Spokesperson Sal Panelo and the rest of the Presidential Communications Group must have had too much to drink over the holidays, what with a P1.38-billion budget that they needed to consume before the year ended. Imagine their Christmas parties while listening to their latest spin on their principal’s utterances — and we can be sure it’s still the alcohol talking.
There was the in-fashion yet out-of-character messages from the President for Christmas, Rizal Day and the New Year. Mr. Duterte reminded Filipinos to “remember [those] in need,” to “embody Rizal’s patriotism” and to “reflect and learn from past lessons.” These were obviously the writings of a clueless, newly hired fresh grad, tasked to work during the holidays.
Then there was that episode when Mr. Duterte attacked the Holy Trinity, which the Catholic Church itself believes to be a “mystery,” or something beyond human comprehension. Panelo tried to spin it by saying that the President was “only testing the validity” of Catholic teaching, as if the President is also a theologian.
And to end the year with fireworks, Mr. Duterte narrated molesting his house helper once upon a teenage evening. Spinning Sal then tried to defend the indefensible by saying it was just one of his boss’ “inimitable jokes.”
While the amount of rubbish Mr. Duterte has spewed over the closing weeks of 2018 breaks his annual quota, people no longer really care about what he says. Online trolls have even shifted their script from ardently defending the President and enumerating his achievements to simply attacking his attackers.
With Mr. Duterte’s mouth being all but tamable, it’s the people surrounding the President that the Presidential Communications Group is deliberately tapping to bend the narrative their way. Social media “influencers” have been on the payroll to promote certain administration senatorial bets; the President’s butler Bong Go, for one, was declared the first ever “Man of the Year” by a news outlet that he, one way or the other, owns. Many other unknowns are guesting in TV shows, explaining the President from their so-called “vantage point.” Meanwhile, there is silence on the administration’s many shortcomings, such as its flimsy response toward the havoc Tropical Depression “Usman” wrought.
This PR blitzkrieg is nothing new for spin doctors. What’s new, however, is how even the police and the judiciary have been yoked into the campaign.
The Philippine National Police, for instance, was recently caught conducting surveillance on teachers. An unnumbered memo dated Dec. 28, 2018, from the Manila Police District, with the helpful subject, “Inventory of All Public and Private School Teachers who are members of/or aligned with Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT),” instructed elements of the police force to do their rounds of schools. For what purpose? The “Midterm Election 2019,” as can be read from the memo—presumably meaning the selection of teachers who would man the voting precincts. The memo was later endorsed by the Department of Education (DepEd). However, there is no law that specifies that teachers should or should not be affiliated with any party list when they man the precincts.
The bumbling spy operation brought to light, police chief Oscar Albayalde dismissed the intelligence officers who “leaked” the memo, made no comment on the instructions, and denied ever issuing such a memo. DepEd soon revoked its endorsement, too. One day later, the President “berated” the PNP with the kindest kid gloves, telling the cops they could no longer drink in public.
Over the past weeks, too, judges have acquitted Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of electoral sabotage charges, denied Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV’s request to not reopen his rebellion case settled almost eight years ago, and threatened to place former senator Serge Osmeña’s candidacy in perpetual disqualification. Worth noting here is the Osmeña lineage’s standing as longtime political rivals of the Marcoses and the Dutertes.
Alas, media has met a wall that no amount of dignified journalism can break through. Salvador Panelo, true to his name (“savior”) and fashion sense, is serving as an effective distraction to draw the lightning away from Mr. Duterte. But as the President’s ship sinks, its captain seems even more determined now to use brawn and brute power to keep himself afloat. In time, that’s a grave development no amount of spin by the presidential ringmaster can camouflage.
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DLS Pineda teaches at Father Saturnino Urios University, Butuan City. After finishing his undergraduate and master’s degrees in UP Diliman, he decided to reside in his father’s hometown in Agusan del Norte. Tweet the author @dlspineda.
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