Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region



Fake news - a major threat to the work for promotion of rule of law and human rights

By Asian Human Rights Commission
January 23, 2020

The world over a great threat has emerged against civilization as a whole. This is the power of fake news used with the technological assistance of a highly sophisticated modern technological industry. A vast body of daily reports of all types are spread through the internet and social media.

These publications cannot be held accountable for the truth or falsehood of what they publish. There are so many ways of circumventing even a proper attribution of a credible source for such information. All the legal principles used earlier regarding print media cannot be used effectively against the spread of false news items. Examples are the Laws of deformation, fraud or misinformation leading to damage for individuals or property. And this legal vacuum cannot be easily overcome. The fake news makers are aware of these limitations with regard to accountability. They can spread whatever they wish to spread without accepting any responsibility for their acts.

What makes such fake news so powerful is the fact that such news can be spread instantly to vast audiences within a very short time, counted by minutes or seconds. The very fact of publishing and distributing material on a vast scale creates a kind of impression--if the news is so spread there must be some truth behind whatever is being published. These impressions are the stuff with which credibility is attained about any sort of news. And now fake news uses this situation to their advantage.

Countering fake news is a very difficult, arduous and time-consuming exercise. To erase the impressions created by a single news item or a fake letter sent to a number of persons can take years. Fake news writers professionalize the creation of such fake news. Out of their own imagination they make up a variety of stories looking at which is impossible to dismiss altogether. Most people who get such news do not have the time to look for verification. They may even dismiss such news items at a conscious level. However such information does make impressions. These impressions give rise to doubts which lead to behavior and reactions which may affect other persons adversely or irately.

There are different tactics adapted by fake news writers, such as selecting words, that may arouse a certain dislike or repugnance on just hearing them. For example, a fake news writer may refer to a person as not credit-worthy, with a bad reputation or having engaged in activities which society may condemn. Or, perhaps, calling someone an anti-Semite or a sexual abuser when there is no basis for these accusations or others like embezzlement, fraud or similar allegations. With that, goes adjectives, which create the feeling that the person or the organization referred to, is quite bad. By using such questionable words they can create mass impressions. These impressions are in articles which of themselves do not have any kind of real information or any provable actual information.

All over the world today we are seeing this in terms of electoral politics, whether it be in the United States of America or in Great Britain. This also includes almost every other country where enormous amounts of false accusations are lodged against popular political leaders. The main idea in promulgating such fake news items is to create bad and wrong impressions. As a result, at the polls, people may have doubts in supporting such a person or cause.

In third world countries this situation is even worse. A few persons who may have access to mass media channels could create a virtual reality which has nothing to do with the actual situation of a country. They effect this by hiring persons with an ability to engage in this kind of manufacture and distribution of particular fake news stories.

The worst aspect is that criminal justice institutions when manipulated by authoritarian governments can develop its own fake news industry. Before a person is arrested or exposed to some serious charges a huge campaign could be developed. So, when the actual violation of the rights takes place many people begin to have doubts as to whether these allegations can, in fact, be true. Such doubts prevent immediate reactions to what appears to be blatantly unjust and violative acts of the basic rights of the individual. This lack of resistance can also be a factor in discouraging persons who are more knowledgeable about the situation. Their intention was to place the truth before people in society as the fake news industry overtakes them and creates false impressions at every turn.

Worse affected in this are the people who express dissent. In the past the very fact of representing dissent carried a certain moral prestige. Today, more and more with the use of fake news, industrial dissent can be discredited by attributing multiple motives to it. How do they do it? They portray a person or organization as agents of people having such agendas. They represent such dissent not as people who are exposing a worthy cause. They are doing these things for their own personal or political agendas.

This situation creates enormous demoralization and discouragement among persons who want to stand up for what they think is right and reasonable. Standing up to what they think is wrong, morally wrong and unreasonable, is less and less attractive. Any efforts in getting involved in genuine protests against people raises more problems than could be imagined.

Both the fake news industry and the criminal underground often have very close links. When the fake news industry portrays some person or organization as not credit-worthy or having anti-social or anti- patriotic agendas, then the criminal gangs could be mobilized to attack such persons. This is constantly taking place with many reports coming in weekly of such attacks. Here the interested parties mobilize the criminal gangs to do what they want. If any blame is placed it will be on the criminal gangs rather than on individual persons who are the real motivators of such attacks.

The direct victim of the fake news industry is the Criminal Justice System as a whole. This means the Police investigating systems, Attorney General’s Department (Prosecutor’s office) and the Judiciary itself. The fake news industry could even attack the Courts because they could hide their identities. The Courts themselves, by their very profession, are unable to engage in such activities as social media in order to defend themselves. While cases are filed for wrong reasons by interested parties, massive propaganda that percolates through the fake news may create another kind of trial. Serious crimes committed by accused persons thereby develops another kind of attack on the criminal justice system which is the trial by publicity.

There are two ways that a trial by publicity takes place. One is to portray a person or any group as guilty of what they are being accused of, thereby making them the target of social attacks. Then exert pressure on them. They would rather seek to find a compromise or a sentence of mitigation rather than to fight their cases in public. Public trials on sensitive cases become more and more dangerous for the public.

The second way the fake news industry affects criminal trials is by making or portraying the complainant as not a credit-worthy person. Therefore, the whole story about the violation is in fact made up. For example, if a murder takes place, this sensational type of news spreads quickly. Perhaps it was due to some personal affair than to a deliberate, intentional killing of someone in particularly. But it could be that someone happens to be a politically interested person, trying to achieve his or her aims through murder. Or it may be a woman subjected to rape or even gang rape. The fake news industry then will begin to spread derogatory remarks about the complainant. In such cases they make them appear to be persons of a bad character or a person making up these stories for some other dubious purpose.

A further way by which the fake news industry affects criminal trials is through various pressures created through false news events in the investigation of crimes. The investigators themselves get these investigations accredited without any real grounds for doing so. It makes the whole exercise of the investigation simply due to political purposes. And for a particular crime, things such as the murder of a journalist or an attack on some groups or persons or corruption are not motivated by genuine reasons.

The result of all these explorations is: the investigators themselves running an investigation are otherwise punished. This is based on a massive propaganda campaign which goes to discredit persons who are involved in investigations.

Another section of people who are seriously affected by the fake news industry are the human rights defenders themselves. Human rights defenders are engaged in numerous activities which include: defending the civil and political rights of others, defending environmental rights, fighting against corruption, defending the right of freedom of expression or assembly and lastly the rights for education and health. All these persons could be brought under severe attacks by the fake news spreading that all these activities are motivated not for altruistic reasons but for personal gain. In addition, there is corruption and other things involved in these activities or these activities are purely the propaganda work of interested powerful countries whose sole ambition is to destabilize other countries. Therefore, nationalism could be evoked against the human rights defenders who are often brought into disrepute and doubts about their work. The fake news even reaches the agencies funding support for these groups. They provide completely false information about allegations such as sexual abuse which has never happened or corruption or fraud or the like for which there is not the slightest evidence. And quite manipulatively these fake news makers use the languages or ethics that are respected in the West. They are trying to show that the ethical codes honored in the West have been violated by the groups that they support.

The fake news industry is not only widespread but it is also sophisticated and very subtle. Therefore, in the years to come, protecting and promoting the work towards the Rule of Law and human rights, will certainly be attacked manifold through these fake news channels and individuals. So we see that what is needed is to develop ways of dealing with these issues. In particular, the human rights and democratic organizations themselves should develop their own capacity to deal with in-coming information. They need a way to capably counteract problems in their initial stages, thus controlling the damage easily created by the fake news conglomerates.

Discussions by the public should necessarily involve discussions on the impact of fake news. Specifically, impact on humane causes, ways of evolving global consensus and dealing with this enormous threat--not only to the work of human rights and democracy but to civilization as a whole.





Sex should be taboo no more!

January 7, 2020

WHAT I mean is that the open discussion of sex in public should not anymore be considered as taboo. Given the terrible state in which this basic human faculty is massively abused and misused today, we should proclaim the true gospel about sex relentlessly, “in season and out of season” as St. Paul once said. (cfr. 2 Tim 4,2)

I believe that a great contributing and aggravating factor to this mess is precisely to consider talking about sex in public as taboo, a no-no. This allows the demons to pull their tricks on us unchecked. They would have a heyday. And we, of course, become their sitting duck.

Of course, the discussion should be done with tact and prudence. This is always the case whatever the topic or issue is involved. But such tact and prudence should not be taken to mean that we should be shy about talking openly about sex.

Given the fact that people nowadays can talk openly about anything, including the frivolous and inane topics, we should be quite open also in talking about sex which plays a very important role in our life.

The gospel truth about sex is that it is a God-given human faculty that is charged with the procreation itself of man. What that means is that through sex, man cooperates with God in the creation of another man. It is therefore a very sacred faculty, given the fact that of all God’s creation, it is man who is considered his masterpiece.

This gospel truth about sex should sink in deep in the consciousness of everyone. It should produce the appropriate attitude, skills and virtues to conform ourselves to such truth. It should be the seed for the development of a very important virtue of chastity.

How to make this gospel truth about sex to sink in deep in the mind and heart of everyone should be challenge to all of us. We really should help one another here, and find effective ways to counter, if not remedy and heal the many disorders and anomalies associated with the grave abuses of human sexuality.

We cannot deny that for many people, especially the young, their understanding of human sexuality is practically detached from the law and nature of sex as defined by our faith and as lived in union with Christ. It is all at the mercy of their blind and erratic bodily and earthly conditions.

There is a lot of sexual addiction and aberrations and perversions nowadays. People are starting to even legalize and normalize them. Even little children are not spared from this mess. Pornography is rampant and easily accessible. Many people are not anymore in control of their sexuality that has gone practically amok, in runaway wildness.

But despite this very dark development in the world today, there is always hope. God never leaves us despite terrible things we do to go against his will. In fact, this serious world predicament of ours can occasion a great and strong intervention of God.

But, definitely, we have to do our part. Aside from relentlessly proclaiming the gospel truth about sex in public and in private, let us promote the practice of spiritual direction and confession, impart the skill of developing a true spiritual life of prayer, sacrifice and recourse to the sacraments, the development of virtues, especially chastity. The virtue of chastity has to be ceaselessly given witness to and taught.

The usual problem we have is that we are not with God, although God is always with us. With that condition, we have no way to resist the temptations that come from our wounded flesh, the sinful allurements of the world, and the tricks of the devil.

We have to understand that we are nothing with God, a truth that up to now seems still to be a breaking news to many people.





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Priests are overworked, isolated, etc.

December 11, 2019

A NEWS item recently from the US reported that many American priests are stressed out, burned out due to the load they carry, and that many of them feel isolated. To top it all, they are assailed now by a lot of scandals ranging from financial mismanagement and sexual abuses.

My immediate reaction to this item is, of course, to pray for them. Let us hope that both the concerned Church authorities and the priests themselves would find some effective solutions to these problems.

I also felt that there must be some relation between these problems of overwork and isolation, and the consequent scandals that now stain the image of priests in the US. When one is tired, exhausted, feeling isolated and uncared for, I believe we have a terrible mix that makes one most susceptible to all kinds of anomalies and disorders.

What also came to my mind is that more or less the same problems beset many of our local priests also. At least the few I know complain about having so much work that they can hardly cope and that they want to have someone who can listen to them and share their plight. They want to vent out some bad air that is compressing in their heart.

These problems are always a challenge to the Church authorities who should come up and animate appropriate programs, structures and networks. More than these, they should find ways of how to go to the personal level of each of the priests in their care.

The care for priests should step out of the impersonal bureaucratic mold. The relation between bishops and priests and among priests should be fraternal and friendly. If this atmosphere is missing, something drastic and immediate should be done to resolve it.

One idea in this direction could be the promotion of priestly societies that would foster priestly fraternity that is vivified by a particular charism or spirituality. All priests should be encouraged to join these societies. These societies can help eliminate or at least minimize that dangerous situation where priests would feel isolated and uncared for.

The practice of spiritual direction, confession or just friendly chats where issues, problems and difficulties are brought out should be constantly encouraged. It cannot be denied that many of the priests have the tendency to keep to themselves, not wanting to open up to anyone.

In that way, they do not become transparent which is a condition the enemies of God and of our soul like so much. Priests should learn to be brutally sincere about the condition of their spiritual and priestly life. They have to call a spade a spade. Hiding things that are significant in priestly life would be like keeping a pact with the devil.

It is when priests have spiritual direction, confession or chat with a friend that they can be better helped in their life of prayers and sacrifice, so indispensable in priestly life and ministry. It is undebatable that when a priest’s life of prayer and sacrifice is not in order, his priestly life and ministry will simply collapse sooner or later.

In spiritual direction, confession or chats, priestly problems and issues can be better sorted out and given appropriate solutions, suggestions and action.

I know that dioceses hold for their ongoing formation for priests regular annual retreats and monthly days of recollection. These means of formation are always good, except that many priests attend them mainly for compliance purposes.

Hardly anything about spiritual conversion or growth and enrichment is achieved. How to have the proper effects of these means of formation is indeed a great challenge for everyone! But no matter how daunting the challenge is, both Church authorities and priests themselves should just persist in finding the appropriate solutions.





“Dialogue and Peace Talks: The Way Forward”

Statement of its 8th Ecumenical Church Leaders’ Summit on Peace
December 8, 2019

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), gathered for the 8th Ecumenical Church Leaders’ Summit on Peace in Silang, Cavite, under the theme: “Being a Church for Transformative Peace in these Challenging Times”. The Summit brought together 110 church leaders – clergy, women religious, and lay – from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao representing five major religious federations/groups* in the Philippines with the participation of international partners, youth and other peace advocates from civil society and other faith traditions.

The Summit participants heard testimonies from the three (3) major regions of the country, expressing the common experience of worsening poverty, especially among rice farmers, and intensifying violence, with seemingly no end in sight. There was shared sadness over the loss of innocent lives, those who by virtue of serving the poor and oppressed, are maligned as supporters or members of front organizations labelled as “Communist Terrorist Groups”. There was shared recognition that dialogue and peace talks are urgently needed but effectively unworkable when the Government of the Republic of the Philippines through the Department of National Defense (DND), has demonized the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)/New People’s Army (NPA)/National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), as a Communist Terrorist Group.

The PEPP Summit took time to pray and remember those peace advocates who have been incarcerated and even murdered for their principled commitments to work for peace and justice. The Summit lifted up Atty. Benjamin Ramos assassinated in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental, whose murder remains unsolved. Mr. Rey Claro Casambre, of the Philippine Peace Center, who was arrested on December 7, 2018 and is languishing in jail for a year, due to charges he denies and is presently proving in court to be false accusations against him. The Summit unanimously voted to call for his immediate release and those of other peace consultants as well. The participants also prayed for and expressed deep concern for Sister Ellen Belardo facing a warrant of arrest following a perjury case filed against the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

The PEPP Summit entered a process of discernment on how to be a light and salt of the earth for transformative peace. It drew out suggestions from the delegates, strategies and best practices for peace. The recurring theme was dialogue, reconstituting the Peace Panels and the resumption of the Peace Talks as the only way forward.

The discernment process also emboldened the delegates to continue expanding and reaching out to the Filipino people and offering a message of positive peace. A peace that is not won by the barrel of a gun, nor by demonizing the enemy, but through constructive dialogue. This is through the pursuit of a peace agreement that is mutually acceptable and will address the root causes of the longest-running armed conflict in Asia to date.

The PEPP Summit welcomed and celebrated the recent news reports received on December 5, 2019, that President Rodrigo R. Duterte is sending his emissary, Labor Secretary and erstwhile head of the government peace panel, Sec. Silvestre Bello III, to meet with the NDFP leadership in Utrecht, Netherlands, to commence back channel negotiations toward the possible resumption of the formal peace negotiations. The news was also positively welcomed by NDFP Chief Political Consultant, Prof. Jose Ma. Sison. The PEPP Summit hopes that these developments will pave the way for the immediate resumption of formal peace talks.

After three days of reflection and discernment, our calls remain resolute:

For the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to work towards the resumption of the formal peace talks to address the roots of the armed conflict. To immediately work for the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) and a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

For the Government to immediately release Rey Claro Casambre and other political prisoners including NDFP peace consultants on humanitarian grounds and for the CPP-NPA-NDF to release prisoners of war as well.

For faith communities to expand the effort to conduct creative activities (formal and non-formal education, both in public and private schools) and dialogue under the banner of PEPP, and to further broaden the support for resumption of the GRP-NDFP formal peace talks.

We vow to continue to use our faith resources and moral leadership to further expand the work of PEPP throughout the Philippines. We will not stop and we will break the walls among religions and build bridges instead. As we pursue the promise of peace and the reign of God, we affirm the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6.

Issued and signed on this 6th day of December 2019.

[ **The PEPP is a platform for 5 church institutions/groups, namely, the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) with organizations of Religious, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) and the Ecumenical Bishops' Forum (EBF), in working for a just and enduring peace by supporting the peace process between the GRP-NDFP. ]





No more compromises!

Message of Filipino youth to world leaders on the 25th UN Conference of Parties by the Stewards and Volunteers for the Earth Philippines (SAVE Philippines)
December 4, 2019

We are sending this message from the Philippines where currently, we are being hit by typhoon Tisoy’s (Kammuri) heavy rainfall and flooding.

We are sending this message to all of you, our supposed leaders, who have the time to gather and do prestigious planning while many of us here are preparing for what could be another rock bottom for us and our countrymen. This may just be the last time that some of us in the Global South will ever have the chance to relay this message of urgency where climate-induced disasters have become the new normal.

You all constantly speak of development. You all speak of eternal economic growth. You all make promises of wealth, abundance and change, which get our hopes high at first. But your promises fade just as quick as the time you pronounced them leaving us desperately hanging with all your empty talk.

You talk and forget, but we remember.

We remember the lives that have been washed away by your criminal neglect and compromises. All the nameless numbers that drowned in heavy floods, the poor who died of hunger in droughts, and the indigenous and urban communities displaced for the sake of your “development” projects.

The science has always been clear: it is the profit-centered economy that is destroying our planet. Call it whatever you want: business, entrepreneurship, capitalism, whatever. One thing is clear: the unhindered pursuit of outrageous amounts of super profits for a powerful few is what brings about disaster and even death to the global population.

Life is even more difficult for us here in the Philippines. We are a tiny, archipelagic nation with the least carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, yet we are among the ones who suffer the worst impacts of this climate crisis. We who live in the Pacific bear the amplified effects of unstable climate conditions.

And for this, we would like to address in particular our dear leader, President Duterte. Pay attention.

The moment you became the 16th President of the Philippines, we knew change has come. But not in a way that is favorable to us. Your campaign was very promising on letter, but you did not deliver. Poverty is still rampant. Ecological devastation has worsened, and is increasing at an alarming rate.

You even had the nerve to tell ASEAN leaders to “not sacrifice environmental for progress,” and you wanted to enforce “sanctions vs. violators” of the Paris Agreement on climate action. But how about the continuing operations and expansions of coal-fired power plants here in our country? How about the development projects under your Build, Build, Build program to entice foreign investments at the expense of our biodiversity?

We would like to remind you of how empty and devoid of meaning your words are. We would also like to remind you of your responsibility, as the sworn leader of this nation, to ensure the welfare of your constituents and our environmental integrity.

We expect nothing less but the declaration of a climate emergency. We shall see you amend all policies that exacerbate our already vulnerable situation, and allocate all resources for ordinary Filipinos to successfully adapt to the impacts of climate change. We demand that you, as well as your delegates, hold accountable the rich developed countries in the Global North to pay their climate debt and push for maximum reduction in their GHG emissions.

For you, and for the rest of our global leaders in the 25th Conference of Parties, our message is simple: NO MORE COMPROMISES.

Act now, or we will. We are watching you.





The value of the vocal prayers

November 15, 2019

WE should never underestimate the power of the vocal prayers. They may sound trite and worn-out after years of simply mechanically praying them, but they actually are the quickest and easiest way we can make use of to put ourselves truly and divinely inspired.

And the simple reason is that these prayers are truly inspired prayers. They are not just human inventions, products of our pious creativity. They come directly from Christ, as is the case of the Lord’s Prayer, or from the lips of important biblical characters as is the case of the Hail Mary and many other prayers.

Of course, there are also many other vocal prayers that are composed by saints and by Church authorities who are given such power by Christ himself. The liturgical prayers at Mass and in the celebration of the other sacraments, as well as breviary of the priests, are very enlightening and helpful, to say the least.

If we would just put our mind and heart into praying them, if we would just pray them with faith and piety, there is no way but for us to be transported deep into the spiritual and supernatural world where our deepest yearnings are satisfied, at least for a time.

These prayers also teach us what to say when we pray, what to ask from God, what attitudes and sentiments we ought to have toward God, others and everything else in this life, especially the different situations and predicaments that we can encounter in life.

They have the power to educate our mind and heart, conforming them to the mind and heart of Christ, which is what actually is proper to us, since we are being created and redeemed to be God’s image and likeness, children of his in Christ.

In fact, when we pray the vocal prayers, we would praying together with and through the Holy Spirit. Our prayer would not just be our own prayer, but also that of the Holy Spirit, of Christ and of his Church, since the Church is the mystical body of Christ! We should never feel alone when we pray the vocal prayers. We have to realize that we are in very good company when we pray them.

If we only know what is involved when we pray the vocal prayers, I am sure that we would be deeply motivated to make use of them very often, especially in our moments of difficulty and special need.

That is why the vocal prayers should be taught to everybody as early as possible, as in teaching them to little children, explaining well their importance and effectiveness, and supporting such catechesis with clear examples of the elders.

Let’s remember that the little ones learn more from what they see than from what they hear. When they see their parents and older siblings praying the vocal prayers with fervor and piety, it would not take long before these kids would do the same. Their capacity to follow or imitate what they see is big. Thus, the practice of the family rosary is most recommendable.

Of course, we should pray these vocal prayers with naturalness, without exaggerated gestures that can only betray some hidden motives of a misunderstood sense of holy pride, vanity and piosity, the caricature of piety.

But naturalness does not mean that we shy away from some public display in praying the vocal prayers, as when we do pilgrimages, etc. The vocal prayers should not be considered as simply something personal and private. They have a strong social and public character also. They actually do a lot of good to people in general.

These prayers should not be regarded as only for children or old women who have nothing better to do than to pray the whole day. Such attitude can only betray one’s ignorance of the value of the vocal prayers, if not one’s defense mechanism to justify his laziness, lack of faith, etc.



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