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Anastasia, Flory Basa, Conchita

The most widely read article in this paper in the past 30 days, based on its Internet version’s metrics, wasn’t about Chief Justice Renato Corona’s trial or about singer Jessica Sanchez. It was the May 13 front-page piece, “Filipino grandmama could be Russia’s Anastasia.”

With a record-breaking 84,000 readers e-mailing the article to their friends and to social network sites, it could even be this paper’s most widely read article ever, with a million Filipinos probably enthralled by the tale.

It is, however, a preposterous yarn. The author claims that her grandmother “Lola Puti” was the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia, the youngest daughter of the last tsar, Nicolas II. It’s not a novel claim: About a dozen charlatans and crackpots since the 1930s in the United States and Europe have claimed to be Anastasia, that she miraculously escaped her family’s ruthless execution in 1918 by Lenin’s elite troops.

These claims have been conclusively disproven a decade ago, with the most scientific refutation using DNA testing to conclude that Anastasia was killed and cremated along with her family.

How could the article be anything approaching reality? One of its main “proofs” that Lola Puti was Anastasia was that a “spiritual medium” told the author she had royal bloodline, and that he had visions of her grandma’s execution.

Ignore the article’s thick sentimentalism, and it is in the genre of that joke about Jose Rizal fathering Hitler during our hero’s sojourn in Germany.  Yet with an astounding number of people reading it, Lola Puti has become the Duchess Anastasia in the minds of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos.

Such is the power of the press.

* * *

Looking like a pampered, rich Balikbayan, Ana Basa wouldn’t have generated a lot of sympathy for her claim that the Coronas robbed her side of the family of their patriarch’s inheritance.

No problem. Her 90-year-old aunt Sr. Flory Basa was brought out of the convent to become the avenging angel condemning the “oppression” by the Coronas, “speaking truth to power.” Journalists of course didn’t dare trouble her soul by asking her if she was aware of the allegation that her side of the clan grabbed Ms Cristina Corona’s share of the P2.5 billion from the sale of the clan’s Eastwood property.

Of course, it was just coincidental that Sister Flory interrupted her contemplative life to talk against Corona precisely when the case against the Chief Justice was collapsing in March, after the prosecutors’ charges of Corona’s 45 properties were proven to be lies, and when they junked five of the eight charges.

Of course, Ana Basa came to the Philippines only to take care of her aunt who had become ill.  It was “God-maneuvered,” a respected columnist claimed—although rumors were that “God” in this case was a yellow senator who paid for her plane fare. And it wasn’t a bother at all for her to be interviewed by the press while she was in town. Why, she’d even bring the media to her aunt’s convent to interview her on how bad the Coronas were.

Corona was removed not because his SALN wasn’t accurate. He was taken out because he was morally unfit: an elderly, saintly-looking nun in so many words said so. That photo of Sister Flory nearly with a halo over her head, which took up a fourth of the paper’s front page, undoubtedly was in the minds of the 20 senators when they voted “guilty.”

Such is the power of the press.

* * *

How on earth could Corona’s removal be a key move in President Aquino’s anticorruption crusade when there wasn’t an iota of evidence that he was corrupt?

No problem. Just as Marcos became the epitome of corruption since he had secret Swiss bank accounts, Corona would be portrayed corrupt if he is shown to have huge dollar accounts. Enter Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who brandished documents of bank data to allege that the Chief Justice had $12 million in 82 dollar accounts. Newspaper banner headlines would scream that accusation in different ways in the crucial days before judgment day.

There were of course explanations that Morales foolishly—or maliciously—added up both debit and credit entries over nine years to come up with a grossly inflated sum, which she wrongly concluded was Corona’s holdings. But these were buried deep in the inside pages of newspapers. If he reads beyond the front pages, would Sen. Lito Lapid strain his mind to study such explanations?

Such is the power of newspaper banner headlines. People seldom read or even remember their refutation.

Such is the power of the press.

Sen. Vicente Sotto articulated the real reason for the 20 senators’ “guilty” vote:  “I have heard the people’s decision, and I vote guilty,” he said.  The impeachment wasn’t a judicial process, nor was it a political one. It was a brainwashing process of people’s minds, the most devious and ruthless character assassination through media I’ve ever witnessed.

The American press got a nation to go to war on the basis of the fabrication that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Here, the press can make a Malate-based grandmother the Grand Duchess Anastasia. It can topple a popular president, then rehabilitate his reputation to become runner-up in a presidential election; demonize another to put her in jail because of the accusation of a single person involved in a massacre; mythologize a mediocre senator to become president, and to take out the Chief Justice.

It is an alarming feature of modern society: what we think in “our minds” is the creation of a media elite. It is the deep anomaly of democracy: Yes, it is the rule of the people, whose minds though are manipulated, through media, by the ruling class.

I tremble before this modern god called Media.