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A malicious word war

/ 12:34 AM September 30, 2016

Over the last few days, the nation has been under assault from a “word war” being waged by all the President’s men against a single target: Sen. Leila de Lima.

Judging by the vitriol being directed at her from all sides, one would think the lady senator embodies all the problems and issues of the country, the war on drugs being only the most major. But if this were a mere war of acoustics, we could just shrug and attribute it to politics as usual.

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But the acoustics are underlined by a sexist, malicious motive, with attempts not just to link De Lima to the scourge of drugs but also to bring her so-called sexual proclivities to the fore. The shaming of De Lima, it seems, is part and parcel of the overall antiwoman attitude that prevails among officials of this administration.

A friend, who serves in the government in a holdover capacity, recalls being visited by an aspirant for her post and being told to resign posthaste “or else we will subject you to the same treatment we are giving De Lima.” Women’s sexual behavior is now under scrutiny, and being used as a weapon against all women who dare stand up to male privilege. Gentlemen, have you no shame?

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HE has, to my mind, one of the most thankless tasks within the Duterte administration. And yet, at least from the externals, Presidential Communications Office (PCO) chief Martin Andanar remains unfazed by the challenges.

That the biggest challenge remains his own boss—the President himself—is perhaps beyond Andanar’s control. This, even if “PRRD” has proclaimed that his mouth “is not the problem.” “He would not be the man who campaigned for the presidency and who won on the basis of his personality and appeal” if supporters and advisers were to caution Mr. Duterte to be more statesmanlike, Andanar said over dinner recently with a group of media women. A radio broadcaster and newscaster since 1999, Andanar said he was on the verge of “exploring another field” when the Duterte camp sent out feelers for a job for him. Before this, he was told, Mr. Duterte and his allies had been closely following his broadcasts and commentary, especially his show with Erwin, one of the pugnacious Tulfo brothers, on the TV5 network. “Apparently, our show was very popular in Davao and elsewhere in Mindanao,” said Andanar, who hails from Cagayan de Oro. “Often, we would begin commenting in Bisaya, and that was something Davaoeños appreciated and enjoyed.”

Years before Mr. Duterte had made public his intention to seek the presidency, Andanar said, “I was already saying that the only person who could tackle our crime situation was Davao City Mayor Duterte. At that time, killings by gunmen riding tandem [on motorcycles] were so common, and authorities didn’t seem unduly alarmed. I was saying Duterte would know what to do.”

(Ironically, the riding-tandem gunmen still seem bent on doing their own thing. Many of the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug users and pushers are being carried out by these motorcycle-riding hitmen and hitwomen, with little by way of police interference.)

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MEETING finally with the president-elect in Davao, Andanar was taken aback when the PCO was offered to him. He said he asked for two days to think the matter over.

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This belies early reports that it was his in-laws, Sen. Cynthia and former senator Manny Villar, who secured the post for him. His wife Alelee Aguilar is a niece of the senator; they met while he was campaigning for his father Wencelito (who ran for senator under the PDP-Laban many years back) in the Aguilar bailiwick of Las Piñas. They have two sons.

Aside from his stint as a broadcaster and podcaster, Andanar has an impressive academic record, having completed postgraduate studies at Harvard, Georgetown, and Northern Illinois Universities, AIM, and the National University of Singapore. He holds a degree from the Federation University Australia, where his mother is based.

Actually, the job of presidential spokesman has fallen on Ernesto Abella, a well-known Davao-based pastor. But often, Andanar stands by Abella’s side, perhaps to lend his media savvy to the more somber pastor’s pronouncements. But again, not even the best efforts or the most telegenic and articulate spokesmen can stand up against the President’s motor mouth and seeming lack of self-control when it comes to his pet peeves.

* * *

FOR the moment, said Andanar, much of his time and attention is devoted to putting his house in order, his house being the PCO which, during the P-Noy administration, was cut up into three different fiefdoms. The first step Andanar took was to consolidate the three agencies into a single unit, and seek to raise the professionalism of all employees.

An early test of his leadership was the flap raised by the otherwise obscure Official Gazette, which had been releasing brief tributes on social media to mark the birth anniversaries of the country’s presidents. But last Sept. 21, the Gazette went overboard with a longer tribute to the late former president Ferdinand Marcos but left out crucial details like the horrors of martial law, and embellished it with the possible motive for its declaration (“to save the Republic”). To his credit, even if he was not personally responsible for the gaffe, Andanar owned responsibility for it. Though the controversy gave birth to a satire site of the Gazette, the firestorm was eventually put out with Andanar’s ready assumption of responsibility.

Here’s hoping the young and stalwart communications chief survives the most difficult of challenges under Mr. Duterte’s term. How to let the man be himself without making new enemies each day is indeed a problem without a clear solution at hand.

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TAGS: President Duterte, Sen. Leila de Lima, word war
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