A climate of doublespeak

Edwin Santiago, Fellow and Member of the Editorial Board, Stratbase ADR Institute

When the President says one thing and his apologists say another, quickly adding that we should not take Duterte’s word literally, you’ve probably heard that many times before.

As soon as the dust settled on his election, President Duterte made known his threat against ABS-CBN, saying that he would block the renewal of its legislative franchise for not airing his political advertisement which he paid for. Later on it would surface that the release of the anti-Duterte campaign ad of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV was the other reason why the President was irked with the media company. Last December, the President advised the company to just sell itself. He added that “I will make sure that you will remember this episode of our times forever.”

Mid-February this year, the Vice-Chairperson of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises Antonio Albano said they were feeling pressured “by no less than the President.” Yet, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo denied that the President had interfered with the work of Congress, saying that the President “absolutely is not lobbying.”

But Panelo — President Duterte’s meaning translator par excellence — knows only too well that the President has lobbied and put pressure on Congress, perhaps not literally. When the chief executive publicly makes known his strong negative sentiments towards the company, any member of Congress who would not recognize the message is either too dense or is flat out lying — and we do have a lot of these sorts on both sides of this fence. But how can you get the message of the President wrong? In law, such concepts exist as in the case of a “constructive notice” where a person who should have known, but actually does not, is presumed to have known being a reasonable person. It is “as if” the person was actually notified. President Duterte’s public pronouncements might as well be “constructive pressure.”

The plot thickens as erstwhile presidential sidekick-turned-Senator Bong Go tries his political hand in appearing as the knight in shining armor for ABS-CBN by appealing to the President to grant the franchise renewal. Depending on whose side you are rooting for, Go’s antics have muddled the issue even more or, actually, he unwittingly betrayed what Panelo has been trying to cover up — that it is President Duterte indeed calling the shots.

But of all of them, House of Representatives Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano stands out as the most pitiful yet skillful — trying his best in buying enough time to figure out where this is all leading to — like a graceful dancer (no compliment intended) swaying to President Duterte’s tune. Poor Cayetano — constantly vacillating to and from different sides — had to sound coherent and consistent. He even came up with a cockamamie smokescreen before this observation got too much traction in the media.

But, all this rigmarole is because ABS-CBN did not air President Duterte’s political advertisement and, instead, aired the counter-Duterte ad? But he won anyway. If at all, his victory should serve as evidence that the influence of ABS-CBN is grossly exaggerated. There is therefore more to all this than meets the eye. The President feels defeated in that, for all his power — real and imagined — to crush ABS-CBN, he has not succeeded in the same way that his proclaimed idol, Ferdinand Marcos, did. The closest thing to a takeover now is through a buy-out by a presidential friend or dummy. Why else would he suggest that the company sell itself? And what better way to drive down the market value than to create uncertainty about the company’s operations? Manila Water and Maynilad too?

Adding to his agony is that the company continues to haunt him with criticism about his governance, and will most likely continue to do so unfettered if given a new franchise. As has been keenly observed, President Duterte is not the type who can take criticism. Despite all his pronouncements that people are welcome to call him out, the truth is he is just too sensitive to negative feedback. President Duterte feels he is entitled to make life difficult for ABS-CBN, saying that he has a right to criticize back. Obviously, he missed the lesson on the role of the media in a democratic society.

And, not wont to precision in his battles, President Duterte called on his attack dogs — Bato dela Rosa, Bong Go, Alan Cayetano, Jose Calida, and many others — to throw everything at ABS-CBN, including the proverbial kitchen sink, and, of course, the petition for quo warranto. This legal action had been introduced in the President’s political arsenal and has removed a sitting Chief Justice. There is looming danger that it can be used as a template in forcing individuals and companies that earn the displeasure of President Duterte to bend the knee. In truth, it is nothing but a poor attempt to mask abuse of power with legalities. We certainly are being duped by our national leaders into thinking that they are preserving the rule of law. Seemingly, they agree with political scientist Thomas Hobbes who wrote The Leviathan, published in 1621, about the all-powerful mythical creature who will establish a rule of law and protect us from each other. But who will protect us from the Leviathan?

For the entirety of the blissfully utopian theory of Hobbes about needing an absolute monarchy, there was no hint about using it to protect the interests of the ruling leader and the favored few. President Duterte seems to be using his presidency to aid and abet China as it takes over our territories and ruthlessly runs roughshod over our laws, people, and culture. The Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) and their employees have obviously become a national nuisance. Despite all the challenges the presence of POGOs bring, President Duterte has welcomed them with open arms and unabashed admiration. Now, as it is turning out, even the taxes that they pay — the very reason why we prostituted our country to them in the first place — are meager.
Shouldn’t President Duterte, Calida, and company be running after them rather than harassing legitimate listed companies that are already highly regulated?




This article was originally published in BusinessWorld. Image Source: Presidential Communications Operations Office.

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