Someone should tell the President to stop talking, and for his communications team to take control. Because the crisis in Marawi has revealed that he is preconditioned, at the worst time, to say the worst things.
It doesn’t matter if he’s here to begin with, or he’s arriving from a foreign trip. It doesn’t even matter that he has heard the public outcry against the martial law declaration, the fears that have been in the newspapers, on social media, out on the streets. He says what he wants. No one stops him.
Right there is why he is the worst leader to have at a time like this. There is no sense of control. No sense of order. There is no sense that he knows what he’s doing. And it gets worse.
A Russian junket
It was bad enough that on May 23, no one was in charge.
The first news report declared that the firefight between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Maute fighters started at 2 p.m. When we started hearing about the Maute members being seen in different places in Marawi, it was in the afternoon. During that stretch of time, there was nothing to be heard from Malacañang – not a peep. By evening AFP spokesman Restituto Padilla declared that whatever was going on in Marawi was “AFP-initiated.”
Soon after, ThinkingPinoy talks to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. via Facebook live, and he contradicts Padilla: “No, no, no, no. What he meant might have been that the Armed Forces is actually in operations, they have ongoing operations against one very well-known terrorist leader, so sila ang nagsimula no’n.”
Drawing the line between what was happening in Basak Malutlut where the AFP had ongoing operations to get the terrorist leader, and what was going on in Marawi, Esperon further said: “It could be related, (but) yung attack sa hospital could be a diversionary tactic, or there could be some situations that are developing simultaneously.”
Soon after that interview with Esperon, Padilla released a written statement, repeating his earlier one about this being an AFP-initiated attack.
Silence from Malacañang. No one to clarify contradicting statements. Andanar, Abella and even Mocha were in Russia. Walang tao sa tindahan. Nasa junket lahat.
Meanwhile, at around the same time that Esperon and Padilla were trying to allay our fears, media was interviewing the people of Marawi on live television, with CNN Philippines taking the lead and with Pia Hontiveros at the helm. The latter is crucial because Hontiveros has the professionalism to get stories straight, asking the right questions so that we might have a better sense of what’s happening on the ground.
And of course whatever we were hearing both from the news, and what was being posted on social media – credible and incredible – was enough for the rest of the country to take notice. What is going on in Marawi?
No one answers from Malacañang. At some point in the evening Armed Forces Chief of Staff Eduardo Año would start speaking for the AFP in different news shows, asserting that everything was under control.
Close to midnight we (finally!) see Abella of the Presidential Communications Office, and all he had to say was that the President wanted him to announce that martial law was being declared in all of Mindanao – contradicting the idea that things were “under control.”
Through to midnight, early morning, and until the following day, we would hear it being repeated by government officials and trolls: stop spreading false news! Here! Here’s an official statement from the military! From the President’s men! This is what we listen to!
But that is to put into question stories from the ground, first-hand information that was being gathered by mainstream media, from the people themselves: Mike Enriquez interviewing residents ready to evacuate, a priest talking about a Church being burned down. How could those stories not matter?
When you have a Presidential Communications Office that is deathly silent, we listen to people, and we cross our fingers that we’re not being had.
Meanwhile the President himself is being had. As of today, four days since he declared martial law because, among other things, the chief of police of Malabang, Lanao del Sur was beheaded, and a hospital has been taken over, both these narratives have already been put into question by people on the ground, and well, by the chief of police himself being alive (Inquirer.net, 26 May).
But the real enemy might not be the wrong information being fed the President. It is the President himself.
Arriving from Russia, the President’s strong man image was on overdrive, talking martial law, and throwing around a joke about having left the document behind, in a hotel room. A joke that was unnecessary, that was making light of a declaration that weighs heavy on the heart of the nation, and is reason for fear for everyone – writers and critics, activists and civilians. Fears of abuse and violence can make one lose sleep over this martial law declaration.
On May 26, the President comes out on television yet again, speaking with soldiers, his macho man image larger than life: he takes responsibility for all that will happen during martial law, he will go to jail for soldiers’ indiscretions: “Ako na’ng magpakulong, pag naka-rape ka ng tatlo, aminin ko na akin ‘yon.”
You did not need to go there, Mr. President. And there is absolutely no excuse for statements like that one, said in jest or seriously, in a time of martial law and otherwise.
Your trolls ask that we stop criticizing you. You need to get a grip.