By Alvin James Magno and Mark Ernest Famatigan
Amid the proliferation of dummy accounts and death threats sprawling around social media platforms, students were puzzled over the legitimacy of a text screenshot uploaded by the Defend UPLB alliance containing a death threat sent by the same alliance’s hotline on Sunday night.
In a statement, Defend UPLB dispelled the idea of fabricating the death threat towards their volunteers and apologized for the lack of oversight, which led to the distrust of netizens and several members of the university community.
“Defend UPLB categorically denies any allegations of manufacturing death threats. We received the report from one of our volunteers and urgently released an alert as our standard procedure. However, we admit that there was lack of oversight on our part to vet the reports,” they said.
The student alliance already started their internal investigations over the said matter as netizens stormed their social media accounts demanding accountability on their now-deleted post.
A Defend UPLB volunteer received a text message around 10 AM on June 7 containing the phrase “Mamatay ka na.” The volunteer immediately forwarded the message to the student alliance, which he is part of, being aware of their mandate to protect the democratic rights of the students.
As a result, the alliance immediately posted it on their social media platforms. The error was soon noticed by a netizen who pointed out that it was the same hotline number that was used on Defend UPLB’s Citizen Rights Watch. It was questioned by several students and they responded that the mobile containing the said SIM card reached the junk shop. A netizen took screenshots of the comments, eventually circulating on social media that sparked public discourse, then criticism towards the alliance.
“We appreciate that some students pointed out this concern amid recent pressing issues. We need a community that looks after each other in our goal to defend our democratic rights,” the alliance said.
Volunteer’s side of the story
Ray Biñas, the volunteer who received the death threat, broke his silence on his social media account Monday afternoon, saying that he disposed of his old cellphone which last April which contained the SIM card used by the alliance.
According to him, the phone he was using for Defend UPLB’s hotline was disposed of while he was decluttering on April 26, not bearing in mind that it included the SIM card used by the alliance. He explained that the phone was already old, and he found it difficult to use it.
“My friends and orgmates could testify that I am having really a hard time using my old phone,” he said. “…when we were decluttering last April and my sister asked me if I would like to dump out this phone, I mindlessly said yes without thinking that it contained the sim card that was published as the hotline number of our alliance.”
“Perhaps, the reason why this was out of my mind is because since it was established as our hotline number, it hadn’t received any reports or even personal text or call from anyone, hindi ko nga ito pinapa-loadan dahil SIM2 lang ito ng aking dating phone,” Biñas explained.
Moreover, Biñas said that he was not aware that exercising his freedom of expression on social media will have a serious impact on his personal and his family’s safety. He also mentioned that it affected his mental health in the past few days.
“I know that I have been extremely vocal in social media towards my opinion on various issues in our country, particularly my dissent towards our government for their incompetence in dealing with this global pandemic. I cannot tolerate false information at a time when we’re dealing with a serious public health crisis,” the volunteer explained.
Points were raised by netizens on Biñas’ statements such as why the same phone number was used in a recent publication material by the alliance. In particular, a post by the Defend UPLB page dated June 2 cites the same hotline number as a contact number for an online press conference to be held by the alliance on June 4. Some netizens, meanwhile, urged him to release a screenshot containing the timestamp of the report forwarded to Defend UPLB. Others began harassing him and discrediting the death threat that he received.
“Honestly, I was afraid that perhaps these people who are harassing me are just people that are actually near me, and I can’t help but panic and worry about the safety of me and my family. I am also frustrated by the fact that I need to prove to everyone that I cannot do this to myself. I don’t have the time, resources nor the guts to threaten my own as INTEGRITY has always been one of the values I matter the most. I believe that this was another serious attack against those who have been vocal of their opinions online,” he said.
Biñas appealed to the public not to jump into conclusions until the findings of various investigations emerge. He added that his family is already in contact with the proper authorities, particularly the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and the network provider servicing the phone number used to investigate the malicious use of his old phone number.
War against critics
Vocal dissenters of the current administration have since been reported to be targets of harassment and death threats. UP students are no exception.
Since the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon, there have been 12 recorded cases of death threats on UPLB students as they were being tagged as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) (READ: https://bit.ly/2APbzX6). Most of the recipients of the anonymous messages were part of a local relief operation in Los Baños.
As public dissent on Anti-Terrorism Bill came into rise, UP Cebu’s Tug-Ani reported that after the detainment of Cebu 8 in a protest calling to junk the Anti-Terror Bill, dummy social media accounts of Cebuano students, activists, and journalists were discovered.
However, the said incident was shown as not an isolated case. Netizens all over the country that expressed their dismay on the passage of Anti-Terrorism Bill on Congress and the current actions made by the government on handling the COVID-19 pandemic realized that they also have dummy accounts bearing their names. (READ: https://bit.ly/CebuEight).
Students aren’t the only ones receiving death threats. Two days before he was slain on May 28, Ormoc urban poor leader Carlito Badion was red-tagged and received death threats via text message. He has been receiving threats throughout the term of Duterte’s presidency. Dumaguete radio broadcaster Rex Cornelio was also a recipient of such threats, before being shot multiple times on his way home on May 5. His death is the 16th journalist killing under the present administration.
Perspective is currently trying to contact Ray Biñas to clarify the incident. [P]