From the time President Benigno Aquino 3rd was sworn into office on June 30, 2010, and for nearly four years running, the Aquino administration has been implementing a political program and strategy that is called in Washington DC, as “the Permanent Campaign.”
No, I did not get this information from an administration insider, who decided to blow the whistle on the government. I reached this conclusion on my own, by reviewing the initiatives, policies and decisions of this administration, and from examining them in the light of political theory and practice.
As its name implies, the permanent campaign is a political program and strategy that a government or administration employs to maintain a high level of approval and support from the public and constituency it serves. Under this theory in political science, there is continuity between campaigning and governing.
Key Aquino initiatives
In line with the permanent campaign strategy, the administration took the following initiatives:
1. First, President Aquino and his team did not stop campaigning after the 2010 presidential election. Since many of the campaign officers and workers took key positions in the government (sometimes in the cabinet), there was little need to reorganize. They just turned their attention from selling a candidate to selling a president.
2. Second, because of the vengeful character of BS Aquino, deliver payback to his enemies and rivals as a top priority. Charge former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with crimes of plunder and other crimes. Impeach Ombudsman Merciditas Guttierrez. Impeach Chief Justice Renato Corona.
A new chief justice handpicked by Aquino should be in office within two years.
3. Secure full control of both houses of Congress. Pick a servile House Speaker and Senate President. Open the door to turncoats from all parties, including partylist representatives. Buy their loyalty with a generous pork barrel package for all.
4. Screen all appointments to the bureaucracy, the Cabinet, the judiciary, and all promotions in the Armed forces and the national police
5. Reorganize and expand the communications machinery of government. Copy the White house model.
6. Work immediately on Mar Roxas’ candidacy and succession to the presidency.
7. Conscript the media for the propaganda effort. Take control of Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia to ensure BS Aquino’s high ratings
8. With respect to the budget, pursue a policy of underspending in order to generate savings. Scuttle ongoing public works projects of the Arroyo administration, even those already in the pipeline.
Secure ratings upgrades, even investment grade, from the credit-rating agencies. Buy the ratings if we have to.
9. Expand the Conditional Cash Transfer Program of the Arroyo government to create a potent electoral base for the administration party in 2013 and 2016.
10. Place a high priority on the passage of the Reproductive Health Law to put the Catholic Church in its place. Pass a Cybercrime Prevention Law so the Internet is not used to weaken and take down the government. Pass these laws during the 15th Congress.
Theory of the permanent campaign
The permanent campaign is a political theory of governing that was conceived by pollster Patrick Caddell, while working for US President Jimmy Carter. On December 10, 1976, he wrote a famous memo to President Carter entitled “Initial Working Paper on Political Strategy.”
In the memo, he wrote: “Essentially, it is my thesis that governing with public approval requires a continuing political campaign.”
From the memo, the phrase “the permanent campaign” was subsequently developed and elaborated by other political strategists, political scientists and communicators, so much so that it became a regular feature of every new American administration.
Clinton senior adviser Sidney Blumenthal wrote a book in 1980 entitled “The Permanent Campaign.” He explained how American politics had changed from old-style patronage and party organization to a new system based on the modern technology of computer-driven polling and media.
In another book, What Happened, Inside the Bush White House, former Bush press Secretary Scott McClellan reveals that the Bush White House suffered from a “permanent campaign” mentality,
One of his revealing observations is this: “In the permanent campaign, governing is primarily focused on manipulating sources of public approval, using such tools as the news media, political blogs, popular websites and opinion polls.”
Mclellan’s conclusion is somber: “Too much of the permanent campaign mentality can cripple an administration. It brought down the Nixon presidency, and nearly ended Clinton’s, despite his ‘spin doctors and well-oiled propaganda machine.’ ” And it severely damaged the Bush White House.
American tutelage of Aquino
I don’t know how much American advice and coaching President Benigno Aquino 3rd got during his run for the Presidency in 2010, and in his conduct of the office. But It’s a safe bet that American help was sought and given (by the CIA especially), and that the relationship continues to this day – three years and 10 months into Aquino’s six-year term.
By no coincidence, Washington is heavily invested in securing a new agreement for the rotational presence of US troops in Philippine military bases, in seeing a Bangsamoro state established in Mindanao (where the US envisions a future US military base), in getting the Philippines to serve as a cog in the US pivot to Asia. Meanwhile, on President Aquino’s end, it’s crucial for his tough talk that the US remains committed to defending the Philippines in case of war with another country.
The creation of the Hydra-headed Malacanang Communications Office with multiple spokesmen and press secretaries is a direct offshoot of Aquino’s embrace of the permanent campaign.
Ricky Carandang’s old office, the Strategic Planning Office, is a direct copy from the White House system. The real WH office, however, is more serious and knowing about strategy; it’s called the Office of Strategic Initiatives, and it is concerned with long-range strategic initiatives, not with using trolls against independent columnists and bloggers. Karl Rove created this one, and he is a big-time political strategist compared to Carandang.
I believe many of the serious mistakes of the administration have been caused by the adoption of the permanent campaign, and the obsession with public approval.
The disaster in the handling of the hostage-taking disaster arose from amateurism – Aquino panicked in his first crisis, people in their post like Carandang could not handle a simple phone call from the Governor of Hong Kong. The effort to get ahead of the problem with the De Lima inquiry was a failure because Malacañang could not stomach its recommendations.
Ironically, the permanernt campaign here produced a permanent headache. By not tackling the crisis then, the administration is haunted to this day by Hong Kong’s insistence on an apology.
The vengeance schemes of the President–against President Arroyo, Chief Justice Corona, and the opposition–have confirmed Confucius’s warning: “Before embarking on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” There is probably more affection today for GMA than during her last year in office.
The tactics used in impeaching Chief Justice Corona crossed a line. There will be retribution.
In trying to intimidate and pack the Supreme Court with his appointees, President Aquino may have created a more independent High Court.
The conscript media—an essential part of the permanent campaign strategy – is no longer as influential and pliant as it once was.
The sensational pork-barrel inquiry, designed to permanently damage certain figures of the opposition, is ending with a whimper. Poor Justice Secretary De Lima looks comical now.
Bob Woodward, one of the two journalists who pinned down the Watergate scandal of the Nixon presidency, says that Watergate produced two fundamental lessons that should be learned:
First, if there is questionable activity, release the facts, whatever they are, as early and completely as possible.
Second, do not allow outside inquiries, whether conducted by prosecutors, congressmen or reporters, to harden into a permanent state of suspicion and warfare.
The Yolanda catastrophe was a tragedy for all East Visayans. It is a disaster as well for President Aquino and his administration.
Propaganda cannot change that. Only responsible governance can.