One understands the kind of big picture that President Rodrigo Duterte is working with: broad strokes is obviously how he functions, big words, too. He’s angry at oligarchs, at drugs, at irresponsible mining, at unjust policies. He will name names, he has no fear.
This is supposed to build trust, yes? It’s supposed make us all believe that the man 15 million people voted into office will deliver the promises he made during the campaign.
Except that of course this time around, his rhetoric has to be backed up by premises and results: policies and directives, executive orders, statistics, research. Except that this time, when he speaks, he is not actually trying to win our votes; he is proving that he deserves the position that he dared aspire for.
The President’s gung-ho rhetoric needs to be balanced with facts and figures and, to me at least, that is the responsibility of his communications team.
But the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) seems to be operating on radio silence. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate that government now does not spew propaganda about the good it’s doing – that is so 2010 to 2016 on Daang Matuwid. But there is a bare minimum that the PCO needs to be doing, and so far it does not even seem to be doing that.
And making available the data that we need isn’t even a tall order. All the statistics, all the numbers are at hand. You want numbers on the drug war? Go to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). Parallel the official government numbers with the media-generated ones, and begin a discussion on the discrepancy in numbers: why does that discrepancy exist, and how might we come up with a real assessment of the situation?
With the PCO taking charge of informing the public about this drug war, government offices will be forced to come out with statistics and numbers, and we might actually get a better sense of what the police are doing wrong. Sure they are acting under the orders of the President and the PNP Chief, but what of those summary executions? Aren’t the police responsible for those, too, because they are in fact in charge of peace and order?
The President has been going to town against oligarchs, and yet it’s clear that many members of his Cabinet, many members of Congress, are part of oligarchies themselves. How difficult is it to give the public data about the history of oligarchs in this country, and which ones the President feels are unjust and unfair, and which ones he absolves or forgives for their sins against the people?
And what of the unjust policies that make the President’s blood boil? What changes might we expect, what changes have happened, in the different departments? There was a time the government website was the place for all information on government. Right now, it’s not even a portal for what the President is thinking, or planning, for nation.
No source of information
The PCO could be the rational source of information and data here, and could steer the discourse to a higher level. But how do they even go about working on higher discourse, when it can’t even work on information dissemination?
At the very least, we expect the PCO to release, right away, transcriptions of the President’s speeches and public talks – the better to understand him, and the easier to generate a discussion about the issues that he raises, as well as the issues that are raised against him.
At most: a communications office that is in control. That knows to put out the information that mainstream media will not come out with. That knows how important it is that the public is informed in a timely manner, before the media spins the soundbites, before the controversies begin. That knows how critical it is that the President’s grand declarations and broad strokes actually translate to facts and figures, arguments and dialogues, so that the nation might understand what’s going on better.
The silence of the office in charge of communications is deafening.
One also wonders if this is all a strategy, the radio silence that the PCO practices on issues that blow up in their (or is it our?) faces at any given point in time.
Like when Freddie Aguilar went to town about being chosen by the President to head the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). That one stretched on for far too long, and is still a running joke at this point – not only is that position not appointed by the President, Aguilar also has little credibility even within his own sector of musicians that there was no one who vouched for him and his abilities, really.
The PCO needed to speak then, especially since Aguilar kept name dropping the President and what he requested from him (a department of culture), and what he was being given instead (the NCCA). But instead the PCO was silent on it, never mind that this put the President in a bad light, and made him seem like a fascist who was going to dictate who and how the cultural sector was to be led, never mind what the rules say.
And if the PCO does not care about words being put in the President’s mouth, how can it be the voice of government when it comes to talking about say, Constitutional Convention versus Constitutional Assembly? With charter change a critical part of the President’s campaign platform, ConCon should’ve been in the Top 5 things the communications office should have already been preparing to inform the public about since Day One.
But we are almost 90 days since the May 10 elections, and nothing.
One can’t help but wonder if this is a strategy in itself, the nothingness. After all, given mainstream and social media’s propensity to make mountains out of molehills, given the glee the middle and upper classes get out of making hashtags trend and poking fun at the President, maybe this state of affairs has become the most convenient way to keep the more important issues, directives, orders under public radar.
And as the President tries to convince us that he is to be trusted, that his loyalty is to the people, that he owes no politician, congressman or senator anything, and he is not engaged in partisan and patronage politics, one can’t help but wonder why we should trust even his communications people, who fall silent on the things the President speaks about and is unable to follow-through on these.
Unless of course the point is to keep us ill-informed?