GMA’s fake news: cowardice of a network

In this age of the Internet, and the powerful artificial intelligence of Google Search, research work has become much too easy that reporting errors of fact, and spreading disinformation, becomes a mortal sin for media organizations and the people working in them.

Hence, it took less than half a day after GMA News published the image of a ship with a trail of murk in its wake — purportedly a Chinese vessel in the Spratly Islands — to be exposed as a fraud, or fake news. GMA News accomplished its evil design: to create a furor over a picture of a ship supposedly spilling tons of human waste in the Philippine exclusive economic zone. That picture accompanied a report on the claim of a U.S.-based company that there has been a rise of human waste dumping by Chinese vessels anchored near the Union Banks, or Pagkakaisa Reefs.

The use of a photograph to illustrate a news report must be accurate, meaning it must either be an actual image showing what is described in the story, or a file picture of a similar event or act. If there is no actual picture, there is usually a clear label “FILE PICTURE” on the face or caption to tell the reader or viewer that it is not a depiction of what the story is about.

Simularity, Inc. did use that picture to accompany its story.

There is nothing in the website report, however, that would tell its reader that the picture was lifted from an Australian newspaper on its story about illegal dredging in the Great Barrier Reefs in October 2014. What was just placed below the story was that the picture’s source is unknown.

Hence, GMA News jumped to its own conclusion that it was an actual photograph of a Chinese vessel dumping human waste and used it to accompany its story. It did not take the editorial caution of verifying first from the source, Simularity. That’s what journalists are taught to do: check and double check. Better to be a little late in putting out the story than commit a factual blunder.

Understandably, the picture, more than the story, provoked an angry response. That was precisely what GMA News had intended to do in the first place: Shock its viewers and readers (on social media).

The line of Senators who are always hungry for media mileage quickly sent out angry statements, demanding government action.

But the furor was about nothing. To quote Shakespeare, “much ado about nothing.”

First, the ship shown in the picture wasn’t a Chinese vessel caught in the act of dumping human waste into the sea within the EEZ. It came from a series of photographs published in The Daily Mail of Australia way back in October 2014. And the murky wake shown in the picture wasn’t human waste; it was spillage from the dredging activities. In this respect, Simularity should take primary blame for failing to state that fact. GMA News is guilty for not double checking.

Simularity was quick to issue a clarification about the wrong use of the picture. It blamed GMA for its failure to check closely on its post. It described GMA as an “irresponsible news organization” and asked it to issue a retraction.

Second, what’s the fuss about human waste being dumped into the sea?

Simularity claims that there has been an increase in algal growth in the reefs OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS because of what it describes as over-abundance of effluent coming from the human waste dumping. This is an important fact that was easily overlooked. And the ugly monkeys of the Liberal Party were quick to scold the Duterte government for failure to stop the Chinese from turning our EEZ into a public toilet.

As Simularity itself stated in its clarification, human waste dumping by sea vessels is COMMON PRACTICE. So why did it attribute the so-called over-abundance of effluent to the anchorage of more than 200 Chinese vessels in the area? It is a blatant act of deception to infuriate Filipinos on the issue of Chinese intrusion into our EEZ. I won’t be surprsied if Simularity is CIA. And part of its mission is instigate Filipinos to look at the Duterte government in bad light.

If these S.O.B.s are indeed concerned about effluent, why didn’t it issue an alarm about the thick algal growth in Boracay? Or to get closer, in the Manila Bay? Can we even compare the human waste production of 200-plus vessels to the output of millions of Filipino families living on the banks of the Pasig and other rivers in Metro Manila? All the poop from the these households are flushed into the Manila Bay, just in case Simularity didn’t know it.

Anyway, GMA surreptitiously removed that offensive picture and pretended as if nothing happened. It didn’t even demonstrate strong journalistic ethics to publish a retraction as suggested by Simularity. Moral cowardice in the media profession is what I call it.

China is a greatly misunderstood giant

With an economy that grew phenomenally in a brief span of four decades, China has emerged upon the global scene as a giant that has matched wealth with a powerful military. It is now the number two largest economy in the world, with the United States holding on to that position rather precariously. Hence, it is easy to understand why the U.S. and its neighbors feel great discomfort as this combined economic and military power keeps growing. Unless the Chinese economy is stalled, it will overtake the U.S. as the biggest economy in the world.

This has led to rising tensions in U.S.-China relations, with the frightening prospect of this ending in armed confrontation, particularly in the South China Sea and Taiwan. Everybody agrees that war, even on a limited scale, can bring about disastrous consequences. Because of this, experts on U.S.-China relations espouse caution to American policy makers as it struggles to maintain a delicate balance between its need to stay the most powerful nation on the planet and peace. The task becomes difficult because recent U.S. rhetoric, especially during the Trump presidency, demonized China’s intentions.

The Panda bear best describes the size and temperament of China. It is huge but meek. It is not known to be aggressive on human beings. Indeed, there has been no instance in its history when China became an aggressor state. On the other hand, it came under foreign domination several times in the past, the most recent of which was the Japanese invasion during World War II. Even in dealing with break-away province, Taiwan, the mainland Chinese have demonstrated restraint for more than half a century now. Except for the occasional harassment against their estranged province, there has been nothing close to a forcible retaking of Taiwan. At least, up to until now.

With this in mind, we should not allow American scare tactics to put a barrier between our country and China. The Scarborough Shoal issue remains a thorn on our relations, but it does not lock the door on a peaceful resolution that will benefit both sides. If China has reclaimed shoals and reefs in the South China Sea, it is not because of a long-range military plan to expand its territory in the Asia-Pacific. The putting up of military installations on their reclaimed islands are not much different to the United States having bases in Japan and South Korea. China simply wants to build an adequate security barrier to shield the mainland from any security threat.

It’s really amazing how China has continued to grow despite American efforts to contain its economy with tariffs and sanctions such as the ban on Huawei from the U.S. market. During the year 2020, China shrugged off the ill effects of Covid 19 to continue grow at a fast pace of 8-9%. The technological ban imposed by then US President Donald Trump two years ago may have hurt China, but not for long. David Goldman, an economist and China watcher, observed that the economies of the U.S. and China were about the same size. He made that assessment two years ago. “But China is growing at twice the speed of the U.S.,” he said. That gives us a better understanding of the power dynamics we are seeing in China.

This brings me to the tough decision that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has to make about the country’s relations with China. Early in his term, President Duterte showed openness to friendship with China. But the issue about the Scarborough Shoal put pressure on him to lean back and rethink about developing closer ties with China. The propaganda being thrown about depicts China as a territory-hungry behemoth that will ultimately devour the Philippines. President Duterte is being labeled as a “puppet” of the Chinese.

We need to look at the situation with pragmatic eyes. The Philippines has something every powerful nation on earth now wants to gain access to: vast oil and natural gas reserves underneath the South China Sea that fall within our exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Aside from that, the South China Sea is a vital sea lane where billions of dollars worth of goods pass through every year. Almost all countries would want that shipping lane to remain free to international trade and commerce. This is a reason why the U.S. and other Western nations are apprehensive about China putting up military installations along that route. If China shuts down the shipping lane, all hell will break loose in the global economy.

Rather than provoke China, we might be able to approach the situation with an open mind toward a mutually-beneficial development of the SCS gas and oil reserves. The worst thing China would want to see now is the Philippines going back to the embrace of the United States. That will only alarm them, for a strengthening of the US-PH military alliance is certain to be viewed as a hostile threat. And that will deprive our nation of the economic benefits that can be derived from an early exploitation of the SCS gas and oil reserves.

If such a partnership is achieved, China will feel less nervous about external threats and focus its attention to its goal about continued economic growth to bring prosperity to the lives of its 1.4 billion population. The grand strategy of China is centered on “rejuvenation” after having surmounted its “survival” phase. A joint exploration and development of the SCS will forge stronger economic ties between China and PH and contribute to lowering the tensions in the region. The key word, indeed, is cooperation. And even the U.S. will stand to gain from changing its outlook about China and treat it as an equal in world affairs.

A climate of security and stability in the SCS will put the Philippines at the doorstep of the world’s fastest growing economy. It is not too hard to see Filipinos will reap from that unique position, something that we did not experience when we were loyal allies of the Americans.

China: must we be afraid of it?

The controversy over the South China Sea issue, particularly the loss of the Scarborough Shoal to the Chinese in 2012, has dominated public discussion during the last several months as the opposition tried to pressure President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to assert its rights as laid down in the International Arbitral Court ruling three years ago.

The opposition has painted a picture of a leader who showed subservience to the Chinese in that instead of adopting a strong position in seeking the enforcement of the ruling, President Duterte took the path of friendship with President Xi Jinping since he assumed office on June 30, 2016.

Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has been the most vocal critic of the President’s “soft” stance regarding the South China Sea issue. He accused President Duterte of “selling the country’s sovereignty” to China. He and his colleagues in the opposition are trying to spread the fear of China among Filipinos. The Scarborough Shoal episode is just the prelude to China ultimately trying to swallow the Philippines into its fold.

This fear-mongering is unfounded. China is not in the business of gobbling up new territory. What it is doing is translate its relatively new economic power into military might to strengthen its security position. Of course it is understandable why its neighbors are apprehensive. Throughout modern history, the whole world has gotten used to regarding the United States as the sole superpower with the capability to keep the status quo on security and stability.

The sudden emergence of China as a military power has upset that status quo. And its incursions into the South China Sea is being viewed by the U.S.-led partnership in the Asia Pacific as a serious threat to the region’s security. Already, China has created artificial islands in the SCS and positioned naval and air assets. This has extended the reach of China’s military might to the doorsteps of Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and, of course, the Philippines.

This is a most unwelcome development for the United States. It has always projected itself as the unrivaled military power in the Asia-Pacific after Japan surrendered at the end of the second world war. All of a sudden, it is seeing a peer competitor as a regional hegemony emerging from the shadows. Its ability to freely roam the seven seas is now facing a possible obstacle.

But as political science Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago put it, China is merely imitating what the U.S. has been doing for over a century now: it is seeking to become a regional hegemony. The U.S. has done that in the western hemisphere. And during the last century, the U.S. has been instrumental in making sure four nations that had the potential to become hegemons — Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union — would collapse. The U.S. does not like competition.

Is there anything sinister in China’s intentions?

According to Prof. Kishore Mahbubani, what China wants to do is avoid the harsh experiences of the “century of humiliation”. It learned that being a weak China made it vulnerable to exploitation and abuse from more powerful states. It was a victim of the United States, United Kingdom and Japan in the past. This imbued the Chinese leadership with a strong and unwavering drive to become an economic giant, and with it, military might, so that never again will it be subjugated.

Indeed, China has behaved quite well as it grew in leaps and bounds during the last four decades when Deng Xiaoping opened its doors to the world. From a poverty stricken country, it quickly transformed into what is now arguably the most powerful economy that comes a close second to the U.S.

Prof. Mearsheimer believes turning that economic power into military might is only a logical move on the part of China. With its economic gains that breathed prosperity into the lives of its 1.4 billion people, China wants to make sure no other nation can take that away from them. There is no better way to accomplish that than building a military that will deter any aggression toward them.

China wants to be a good neighbor and a global citizen. It is only the United States that now wants to depict this nation as evil the way it did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

From the viewpoint of the Philippines, it makes for sound foreign policy to befriend China. The irritants brought about by its take-over of the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 should not put a bile taste into our attitude towards them.

The Philippine government should adopt a pragmatic approach. Our experience with the U.S. hasn’t been pleasant. While we have a mutual defense treaty with the Americans, it has failed to demonstrate that it is a sincere ally that is looking after our interests. The U.S. has exploited our friendship with them in a lopsided manner: the scale has tipped heavily in their favor.

As we have seen in the past, we almost have to beg for military aid to crush the communist insurgency. More than that, the U.S. has tried to interfere with our domestic affairs. This was apparent when President Duterte launched an all-out war against illegal drugs; the Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked military sales to the Philippines because they accused him of human rights violations. It puts into serious question on whether the U.S. indeed wants the communist insurgency to end. (30)