POSTSCRIPT / July 10, 2001 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Can we still give GMA a belated honeymoon?

ALMOST all the figures we’ve seen point to one alarming thing: The economy is down and the prospects of a short-term recovery are dim. Business has been very bad and people are having a hard time coping.

That’s saying it in broad, impersonal terms.

To be specific, we can cite the scary figures on rising unemployment, the velocity of capital flight, creeping inflation, rising prices, unhealthy balance of payments — and then give the horror story a face by presenting real families right in the heart of Manila eating only rice and salt.

On the qualitative side, we are disheartened by many people’s feeling of helplessness, of uncertainty, of their wanting to emigrate if only they could.

* * *

IT is in this context that we now plead: Let’s give ourselves a break. We’re already down, so let’s stop kicking one another. Let’s focus on where we can agree and act in unison.

In another dimension, although it has the upper hand, the government thought it wise to first declare a ceasefire, a cessation of hostilities, to create a climate favorable to earnest peace negotiations with rebels.

Now our wild idea is this: For our own sake, why don’t we consider giving President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo the honeymoon she never had? As they say, better late than never.

A new president is traditionally given a sporting chance, a 100-day “honeymoon” with the press — but we’ve denied this to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

* * *

UNLESS probably we have proof that the new President has blood in her hands or that she and some salivating cronies are just waiting for a chance to plunder public coffers, we may consider giving her the benefit of the doubt.

The consensus as we hear it from various sectors is that GMA is equipped for the presidency and has it in her to be at least a “good” president, but that some factions who cannot accept reality are throwing obstacles to ensure her failure.

But, stressing the obvious, obstructionism – if not outright destabilization — will derail not only the programs of GMA but also the recovery of our foundering economy. Who benefits from obstructionism? You know the answer.

We should evolve a consensus about cooperating with government on matters that would benefit us all. After all, we float or sink together.

* * *

WE can imagine that most businessmen would not care much who sits in Malacañang so long as the president is able to spur economic growth, improve the business climate and the quality of life of consumers.

Unless they are convinced that the incumbent is anti-business, does not know a thing about managing the economy or is partial to cronies who want to gain undue advantage, etc., we imagine that businessmen would be generally supportive of their president.

In this light, it should not be that difficult for the business community to consider giving GMA a chance to show what she could do for them — and the nation — without political hecklers and saboteurs torpedoing her every move.

* * *

WHEN we talk of a “honeymoon” for the President, we usually have in mind a honeymoon with the press. We understand this to mean a period, traditionally 100 days, during which the press would handle the President with kid gloves and be more or less supportive.

But it has never been easy getting unanimity in the media, especially for something that could go against the adversarial position assumed by the press vis-à-vis the government.

Remember the supposed news blackout (actually a grayout) on the Abu Sayyaf war on Basilan island. While most Manila-based mainstream media played along, a Mindanao network insisted on giving the terrorists a valuable piece of its airtime for propaganda.

In such a situation where some members of a sector want to upstage or scoop the rest, or do not believe in self-regulation, a news blackout for whatever reason will not work.

* * *

IN the same manner, the “honeymoon” we’re talking about would not work if key members of media will not cooperate or will refuse to see the efficacy (for the nation) of calling a ceasefire while the new President is getting her bearings right.

Some clarifications are in order. The honeymoon we have in mind is not one where the media would run only favorable news about GMA and her administration or one where unfavorable news would be suppressed.

Twisting the news or prostituting its presentation would be dishonest, and it would not work. This is not what we’re suggesting.

What we have in mind is simply the adoption of a frame of mind, or a positive attitude that would accentuate what is good for us (meaning the country) and play down items that do not have positive social values.

* * *

OF course there will never be universal agreement on what is good and what is bad for the country, but that’s okay because such disagreement is normal. It is also healthy.

Under our proposed honeymoon, the press would still be free to do as it pleases, to publish what it feels should be ventilated.

But on certain things, such as evaluation and treatment of certain news items and features, maybe there could be some informal, unwritten flexible guidelines. There’s no harm for publishers and editors to sit down together and explore this tricky territory.

For instance, we can avoid giving good play to such enemies of the state as the Abu Sayyaf or avoid being used as conduits for their propaganda.

Whenever we see positive stories, like that airport worker who found and returned a huge sum lost by an Indian traveler, we could play them up and present them in the inspiring context of what a good Filipino is.

* * *

WHEN a politician (or his ghost writer) spews out destructive, divisive or irresponsible statements, we can throw them away and thereby create space for items that would help build consensus and unity.

Many times we see stories reporting that “So and so said yesterday that…” Actually most of this stuff is just laway (saliva), but we give it valuable time and space. Some people blurt out anything just to land in the news, yet we accommodate them.

Talk is cheap and usually unreliable. Would it not be better if we waited for this politician, or whoever is being quoted, to first do what he said he would do before we publish his advance press release?

* * *

WE in the press know when we’re reporting on a mere “word war” or a battle of press releases. We know that the heated exchange (sometimes carried out by PR agents and not the parties being quoted) is usually destructive, distractive and most likely contrived, but we report on it anyway.

Can’t we ban this type of press release? Or if we want to use the releases, can we not exile them to an obscure corner inside the paper?

We in the press know when some politicians are just kibitzing or grandstanding or making a nuisance of themselves. But we run their press releases, plus pictures, and use premium space that should go to more positive items.

* * *

THIS suggestion of a belated honeymoon for GMA will not get universal acceptance in media and elsewhere. This is to be expected since we are steeped in the libertarian spirit of the Western press.

Those who oppose it can be expected to shoot it down as kowtowing to government, of defaulting on our watchdog function, even of making sipsip to the administration.

In response, we can only clarify that the idea is just to be selective in the items we play up or pick up for serious discussion, to give the President in the next three months a chance to set the direction and get things moving with a minimum of obstructionism.

* * *

THE “honeymoon” idea has many rough edges, we know, but let’s consider it while there is still time to salvage whatever is left of our national economic life. If we hit everything that the administration offers just for the sake of disagreeing, we may end up shooting down ourselves.

Magulo nang masyado. We’re not moving forward, and may in fact be sliding backward. Let’s not wait for our nation to break into pieces before we close ranks in a common effort to survive and soar.

It’s just for three months. Let’s give it to our President.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 10, 2001)

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