine Sea. Sinabi ng pangulo sa SONA na hindi niya iiwan sa kamay ng dayuhan ang ating teritoryo ngunit walang konkretong plano na kasama ang pahayag na ito.

Dapat ding siguraduhin ang proteksyon ng kalikasan sa pamamagitan ng rehabilitation at conservation ng ating likas na yaman. Kasama rin dito ang pagtigil ng mga mapanira na mining operations at reclamation projects. Kailangan ding protektahan ang ating indigenous peoples (IP) na pinangangalagaan ang kalikasan. Sa SONA, nabanggit ang produksyon ng renewable energy ngunit walang ibang nilatag na plano para sa mga IP, at sa pag-alaga sa kalikasan.

Sa pagsisiyasat na ito, hindi maikakailang may potensyal ang ibang proyekto gaya ng pagbibigay-tulong sa mga magsasaka at pagbibigay-pansin sa renewable energy. Ngunit hindi rin maitatanggi na kung ikukumpara sa People’s Agenda, hindi sapat ang inilahad ni Marcos Jr. sa unang SONA. Kulang ang inilatag na mga plano upang matugunan ang mga hamon at paghihirap na dinaranas ng ating bansa. Patuloy ang pagtaas ng mga bilihin, ang pandadahas sa oposisyon, ang kakulangan ng mga trabaho. Kaya naman nangingingibabaw pa rin ang paghahanap kung nasaan ang mamamayang Pilipino sa gobyernong ito. Sino ba ang kasama sa pag-unlad na pinaplano ng bagong administrasyon? Hindi sapat ang ibinigay sa unang SONA, pinapatunayan nito na mas kilala pa rin ng ordinaryong mamamayan ang ating mga pangangailangan bilang isang bayan. – Rappler.com

Tony La Viña teaches law and is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.

Bernardine de Belen recently graduated from Ateneo de Manila University with a Creative Writing degree. She has just joined Manila Observatory as a research assistant.

Ang-See: I can’t just watch historical distortion

By: Dempsey Reyes – Reporter / @dempseyreyesINQ

Philippine Daily Inquirer / July 31, 2022

MANILA, Philippines — The film “Maid in Malacañang,” which supposedly depicts the last 72 hours of Ferdinand Marcos and his family in the presidential palace before they fled the country in disgrace in 1986 could be a top grosser, albeit through arm-twisting, if word about alleged forced ticket sales were true.

Chinese-Filipino civic leader Teresita Ang-See disclosed on Saturday that some business groups were called upon by Sen. Imee Marcos, the late ousted dictator’s daughter, to purchase millions of pesos worth of tickets for the movie for distribution to various schools.

Ang-See, an academician and social activist, said there were “many schools” that had been given the tickets. She said she knew of one business group that was allegedly tapped by the senator to buy 5,000 tickets worth P1.5 million.

Ang-See refused to identify the business group so as not to “single them out,” considering that many others had been approached to promote the movie.

In a statement that has been circulating on Facebook and other social media platforms since Friday, she said that the distribution of the tickets was “tantamount to asking these educational institutions to promote outright lies, falsehoods and historical distortion.”

‘Polarization’

“Creating more polarization by forcing untruths on the public just makes us citizens lose any remnant of respect that we have had for the current leadership of the country,” Ang-See said.

Senator Marcos refused to comment on the social media posts about the free tickets being given away. Her office referred the Inquirer to a statement by VinCentiments, a film outfit involved in the production of the movie, which denied the allegations.

The company statement said the distribution of free tickets was the handiwork of the “kakampinks,” referring to supporters of former Vice President Leni Robredo who lost the May 9 presidential election.

“The office of Senator Imee, Viva Films, and VinCentiments do not give out free tickets — that is the work of the kakampinks — and they are merely passing it on to us,” VinCentiments said.

It said business groups, local leaders, and Marcos loyalists booked the screening of the movie on their own.

“We never ordered this, but we will not stop them, and we are thankful for their initiative,” the statement said.

The group, however, appealed to ticket sellers especially those overseas not to resort to scalping.

“In Dubai, tickets there have been sold out for the past four days. We ask that they don’t increase ticket prices so that everyone gets to watch the movie,” it said.

The movie will be shown on Aug. 3 and another film to counter it, “Katips,” will also open on the same day.

“Katips” by multi-awarded director Vince Tañada tells the story of students and activists during the Marcos martial law regime.

It is based on the 2016 stage musical of the same title and has earned 17 nominations from the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (Famas).

In a phone interview with the Inquirer, Ang-See said her social media message was directed at school principals “so that they don’t distribute the tickets.”

“Some of them have returned the tickets, but I told them that before returning, they should cut them in half so they will not be used,” she said.

Ang-See said knew that one “Jesuit school,” which she refused to identify, had received tickets for the movie.

Various posts on Facebook and Reddit showed tickets packed in a brown envelope addressed to Xavier School in San Juan City that allegedly came from the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. The tickets were to be exchanged for “actual movie tickets” at cinemas at no cost.

The Inquirer could not immediately confirm this.

Tickets returned

Ang-See explained that the school she was referring to had already returned the tickets and that the school head, who informed her about the distribution, planned to “tell the others” to also return them all.

“I think some of the schools outrightly destroyed them and that they did not return them at all, based on what I was told,” she said.

Ang-See and her late husband, Chin Ben See, became part of the “xerox journalism” movement following the 1983 assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr., Marcos’ archrival.

They translated into Chinese the articles written by the “mosquito press” to tell the ethnic Chinese community in the country about the impact of the Marcos dictatorship on Filipinos and Chinese Filipinos.

The organization Pagkakaisa sa Pag-unlad was cofounded by her husband and lobbied for the jus soli citizenship and integration of local Chinese into mainstream Filipino society. The group shut down in 1976, or four years after martial law was declared, after the Marcos government tagged it as a “communist front.”

Ang-See told the Inquirer that she could not just simply watch efforts to distort history that she was a part of.

“They want to promote that [movie] not just to make it popular, but clearly as a campaign, as a first step in their campaign for historical distortion,” she said.

“It’s a concerted effort and a concerted campaign. It’s like, you already won [the election], we already conceded. We support the President because of his position, but we cannot support that you are distorting historical facts,” she said.

—WITH A REPORT FROM MELVIN GASCON

[Newspoint] Junior gives us our cake

Jul 30, 2022, Vergel O. Santos

Ask Junior how he’ll get us out of the grave we now lie in buried beneath more than P12 trillion of national debt

We wanted details, so he gives us details, largely represented by numbers, numbers splashed as icing on a cake of promises. He gives us big numbers where we wanted them big, small where we wanted them small. 

His magnanimity is unselective; some of us will get land to till whether we know how to till or not. Those who already have theirs and know how to work it and do work it, although still have not improved their lives, in fact ending up saddled with debt, will be forgiven their debts. 

With a wider sweep of the magic wand, all those languishing in privation all their lives will be lifted out of it within six years – well, nearly all. The number of the poor will have been cut to 9% by then.

That’s nothing short of miraculous. Poverty incidence has dawdled between the high sides of 20% and 50%. It came down to 21.6% when the economy grew at its highest average since the 1950s – 6.2%, for 2010-2016. That rare spell came in the frugal and comparatively, by far, corruption-free presidency of Benigno Aquino III, an achievement that takes on a further significance when viewed against a culture where incomes and opportunities are bestowed by patronage and political power rests in dynastic hands.

There’s still swooning going around over the State of the Nation Address President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. read last Monday to Congress in joint session, in person and from a teleprompter, and, through various media, to the nation at large. Actually, the state of the nation he described is not the state in which we find ourselves today, which is understandable. We’re all messed up – unemployment, prohibitive prices, hunger, disease, crime, corruption, frame-ups, repression, you name it, we’ve got it – but to touch on that is to betray his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, his vice president’s father and the rehabilitator of the memory of his own deservedly disgraced father. So he just gave us cake – but not to have and eat until after six years.

One thing going for him is he’s not a bad reader, better anytime than Duterte, and that, in the absence of substantial virtues, should account singularly for the general approbation. The reading and the numbers he dished out themselves came as a surprise. Unlike Duterte, who, as bad a reader as he is, is a lawyer, in fact a prosecutor once, Ferdinand Jr. even had to fake his educational record.

His mouthing may have come across to us prosaic-minded listeners as abstruse, but that must have been part of the strategy and, again, the fakery. Ahead of his public reading, tales were told of his painstaking preoccupation composing his speech. But his finance secretary, Ben Diokno, is suspected as the unseen academic hand that laid out the assumptions and, from those, proceeded to crunch out the numbers.

His readiness to explain and defend Junior reinforces the suspicion. He is listed as paid an annual salary of P16 million, and having made P41 million in 2021 all in all, as Duterte’s governor of the Central Bank, from where Junior has recycled him into finance. Now, it should not be hard to imagine what it’s worth to him to be so ready.  

But why get distracted from the speechmaker himself by the mere sound of his speech – which is all sound as it is, anyway? He happens to be the son himself, not to mention namesake, too, of the dictator who terrorized us and plundered our country for 14 years. Don’t you think the experience should form the most relevant and instructive part of the context in which to take any utterance by Ferdinand Jr.?

But even supposedly hard-nosed analysts appear distracted. They would not be caught dead, it seems, being thought less than objective by casting doubt upon Junior’s word, and would rather tell his disbelievers to give him a chance. Forget objectivity; the virtue is expected of scientists. Analysts, however informed or knowledgeable, are still mere surmisers; they are expected to be only fair. 

And to be fair, at the very least, is to take the people’s side, not Junior’s; it’s us the people who deserve the chance. Junior has had more, grotesquely more, criminally more, than the share of chances and fortunes he’s had. He grew up in wealth and power, both stolen, and, as a consequence of him and his family getting away with anything, acts with impunity.  

So don’t tell us. Tell Junior. Ask him what he’s going to do to sort for us the mess we’re in, not what he will have done after he’s done with us – once done with us, his own father left tens of thousands of us orphaned by murder or damaged by torture and our country bankrupt, while he and his family escaped richer by $10 billion of our wealth. Ask Junior how he’ll get us out of the grave we now lie in buried beneath more than P12 trillion of national debt. 

One simple litmus test: Ask Junior when he’ll pay the P203 billion he owes in taxes. – Rappler.com

7.0-magnitude earthquake hits Abra, rocks Metro Manila

Philstar.com, July 27, 2022

MANILA, Philippines (Update 4, 1:01 p.m.) — A magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Abra province Wednesday morning, and was felt in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology earlier measured the tectonic quake at 7.3 magnitude, but revised it to 7.0 magnitude. 

According to Phivolcs, the quake was recorded three kilometers west northwest of Tayum town at 8:43 a.m. That quake had a depth of 17 km. 

Phivolcs said instrumental intensities were recorded in the following areas:

  • Intensity VII (Destructive): Vigan City
  • Intensity V (Strong): Laoag City, Ilocos Norte; Peñablanca, Cagayan; Dagupan City, Pangasinan; Sinait, Ilocos Sur; Baguio City
  • Intensity IV (Moderately strong): Gonzaga, Cagayan; Baler, Aurora; Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya; Ramos, Tarlac; Ilagan, Isabela; Basista, Pangasinan; Claveria, Cagayan; San Jose, Palayan City and Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija; Madella, Quirino; Tabuk, Kalinga; Santiago City, Isabela 
  • Intensity III (Moderately strong): Quezon City; Iba, Zambales; Navotas City, Malabon City, Metro Manila; Magalang & Guagua Pampanga; Bolinao, Sison & Infanta, Pangasinan; Bulakan, San Ildefonso, Guiguinto, Plaridel, and Malolos City, Bulacan; Tarlac City, Tarlac
  • Intensity II (Slightly felt): Dona Remedios Trinidad, Angat & Santa Maria, Bulacan; Tagaytay City, Cavite; Pasig City Metro Manila; Polillo, Gumaca & Infanta, Quezon
  • Intensity I (Scarcely perceptible): Tanay, Taytay, Morong, Antipolo City, Rizal; Marilao,Bulacan; San Juan City, Las Piñas City, Metro Manila; Lucban, Quezon; Subic, Zambales; Mercedes,Camarines Norte; Olongapo City, Zambales; Carmona, Cavite

Meanwhile, reported intensities were the following: 

  • Intensity VII (Destructive): Bucloc and Manabo, Abra
  • Intensity VI (Very strong) Vigan City, Sinait, Bantay, San Esteban, Ilocos Sur; Laoac, Pangasinan; Baguio City;
  • Intensity V (Strong): Magsingal and San Juan, Ilocos Sur, Alaminos City and Labrador, Pangasinan; Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya; Mexico, Pampanga; Concepcion, and Tarlac City, Tarlac; City of Manila; City of Malabon
  • Intensity IV (Moderately strong): City of Marikina; Quezon City; City of Pasig; City of Valenzuela; City of Tabuk, Kalinga; Bautista and Malasiqui, Pangasinan; Bayombong and Diadi, Nueva Vizcaya; Guiguinto, Obando, and San Rafael, Bulacan; San Mateo, Rizal
  • Intensity III (Weak:  Bolinao, Pangasinan; Bulakan, Bulacan; Tanay, Rizal
  • Intensity II (Slightly felt): General Trias City, Cavite; Santa Rosa City, Laguna

The strong tremor badly damaged buildings—including old and culturally important ones—in Northern Luzon, triggered landslides, and prompted people to evacuate buildings. Authorities also halted the operations of rail services in the capital region. 

The US Geological Survey reported the quake was measured at magnitude 7.1 east southeast of Dolores town in Abra. It had a depth of 10 kilometers. 

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu, Hawaii said there is no tsunami threat following the earthquake.

Impact

In Dolores, which felt the full force of the quake, terrified people ran outside their buildings and windows of the local market were shattered, Police Major Edwin Sergio told AFP.

“The quake was very strong,” Sergio said, adding there were minor cracks in the police station building.

“Vegetables and fruits sold in the market were also disarranged after tables were toppled.”

A video posted on Facebook and verified by AFP showed cracks in the asphalt road and ground in the nearby town of Bangued, but there was no visible damage to shops or houses.

A number of people were injured in Bangued and taken to hospital for treatment, police chief Major Nazareno Emia told AFP. 
University student Mira Zapata was in her house in San Juan town when she felt “really strong shaking”.

“We started shouting and rushed outside,” she said, as aftershocks continued.

“Our house is ok but houses down the hill were damaged.” 

Aftershocks expected 

Philvocs director Renato Solidum said the earthquake was caused by the movement of the Abra River Fault. 

“Anything that is magnitude 7.0 is a major earthquake,” Solidum said. 

He warned that aftershocks can be felt for up to three days following the earthquake. 

“Definitely, we are expecting aftershocks. Typically, based on our experience, there are a lot of aftershocks in the first two days. The number of quakes will decreased on the third day,” Solidum added. 

He advised the public to refrain from using damaged houses and buildings. 

Ring of Fire

The Philippines is regularly rocked by quakes due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.

Wednesday’s quake was the strongest recorded in the Philippines in years.  

In October 2013, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Bohol Island in the central Philippines, killing over 200 people and triggering landslides.

Old churches in the birthplace of Catholicism in the Philippines were badly damaged. Nearly 400,000 were displaced and tens of thousands of houses were damaged. 

The powerful quake altered the island’s landscape and a “ground rupture” pushed up a stretch of ground by up to three meters, creating a wall of rock above the epicentre. 

In 1990, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in the northern Philippines created a ground rupture stretching over a hundred kilometres. 

Fatalities were estimated to reach over 1,200 and caused major damage to buildings in Manila.

The nation’s volcanology and seismology institute regularly holds quake drills, simulating scenarios in the nation’s active fault lines. 

During major earthquakes, the agency said people would find it difficult to stand on upper floors, trees could shake strongly, heavy objects and furniture may topple and large church bells may ring. — with report from Mikhael Flores of Agence France-Presse