CONTRARY to what many assert, I do not think that President Duterte has a communication problem.
I think he has a problem with his Presidential Communications Office (PCO), its Secretary Martin Andanar, and the whole team of people working under him.
In this series, I will look at how the PCO has functioned the past four months, towards assessing how this office in its current state, is an absolute waste of public funds. Unsurprisingly, it is easy to see what it is doing wrong, other than adding to the misinformation and confusion, ultimately becoming the best example of how destabilization can happen from within government–within the Palace.
The lack of a communications plan
It is clear that there is no communications plan for the Duterte government. And while I was forgiving in the beginning, there is absolutely no excuse to not have a working government website at this point, that is a one-stop portal of information about what is happening in government–from what it is doing, to how it is responding, and where it is going.
This website will expectedly be the space for all the good that government is doing, including what each department is up to, the work of each Cabinet Secretary, and the vision for a Cabinet of Change. It should cover the ground the President himself has covered in terms of radical change, from taking a stand against the unjust relations with America, to the peace talks with the NDF and MNLF, the pronouncements against mining, nuclear power, oligarchs, contractualization, and the historical context of these daring proclamations.
The President has promised transparency, so this website should have all executive orders and memorandums, properly explained, as well as transcripts of his speeches and Q&A sessions with media. The press briefings of the pertinent government officials should also be here. As with the President’s proclamations, speeches should be properly contextualized, where the more important subjects discussed –especially those not carried by media–are actually highlighted in individual news articles, with pertinent discussions about these, including government statistics and data.
For someone like President Duterte, this website should also have the carefully written, intelligently argued, responses to the public reactions to his more controversial statements. It is here that we might get a sense of the historical basis of the President’s pronouncements, here that we might be able to get a sense of why he says what he does, and what he really means. At the very least, we expect responses to foreign media’s misinterpretations of what the President says.
This is what we expect of the Official Gazette version 2.1: Communications for Change.
Version 2.0 was of course the previous government’s which, for all our complaints about how it spewed propaganda for six years, at least had the basic tasks of information dissemination down pat. Sure we could argue about how it might have spent too much time covering only the good that was happening in government, but at least it had PNoy’s back, and provided requisite explanations for mishaps, even if these would be criticized regardless.
You can’t say the same for President Duterte and the PCO.
I can’t help but agree with a friend: PNoy was propped up for six years by his communications team. That comms team showed they were there to back him up, protect and defend him, they did their jobs and did it well.
Four months in, and Andanar’s PCO cannot even prove they’ve got the President’s back.
Andanar’s problem is that he had a wrong assessment of the previous Official Gazette. From an August statement posted on PresidentialCom’s Facebook account:
“We observed that the online version of Official Gazette has already deviated to [sic]its mandate. 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].”
Ignoring the grammatical mistakes and confusing assertions, i.e., what is a “historical piece” and what is its “proper context” exactly? Andanar misses the point about what the Official Gazette should serve as, and what its function is. He falls back on Act No. 453 from 1902, and the Commonwealth Act No. 638 of 1941, to bring it back to just being a portal of memorandums and executive orders.
Which is just dumb. After all, if those are the laws he holds dear, why are they using Facebook and Twitter and the internet at all? Why do they have a tabloid? Those are NOT in the laws either, but are critical venues for information dissemination.
But FB pages cannot take on the function of an official government website. The latter should provide the public with a sense of what the government is up to, with credible information that is well organized, that is easily searchable, and is not just a list of official documents that no one understands. The Official Gazette, in order for it to be functional for government and useful for the public, has to work with histories and contexts, facts and figures, additional data and infographics and videos.
And Andanar can say many things about the previous Gazette, but not once was it a lifestyle magazine. The PresidentialCom FB page meanwhile published “Hanoi: Where East Meets West” on Sept 28. Now that was a lifestyle article is, and it has no place in any government page.
President Duterte stands on a platform of transparency, yet it is his PCO that has decided not to do its job of releasing credible, urgent, important information about government, its offices and officials, and the President. It all just seems lazy to me.
With a communications team like this one, who needs enemies?