The rhetoric was one of change and optimism in the beginning, of a revitalized PTV4, of a Presidential Communications that did not engage in the spin that we had gotten used to for six years. The promise was information delivered promptly and with transparency, never mind the task of propaganda.
After all, when you’ve got a President who is doing right by nation, enough Cabinet members doing good work, and the Left, Right, Center on your side – not to mention millions in votes – there is no reason to be defensive, no reason to do propaganda.
You are Martin Andanar: media personality, Presidential appointee, with public funds and media resources now at your disposal. You would be the change President Duterte promised.
First Act: Erasure
You presume everything was wrong with the previous government’s Presidential Communications given what they did to the Official Gazette.
Because what did they do? They transformed it into a one-stop portal of government information, a website that not only gives the public easy access to the government’s important projects – across the different Departments and Agencies, with proper links to the websites and portals of these offices – but also provides the most up-to-date information about what’s happening in Malacañang and with the President. It also posts Executive Orders and Memoranda, and all other official documents, alongside historical commemorations and specific pages for important historical events: the EDSA People Power Revolution, Martial Law, Philippine Independence.
You look at this site and you tell the public: “It has become a lifestyle magazine of some sorts [sic], politicizing most of what is supposed to be factual, disallowing proper context to every historical piece [sic] and laws [sic].”
You assert that the laws that created the Official Gazette are clear: it should only have official documents of government. Never mind that these laws are dated 1902 and 1941, respectively, and both require that (1) the Official Gazette be printed and disseminated to the public, and (2) that it be in English and Spanish.
You’ll ignore those parts of the law: you’re powerful enough to be selective. It is also within your power to erase all information you deem useless from the Official Gazette, never mind the historical data that might be useful to the public – if not to you.
No. What is useful to you is a new site. You will call it the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) website, and it is there that you will refuse to do what the past government did: do spin and spew propaganda, but also inform the public about the issues of the day and provide the public with urgently needed information.
Oh no, you are not going to do any of that.
Second Act: Propaganda
What you will do is write a regular column with one of the country’s broadsheets.
Never mind that being a Cabinet Secretary is a full-time job. You will rationalize having this column by using it for shameless propaganda – at least it’s not going to be on an official government website (you will link to it though, and that’s okay right?).
The column is the best thing ever. It is here that you can talk about what the President is like behind the scenes, it is here that you can compare him to Ronald Reagan – and whoever else you deem fit. You can also be witty and have titles like “Rodying High” when you talk about what the President brought home from official trips to China and Japan. You can call the President “the rainmaker” and paint him as the next Lee Kwan Yew, you can say he’s a “man of charisma” as he is an “alpha male.”
You humanize the President, and talk about the things the public misses in his speeches, caught up as they are with what he actually says. In the meantime, you’re reading between the lines and echoing only what you want to hear, especially those parts where he “opens a window into his soul” because he is “lonely at the top.” You will romanticize this President, as you would his kind of governance.
You’ll see how these articles are shared on Facebook pages and fake news sites. You think highly of these pages.
Third Act: Fight
You fight with media.
Why do they keep using direct quotes from the President’s speeches? Why do they keep asking difficult questions? Why do they keep counting the number of dead in the streets, when they could just see the positive in all of this? Beyond the media, you wonder why so many are critical of the President.
You think: go to hell.
You’d rather talk to those who are not critical at all. After all, they are the ones with millions in followers on social media, and to you that is an indication that not only are they superstars, they are also credible. They’re the perfect back-up: they can answer questions better than you, they can curse at the Malacañang Press Corps, they can fight with critics of government. They can do damage control better, they can listen and re-listen to what the President actually says in speeches, and they can reply accordingly.
They have the President’s back, and they are doing your job for you. This is a good thing: their presence allows you to scrap the communications plan, continue the column, and go on unnecessary roadshows fueled by public funds.
And don’t forget: they allowed you to fulfill your dream of being in Trump’s presidential inauguration, though you did think after his speech that “The world cannot afford an America staring at its navel.”
The Philippines meanwhile has no choice but watch you stare at yours.
Published in The Manila Times, January 29 2017.