Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Part 1: Here come the commies

Sec. Ramon Carandang is the head of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning while Sec. Herminio Coloma leads the Presidential Communications Operations. They both belong to President Noynoy Aquino’s communications team: Carandang is in charge of ‘messaging’ while Coloma’s focus is ‘dissemination’. Carandang’s group drafts the daily statements/speeches of PNoy while Coloma delivers these messages to the public through government-owned media outlets and the private mass media.

According to a Malacanang briefing paper presented to members of Congress, the main function of Carandang’s team is to “coordinate the crafting, formulation, development and enhancement of the messaging system under the Office of the President of the Philippines.” Meanwhile, Coloma’s team is in charge of “developing and implementing necessary guidelines and mechanisms pertaining to the delivery and dissemination of information relating to the policies, programs, official activities and achievements of the President and the Executive Branch.”

Carandang and Coloma represent the warring factions (Balay vs Samar) inside the PNoy administration but they both claimed that they have been working as a team. However, assuming that their functional relationship is for real, critics still accused them of performing similar tasks. This observation is not without basis.

One of Carandang’s duties is to “assist in the formulation and implementation of New Media strategies for the Office of the President of the Philippines. But Coloma’s job description is also to “manage and administer the OP Website and Web Development Office.” The result is somewhat hilarious: the president has two official websites. Asked during the budget deliberations, Coloma confirmed that they are administering PNoy’s Facebook page. Facebook is a new media platform which is supposed to be Carandang’s turf.

Another official function of Carandang is to “devise the communications strategy to promote the President’s agenda throughout all media and among the many publics with which the administration interacts.” The keywords here are ‘promote’, ‘all media’, and ‘public’. Carandang then would be duplicating the principal mission of Coloma which is to promote and deliver the PNoy’s message to the public through all media platforms.

It is also difficult for Carandang and Coloma to synergize their twin operations since they have separate budget items. Carandang’s funding comes directly from the Office of the President-Executive Secretary while Coloma’s funding source is listed under a different agency.

But Carandang’s team continued to insist that they are not wasting taxpayers’ money despite the existence of two teams which are apparently fulfilling the same functions. They reminded the public that at one point, the unloved former President Gloria Arroyo had four press secretaries. It seems PNoy is merely continuing the legacy of Arroyo, while adopting some fancy modifications like employing the lingo of the new media and establishing sub-agencies with complicated acronyms. Eto na ba ang pagbabago?

Perhaps PNoy’s subordinates can be forgiven for devising a problematic communications network. They seemed to be really obsessed with the idea of maximizing modern communications to advance the agenda of PNoy. How to reform the presidential communications work? Again, based from the briefing paper mentioned earlier:

“…a significant reform of official channels of the government means they must be employed not just to talk to the media but to the public in general in order to convey and properly explain the government’s agenda, as well as to engage both media and the public in a conversation on the reforms and policies of the administration.”

The inspiration of the Communications group is the White House model which also has teams in charge of messaging and dissemination. But recalibrating the official propaganda machine of the state is not a recent innovation and definitely not a White House invention. Perhaps PNoy’s Communications team learned a lot from the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who recognized the political value of enhancing the communications network of the government.

Marcos wrote: “As President, I have a personal and official stake in the quality of our public forums. There are certain policies which, because they are innovative, must necessarily encounter popular resistance. They must be explained, for they have to be carried out. The government must avail itself of every means of communication, including its own publications….A government that fails to inform its citizens of its programs and decisions yields the ground to the enemy’s propagandists and subverters.”*

The popular tactic of Marcos was to dismiss his critics as purveyors of poisonous propaganda; and in order to weaken the opposition’s ability to influence public opinion, he aggressively reorganized and empowered the state’s communications arm. Fast forward to 2010, PNoy’s Communications group is worried that “innuendo and rumor have proven the weapons of choice of the many anti-reform forces arrayed against the reforms constituency led by the President.” Believing that he is really leading a reform crusade, PNoy does not hesitate to adopt some tricks from Marcos’ political playbook in order to reinforce his leadership. How unoriginal!

Carandang/Coloma and their underlings were former media superstars and freedom-of-information zealots but today they must be judged as enemies of truth. Their concern is no longer the articulation of truth that truly empowers the people but the peddling of market researched truth and opinion-polled truth. It is now in their interest to defend (and defend at all cost) the supreme leader of the bureaucratic state machine.

It is revealing that Carandang’s team identified “continuing conversation” as the “hallmark of the New Media era.” This explains the sudden rise of twittering and facebooking bureaucrats; and the overhauling of government websites which are now happily described by overnight internet experts as user-friendly and interactive. In short, politics today is merely about conversation, debate, and the monitoring of netizens’ rants in the cyberspace. Transparency is reduced to posting of boring statements and statistical figures in websites. Accountability is realized if politicians post a reply in their social media accounts.

Who benefits from “continuing conversation”? Definitely the politician who does not want the tranquil political situation disturbed. What happens when conversation becomes the preferred political sequence? Nothing. Conversation and the sharing of tiny bits and bytes of information are essentially futile political activities. Conversation becomes a potent weapon only if it leads to a decision to act. Debate is enlightening if it generates a concrete political action.

The task of Carandang/Coloma, which is essentially the task of all previous propagandists of Malacanang, is to discourage the people to disrupt the so-called natural state of things. They want to preserve the eternal present. Carandang/Coloma are sophisticated propagandists because they exploit the hypnotizing effect of modern communications and the mantra of ‘continuing conversations’ to make people think and feel that democracy is really working.

The goal of politics is always the invention of new possibilities, new truths, new events. What Carandang/Coloma wants to introduce is a brand of politics that reduces us into passive citizens who are supposed to be satisfied with the political truths dispensed by the government. Of course we should join the conversation. But at one point, we must have the courage to resist the seductive appeal of ‘continuing conversations’. We should resume our original task and that is the thinking and the formulation, and more importantly, the unrelenting struggle for a new political order.

* quoted from an article published by the Philippine Free Press. September 25, 2010.

Related article: seeing and politics

One Response to “Politics of Communications: Carandang/Coloma”

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