It is one thing to be a nationalist and independent leader, but that does not mean that one cannot be civil, or be a statesman. On the international stage, it has been said that that we should all speak in one voice and that the elected leader represents all 100 million Filipinos. But what happens when communication handlers make a non-event (departure) the defining moment of the first international trip of PRRD?
So many things uttered and major takeaways misread. But no message management was made to have a clear news archive, ready feeds to journalists, ensuring no misinterpretations. The communication team bounced back effectively the following day with two statements from the press secretary and presidential spokesman. It would have been on point, save for the interpretation of official statements by the peace adviser. The same is true with the statement made by the labor secretary in Manila. Both were out of sync and uncalled for.
It was a terrible handling in the sense that it could have been prevented at the presser, upon landing and while PRRD was in Laos and Indonesia. Critical in presidential communication are the framing, reframing, positioning and repositioning. Worst was the public and official release of the information on the seating arrangement at the Asean gala dinner. It was crisis after crisis and the greenhorn support didn’t serve PRRD well.
Take note, “communication itself comes with a frame. The elements of the communication frame include: A message, an audience, a messenger, a medium, images, a context, and especially, higher-level moral and conceptual frames. The choice of language is, of course, vital, but it is vital because language evokes frames — moral and conceptual frames.” Forming is not spinning and spinning can be positive and negative.
“Frames form a system. The system has to be built up over time. It takes a long-range effort to do that” and since Duterte has not been in the national or international stage, one has to guide and manage framing. “Most of this system development involves moral and conceptual frames, not just communicative frames. Communicative framing involves only the lowest level of framing.”
“Framing is an art, though cognitive linguistics can help a lot. It needs to be done systematically.”
When deconstructed, there were key messages that could have been useful in handling the crisis: from Bud Dajo to “the Philippines is not a vassal state. We have long ceased to be a colony of the United States. We are not the lapdogs of the US” to “I will not be America’s boy in this part of the globe,” among others. Explaining and using such historical context and dramatic statements could have media giving it extended life and the narrative could have better placed Duterte as a leader on the international stage.
Why was the US President in Laos? Apart from the Asean Summit, Obama was there to acknowledge what happened to Laos because of US action. Obama described “Laos as the most heavily bombed nation in history.” “Eight bombs a minute were dropped on average during the Vietnam war between 1964 and 1973 – more than the amount used during the whole of World War II.” The US flew “580,344 bombing missions over Laos, dropping 260m bombs – equating to 2 million tons of ordnance, with many targets in the south and north struck time and again as part of efforts to isolate Communist North Vietnamese forces. Most devices dropped were anti-personnel cluster bombs. An estimated 30 percent of these munitions did not detonate.” Ten of the 18 Laotian provinces have been described as “severely contaminated” by unexploded ordnance.
The “two million bombs are equivalent to one planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, or roughly one tonne of explosives for every man, woman and child in Laos at the time. Laos remains the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.” As one Laotian recalled, the bombs “fell like rain.” Obama announced that some $90 million will be spent over three years for the removal of cluster bombs and other unexploded ordnance. That compares with $100m spent in the last 20 years. No apology was offered for the bombing.
So why did PRRD make reference to “at the turn of the century, before the Americans left, the Philippines, in the pacification campaign of the Moro on this island, there were around 6 million, ang population ng Moro, how many died? Six hundred.” That should not be lost in the translation. The American President was there to acknowledge and not apologize for the “bombs that fell like rain.” The Philippine President wanted to raise the 1906 Bud Dajo massacre and this is where most Filipinos did not get it. Simply because the Mindanao narrative has not been ingrained in us. The Moro storyline has always been seen with the prism of the Southern Mindanao problem and not how they have defended this country. Just like the rest, we were educated by the “simple mayor from Mindanao.”
Get the paper of Dr. RT Oliveros entitled, “The Massacre of 600 Moros: What Really Happened in Bud Dao?” And learn why it should be an issue to be taken to heart: “Bud Dajo was six kilometers from Jolo, the capital of Sulu. The Moros trekked the crater of Bud Dajo for what they considered their last stand. Described as “eight hundred Moros, who have sought refuge in the crater of Bud Dajo … remnants of two or three revolts … rebels against the poll tax, die-hards against the American occupation, outlaws recognizing no datto and condemned by the stable elements among the Moros themselves.” The supposedly “stable elements” were the sultan and his loyal datus, who were worried and angered by the disobedient Moros at Bud Dajo “because they represented successful defiance of their [the chief’s]traditional authority.”
“The Bud Dajo Moros were determined to create a separate Islamic village set on top of Bud Dajo. They brought their wives and children up to the mountain with provisions. “With sufficient water in the extinct volcano, they planted rice and potatoes and ventured out during the day to obtain other supplies. In a seemingly impregnable position behind large fortifications, they became bolder in their opposition to American authority.” This time, they were not ruled by the sultan nor by datus but by themselves, guided by a council of religious leaders, the imams.”
“When the Americans were assured that they had flattened the camp, the assault of their troops followed. As they climbed, they were met with a shower of javelins, knives, bullets, and boulders. The Moros, armed mainly with kris and barongs, were no match for the American’s modern warfare. Their only defense was their bodies, and victory for a Moro was to die with even just one American body beside him/her. Some feigned death and attacked the Americans as they came within striking distance. Among the sabils were women dressed as men, who fought just as bravely. “Moro women, dressed in men’s clothes, fought side by side with their husbands.” The official report states that “[T]he Moro women fought alongside the men and held their children before them, having sworn to die rather than yield. In this way, a number of women and children were among the killed – an unfortunate but necessary evil.” By the end of the battle, more than 600 Moro men, women, and children had been killed. On the American side, there were 21 killed and 75 wounded. Vic Hurley reported that after the carnage, “many of the Moros who died had as many as fifty wounds. Of the 1,000 Moros who opened the battle two days previously, only six men escaped.”
The most critical reaction came from Mark Twain, who was involved in the Anti-Imperialist League, when he considered the US Army as ‘Christian butchers.’ The Anti-Imperialist League used this opportunity to further their cause. General Leonard Wood was forced to vacate his post, a little more than a month after the massacre, as a consequence of political pressure from the US Congress and mounting criticism of his actions at Bud Dajo.
When juxtaposed against each other, the “bombs falling like rain” in Laos and the Bud Dajo massacre are like separate plays taken from the same book. In one so-called presidential rant, PRRD taught us about Moro history, Mindanao and its role in our history. When people are made uneasy, when truth stares down at power, leaders risk more but ultimately, the country wins.
As Plato said, “There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.”
When people create, write and live together, history continues and evolves. When friends find time to bond and share chapters of their lives, the learning continues. So, to Vicky Pollisco, Atet Torres, Nikki Ibanez, Cynthia Caparas, Issa Baron, Cynthia Colet, Ymay Jeturian, Osang Alcalde, Vedy Magno and Tonette Gaynilo, “in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”