By Sass Rogando Sasot
I am a Duterte supporter. This declaration exposes me to a barrage of insults from the Filipino disente society. I’ve been labelled a cuckoo, fascist, a Nazi, a Dutertard, an idiot, a fanatic, a blind follower, an apologist, and a High Priestess of the Cult of Duterte. Even benign tags have been weaponized against me, such as “just a student in The Hague” and “Mocha Uson with a diploma.” My Facebook Page has been ridiculed as the “slums of Facebook.” A professor in a true-blue elite university in Quezon City even stripped me of my nationality, uprooting me from my origin. He called me a “European Dutertian.” Its purpose is to discredit my participation in the political affairs of the Philippines, akin to how Michael Ignatieff’s US residency was successfully used against him by his opponents when he ran as Prime Minister of Canada in 2011. Their rationale is that since I’m educated, they cannot understand why I’m supporting the monster they call Duterte. For them, there’s no ethical standpoint that could justify my support; if there is, they dismiss any explanation as mere apologetics for Duterte. They simply refuse to understand. Period.
They reconcile this “disconnect” by writing me off as a paid troll, part of a social media propaganda machine allegedly being financed by the national treasury. Some of them treat me as a lost lamb. And, they have self-righteously taken it upon themselves to shepherd me back to their flock. I have, also, been accused of having fake diplomas. My grammar was mocked; even my penmanship wasn’t spared from ridicule. Others have even gone to the extent of using my being transgender and/or Asian as the reasons why Leiden University accepted me. Someone informed me that some of these folks even tried to take hold of my teenage pre-transition pictures; they would like to use them to shame me. I pre-empted it by posting my HS graduation picture. Meanwhile, others are planning to write Leiden University, ECHO Foundation, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health to divest me of my awards. For them, I’m a shame to the Filipino LGBT community and I have no right to call myself a gender activist or a human rights activist because they believe that Duterte is antithetical to both of that. They declared that my support for Duterte is a sacrilege to their own sacred cows. Yet this is all fair game for me.
I am deeply aware that when one speaks in public, one must be courageous enough to face every kind of reaction. Life is not for the faint-hearted. Besides, freedom of speech doesn’t end with them; one can always fight back with speech.
However, I’m not just being panned because I’m a Duterte supporter. I also happen to be a vocal Duterte supporter, with a strong social media presence who is not afraid to confront those who ridicule and insult me. I reciprocate whatever is hurled at me: insults, condescensions, sarcasms. But when I let these people get a taste of their own medicine, they play the victim card, retaliate viciously, mass report my Facebook, and turn into the very monster they profess to hate.
Attacked on several fronts
Since I started my Facebook Page in August, it has amassed around 92,000 followers; reached 22,253,712 people; received 10,470,896 post engagements. My Page has attracted both supporters and haters. Everyone was welcome in my Page, which endorses the most liberal version of freedom of speech. I tell my readers to be adult enough to be responsible for anything they say. When they bash people, expect to be bashed in return. I even told my readers that I don’t mind even if they cuss at me or hit me below the belt. I will not ban anyone except those who post anything meant to sell any product or service; those who issue death, physical or sexual assault threats to anyone, including public figures; and those who post porn. Other than that, readers can say anything they want. I have declared my Page to not be a safe space for anyone, even if you’re pro- or anti-Duterte. Yet this liberality isn’t enough even to those who are preaching democracy and freedom of speech.
Several days ago, when I accessed my Public Page, this is what I saw.
Once again, my Personal FB account was suspended for 30 days - I could not post, comment, or reply to messages until November. The reason: I called out American hypocrisy.
Even my post informing my readers that my Personal FB account was suspended was removed by FB.
One of my readers told me that Facebook even deactivated his account after he commented on that post. When he woke up the morning after he commented, he couldn’t log in anymore in his account. FB asked him to supply a government-issued ID. However, that didn’t bring back his account. “Even though I already did what fb wants me to do in order for me to log back in to my account,” he said. “…still I can't log in…I can't believe people will go this far [to silence people].”
Even while my Personal FB is suspended, I received a notification from FB about my Personal FB account “sending out spam.”
The posts reported as Spam includes: 1) A post criticising Human Rights Watch (HRW) meddling in political affairs of different countries; it was in reaction to a news implicating HRW to the failure of the peace agreement in Colombia; 2) A post about the apology Duterte made to the Jewish community, while visiting a Jewish synagogue in Makati; and 3) A post inviting my schoolmates here in the Netherlands to watch a video about the war on drugs of the Philippines that counters the apocalyptic image the international press is circulating.
Several days later, my Public Page was unpublished by Facebook. Since the 6th of October, my Public Page cannot be accessed. The notification says, “It looks like content posted on your Page doesn't follow the Facebook Terms and Community Standards, so your Page was unpublished.”
I appealed. But it was denied on the 7th of October.
The FB account I used to open the Page was also deactivated by FB, until I show a government ID reflecting the name on that account: Sass Den Haag.
But I can’t. That is not the name reflected on my ID. In the first place, my everyday name, Sass Rogando Sasot, doesn’t reflect the name on my ID, that requires my passport name, which still bears my male name. Second, I created “Sass Den Haag” for the purpose of opening a Public Page; and I opened a Public Page after my Personal FB account was suspended on the 18th of August for calling out an anti-Duterte Facebook Page for comparing the plight of prisoners in the Philippines to the tragic experience of the Jews during Hitler’s time.
Besides mass reporting my personal FB, some folks have been trying to hack into my account. I’ve received notifications that some people are trying to change my password, almost on a weekly basis, since I started amassing followers in July. I was one of the most vocal commentators who have a contrarian take on the South China Sea policy of the Aquino administration. I pointed out the conflict of interest of our previous Secretary of Foreign Affairs and how the Philippine oligarchy influences our foreign policy.
Now, my Public Page has been unpublished and permanently deleted by Facebook because it has been mass reported as violating FB’s community standards. I know who did it and why.
Silenced by a COCOFED beneficiary
Several days ago, Clara Lobregat Balaguer, a prominent figure in the art scene in the Philippines, replied to my post supporting the appointment of Teddy Locsin Jr as the ambassador of the Philippines to the United Nations. Some factions are protesting his appointment for his controversial statements on twitter, including the one he made after Duterte made that statement contrasting himself with Hitler. He tweeted, “I believe that the Drug Menace is so big it needs a FINAL SOLUTION like the Nazis adopted. That I believe. NO REHAB.” Locsin already apologised for this tweet.
My post was about lending perspective to the issue. I wrote in my post that the current ambassador of the United States, Samantha Power, is worse than Locsin. Power, after all, was one of the key figures who advocated military intervention in Libya. Until now, Libya is a mess and Obama has called it the “worst mistake” of his presidency. However, unlike Locsin’s tactless tweet, it’s a mistake that has cost actual lives, wreaked havoc on a sovereign country, and contributed to the flourishing of ISIL in Libya. I supported Locsin’s appointment because, for me, it’s about time that the Philippines has a UN representative who has the will to call out the inefficiencies, corruption, and lack of accountability of the United Nations.Balaguer commented and lambasted me for supporting “toxic masculinity.” She concluded that comment with this: “Perhaps you simply just haven't been fully identifiable as a woman long enough--and thus constantly privy to patriarchal abuse for merely being an identifiable woman--to get that toxic masculinity is a dangerous thing to justify.” Some of my readers called her out for questioning my womanhood. Balaguer apologised for the “poor wording.” Yet she continued to harangue me with judgments veiled as questions: “How can one be a gender activist, and support and endorse misogynistic behaviours from President and friends?”
Because I have a very liberal commenting policy, I didn’t ban Balaguer. I let her rant and criticise me. Since my Page is a Public Page, it was inevitable that other people would chime in. Balaguer engaged in heated discussions with them, boasted of her high IQ, and divulged that she was actually on my Page because she is writing a book on trolling - I’m one of her subjects and my Page is her source of materials. “I have been studying you my dear,” Balanguer said. “You’re part of my research on trolls.” In the comment section, Balaguer was repeatedly brandishing her self-righteousness. Many of my readers were upset by her attitude and by being used as her subjects without properly being informed before she conducted her “research.”
As a result, my readers also did their own research on Balaguer. One of them discovered Clara Lobregat Balaguer’s family connection. She’s the granddaughter of Maria Clara Lobregat, head of the Philippine Coconut Producers Federation (COCOFED). COCOFED was one of the organisations that received coconut levy funds, taxes imposed on coconut farmers during the time of Ferdinand Marcos. The taxes were supposed to be used for the benefit of coconut farmers and the development of the coconut industry in the Philippines. However, as Ambassador and former chairman of Philippine Coconut Authority Jose Romero said, ”the levies were used to buy insurance companies, commercial banks and oil mills, which were managed by the COCOFED officials and their allies for their own benefit. The profits derived from such activities never really trickled down to the farmers, who today are the most marginalized members of the agriculture sector.”
I wrote a post about this. I told Balaguer to use her energies to encourage her family to return to the poor coconut farmers the funds. I hold her accountable because, as a granddaughter of Lobregat, she is a beneficiary from this plunder. I urged Balaguer to consider writing a book about how her grandmother plundered the nation. “We want to know first-hand from the [granddaughter]” how her grandmother did it, I said. Compared to her planned book on trolling, “that is a book worth reading,” I continued. I encouraged her to donate the sales of that book to coconut farmers. And since Balaguer wanted to write a book on trolling with me as its subject, I requested her to donate all the sales of that book to coconut farmers as well. Balaguer denied any culpability and responsibilty. “My grandmother is dead,” she said. In a separate post where she misinterpreted my article on shabu addicts being seen as monsters by their victims, Balaguer warned me that I’m just “digging my own grave” and called me a “violent troll.”
A lot of people commented on my post about Balaguer’s connection to the COCOFED scandal. Some of them were descendants of coconut farmers who died without finding justice.
Balaguer couldn’t take the heat. She said that I was harassing her. Suddenly, a lot of my posts regarding her connection to COCOFED were being removed by Facebook.
Some of my readers emailed me that their comments were also removed. Balaguer cannot deny that she is behind this; well, at least, one of those who would like to remove my Facebook Page forever. An informant sent me a screenshot of Balaguer’s conversation with her friend. She was urging that person to report my Page because I’ve been divulging information about her family. Again, she denied any form of responsibility. Instead of sympathising with the coconut famers, Balaguer mobilised her energies to silence me for dishing out the dirt of her family. And that dirt isn’t a personal issue. It’s a national issue worthy of being talked about, specially since Duterte wants to give the coco levy fund back to their rightful beneficiaries: the coconut farmers and not to the grandchildren of those who plundered the funds.
Balaguer and those who wanted to silence me have been successful in rendering me virtually incommunicado. But they did something much worse: they deprived my readers of free education. My Facebook Page wasn’t just about commentaries on Philippine politics, which are oftentimes acerbic. Through my Facebook Page, I was also providing free political theory, international relations and geopolitics lessons using a language that could be understood by the masses. I’m the only Filipino Facebook Page doing this; and I’m doing it because I wanted to share to my countrymen what I have learned here in The Netherlands. Five out of the six live sessions I conducted could only be accessed through my Facebook Page. Since Facebook deleted my Facebook Page, these educational videos have also been deleted — forever.
Yet I have remained steadfast in my commitment to freedom of speech. Despite my FB account being mass reported several times, I do not support and will never support any action to mass report any FB account or Page criticising me, even those that are using below-the-belt attacks. The weapon against speech is speech or the FB block button. Freedom of speech is not speech if we silence those who offend us.
And some people get offended by my posts, most of them are right speech fundamentalists, who would like to make social media a hygienic place, free from views offensive to them.
Against the tyranny of right speech
I once believed that offensive speech shouldn't be allowed to circulate in the market place of ideas. I held this view for quite some time, specifically when I was still living in the Philippines. When I started living here in the Netherlands, my views changed. I became more and more tolerant of offensive speech, not because I agree with offending anyone but because I've come to learn that the only way to defeat offensive speech is by letting it be confronted rather than silenced; you cannot confront offensive speech if you are going to censor it.
My major turning point happened during a protest rally I attended here in The Hague. The protest aimed to counter the anti-immigrant protest happening elsewhere in the city. The anti-immigrants protesters started to march towards us. The police formed a protective barrier between us and them. Yet they didn't stop the anti-immigrants from saying the most racist speech you could imagine against us i.e. cuss words, slurs, fuck you signs in abundance.
Instead of complaining about how harsh the other side was, something else happened to me. I appreciated the role of the State (as represented by the police) in upholding the freedom of speech of everyone. They were there not to silence anyone but to protect everyone from physical harm. I turned to one of my colleagues and told her: This is freedom.
The right speech fundamentalists in the Philippines don’t understand this. Ironically, a lot of them changed their profile pictures to “Je suis Charlie.” They are no different from the terrorists who assassinated the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo. They are for right speech rather than for freedom of speech. They are disente folks, anti-Duterte forces, who would like to censor views offensive to their sensibilities. They are the same forces who have monopolised the mainstream Philippine media and flooded our televisions, newspapers, and fed international press with narratives obviously meant to destroy the legitimacy of Duterte in the Philippines and in the international community.
If anti-Duterte forces dominate mainstream media, we, the pro-Duterte voices, are dominating social media, the only fora where we could fight them back. They own or are connected with those who own the means of producing and circulating information. We don’t. We are dependent on Facebook’s free service. If they mobilise to take down our FB Pages, their voices become the only voices that could be heard. They have succeeded in silencing me. Who is the next target of this tyranny of right speech?
For the motherland
Despite all this, I will not be intimidated. I will continue to speak. They will never silence me. And I refuse to be silenced. I will continue offending anyone who needs to be offended. I will continue offending anyone who has used their power and purse to abuse. I will not cave in to their intimidation. The only thing that could silence me is a bullet in my head. But even then, I will still use my ashes to rise up, and raise my fist with Duterte.
I will continue to support Duterte in his quest to dismantle the machinery of narco-politics in the Philippines. I will continue to support him as he continues to defy our old colonial master. And just like him, I’m willing to stake my life, my honour, and all that I’ve achieved to help reform the Philippines.
F. Sionil Jose, National Artist for Literature, said that “the first thing [non-supporters of Duterte] should do is to recognize that a revolution has started; and the second thing they should do is to recognize that that revolution is long in coming and that it is a necessity.” Duterte has awakened every Filipino’s love for their country and concern for politics. We will not allow anyone — oligarchs and their offsprings, mainstream media, drug cartels, Imperio Americano — to put us back to sleep again. And as a scholar, it’s my duty to keep that love awake and burning for the motherland.
[UPDATE: Facebook reinstated my Public Page on the 9th of October 2016]
As a dyslexic, I’m bound to have language mishaps. I would like to thank Clarence Gonzales for helping me edit this article. To those who would like to contact me, email me at email@example.com.