Freedom Mov_E
Freedom Mov_E Cebu: Lessons from ‘The Kingmaker’

Freedom Mov_E Cebu: The Kingmaker
Freedom Mov_E Cebu: The Kingmaker © FNF Philippines

“The Kingmaker,” a documentary following Imelda Marcos’s narratives on the Martial Law era, has brought to the fore the Marcoses’ link to disinformation and propaganda. The Marcos regime remains one of the most contentious issues in the Philippines, promoted by loyalists as a “golden era” of the country. 

In the talkback session that followed the documentary’s premier in Cebu in March last year, organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation Philippines as part of its Freedom Mov_E project, youth leaders spoke up on the need to fight disinformation and the revision of history as circulated on social media. (Freedom Mov_E is a platform for civic education and advocacy through films, using arts and culture to shed light on social issues in the Philippines.)

“The film made me realize that what is really more frightening than other authoritarian regimes is a constituency willing to embrace it,” Jobelle Domingo of Liberal Youth remarked. “So why is there a constituency willing to embrace an authoritarian regime? It’s because of massive historical revisionism and massive disinformation.”

Cebuano youth leader Nino Justin Tecson said: “I wasn't born during the martial law era. So I can say that I don't have a skin in this game. But the stories really do make my skin crawl. I find it almost too easy to relate with the stories. I don't think it really requires any mental gymnastics, just a basic sense of empathy. But even though I never experienced the horrors of martial law, what I would say is never ever again.”

“The reason why we need to watch films like “The Kingmaker” is that we do not need to repeat history,” Joy Villablanca, a film graduate from Tacloban City, Leyte who was in the audience, said.

For her part, Ester Isberto, a political detainee during the Martial Law era, addressed the young audience on how to find the truth amidst opposing narratives, “You [the youth] should exercise critical thinking. You heard something different. You have to find out for yourself who is telling the truth. At the end of the day, you have to make a decision.”

 

Freedom Mov_E Cebu: The Kingmaker
Resource persons for the Talkback Session at the Freedom Mov_E Cebu: The Kingmaker. © FNF Philippines

Fighting disinformation

For Isberto and Domingo, critical thinking is key in fighting disinformation. Before accepting any information, these questions must be answered: “Is this the truth? Who’s the source? Is this source reliable?”

Social media platforms play a big role. They have to be made to account and should be more transparent. Mikael Co, communications expert of the Liberal Party, said “it begins with a push for greater transparency on how the platform decides what we see on our feeds.”  Co added that disinformation enables authoritarian leaders because their aim is “to create social tension so that it is easier for strongmen to capture a polarized country.”

Among the platforms, Facebook has set up a fact-checking system which, according to Ryan Macasero, Rappler correspondent in Cebu, has reduced misinformation “by at least 80%. The fact checking network has set up protocols and processes on how to assess, and who gets to determine which articles are false or which ones are misleading. It is done by journalists [who are partners of Facebook] and journalism itself is the science of finding out what is true and what is not true.  So as long as the process is there, I think it is a good process. It's not a perfect process. It can still be improved.” 

On the question of how advocates should engage others in a space where emotions and heated discussions get more traction than actual news, the answer was to use stories. 

“Imee [Marcos] is a film producer, she understands the importance of stories, the myth of Malakas and Maganda propagated during the Marcos era,” Leni Velasco, co-founder of DAKILA, said. “This is a challenge for us, especially the artists, to counter that.”