If there is one skill from his journalistic career that has worked best for Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar, it has to be the ability to distance his emotions from endless controversies hounding the Duterte administration.
Touching base with former colleagues from the entertainment press, the news anchor-turned-government appointee looked quite relaxed even as the National Day of Protest was still looming at the time of the interview.
“I’m feeling pretty good these days,” he told The T-Zone who remarked he had lost some weight since their last meeting.
“I lost 30 pounds from cutting dairy from my diet so I can actually surf standing up these days. Hindi na masyadong mabigat!” he laughed.
Andanar, who partly grew up in his father’s hometown in Siargao, escapes to the island whenever he can to ride the waves.
“Happily, more flights have opened up to Siargao because it really is the hottest destination nowadays,” he said with pride. “So even if I get called in during weekends, which happens a lot, madali naman makabalik sa Manila.”
With pleasantries out of the way, the conversation became more serious as questions about social media wars, fake news and Mocha Uson made their way to the table.
The T-Zone asked, “Lots of people nowadays have gone off Facebook, fed up with political rant from both sides. You have no choice but read them seeing that it is your office’s job to get the President’s message across. How do you deal with all the divisiveness, criticism and negativity?”
“I’ve been the target of such posts many times,” Andanar acknowledged, going straight for the bull’s eye. “In everything that comes out, whether about me, the President or other members of our office—the PNA included—I just take a step back and make an effort to be objective about it. I try to see where this person is coming from—politika ba, pro or anti ba siya, constructive ba ang sinabi niya—so that I get an understanding of what they are saying and address that if I have to.”
It is also through this same process that the secretary believes the public can sift “fake news” from facts, which can certainly help lessen divisiveness among Filipinos.
“As chairman of the Information component of the Asean I initiated a fake news round table with my counterparts in the other nine countries including Japan and we were able to discuss how they address this phenomenon. It was interesting to hear what’s been going on in their own countries, and we agreed it is indeed a challenge in this age of social media, and that the solution is to propagate media literacy across the population to help the public discern what to believe.”
While concrete steps to achieve this have yet to be worked out by the Asean representatives, Andanar’s immediate advice to the public is to first verify if the source of a particular story is credible.
“Parang lang yan sa isang barangay. Kapag yung kapitbahay mo, sinabing may lalaki si ganyan, iisipin mo muna
kung maniniwala ka. Baka tsismis lang yon.”
He went on to say that if the source of the news comes from a respectable member of the community, then it becomes more credible.
“We should teach the public to identify bonafide media, even when it comes to blogs. There are many retired journalists who blog now and are therefore very credible too.”
“What of PCOO Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson’s blog?” was naturally the next question.
“Si Mocha naman admits she’s not a journalist. She’s an entertainer but a bright entertainer. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have all the five million followers she has,” he replied thoughtfully. “And like I said, I use objectivity in everything I read, and in Mocha’s case, it’s politics—there are people who like her and those who don’t.
“Mocha’s blog is her personal blog and therefore outside the PCCO. We all know she has always been a staunch supporter of the President, so I try to understand where she’s coming from…” he trailed off.
“Isn’t it difficult that you always have to be understanding when it comes to Mocha?” The T-Zone pressed just a bit more.
“I do talk to her about the issues [which she gets into]… but no… it’s not difficult.”
As of late, Uson seems to be a magnet for trouble for the PCCO. As Assistant Secretary, she is under investigation by the Office of the President for performing in a casino with her girl group; slighted Muslims when she covered the President’s visit to a mosque in shoes and hair uncovered (she has since apologized and been forgiven), and of course accused of propagating fake news on her blog. [On Friday, Sen. Antonio Trillanes 3rd sued Uson for "cyber libel” over fake news he has bank accounts abroad].
Aware of the tricky position he holds for government today, given the powerful effect of social media—the positive, negative and grave—Andanar takes it all again with objectivity.
“I know the [b[bashing] not about the person. We’ve seen communication secretaries come and go… it’s about the position. For me, what’s important is that I know what I’m doing, I know my job and I know my objectives. Alam ko naman ang na-a-achieve natin.”