It was unprecedented. The model they copied seemed plagiarized straight out of a Hollywood storyboard where life imitates art and the latter is taken, swallowed hook, line and sinker by the starstruck. Apparently influenced, if not inspired, by boobtube fiction, the ambition of Benigno Aquino III’s recruits seemed to be as influential following a fictionalization of the White House’s west wing. Never mind that the small screen is not called idiot TV for nothing. And never mind still if the real life players of the Malacañang Communications Group fashioned after celluloid characters had as much experience and competence in the field as did their fictional template.
The question of experience and competence are once again brought to the fore as what appears as serial bungling, if not buffoonery, in the crafting of presidential communications and messaging now becomes a dysfunctional default.
It all started with the hollowness of the “Kayo ang boss ko!” (You are my bosses) declaration. From thereon, almost everything spiraled down starting with insulting messages imparted by giddy giggling at the site of an avoidable massacre of innocent Hong Kong tourists, on to the self-serving denials when our soldiers murdered unarmed Chinese fishermen, to the recent episode involving the “I will not steal” television address to defend a patronage system Aquino continuously perpetuates.
The latest, and to our misfortune, not the last, is the globally embarrassing interview with Christian Amanpour on the colossal incompetence, number fudging and partisan superficiality that shocked an international audience as thousands of dead remained decaying in our streets amid a hierarchy evidently clueless and insensitive.
The communications pie at the Palace is traditionally cut two ways and it’s principals then, multi-tasked duties and responsibilities, coordinated, worked long hours and unified presidential messaging. Literate and competent, the presidential spokesman spoke for the president and the press secretary managed assets, both employing professionals quarterbacking from the backroom to the podium. There was no room for a cranial vacuums, inflated egos and hubris. There was even less for in-fighting, intrigue and one-upmanship.
Unfortunately, ambitions have ways of slithering and snaking in, now under Aquino more than in previous bureaucracies. Abbreviated into KKK or Kaklase, Kaibigan at Kabarilan, this new governance model is characteristically Aquino’s where, integral to the patronage paradigm he relentlessly pursues, he rewards the KKK with critical, multi-million peso, perk-fattened positions.
Despite initial and premature claims of appointments based on “unassailable integrity and performance”, halfway into his presidency the record shows otherwise and ineptitude continues to reign.
Add to the latent brew a heady dose of laziness, albeit counterbalanced with an even heavier barrel of braggadocio and hubris, and the resulting disaster is the communications circus we now see.
The kilometric length of an office’s title is reflective of comic irony where its name is inverse to its importance or utility. This is the same with the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) where rather than disbursed as originally intended, billions fatten transactional, partisan and patronage politics, pump-priming political imagery and butt-licking first and foremost, and only, collaterally, economic development as both alibi and afterthought.
In the case of the PCDSPO, when analyzed, the words “communications”, “development”, “strategic” and “planning” are antithetical, given the disastrous communications problems confronting Aquino.
No one is calling Aquino a crook. He is not a thief. However, under the Revised Penal Code, Title Two, Chapter 5, Article 17 on the definition of a principal involved in thievery, a thief is still a thief if he cooperates in the commission of thievery without which such thievery would not have been accomplished. If Alibaba consorts and connives with the forty, then he is one among them.
The notorious DAP is a Malacañang concoction that panders to patronage by diverting funds and fund control from one branch for which these were budgeted to partymates where these are subject to whim.
If a pittance like Php 13 billion of the DAP were filched to fund from Php 50 million to a Php 100 million per senatorial doggy biscuit, and there shellac a solon’s political image, and, for argument’s sake, those also went to cure cancer, the definition of thievery in the Criminal Code still stands. Dura lex, sed lex.
In his recent speeches, by focusing on his discomfort at criticism rather than on the desperate cries of the public, Aquino has been repeatedly missing the point. In the Amanpour interview he cited circumstances the public knows not to be true. Worse, he degraded himself by sinking to puerile tactics by blaming those victimized. At least two foreign anchors quickly realized he was shirking responsibility. Worse, his administration belatedly admitted its shortcomings only when these had reached foreign media.
Given the fully-funded PCDSPO, where is the communications development if messaging ends up misleading a global audience? What is wrong with telling the painful truth? Where is the messaging strategy in playing the blame game? Where is the planning? Aquino is losing the communications war. For a mandate founded on vicarious and fictive imagery, that can be fatal.
Communications is a two-way street, hence its obvious prefix and etymology. Listening is as important as imparting a message. That Aquino has not been listening to the public is inexcusable given the fully-funded PCDSPO and the thousands in taxes spent if only they might listen and communicate enough to be fairly competent. They’re not.
If Aquino wanted legitimate savings which Malacañang can magically divert under DAP’s smoke and mirrors, then perhaps the PCDSPO would be a good place to start cutting excess fat.
Dean dela Paz is an investment banker. He is a consultant in the fields of finance and banking and has packaged some of the most prolific public offerings in the Exchanges. He is a member of the Executive Committee and sits in the Board of one of the oldest financial institutions in the country. He is likewise an energy consultant having served on the Boards of several foreign-owned independent power producers and as CEO of a local energy provider.
He is currently the Program Director for Finance in a UK-based educational institution where he also teaches Finance, Business Policy and Strategic Management. A business columnist for the last fifteen years, he first wrote for BusinessWorld under the late-Raul Locsin and then as a regular columnist for the Business Mirror and GMANews TV. He also co-authored a book and policy paper on energy toolkits for a Washington- based non-government organization. He likewise co-authored and edited a book on management.
Photos from President Aquino’s official Facebook Page. Some rights reserved.
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