It is not the case that “fake news” erodes democracy. Fake democracy yields “faith in fakes”(1)
Yet in what was manufactured as a defense of truth, accountability and democracy, the Philippine Senate held a hearing on fake news. Notable propagandists of the Duterte regime were summoned and questioned on their conduct as government functionaries. One of those questioned was Mocha Uson who was hired by the administration precisely for her celebrity blogger status as evidenced by the huge following her Facebook account quaintly named as “Mocha Uson Blog” enjoys.
While it is crucial to expose and oppose the Duterte regime for its capricious approach to public information, it is necessary to remind ourselves of the bogus democracy we have all been forced to live with. And this is why Senators like Trillanes and Aquino who turned out to be the fiercest critics of “fake news” in that senatorial probe could only express disgust on “fake news.” However, without a clear set of standards against which “fake news” might be compared and found deleterious, they did even sound like moralizing bullies.
In the age of bogus democracy, there could only be all sorts of fakes, and news is no exemption. This is what Aquino and Trillanes fail to understand. For like their enemy — Duterte — politicians from the Liberal Party believe that institutions like mass media, the church, schools, the economy, the family, and government exist to protect the system of private property, the primacy of foreign direct investments, and the supremacy of US military power from whom our own military must get the proper aid and training.
At the end of the day, these two camps believe that the most dangerous enemy are poor people coming together and taking back what is theirs through an alternative that has been historically demonized by ruling elites such as this warring factions in power. But for today, they are in conflict and any radical mass movement could only find default allies in these elite “liberals” who at another time tagged them as atheistic communist-terrorists. Such is politics under elite democracy.
It is important to note the difference between these warring elite factions. They may have the same elite interests, which makes their vision for the nation very bleak for the majority, but in the current political topography defined by representative democracy, Duterte’s elite faction enjoys the “H-Word’(hegemony).
What exactly is the H-Word? Marxist historian Perry Anderson goes back to a fellow Marxist critic Raymond Williams who tackles communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s “conception of hegemony as a ‘central system of practices, meanings and values saturating the consciousness of a society at a much deeper level than ordinary notions of ideology (87)” (2).
Anderson explains the historical context of this definition via “Policing the Crisis”(1978), now a classic by Stuart Hall, et.al. The authors describe Britain being shaken by “sharp economic crisis social turbulence” consisting in “threatening specters of youth revolt, black immigration, and trade-union militancy (87).” The shift from Heath to Thatcher in the Conservative opposition shaped a repressive social discipline in which “coercion becomes, as it were, the natural and routing form in which consent is secured (87).”This meant a “powerful groundswell of popular legitimacy” in which, as Anderson sharply points out, authoritarian populism loomed.
In short, Duterte’s deployment of celebrity bloggers as state propagandists is a hegemonic project whose consequences are felt in this Philippine Senate-sponsored public debate over “fake news.” The probe was less a thoughtful process to generate alternative standards against “fake news” than a struggle for hegemony of two warring elite factions. The probe should be read for what it may have not intended to expose but anyway did so wonderfully: Celebrity bloggers are necessary but not sufficient to quell resistance as Duterte’s popular legitimacy clearly assumes the shape of authoritarian populism.
Mocha Uson, anti-fact?
This article is particularly inspired by a thought-provoking and insightful take on Mocha Uson posted by a high school friend, Eloisa San Juan:
“A reflection on the phenomenon that is Mocha.
What I find I interesting is no matter how many times Mocha’s posts and actions got exposed as erroneous, her following still believe in her.
I think they don’t look to her for facts.
I think she gives voice to how some people feel. People who have felt neglected, mocked, invalidated and explained over most of their lives.
I think exposing her flaws just strengthens her fan base. Makes her more accessible. They’ve associated themselves with her. There’s a bond. And all the attacks just make her base rally around her because unconsciously THEY are the ones being attacked.
When emotions are raw, reason gets overruled.
Mocha is the Avatar of those who feel disenfranchised. At least that’s how I see it.” (3)
What is truly marvelous about this reflection is the keen observation it makes about the value and place of Mocha Uson in the popular imagination. From a Bourdieusian perspective, it is the kind of reflection that may only be fruitful through verstehen. Verstehen or understanding in Bourdieu demands from the observer that s/he puts herself in the other’s shoes (4). It requires a materialist approach to a phenomenon a la Pascal’s “kneel and you shall believe.”
We are often drawn to criticism because of its perceived capacity to dismiss and demolish. This perception may likely lead to a misunderstanding of a phenomenon which then conveniently reaffirms one’s position. But don’t we want to be challenged sometimes? The braver ones do.
Why does Mocah Uson have too much following, and by “too much” the question already implies that there is something wrong with this mode of fandom. And is it really fandom?
Mocha Uson’s rise to stardom actually did have commonplace beginnings. Like many pinoys, Mocha was mobilized by the election fever; and with her little “celebrity status” at the time, she decided to go with the popular Duterte campaign, which was not so popular among the outspoken petit bourgeois. Her following, the “Diehard Duterte supporters” (DDS), found a spokesperson in Mocha Uson whose way with words, simple and concise formulations of ideas and events are, in my view, impressive.
Mocha has the advantage of a “middle class” education (which was cut short by some family difficulties), making her a figure who is one with the many Duterte supporters, yet at the same time is not very similarly situated with them in terms of social background. Her slain father was a judge; she went to good schools; and was in pursuit of a medical degree when she dropped out of school. In short Mocha Uson’s privileged days far outweigh her nouveau poor seasons. And much more so lately with her current official appointment.
Eloisa San Juan is correct to point out that “despite time and again being exposed as a purveyor of fake news,” Mocha Uson’s following is unaffected. They will even defend her like she is a cause unto herself. And this is the key to understanding the phenomenon of Mocha Uson: She speaks for “the cause” that she along with the DDS defends.
In the academe, intellectuals love to minimize their impact by saying that they are just really about all this blah-blah, and at the end of the day, it is history that will shape the day. This claim overlooks the fact that history is a social practice. And where academe is concerned, there has certainly been too much impact of intellectuals on shaping war, neoliberal policies, and all that evil. But, too, we know of movers, shakers, leaders, and intellectuals like Frantz Fanon, Angela Davis, Jose Maria Sison, Arundhati Roy and many more who have laid out a powerful counterpoint to the killing machine that is capital.
How do we usually approach so-called radical intellectuals? “It’s the writer’s life more than her/his works.” When a radical says something and does otherwise, we just drop her/him out of the roster, don’t we? But before we even go there, may we first and foremost agree on a simple fact of life? That there is no shame in being in a position that one is allowed and actually paid to reflect on production and the reproduction of the world. To do so is to realize that one does this with rigor and responsibility because those who are engaged in production must work 8 hours a day and are not allowed by this system to read history, prose, poetry and even much less, write them.
So when striking factory workers from the economic enclaves of Southern Luzon in the Philippines say “we must learn from Ka Joma” (referring Jose Maria Sison and the book Philippine Society and Revolution),they don’t mean they have met him personally and have engaged in a radical chit-chat with him (5).Though they make it sound like that, too, what they really want to say is that they have found a special place in Ka Joma’s writings. Sure, not everybody loves Joma Sison. But for those who do, and they are too many, the vile of the haters can only be part of the class war.
In a sense, Mocha Uson is to the DDS as Joma Sison is to the fighting farmers and workers of Philippine society, and of the world’s marginalized groups. They both walk the talk, Mocha Uson being part of Duterte’s administration and Joma Sison being the chief political consultant of the National Democratic front and the chairperson of the International League of Peoples Struggles (ILPS), the largest global alliance of anti-imperialist unions and organizations.
But there is a sea of difference.
Joma Sison defends a cause that is precisely against Duterte’s cause. The latter, unbeknownst for now to the DDS, has been betrayed by Duterte himself. It seems that Mocha Uson has forgotten about the politics that brought her to the Palace. It was a politics that represented the people’s clamor for change after too much of those dark days with oligarchic rule of the Macapagal-Arroyo and Cojuangco-Aquino regimes.
It was a politics that made Mocha Uson visit the national minorities ’Kampuhan sa Diliman in 2016 and subsequently made a great vlog about our people’s struggle for self-determination. It was a politics that made her feature former DSWD Sec Judy Taguiwalo’s goal to get rid of the pork barrel system starting with the function and conduct of DSWD. No other blogger or commentator featured this issue and goal so well. She was actually slamming powerful bureaucrats.
Those were the days.
Given that brief history, I daresay that while Eloisa San Juan was right and brilliant about her reflection on Mocha Uson, my high school friend was wrong about one thing, and I quote, “Mocha is the Avatar of those who feel disenfranchised.” No, not anymore. At this point, Mocha Uson is the Avatar of those who have yet to grasp how the H-Word actually operates against change. It is precisely that political vacuum, that moment of “the not yet,” that makes them enjoy the H-Word. Meanwhile, the H-Word for all thinking and fighting Pinoys is none other than the reign of tyranny in Duterteland.
For the rest of us who are fighting tyranny, we could definitely do more than just trashing someone like Mocha Uson. I have never been a fan of the cynical novelist Milan Kundera until I encountered someone like Mocha Uson who made me realize the value of Kundera’s words, which I believe is also the value of Mocha Uson’s celebrity status in our current struggle against this regime: “The struggle of man (sic) power is the struggle of memory against forgetting (6).
(1) Fake in Fakes is a book by Umberto Eco (1979, Picador).
(2) The H-Word: The Peripeteia of Hegemony (2017, Verso).
(3) Facebook status with privacy settings in public mode posted on October 4, 2017.
(4) Understanding in The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society (trans. 2000, Standord University Press).
(5) Noted from an actual speech delivered by a worker in the Tanduay strike in 2015.
(6) The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (trans. 1985).
Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Center for International Studies (UP-CIS Diliman) and a member of the National Executive Board of the All U.P. Academic Employees Union. She is the current National Treasurer of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the External Vice Chair of the Philippine Anti-Imperialist Studies (PAIS). She is also a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.