Now, the PR war

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After the actual shooting war, which ended terribly, Malacañang now wants to win the battle of the media, where it believes it has the home court advantage. Maybe it will win this new encounter - or maybe not.

 

Malacañang-watchers report that a full-court propaganda press has been launched by the palace by the river, with a two-pronged objective: to exonerate President Noynoy Aquino and to work for the passage in Congress of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

A power couple with familial links to Aquino has reportedly contracted the services of a former official of this administration, who has been sidelined by a controversy in his agency. Another palace propaganda “fireman,” who has a day job with a broadcast network, has also been mentioned as among those handpicked by the couple to operationalize the campaign.

At least one prominent journalist has reportedly already been approached to help in the effort. Other media personalities have also already been identified for conscription in reversing Aquino’s political fortunes.

The preliminary script has a rogue private armed group (PAG) perpetrating the killings in Maguindanao, instead of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. (This poses a problem, of course, given that the MILF has already long admitted that it was involved in the encounter; but perhaps the secessionists, who also stand to benefit with the passage of the BBL, can be convinced to declare that they - like Aquino - had nothing to do with what happened, either.)

For the life of me, I don’t see how even Malacañang’s vaunted propaganda machinery can turn the sow’s ear of bad publicity that Aquino has been getting into the silk purse of popularity and political invincibility that he had just a couple of years back. But then, if that same juggernaut can turn Aquino from a do-nothing lawmaker into a powerful political force that destroyed all opposition in 2010, maybe it can do something just as miraculous this time around.

Of course, converting the tabula rasa that was Noynoy into a winnable candidate is way easier than getting him off the hook for the Mamasapano massacre. It’s different when you have a ready, easily demonized opponent like Gloria Arroyo that you can attack incessantly in order to boost your own stock; this time around, it is the once-supremely powerful Aquino who has been made into the bad guy, with the blood of 44 members of the police’s Special Action Force in his hands.

Then again, as they say, every problem will present itself as a nail to you, if your only tool is a hammer. You can’t really blame Aquino and his courtiers for thinking that they can turn things around with some high-pressure PR ops, some well-timed surveys and all the other propaganda bells and whistles that have lulled the President into believing that he will always be impervious to his critics.

The other thing is, the palace is up against an outraged public whose anger about what took place in Mamasapano was not precipitated by any conscious campaign by media to stir it up. Unless I am very much mistaken, media is not really the battleground here: the hearts and minds of the enraged people, which may or may not be swayed by media, are.

* * *

President Aquino was noticeably absent once again, this time during the handing out of awards to the country’s Ten Outstanding Young Men in Malacañang Palace last Feb. 3. Anyone who’s heard of the TOYM awards knows that this prestigious annual event is always held in the palace - and that the President always gives out the iconic trophies.

This year’s TOYM ceremony was also the first that Aquino himself skipped. The current President has always give them out in the past, including the one given in 2011 to businessman Tony Tiu, who used up his 10 minutes of Warholian fame when he was identified by the enemies of Vice President Jejomar Binay as the “dummy” of the Veep in the company that owns a large agricultural estate in Rosario, Batangas.

But the latest TOYM awardees, who include the deserving Doris Dumlao of the Inquirer, were instead given their trophies by longtime Aquino crony and Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras. There were no selfies with the President, who did not even have a prior engagement with an automobile manufacturer this time around as a convenient excuse for his absence.

Aquino’s absence at official events, even those held in the palace, has been explained by a very close associate of his succinctly: the President is “depressed,” this former Ateneo classmate who runs a very lucrative agency told a mutual friend recently.

 

The President’s depression over the Mamasapano incident is understandable. After all, he chose to be in Zamboanga City last January 25, the 82nd birthday of his mother Cory, so he could be close by when the PNP-SAF brought in wanted Malaysian terrorist Marwan from Maguindanao. Considering his well-advertised filial piety and how the SAF operation turned out, I can really understand why Aquino is in the dumps.