POSTSCRIPT / August 13, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Erap reels from daily barrage of ‘Inquirer’

HAS the Philippine Daily Inquirer finally shot down the Estrada administration even before it could take off?

The six-week-old administration appears in disarray amid the daily barrage of critical reports from the Inquirer, whose 220,000 daily circulation is the biggest among the more than 30 Manila-based newspapers serving a population of more than 70 million.

An unsuspecting public is swallowing the generally negative daily reports, some of which are laced with outright fabrications. Unfortunately for the Estrada administration, critical reports and commentaries are jelling into negative public opinion.

What is the direction of the developing public opinion?

Astute businessmen do not normally assail Malacañang over debatable perceptions, but the president of the Philippine Stock Exchange is now telling media that the administration’s lack of coherent policies was partly to blame for the continued slip of the local stock market.

“Confidence is cracking,” PSE chairman Harry Liu said Wednesday, “and without confidence we will be going further down.”

Of course Liu also mentioned as contributory factors the fears of the Chinese yuan’s possible devaluation and the Japanese yen’s volatility, but that he had grown bold enough to pin part of the blame on the administration was significant.

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WILL Mr. Estrada be able to rally his 10-million-vote base against the estimated one million (220,000 copies x five readers per copy) readers of the Inquirer?

The problem is not only quantitative but also qualitative. While the Inquirer has a broad base of mass readers, it is also read – and heeded – by the more affluent and influential sectors.

A curious footnote is that most of the 10 million Estrada voters do not read the Inquirer and may remain unmoved by its negative reports.

Only around 17 percent of the population get their news and entertainment from print media, with the rest getting them mainly from radio and television.

The seeming logical conclusion is that Mr. Estrada should exploit the unrivalled reach of radio which can cut through mountains, seas and other physical obstacles to the distribution of newspapers in the country’s more than 7,000 islands.

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MOST mornings, while many newspapermen are barely out of bed, Mr. Estrada can be heard on radio answering questions of news anchors.

Some newspaper editors have even expressed “tampo” or displeasure over their reporters having to wait patiently for “ambush” interviews with the President while radio stations routinely call the President and are able to talk to him lengthily on the air.

No doubt, the President is able to reach more of his constituents nationwide through radio, whose reports are then amplified on television. But can the qualitative advantage of the newspapers be overcome by the quantitative edge of radio and television?

The daily barrage of the Inquirer, whose reports (even the spurious ones, like the reported P10-million renovation of the Palace kitchen) cannot be ignored by the other papers, has reduced the President of the Republic to a broken record of angry retorts.

Distressed observers are asking if the neophyte Chief Executive still has time for the more serious substance of governing and fulfilling his campaign promises to the masses.

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MANY concerned citizens have noted the negative drift of many newspaper reports. Two Catholic cardinals have appealed to their flock to give Mr. Estrada a chance. As it is, it appears he has not even gotten his bearings yet.

On the other hand, some readers who have vowed “never again” when recalling the Marcos plunder say the Inquirer is performing a necessary function of keeping people in power in perpetual check.

It is not clear how the Estrada administration will solve the serious problem of a press gone berserk.

One move taken just this week is the splitting of the function of the Press Secretary, who is both presidential spokesman and administrative head of the public information apparatus of the Executive department.

Press Secretary Rod Reyes will concentrate on his administrative job, while columnist Jerry Barican, an articulate lawyer and an activist in his student days, will be presidential spokesman.

(One item I see in my crystal ball is the eventual resignation of Secretary Reyes — a competent journalist in his time and a Nieman fellow to boot — invoking health reasons.)

Meantime, a harassed Mr. Estrada has clamed up, leaving the talking to his spokesman. “No talk, no mistake,” then Senator Gene Magsaysay used to say.

I don’t know if that’s good for the press, or the country — which are two different things.

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POSTSCRIPT: The peso has fallen to P44 to the dollar, forcing the Banko Sentral to intervene. It raised its interest rates on short-term lending to banks. It has also been unloading dollars through selected foreign banks.

The rains have come in earnest. The temperature hardly moves at 31 degrees Celsius.

The government is still scrounging around for money, whipping customs and internal revenue agents to collect more. It also plans to sell government firms, public estates, sequestered property and other valuable assets.

The public debate on the Visiting Forces Agreement between the United States and the Philippines has subsided. The papers are being awaited at the Senate, where it must first be ratified by two-thirds vote.

No date has been set for the execution by lethal injection of rapist Leo Echegaray, the first to die for a heinous crime after capital punishment was restored in 1994. President Estrada said he would not save him.

The Greek government has promised to talk to the author of a Greek dictionary that defines “Filipineza” as a “domestic worker or a person who performs non-essential auxiliary tasks.”

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