The term is new, but as political strategy and tactic it dates back at least to Machiavelli or to the birth of mass communications and public relations.
It cannot be a new invention, because you never know what you will find when you dig up the saga of propagandists like Paul Joseph Goebbels who had their idiosyncratic approaches to the challenge of reputation management and engineering of consent.
I heard the term for the first time from an alert reader, who used “suppress relations” to describe what is happening in Philippine media and the noticeable avoidance of the scoop of the Daily Tribune on Grace Poe-Llamanzares’s felonious use of a dead man’s social security number in the US.
Suppression of Tribune story
The reader, whom I will call here Reader Greg, wrote:
“Don’t you find it odd that none of the major newspapers, specifically, Inquirer and Philippine Star, has written about Grace Poe’s questionable SS number? The Inquirer ran only one story which was mainly the statement of Rex Gatchalian that the spurious number was her college ID number, corresponding to the date of her enrollment. Since then, no other items have been written about a case that, ordinarily, would generate a lot of interest. The Inquirer has been known to hang on like a leech to less significant stories.
“I frankly suspect Suppress Relations at work here….”
For reasons of space, I could not reprint Greg’s entire letter. I will just note here that he went on to cite many people who confirmed the use of a dead man’s SSN by a certain “Grace Poe Llamanzares.”
While I was writing this column, I discovered that Ms. Olivares had written in yesterday’s edition of the Tribune, a new and even more devastating piece on Grace Poe’s apparent use of the disputed SSN in the purchase of properties in the US.
Ninez wrote the new piece to specifically answer the challenge of Ms. Poe for her (Ninez) to prove her story.
The Tribune found evidence that Ms. Poe and her husband Teodoro Llamanzares purchased a property in the State of Virginia in 2006 with the use of Poe’s spurious US Social Security Number SSN 005-03-1988.
With the new story and proof, it appears incontrovertible that Ms. Poe used two SSSNs in the US – a red flag for identity theft and fraud.
Ms. Poe’s insistence that SSN 005-03-1988 is her student identification number while studying in Boston College was blown away by information coming from Boston College and even Boston University, both of which were checked out by Ms. Olivares.
Suppression of Bongbong’s statements
Reader Greg’s suspicion of suppress relations being employed by certain media organizations was significantly corroborated by a complaint raised by vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, that his campaign was being frozen out of the media.
During a campaign stop in Palawan on Friday, March 4, Marcos took media to task for being biased against him in their coverage of vice-presidential candidates.
Marcos aired his team’s observation that the airtime for him in news reports was markedly less than those devoted to his rivals.
He said: “We can feel that some networks are supporting other candidates. And I can tell that my exposure is comparatively muted.”
Bongbong is alarmed because the latest Pulse Asia survey, although showing him sharing the lead in the VP race, also showed a decrease in his ratings in Visayas and Mindanao, which he attributed to the media’s selective coverage of his campaign.
He felt that poor radio coverage of his campaign could hamper the delivery of his message to the D and E income groups.
Media scared of oligarchs
To speak of “suppress relations” is to say that there’s an invisible hand orchestrating the suppression of either negative stories on one candidate or favorable stories on rival candidates.
At one end, suppress relations can function to block or kill unfavorable stories about a candidate.
At the other end, it can function to block favorable stories on rival campaigns and candidates.
The opposite of suppress relations is the more normal press relations, which is generally positive in its messaging.
The suppress relations on behalf of Grace Poe is a clear example of the former. In her case, it functioned as a tool for killing the story of her stealing of the identity of a dead man. Except for the Tribune and the Times, no other newspaper published the story. When broadcast networks and other newspapers touched the story it was to publicize the self-serving statements of Ms. Poe and her spokesman.
Some analysts believe that mainstream media censored themselves on this story because of the advertising clout of San Miguel and Ramon Ang, who are regarded by the media as the main backers of Ms. Poe’s candidacy. They feared the loss of advertising revenue.
Likewise, they have been a big recipient of Ms. Poe’s ubiquitous TV and radio spots.
Media executives are so cowardly, they probably didn’t even have to be asked to suppress the identity theft story.
Double-barrelled strategy vs. Bongbong
The Marcos case is a different kind of suppress relations, and perhaps an even bigger issue and story. It is a measure of what a threat he has become to BS Aquino and his gang.
The suppression of positive stories on Bongbong is a direct offshoot and complement to President Aquino’s loud campaign to stop Bongbong’s election to the vice presidency.
With its massive war chest and regulatory supervision of the media, government can lean on any network to suppress publicity of the Marcos campaign. This is happening alongside the wideranging effort to publicize the purported efforts of some groups to take down Marcos. The littlest bark of an anti-Marcos partisan, no matter how inconsequential, is immediately given coverage in print or electronic media.
Suppress relations could be particularly effective at this time against Bongbong because he is not running now any campaign advertising. He has relied mainly on earned media and coverage of his campaign. He has placed emphasis on traveling the countryside to meet with voters and spread his message of unity.
The administration’s “suppress relations” policy against Marcos works in two ways. First, it is a form of negative advertising against the man, with no holds barred. And second, it seeks to suppress positive information and publicity about him in the media.
Will suppress relations work?
This will be the subject of my next column. I will discuss among other things the priceless insights of a book entitled, The New Prince, Machiavelli Updated for the Twenty-first Century.
The author is Dick Morris, the respected political strategist and author.