POSTSCRIPT / August 19, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA must deliver by yearend, or else...

BLEAK PROSPECT: I hope it’s just the weather, the dark clouds, the rains and such, but we have been downcast lately as we survey the situation, especially the economy.

Since the June 30 inauguration of President Arroyo, we have been straining to catch any hint that a Big Bang was coming to change the national landscape forever and propel this Asian laggard back to greatness.

We thought that being an economist and having been a hands-on president for three years before her election last May 10, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would, in the words of one paratrooper Fidel Ramos, “hit the ground running.”

Yes, she hit the ground all right. But we’re still waiting for the running part.

Is she taking her time, or is just having a hard time, gathering her parachute?

With the 12 million who supposedly voted for her, we are anxiously watching, waiting.…

* * *

YEAREND DEADLINE: This is not to be pushy, but I think she has to show something really dramatic before the year ends, mainly by scoring a marked improvement in the economy.

Please note that to the average Filipino head of family, “economy” is something personal. We don’t care about government statistics, or the fat figures decorating the big picture. The economy is what we feel in our gut.

If she fails to perform at least a psychological “parting of the Red Sea” by Christmas to lead us to the Promised Land, the goodwill she has earned with her election last May is likely to dissipate and be replaced by the usual defeatism.

Pagod na ang mga tao. This battered nation is tired. It has waited too long already and may not be willing to wait further.

* * *

CHRISTMAS DEADLINE: The frightening part is that once the slide starts, there will hardly be anything that President Arroyo or anybody can do to stop it. We might spend the rest of her six-year term frantically improvising from one crisis to another.

The urgent call, then, is to prevent the start of a downtrend by acting NOW. (Actually it should have been YESTERDAY.) As I see it, the psychological deadline for a miracle is this Christmas.

If President Arroyo cannot deliver by then, the next best thing is for her bright boys to invent some kind of big distraction. And by distraction, we don’t mean a clutch of tax bills being waved before us. Or a circus called Charter Change.

I hope it’s just the rain.

* * *

PRISONERS OF WAR?: Why is the government allowing the repeated reference to our soldiers being held by the dissident New People’s Army as “prisoners of war”?

The NPA is not a sovereign power at war with the Republic of the Philippines. Its armed partisans, who I understand are Filipinos, are engaged in a rebellion. Until they topple the government, they are plain rebels.

By the same token, captured NPA fighters are not “prisoners of war.” They are crime suspects who will be charged with rebellion and related offenses.

Captured NPA members are to be treated humanely like other detainees, not because they are POWs under the Geneva Convention but because they are human beings entitled to equal protection under our laws.

* * *

SLY PROPAGANDA: By its repeatedly calling the captured soldiers “prisoners of war” and by other sly moves, the National Democratic Front, the umbrella of communist groups in the Philippines, is striving to elevate itself in the public mind to a belligerent status.

The communists are projecting themselves in the world’s mind as a breakaway state fighting for independence from the Republic of the Philippines — something not different from secessionist Muslims fighting for their own independent Bangsamoro.

The irony is that the Philippine government, or at least Malacanang and/or its negotiators, allow these subliminal messages to take root. We are losing by default some propaganda aspects of the conflict.

* * *

TALKING WITH ALIENS: And btw, isn’t NDF chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni, who happens to be in town, a Dutch?

If he is an alien, why is the Philippine panel headed by Silvestre Bello III negotiating with him? The decades-old rebellion is an internal problem that Filipinos can and should resolve among themselves.

Jalandoni cannot claim automatic dual citizenship because a Filipino who has renounced his citizenship when he was naturalized in another state is no longer a Filipino. He can apply for repatriation, but unless and until this is approved, he remains an alien.

The NDF has unilaterally postponed the peace talks set Aug. 20-30 in Oslo, Norway, in reaction to the labeling of the CPP-NPA by the United States, the European Union and the Netherlands as a terrorist group.

That tag is crucial to NDF stalwarts because it affects not only their asylum status in the Netherlands, but also the movement of funds needed for their upkeep abroad and their financial support to the followers in the home country.

* * *

WHAT DOWNSIZING?: Still on propaganda, it is amazing how Malacanang is trying to complicate something that is really simple.

Working for the Palace, there is already a Press Secretary and a separate presidential spokesman, plus a litter of other media outfits around and under them in the public and the private media.

This is a small country with a small budget. Those two officials with the information agencies working under them should be enough.

The present setup is already a monstrous information infrastructure, a bureaucratic dinosaur of sorts in these days when the buzzword is “downsizing” government.

But, not content with dealing with that behemoth, President Arroyo issued Executive Order 348 last Aug. 11 creating the Office of the Communications Director — another superlayer on top of everything and everyone having to do with government information.

Dr. Margie Holmes might want to whisper to the President that satisfaction with a communication organ is not derived from its size, but from how it is used.

* * *

RIGODON OF EGOS: Examining the personalities affected in the rigodon triggered by EO 348, one realizes that the reorganization appears meant to accommodate the clashing super-egos orbiting around the President rather than to improve system efficiency.

Our unsolicited advice is for Malacanang to retain the twin basic frontliners of:

  1. A presidential spokesman shadowing and second-guessing the President and “spokemanning” as the need arises.
  2. And a Press Secretary to attend to the logistics and the administrative requirements of waging public information here and abroad.

Everything and everyone else should fall neatly under those two agencies.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 19, 2004)

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