From misinformation to confusion: Dysfunctional communications



PROBABLY the worst thing about the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) as run by Secretary Martin Andanar is that it has dared ask Congress for a bigger 2017 budget.

This, despite the fact that it has no communications plan, no strategy for information dissemination, and on a most basic level, does not even have one working, credible, well-developed official government website, four months in.

Instead it’s working off three different Facebook pages–-all of which do not cost a single cent–-which are all generally devoid of the important information we need about government. Why should we spend more on this office that does nothing but make things worse: through its silences, and even given its articulations.

It might be said that all those who criticize government are temperamental brats. And yes, I’m taking that out of context.

Encouraging misinformation
If I am to give Andanar some credit, I would say that this is all deliberate: maybe the task is to not communicate? Maybe the goal is to let the President be, let him fight his own battles, and let the online army and trolls take up the cudgels for him? Who needs a comms office when there are enough defenders online?

Never mind that few are thinking about what they’re saying, and a majority are perennially on attack mode. Never mind that everything always boils down to either calling media out for its biases, or asserting that the critic is yellow and/or disente and/or elitist.

Which is not to say that this is not the case for some of the criticism. But certainly this cannot be said for everyone who is critical of the President-–in the same way that there is no point in painting Duterte devotees as all blind followers.

But this is precisely what Andanar’s PCO lives off: the violence of the black versus the white, the yellow versus the red, the disente versus the troll. Instead of being at the forefront of erasing this divide by being transparent and delivering credible information for all, it has encouraged this divide by refusing to do its job.

Speaking of doing his job, Andanar seems to still be confused about what his job entails. He is head of the government’s communications office, which means we need not hear him speak: we need to see him establishing the strategy and vision for information dissemination and government transparency, and this is not just about the President, but about what all of government is up to-–departments, agencies, offices included.

Yet for a non-spokesperson, the Notes section of the @PresidentialCom Facebook page has more statements from Andanar than from any other member of the Cabinet–-including the President.


And then there’s the fact that Andanar has a biweekly column with a broadsheet, which makes one wonder: how can he have the time to do that given the amount of work at the PCO?

No credibility
If you look at the official statements that the PCO has released, the effort to calm the public, assuage our fears by actually clarifying issues, is half-hearted at best. It is clear that little time is spent writing proper responses to issues at hand. For one thing, they have titles such as “From the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson on the Statement of UNCHR,” or “From the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson on PRRD’s statement on the US Special Forces in Mindanao,” which are followed by 100-word statements that don’t even tell you exactly what these are responding to.

For an office that insists media takes the President out of context, they don’t do context well either.

Andanar also doesn’t seem to care about the credibility of the PCO as an office, allowing its supporters to use official government statements as they might. Case in point: Thinking Pinoy has been putting his logo on official Palace statements, which does not only sow more confusion, it also makes official statements less credible, stamped as it is with the logo of a private enterprise. Any other communications office worth its salt would’ve already called out this practice for disrespecting official Palace communications.

In fact, any communications office worth its salt would’ve already called out even its own supporters for violent reactions, attack-mode rhetoric, troll discourse, and disrespect.

Oh, but not Andanar!

Sowing confusion
The notion that media is biased against this government is one that has been sustained by Duterte devotees and by government itself. And while true, it bears repeating that we are all biased, and that includes Andanar’s PCO. Case in point: the @PresidentialCom FB Page published the statements of senators supportive of the drug war, but silenced everyone else. This, after Andanar criticized the previous PCDSPO for being biased, which is why he wanted to “change” the Official Gazette.

Biases aside, we all know why the President’s statements are easy to misinterpret: he tends to meander when he speaks, going off-script, ignoring what is in his prepared speeches, he jokes a lot, shifts across three languages, and uses idiomatic expressions, too. The PCO should’ve had a team from the beginning keeping track of the President’s pronouncements, and making sure it is understood in the context within which these are said.

Alas, in many of the speech transcripts that have been posted (not all speeches are posted), Andanar’s PCO does not even edit or fact-check or correct the things the President says, if only for the sake of clarity. And don’t even expect translations.

When the President shifts to Bisaya-–or has a whole speech in it-–there are no translations. When we don’t understand what the President said in a speech, neither did Andanar’s team-–so they put a question mark in parenthesis in their transcription. When the President trails off and we miss what he said-–PCO misses it, too, so they put in parentheses: (inaudible).

If the one office in charge of information, of clarifying where the President stands, of telling us about what government has been up to with long-form, threshed-out articles, well-planned infographics, and data that is urgently needed, if this office cannot even tell us what the President was saying-–or what he meant to say-–why again is Andanar asking for a bigger 2017 budget? ***


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