“Communicating hope and trust in our time.”

- Pope Francis

When falsehood becomes the new normal

By Fr. Andiy Navidad Egargo, Ph.D.

HONESTY in words and in deeds. How many times have we been reminded about this by our parents at home?
On September 5, 2012, the Philippine House of Representatives adopted House Resolution No. 292 entitled “Resolution Urging the Department of Education (DepEd) to Implement the Posting of Signages that Read: “Honesty is the Best Policy” in All Basic Education Classrooms and in All the Various Offices of the DepEd.” Among the reasons cited was that “the display of signages is an effective medium to promote good manners and right conduct and will help mold students to become conscientious and upright citizens”. Of course I did not find this House Resolution strange. In fact, growing up in the 70s and 80s (not that I am bragging about my age), these “Honesty is the Best Policy” signages were prominently painted on the walls of school buildings.

In other words, “Honesty is the Best Policy” has always been taught both in school and at home. It would have been safe, therefore, to assume that after years of pounding our heads with “honesty is the best policy”, Filipinos would already have imbibed that value. But have we?

In the past few months, a new terminology surfaced. Alternative facts. It is supposed to refer to a reality that is otherwise overlooked or misrepresented by the “biased” mainstream media. The term went “viral” (as we call something that becomes popular over a short period of time) after it was first mentioned. Although the use of the term has been justified as something that refers to “additional facts and alternative information” (Kellyanne Conway) and a way of “[laying] out [one’s] version of the facts” (Joel Pollak), it is still generally considered as falsehood. A thing could either be a fact or a lie. What is objectively true and real can never be untrue and unreal at the same time.

But a virus it is, indeed. Alternative facts have given rise to the proliferation of political propagandists and apologists.Instead of presenting facts from an alternative perspective (like calling a half-filled glass as either half full or half empty),these people have become inventors and peddlers of fake news and false information which are primarily intended to deceive the credulous. The number of “shares” and “likes” and “hashtags” on social media that indicates approval of a media content labelled as alternative fact indicate that, yes, there are unprincipled followers and believers of alternative facts. Alternative facts are based on personal and subjective opinion on something. It is not fact presented in an alternative point of view; it is a distortion of fact.

The bigger problem, of course, is not just the propagation of falsehood. Rather, it is the divisive effect this falsehood creates. Politics is already in itself polarizing. It becomes even more tragically divisive when adherents spread falsehood about themselves and about others. This has, in fact, become the bane of contemporary Philippine society. The amount of misinformation and false information which are openly and shamelessly peddled in support of one’s political affiliation is alarming. Never before has falsehood been considered a badge of honor. Now, it is something that is “shared” and celebrated.

Has lying become the new normal in our society? Have we lost our sense of honesty and decency? When our principles and actions are based on lies, it can only mean one thing – we are creating a make-believe world with promises of a fake happy future supported with false hopes.

I have to be frank. This is not the Philippines that I envision.

And, yes, whether we like it or not, honesty is still the best policy. In words and deeds.

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