POSTSCRIPT / January 27, 2002 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Watch GMA develop into a real 'Iron Lady'

SENSE OF PROPORTION: What’s happening to us? While some of us are frothing in the mouth denouncing the United States for helping us in our fight against terrorism, not one word is being said against the cause of all this trouble — the Abu Sayyaf.

Why? Where has our sense of proportion gone?

How come there has not been one rally or picket or even just a one-paragraph statement coming from the opposition and the Left denouncing the demonic depredations of the Abu Sayyaf gang?

How come they don’t seem to mind anymore the torture, rape, murder, the wholesale flouting of the laws attendant to the Abu Sayyaf’s multimillion-dollar kidnapping business? They would rather rail against the offer of American help.

We refuse to believe that that terror gang has succeeded in holding hostage the entire nation, the opposition and the Left in particular.

* * *

GMA BEING BAITED: Rep. Oscar Moreno should stop banging his head on the wall and pressing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to commit the blunder of interfering in the investigation by the Ombudsman of a multibillion-peso tax credit scandal.

As the President has said correctly, the Ombudsman is a constitutionally independent office and she has no intention of violating its independence.

With the preliminary investigation still ongoing in the office of the Ombudsman, it is premature to conclude that a grave injustice is about to be committed and that only the intervention of the President could prevent the imagined miscarriage of justice.

Recall that the President was denounced months ago for allegedly meddling in the plunder case of former President Erap Estrada pending with the Sandiganbayan. (She denied having done so.) Now that she refuses to meddle in another plunder case, as suggested by Moreno, she is again being lambasted.

Saan siya pupunta?

* * *

SHE’S GOING PLACES: It says here that the President is going to London and Toronto on her way to the United States to wrap up some urgent items.

In New York, she would address the World Economic Forum. It’s remarkable that while GMA will fly across the Pacific, President George W. Bush, who is right there next door in Washington D.C., is not attending the conference.

President Arroyo is to depart tonight for London where she would confer on Monday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on security and other matters. She will fly on to Toronto, Canada, and meet Wednesday with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

In connection with this trip, GMA’s ninth since she became president a year ago, sources close to a former president often seen with her leaked information that Malacañang has hired US-based public relations firm Burson-Marsteller for $1 million to handle her media exposure. Earlier reports called the outfit “Burston and Marsteller.”

It’s normal for the Philippine government and its president to avail themselves of the services of a Stateside PR firm who can produce the desired results within a short time frame. Rightly or wrongly, the perception in the Palace is that no local (Philippine) PR agency can deliver so much with so little time.

* * *

MEDIA ‘SUKI’ LISTED: Burson-Marsteller also served President Arroyo during her working visit to the US in November last year. The BM firm was responsible for arranging interviews with leading US media and placing stories angled to project the desired image for GMA and the Philippines.

BM can easily do this because of its long-standing connections with key media personalities, whom it taps (and treats well, we suppose) every time a client hires the PR firm.

Some of the “suki” media tapped by Burson-Marsteller last time (and possibly this time around also) were:

  • The Wall Street Journal (790,000 daily circulation), which shares information within its network of other publications also owned by Dow Jones & Co. One of BM’s friend interviewers at WSJ is Neil King who covers national security, terrorism, and US foreign policy as diplomatic correspondent.
  • Cable News Network (CNN), with a claimed average viewership of 500,000.
  • Public Broadcasting Service, a national network providing news, public affairs, educational and entertainment programming to non-commercial stations across America. It is funded by viewers, Congress and corporate benefactors.

Its “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” recommended by BM, is considered as one of the most prestigious and influential international news programs. With Lehrer as executive editor and anchor and Lester Crystal as executive producer, the show boasts of a weekly viewership of 8 million.

  • The Washington Post focuses on governance and policy. For this reason, BM advised its client GMA to demonstrate mastery of governing, a detailed grasp of public policy such as the link between poverty and terrorism, two topics that GMA tried hard to develop in tandem during her last US trip.

An interview with the Post editorial board usually is led by executive editor Leonard Downie Jr., assisted by some of his subeditors and reporters. The paper has a Sunday circulation of 1,087,000, and a smaller one on weekdays. Its media holdings include Newsweek, The Gazette Newspapers, Cable ONE and some local TV stations.

* * *

UNIFIED P.R. CAMPAIGN: Burson-Marsteller plans a unified campaign based on a defined objective. The campaign this time is expected to follow through the PR gains made in GMA’s last US visit, which is reasonably successful enough to justify the expenses.

The featuring of President Arroyo on the cover of Time magazine is reportedly a result of the preliminary buildup done by BM in preparation for this current trip. The use of the sobriquet “Iron Lady,” although with a tentative question mark, may indicate the type of image BM is creating for President Arroyo in the context of her unruly nation and the coming RP-US joint shooting war against Abu Sayyaf terrorists.

It’s a smart move, if this is indeed the PR direction, as there is a growing sense of fatigue among a cross-section of Filipinos who want a respite from the seeming confusion and the refusal of Filipinos to be governed.

* * *

MAILED FIST NEEDED?: There is, in fact, a widespread feeling that what this country needs is a mailed fist, a strong leader who would whip the nation into line. (This is the same perception that the handlers of Sen. Panfilo Lacson were trying to exploit by projecting the former PC chief as a no-nonsense enforcer who could be president.)

Local critics who keep needling the diminutive lady President about her being “mataray”  may just be falling into the mold being set up. There are indications that instead of trying to counter the criticism, GMA is sometimes almost flaunting it — as when she deliberately glares at some critics in seeming disregard of what the media might say the next day.

GMA may be intentionally moving — with the help of Burson-Marsteller — to get identified with that circle of super hawks Blair and Bush, the headmen of the posse hunting al-Qaeda remnants. A global projection of that sort may be good for her at this time.

Iron Lady? Watch GMA metamorphose into one.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 27, 2002)

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