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Editorial

European junket

/ 05:28 AM February 21, 2019

Picture the scene in the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) after Rappler CEO Maria Ressa’s arrest and the avalanche of bad press Malacañang got in its wake.

How could this be? the PCOO factotums lament. We have nothing to do with the arrest!

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Yes, those are National Bureau of Investigation agents under our Department of Justice, and our beloved President has lambasted Ressa and Rappler and the media many times, but far be it for him to oppress freedom of the press and expression! He is not a despot, he is a great President! How can they say all those nasty things about him? What should we do to counter this fake news?

Then, a light bulb in someone’s head: Why not a press caravan? Let’s go around and talk to the public and tell them the truth! Let’s tell them The New York Times and The Washington Post and CNN and The Guardian and the rest of the world’s press got it wrong about this issue.

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We have to tell them this administration has nothing to do with Maria Ressa. We couldn’t care less about that woman! And the President doesn’t know that Keng guy from Adam!

Let’s talk to journalists. No — not just any journalists, but European journalists! Let’s go to Europe! Why Europe? Why not? It’s lovely there at this time of year, and there’s no reason journalists in, say, Belgium, Bosnia and Switzerland wouldn’t want to hear our side of the story. Those countries must be dying to hear positive news about our beloved President!

Forget the foreign press guys now in this country, all they want to do is chase after another “tokhang” raid and photograph the “nanlaban” peeps.

No, Europe is where we can best make our case! In person — them seeing us in the flesh with our sincere, smiling faces! Lovely idea, no? So we’re all set? Let’s go!

And so they went, as the country was flabbergasted to learn this week when Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar revealed that three members of his team — Communications Undersecretaries Lorraine Badoy and Joel Egco, and Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan — were traveling in Europe, ostensibly to make the continent’s media understand the “real nature” of the recent arrest of Ressa and the talk of media crackdown it has generated.

The peals of laughter at the news could be heard from island to island, but Andanar was admirably straight-faced in defending the move.

The European media needed to hear the true state of press freedom under President Duterte, he insisted, and no public funds were being wasted anyway in the ongoing “press freedom caravan.”

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Did he mean the team is footing its own bill? Are Egco, Badoy and Ablan paying for their own meals and hotel stays and travels to and from one city to another in their yeoman effort to correct Europeans’ misimpressions about their boss? Or did Andanar mean that public funds are not wasted because the caravan’s lofty mission is worth every centavo of taxpayer money?

But why a PR drive in Europe, of all places, when President Duterte himself has shown not a whit of interest in what European governments thought or said about him?

“Idiots,” he had even called the European Union, for its temerity to criticize his war on drugs and human rights record.

Also, the PCOO budget for 2018 is P252.5 million. Hasn’t the office heard of the internet, social media, even the trusty old fax machine, not to mention its clutch of state-owned TV and radio stations, to blast out the administration’s programs, policies and statements?

Andanar et al. must think those journalists are dolts, at any rate, if they believe international media would listen to and swallow the official line of the government, instead of doing their own independent research on the country by talking to local media practitioners and the public at large.

In the wake of a hilarious and not uncommon PCOO mistake — a caption on the agency’s website mentioning “the representative of Norwegia,” in June 2018 — Badoy responded to the public chortling by challenging critics on “how much exactly do you think is the budget of the PCOO?”

Too little, in other words, so people should go easy on them. But that same Badoy is in Europe today, using up PCOO funds — the people’s money — to prettify the administration’s image. Her social media posts on this heroic European junket ought to carry the hashtag “blessed.”

One last thing: If, as the PCOO insists, the libel charge that led to Ressa’s arrest is a private matter between Keng and Ressa, why are government resources being used to explain the arrest?

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TAGS: cyberlibel case, Inquirer editorial, Maria Ressa, Martin Andanar, PCOO, press freedom caravan, Rappler
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