Reading some recent statements by President Aquino’s communications secretary and presidential spokesmen, I suddenly realized with a shock that they have concocted something entirely new in Philippine political history. In parody or imitation of the “editorial we” of the press, they have invented and constantly use the “administrative we” in statements to the public about the viewpoint, reactions, opinions, thoughts and sentiments of President Benigno Aquino 3rd and his administration.
Since college, I have observed the miseries and glories of eight Filipino presidents. But I have not seen until now press secretaries and spokesmen daring to speak publicly of themselves and the presidents they served as “we,” overtly hinting that they are colleagues.
In this administration, which also uniquely employs numerous press secretaries, spokesmen, deputies and communicators, the cascade of words is epidemic. No day passes, it seems, in which they do not issue Malacañang statements on behalf or in default of the President and the administration.
Egregious statement of condolence
The style was especially egregious and disconcerting in a purported Palace statement of condolence issued on February 10 by communications secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. to the family of former associate Justice and Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas and the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) over his passing on February 9.
The message came in the form of a press release, which read in part:
“Malacañang on Monday expressed its condolences to the family of former Supreme Court associate justice Serafin Cuevas, who died Sunday.
“In a statement, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. recalled Cuevas’s tireless devotion to public welfare.
“We extend our condolences to the family of the late Justice Serafin Cuevas who dedicated a good portion of his life and career to public service,” he said.
The release made no mention of a message of condolence from President Aquino himself. It was Coloma’s show all the way. From his one-sentence message, he implied that he was speaking for the Palace and for the Aquino administration.
I don’t know how the curt message went over with the INC, which is celebrating its centennial this year, or whether it cared that Coloma was doing all the condoling.
Among the president’s multiple mouthpieces and communicators, Coloma is clearly the heaviest user of the administrative we. Edwin Lacierda, who carries the title of official presidential spokesman and can officially speak for the President, does not use it often. He has his hands full doing other things. The second most frequent user is deputy spokesman Abigail Valte, who knows that employing we guarantees her being quoted by the media. Just five days after the condolence statement, on February 15, Valte was all over the media using the administrative we.
She applauded figure skater Michael Christian Martinez for making history as the first Filipino to represent the country in the Winter Olympics.
Valte declared: “It’s so delighting (sic), and we and the entire nation convey our full support to him because it’s true. He’s the first Filipino to represent the Philippines in the winter games. And really, for all of us, he’s a real trailblazer.”
Royal we and editorial we
To be fair, this style of communication has its antecedents and even a royal history.
The most familiar usage is that of the “editorial we”,which publications and media organizations like The Manila Times frequently use.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the first-person plural pronoun is used by an editorialist to express the opinion or point of view of a publication’s management.
Editors and writers use it to avoid the personal I or to represent a collective viewpoint. As a columnist, I use it in order to express the viewpoint or worldview of Filipinos or a group that I am part of, like say the Warays of East Visayas.
The editorial we can usually be found in the editorials of newspapers and the so-called leaders of magazines like the Economist.
More striking and much closer in spirit to the Aquino government’s “administrative we” is the “royal we.”
The royal we is used by a sovereign or other high officials and dignitaries of the crown in place of I in formal speech. Buckingham Palace frequently uses we in the occasional messages and statements of Queen Elizabeth.
It may be because of this royal tradition that Aquino communicators and mouthpieces prefer to style their statements and press releases as coming from Malacañang Palace or the Palace for short.
I suspect that the pronoun is chiefly welcomed by the guys and gals who have to draft the numerous statements and releases. It’s a quick way to get them done and skip the burden of good writing.
What people want to know and hear
The use of the administrative we in presidential discourse would be productive and beneficial for our public life, if it is used more constructively to express the policies of the administration and the thinking of the President on various issues and concerns.
This is what the Palace statements have so little because of the peculiar qualities of President Aquino. He seems so self-absorbed and remote. Even at the height of national tragedy, he struggles to show compassion and concern.
People can’t care less about what Secretary Coloma and the other communicators think. What they want to know is what’s in the President’s mind, and what’s in his heart. They want to know what the government is doing to address their problems.
Not that I know better, but it would help the administration if it can speak with a little more precision about the substance of programs
People have had enough of the trivialities that become the subject of Palace statements and press releases, such as what he did on Valentine’s Day, and his aversion to babysitting Kris’s boys. They just call attention to government’s cluelessness and carelessness.
Our country is in a rut because we face here a basically goofy presidency, as a result of the person occupying the office.
President Aquino, let us speak plainly, is simply not a regular guy. After nearly four years of him, many are still wondering whether he’s all there.
When he addresses the nation, he does not face the audience or the cameras directly, he looks to one side.
His posture is diagonal or sideways as though he cannot look the people directly in the eye.
Now that 102 days have elapsed since 11/8, survivors of Haiyan/Yolanda are demanding an accounting from the administration of what it has done or not done for the victims and their ravaged region, and what it proposes to do. They are marching all the way to Malacañang for a reckoning.
Meanwhile The New York Times, which gave him a blast of an interview and the latitude to label China’s new leaders as reminiscent of Hitler and the Nazis, is dialing back its enthusiasm by issuing a special report on East Visayas after the first hundred days. The report is alarming and unflattering.
It won’t do for him to just wonder now, “What happened?,” as he did when the fact that 12 million are unemployed hit
This time, he’s accountable and responsible for what his administration has done or left undone.
This time, it’s he who must use the administrative we.