Misleading a president

>> Friday, June 17, 2022


March Fianza

Are elections really over? To some, they still reel from a daily hangover of the results of the elections. To a good number, the elections are over. Whether we like it or not, we only have one country and everyone has to do a role in helping build a nation, not bring it down. This, until the elections which is the favorite pastime of Filipinos, comes again.
    One big reason why towns and provinces outside Imperial Manila do not develop as fast as the more popular centers like Makati, Pasay, Quezon City, Cebu and Davao is because burning issues in those localities do not reach the president’s ears.
    I suspect that in most instances, the problems are swept under the rug by people who are supposed to connect the president with the communities to make it appear that nothing is wrong down below.
    It may also be correct to say that those in charge of properly informing the president of the real situation around the countryside are afraid that they get the axe once they inform him of problems, instead of making things look rosy.
    But wanting to be in that coveted position comes with a price. As President, he should be provided with information about local issues confronting certain communities by any means available so that he is not put on the spot and be described as a president who is not knowledgeable about problems surrounding his administration.
    The best and simplest way to inform or misinform his Excellency is through media, whether it be via print, radio, television and social media. But if the president’s men block him from the media, the situation is very much like being in North Korea.
    Consider the case of Boracay. If the media kept silent about the cesspool or dirty open drain, the problem could have been washed away by the waves. This may not have caught the attention of President Duterte, and the open drainages could still be polluting Boracay’s waters until now.
    Since the Boracay cesspool was there even before Duterte’s term, it meant that the pollution problem was never mentioned to then President Noynoy. Otherwise, if he knew it, he could have ordered the island’s closure and clean-up, just like what Duterte did.
    Who else can tell a president about a burning local problem other than his cabinet, his advisers, consultants and people under his office? The media, of course, two of whom have just been recruited as part of President BBM’s cabinet. I wish them luck.
    Another case is President Duterte’s drug war. The Philippines has around 689,251 elected government officials including 18,083 national and local positions from the president down to the last councilor of an LGU.
    There are 41,948 barangay chairpersons with an equal number of SK chairpersons; and 293,636 barangay councilors with an equal number of SK councilors.
    Of these figures, Duterte said many are directly or indirectly linked to illegal drugs, either as members of a syndicate, drug pushers or merely users.
    The President could not have simply guessed the percentage or number of officials or the identity of narco-politicians benefiting from the drug trade. Surely, he was informed by people close to him.
    These situations demonstrate the relationship of a president with the media. Then comes a point in time when the president meets the local media.
    Usually in the past, someone from the Office of the President or whoever was in charge sets schedules for interviews with the press. In addition, the secretary or minister of information doles out news releases.
    That changed after a spat between the late Louis Beltran and then revolutionary President Cory Aquino. Since then, all questions had to be screened and sanitized by the president’s office to make sure that the president is not placed in an awkward spot.
    That is understandable. But for a presidential management team to provide members of the local press the questions to be asked in a press conference for the president is not an honest to goodness process of providing truthful information to the president.
    It is a “moro-moro” press conference to make the president look good by lying to him and telling him that the questions to be asked by the local media are local issues when they are not. Truth is that they are questions prepared by his men to be asked by a member of the local press.
    Protecting the president from embarrassment by pre-arranging with the media the questions to be asked is not helping a community move forward. That is concealing the real issue from the president’s eyes.
    But there are plenty of available means that the President’s men can employ so that a pre-arranged press conference ends up with both sides happy and satisfied. The President’s men through their people in the line agencies will have to spend extra effort to diagnose local problems.
    Collect the questions from the local press and submit the issues to the boss many days prior to the media conference. Certainly with that, the president with his vast resources of solutions will definitely have an answer.
    I admire President Fidel Ramos when it comes to meeting the local press. The questions are not collected prior to the conference, especially when it is an abrupt meeting. He does not get embarrassed when he is asked an unfamiliar question. He simply tries to answer to the best of his knowledge.
    The moro-moro style and sanitized questions in local press conferences are no longer fashionable. This must change. And change must start from people around the president, including the media.
    If the people in his office cannot arrange a better way for the president to interact with the media, then they must at least stop pretending that they can do their job and gracefully resign from their posts.
    There is no point in clinging on to their positions if they cannot satisfy the communities that they are supposed to connect with the president.



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