By Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo |February 02,2019 - 07:22 AM

Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo

When you want the juiciest tidbits of information, ask the taxi driver, the hairdresser and the manicurista/pedicurista.

That role is relegated to the bartenders in countries like the US but here in the Pearl of the Orient Seas, we leave it up to the Power Behind the Wheel, the Bearer of the Mighty Scissors and the Remover of Thine Ingrown Nail and Cuticle.

Strike a conversation with them and more than likely they know the stories behind what is reported by the media.

They have both vivid and hazy information of the sequence of events from the ambush that killed a barangay captain to the amount of money hidden under the bed of a real estate couple.

They know — or so they say — the 411 of the drug lords in Cebu’s hotspots and the beauty queens dated by the married, wealthy businessmen.

A driver once showed the scars that remind him of the time when he served as a bodyguard of the Ampatuans of Maguindanao. I was stunned as he did this while a vehicular accident brought traffic to a standstill on the highway leading to Consolacion town. I tried to wrap my head around the details of what he said. Either the man was telling the truth or he read every bit of information written on the papers. He knew the timeline and the journalists, ladies and aides killed that day, November 23, 2009.

“Why are you telling me all these?” I asked.

He replied: “So that someday, someone can tell the story. Because someday, they will catch up with me and drag me back home.”

I never dared ask for his name. My photographic memory will never forget it and I did not like what I heard that evening.

It was the kind of stuff you read in novels like F.H. Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles, winner of the Carlos Palanca Grand Prize for the English Novel in 1999.

It was that good.

Then, there is Alice (not her real name), the wonderful lady who goes to my house twice a month to make sure that I do not have dinosaur nails.

Alice is a mother of three with a jobless husband. She is pretty and amazing; a woman gifted with multiple talents. She does manicure/pedicure, foot spa and foot massage, haircut and hair coloring. She is also involved in several networking brands. Because she knew I hate being propositioned to buy a set of food keepers when I am struggling with an ingrown nail, Alice never dares to bring out her brochures.

She is sensitive to my need for silence.

Alice and I are also Facebook friends. For the past three days, she had been on a roll sending me chain messages that are both amusing and annoying.

Yesterday, she forwarded to me a screenshot of a bomb hoax that has been circulating for at least three years now.

I ignored it.

But Alice was not yet done.

She sent me another message; this time, a body of texts that specifically says that the report is “confirmed by Gen. Bato’s staff,” which most likely refers to the controversial former chief of the Philippine National Police.

The text calls for everyone in Cebu to stay clear of malls because the intelligence report they received said that “four women from Basilan are plotting to do suicide bombings in malls in Cebu. All malls are on high alert.”

It also reminded those who got the text to only pass by personal message and not to post as status on social media for security purposes.

Then, the message spiraled into an attempt to sound legitimate (but lame) by saying that it was a first-hand information from the sister of someone working in the Presidential Security Group (PSG) of President Rodrigo Duterte.

I had to call Alice to tell her this message is a hoax. She argued about the authenticity of the message, emphasizing that it was her customer, a well-known entrepreneur in Liloan who forwarded it to her. She believes her.

I am impatient when it comes to this situation and made a mental note to end our two-year relationship in the field of manicure and pedicure. But I also thought of the need to walk her through this because this is fake news and I have been an advocate of correcting people who, unknowingly, spread it thinking that it is true.

I reached out to SM and Ayala to issue statements about this so I can show it to Alice. The Ayala representative thanked me for the information and then said that they leave it up to the authorities to issue a statement about this. The police earlier said that Cebu is safe.

SM Supermalls, on the other hand, sent me a statement that they have forwarded to media organizations.

The statement says it is the same hoax circulated in the past three years. It was verified to be a hoax through a joint investigation of SM and the local PNP in several areas.

Alice was stunned. She already forwarded the message to her 2,000 plus contacts on Facebook. She had spread the news to the mothers, stationed at the school’s waiting area for at least three hours waiting for dismissal.

While I like getting “news” from the grapevine, I always err on the side of caution. Verify what you learn and do not just share information because you find it interesting. Many of the people who spread fake information do not intend to be agents of misinformation. But, quite frankly, they lack the critical thinking skills to sift through the explosion of information presented in front of them.

The next step is to just share and forward to get over that piece of information and then move on to the next.

My piece of advice, though unsolicited, is to be a kind critic and call them out. Do it so in a respectful and kind manner. Back it up with evidence and proof.

Much needs to be done in this era of online publishing and social media.

We really have to do our part.

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