When I heard Grace Poe’s statement about her husband – during the final presidential debate held last Sunday (April 24) in Pangasinan – I thought, aha, Sen. Poe has finally decided to advance a step beyond her “succession of falsities” (Justice Arturo Brion’s term in his SC dissenting opinion) and her “web of lies” (the term used in the Open Source Investigations report on her husband Neil Llamanzares).
Poe declared before the nation on live TV that Neil Llamanzares had already renounced his American citizenship.
In fact, it turns out, her husband did not renounce his US citizenship before a consular official of the US embassy as required by US law. Instead he renounced it before a Filipino barangay official in Greenhills, an event that has zero significance to US authorities.
Poe carefully avoided saying that her husband is no longer a US citizen, or that he has surrendered his American passport, or that the US government has validated the renunciation.
Finally, Ms. Poe also did not say that Mr. Llamanzares is now a Filipino citizen. She only stated that her husband is a natural-born Filipino, having been born to Filipino parents in the US. But his Filipino citizenship is still inchoate; he has to officially go through the process of acquiring or perfecting it by law. This he has not done.
Still a US citizen
For all intents and purposes, Mr. Neil Llamanzares remains a US citizen, and he will still be an American on June 30, if, by an act of extreme blindness and foolishness, the Filipino people choose Grace Poe as their next President on May 9.
Is a half-truth better than a lie? Is it enough to earn Christ’s promise of freedom to the truth-teller? (“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” Chapter 8, verse 32, The Gospel according to Saint John, New Testament).
In the gospel, Jesus spoke only about the truth. He said nothing about “the whole truth” or fractions of the truth, like a half-truth.
The expression, “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” is not Biblical in origin. It is part of English law. It entered the language in the 13th century, and became a standard feature of English trials as “the honesty oath.”
Will the half-truth cure the persistent dishonesty in Grace Poe’s public persona? Will it spare her from further questioning about her husband’s citizenship?
No chance. Before she left Pangasinan, Poe was pestered by journalists for proof and details about her husband’s renunciation of US citizenship, to the point that she got annoyed.
Damage control by facts disclosure
Grace and Neil Llamanzares are dealing with two problematic stories that need to be sufficiently explained for the public to understand. These are:
First, the real story of Neil’s American citizenship; and its implications for his potentially becoming First Gentleman of the Philippines; and
Second, the real story of Neil’s employment as a contractor of the US National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Ageny (CIA); and its implications for Philippine state secrets and national security.
Grace Poe will not break free from all the questioning until the couple comes clean on these issues through the scrupulous disclosure of facts. Instead of surmounting issues, she exacerbates them by telling lies.
A classic example is her handling of the expose by Daily Tribune editor in chief Ninez Cacho-Olivares, that while living in the US Grace Poe stole the identity of a dead man by using his social security number, SSN. Instead of answering the well-documented story, she compounded the felony by issuing an outright lie – that the SSN was her ID number while she was studying at Boston College. The denial has been debunked. The stolen SSN surfaced in the purchase by the Llamanzares couple of a property in Virginia, which is in close proximity to the home base of the CIA in Langley, Virginia.
Poe and her team do not know damage control in dealing with an unfavorable story – that the key is to get ahead of the story by disclosing the facts about it.
One Washington insider who should know how to handle a bad story – because he worked in the White House at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal – is former Clinton counsel Larry Davis.
In his book Truth to Tell, he wrote that the worst response to a bad story is an information blackout strategy – starving the story of information and comment, and refusing to cooperate with anyone pursuing the story. It does not work; it leads the media to dig harder for the real story.
A better strategy, says Davis, is a policy of prudent disclosure of facts. One important tool is the creation of what he calls “the predicate story” or the baseline story on the issue. He wrote:
“Help the reporter writing the first story, make sure it’s complete, with everything in it – and in all likelihood the story will be over. It will become the starting point for all reporting. If you let the story dribble out in pieces, there will be 10 bad stories, each half right and incomplete, rather than one bad story.”
This is sound advice. Bill Clinton survived the Lewinsky scandal, weathered impeachment by Congress, and then obtained a higher approval rating.
A strategy of lying
Grace Poe is not interested in these subtleties of reputation management and damage control.
She has become smug in her belief that a strategy of lying works just fine, because even the Supreme Court has sustained her in her deceptions. She thinks that her lily-white costuming in the campaign has everyone fooled, and her fatuous policy pretenses can stand serious dissection and questioning.
Given this, Neil Llamanzares will not clean up his act or come clean with the facts.
If a half-truth will not work to set Grace Poe free, maybe a lie is a more reliable ride to Malacañang.