Journalism and communications scholar Crispin Maslog delivers his speech during the 2022 The Outstanding Thomasian Alumni (Total) Awards. (Screenshot from the event's livestream)

Editor’s note: The following is journalism and communications scholar Crispin Maslog’s speech during the 2022 The Outstanding Thomasian Alumni (Total) Awards on May 14.

Very Rev. Fr. Richard G. Ang, Rector of the Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas, Fellow Awardees, Distinguished Guests:

Good evening!

Let me start with a disclaimer: It is not true that I have been asked to deliver the response tonight in the name of my fellow awardees because I am the most distinguished (my fellow awardees will violently disagree with that) or because I am the most famous (although my mother, bless her soul, always said among her children, I was the most popular). And certainly, it is not true that I was asked to deliver the response because I am the most handsome, although my wife will agree with that. (See photo). The reasons are none of the above; the reason really is because I am the oldest at 90.

The honor that this Royal and Pontifical University is giving us tonight, I am sure, brings back to my fellow awardees the memories of our youth as students in this distinguished university—the leisurely evening walks around our lovely tree-lined campus (no holding hands yet during my time), the chicahan at the canteens, the excitement during enrolment, during fraternity hazing weekends, and exam weeks. I still remember how thrilled I was as a 19-year-old probinsyano from Tagbilaran, Bohol to enter the portals of this university in July of 1950, in the company of my cousin, Maria (may her soul rest in peace), who was enrolled in the same Faculty of Philosophy and Letters. That seemed like an eternity ago!

Our Litt. B. classes, the library and museum, then were on the first and second floors of the iconic main building, reputed to be earthquake-proof. The women wore uniforms, blue skirts and white blouses, but the men did not. We had a radio studio on the rooftop floor of the main building. I remember playing a role in a romantic radio drama, as the Romeo. My director criticized me because I did not deliver my lines like I was in love! At that time I did not yet have a syuta so how was I to know how to sound like I was in love!

To make a long story short, I finished my Litt. B. in 1956, and started working as copy editor of Agence France-Presse in Aduana, Intramuros, while studying simultaneously for my second degree, a Ph.B., and finishing in 1960. Now I will confess to you a secret, and I hope Fr. Alfredo Panizo, O.P., my dean at the time, will forgive me. After I finished my master’s degree in journalism at the University of Minnesota in 1962, Fr. Panizo wrote to ask me in secret to return as Secretary of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters. I politely turned him down and went on to finish my doctorate in mass communication. I wonder what would have happened to my career, if I had accepted Fr. Panizo’s offer. When I returned in 1967 I went to Silliman University as Director of their new School of Journalism and Communication. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Nightmare from the Past
I would be remiss in my acceptance speech if I did not refer to the May 9 election that just brought back a nightmare from the past. I am sure you know what I mean, and if I know the ethos, ethics and enduring values of Thomasians, I think most of you would agree with what I have to say in the next few minutes. I will try to make it short and sweet—and finish within the 15 minutes allotted me.

Warning: Those who do not agree with what I have to say may leave the room now. Except Fr. Rector Ang. JOKE ONLY.


I must say that it pains me to see another Ferdinand Marcos as the next President of the Philippines. It seemed like only yesterday (in 1986) when my wife and I with our two young children rallied at EDSA and kicked the older Marcos out of the country! Somebody tell me: How did this déjà vu happen?

I have been thinking about the answers to this question in the last few days, while watching the election campaign, reviewing the ominous Pulse Asia survey results, viewing the magnificent VP Leni rallies, and riding the tidal wave of endorsements from many credible sectors of Philippine society–the major celebrities in the music and entertainment industry—movie, stage personalities, artists—and intellectuals and leaders of various sectors of society– educators, scientists, justices, retired government bureaucrats from past administrations. Even from the religious sectors—bishops, nuns, and priests expressing support by the thousands as groups in their private capacities.

A wave of volunteerism also emerged from all walks of life, and of all ages. The youth volunteered—rolling up their sleeves, and committed their time, talent, and treasure to help get VP Leni elected. It was a volunteer driven campaign that brought hundreds of thousands of pink-clad supporters to the rallies and knocking on doors of households. There were lawyers for Leni, women for Leni, teachers for Leni, kasambahays for Leni, writers for Leni, artists for Leni, workers for Leni, doctors for Leni, nurses for Leni, creatives for Leni, students for Leni, IT experts for Leni, lolas for Leni, basketball players for Leni. Even mga gwapo for Leni.

This spirit of volunteerism drew a historical parallel to the time of former President Corazon Aquino some 40 years ago in 1986. Both women were widows, both were running against a Marcos, and both inspired volunteerism. Unfortunately the parallelism ends there. Corazon Aquino won and Leni Robredo lost. Is it true that the impressive rallies did not cascade enough votes to sweep VP Leni to power. We are left in shock asking why?

Rebranding the Marcos image
There are two theories to explain the Marcos victory: a conspiracy theory that says that the computer program was manipulated to give out the desired results. Whether the conspiracy theory holds water, I do not know. The second theory is that the Bongbong Marcos victory is due to his army—millions of trolls–and he started planning for this election more than ten years ago.

As early as 2014 Bongbong Marcos approached the political data company Cambridge Analytica to “rebrand” the Marcos family’s image on social media, according to Cambridge Analytica employee-turned-whistleblower Brittany Kaiser. Kaiser described the Marcoses’ plan to rebrand their family as historical revisionism.

Historical revisionism is data-driven and scientific. You undertake just enough research to figure out what people believe about a certain family, individual, politician, and then you figure out what could convince them to feel otherwise. The goal would be to keep running tests “until you actually start to see people’s opinions and attitudes changing,” says Kaiser.

The strategy involved two parts: downplaying or denying outright the kleptocracy and human rights violations during the Martial Law years. And second, exaggerating the old Ferdinand Marcos’ achievements while vilifying his critics, rivals, and mainstream media. The creation of new pages per month ramped up in 2014, around the time former first lady Imelda Marcos first mentioned she wanted her son to run for president.

Bongbong Marcos eventually ran for vice president in the 2016 elections, when he lost to Vice President Leni Robredo. Marcos filed a protest and finally lost. New fan pages for Marcos continued after the 2016 elections and into the months leading up to the 2019 elections, when Bongbong Marcos’ sister, Imee Marcos, ran for the Philippine Senate.

Rappler says that as early as 2014, ahead of the 2016 elections, popular Facebook page Pinoy Rap Radio, tried to dispute the truth about the Marcos wealth. If Ferdinand Marcos stole billions from Filipinos, one of the page’s posts argued, why was it that succeeding presidents after him “can not show any proof at all?” Both claims were lies. In a 2003 ruling, the Philippine Supreme Court caused to be forfeited seized Marcos assets after finding that Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos failed to justify the acquisition of their assets which exceeded their salaries as public officials.

Pinoy Rap Radio was not the only viral content page involved. Months after Pinoy Rap Radio’s post denying Marcos’ guilt, various accounts and pages on Facebook reposted the claim. Pages that iterate this same message include Blessed Be Philippines, Team Marcos-The Universal Movement, The Pandora’s Box, and Batang Marcos, among others.

Altogether, these false claims have logged millions of impressions on Facebook and YouTube. One of the Batang Marcos posts about Maharlika and the Tallanos got as many as 80,000 shares before it got fact checked by Rappler. Batang Marcos was created on October 25, 2016 and among the pages that have repeatedly posted false claims about the Marcos wealth, Batang Marcos is managed by 4 administrators based in Macau, according to its page transparency tab.

Apart from attempting to erase the history of abuse and corruption by the Marcoses during the Martial Law years, the claims have recurring themes. What is often described as “shocking” information is generally portrayed as having been “hidden” from the public by historians and the “biased” press.

Messages posted in groups and pages monitored by Rappler typically glorified the virtues of authoritarian rule. To a significant extent, the campaign focused on disputing or revising historical accounts about the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth.

Architects of Networked Disinformation
Please note that this network of disinformation was already harnessed by President Rodrigo Duterte back in 2016 when he ran for President. Duterte also had an army of trolls led by their “generals,” dubbed as “social media influencers,” which contributed greatly to his election, and continues to blindly support him to this day.

These trolls have silenced his critics because of the threat of cyber-bullying. I experienced this cyber-bullying, when in reaction to two open letters I wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, soon after his election, I got at least 14,000 feedbacks in two days. I stopped reading the feedbacks on the third day. They were so toxic.

As early as 2017, a well-researched land mark study, Architects of Networked Disinformation (2017), by two Filipino millennials, Jonathan Corpus Ong and Jason Vincent A.Cabanes, documented the role of trolls and fake news in the victory of then candidate Rodrigo for the Presidency.

According to its authors, “no technology has been weaponized at such an unprecedented global scale as social media. . . in the Philippines the names on the lips of political pundits and the mainstream press are those of the social media influencers, like Mocha Uson, who command large troll armies credited with sweeping Rodrigo Duterte into unforeseen election victory in 2016. Under Duterte’s presidency, trolls or “Dutertards” as his fanatic followers have been dubbed, are seen to have debased political discourse and silenced dissidents in their vociferous sharing of fake news and amplifications of hate speech.”

Lessons learned?
We did not see it coming–or we saw it but did not believe it possible or we were too bewildered to react—probably sums up the Filipino people’s reaction to the Marcos comeback victory. There are lessons to be learned certainly.

Some say we did not treasure the lessons of EDSA enough and that EDSA was a failure. At that time I advocated for the setting up of a Truth Commission to put the Marcos regime to trial and judgment. But we were too busy celebrating our victory. We went ahead to revise our Constitution to guarantee freedom of speech.

And we allowed the next president, Rodrigo Duterte, to chip away at our freedoms, starting with the closing down of ABS-CBN, followed by the taking down of Supreme Court Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and the imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima. Remember? The President then went on to bastardize free speech with his dirty jokes that corrupted the morals of our younger generation and demeaned government transactional language.

One lesson I have learned is that famous phrase attributed to many people, including Thomas Jefferson, that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” I hate to imagine what is going to happen next. The Marcos Project to revise Philippine history has just begun.


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