POSTSCRIPT / February 2, 2006 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA won election, but lost war of perception

TOO LATE?: Malacanang says that President Gloria Arroyo is willing to sit down with Catholic bishops for “constructive dialogue” to thresh out controversies hounding her administration.

It may be a bit late for that.

As I see it, Gloria Arroyo may have won the 2004 presidential election, but she has lost the perception game that followed.

One proof is that the 119-member Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines still seems to harbor doubts as to the legitimacy of her presidency.

In its strongest statement yet, the CBCP pressed Ms Arroyo (without naming her) to allow the truth to come out on several issues, including wiretapped conversations linking her to cheating in the 2004 election.

The bishops said that truth must be “pursued relentlessly,” noting that the efforts of the Arroyo administration to clear up unresolved questions had been hampered by “evasion and obstruction.”

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COMMUNICATION GAP: Even before the CBCP convened and issued last Sunday a pastoral statement on the moral crisis gripping the nation, a chain of events already had started to unreel, inexorably pushing President Arroyo to the wall.

Hounded by oppositionist destabilization, the beleaguered President has failed to connect and convince. She has failed to communicate to the sectors that count, including the Church, and successfully plead her case.

Now she wants to explain to them? How will the bishops, who do not meet as often as her Cabinet does, take back what they have formally said — unless they are shown a dramatic turnaround?

And how can there be a turnaround when almost everybody — except for the local officials and congressmen reined in by the “power of the purse” — has stopped listening to the President?

Even assuming there is a turnaround, how will the President communicate this to the people, including the bishops? Her communication team’s track record is dismal.

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MEDIA & POLITICOS: Note that in the very first paragraph of their pastoral statement, the bishops said: “We, your bishops, have collectively discerned in the light of the Gospel what our mass media, our political leaders and, above all, you parishioners in our various dioceses have been telling us. What clearly emerges is the continued and urgent need for renewal in the public life of our country.”

This is disturbing. Imagine, the bishops pala relied on the mass media, political leaders and parishioners to arrive at such a momentous declaration that has a devastating effect on our political life.

I don’t know that the mass media and the politicians are the best source of processed information intended to be the basis for the Church’s guiding admonition to the flock.

It may not be the right thing to say here, but experience has shown that our media are hardly the best purveyors of truth.

It is alarming to see our bishops quoting and learning not only from the Gospel, but also from the reports of mass media and the press releases of politicians.

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BISHOPS’ HANDICAP: As for their third source of information — their parishioners – the prelates should be advised that the laity’s perceptions may have been warped by what they read, hear and see in the free-wheeling media.

Except for neighborhood issues, what local folk pick up from media and pass on to their bishops pertaining to regional and national issues is likely to be hearsay of dubious value.

It would be something else if the bishops culled information obtained via the confessional — such as if a government contractor or a corrupt official or their spouses/lovers spill out their sins in penitential “executive session.” But this is unlikely.

How do the bishops sift and weigh evidence? That is, if they do come in possession of supporting papers and testimony pertaining to specific cases?

The problem is that the bishops, like most of us, do not have direct personal knowledge of most things they are called upon to judge. Thus handicapped, they then rely on perception — falling victim to the misleading mirrors of mass media.

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NOT PROVED: To test the reliability of information plucked from the grapevine, let us take the issue of alleged cheating that resulted in Gloria Arroyo becoming president.

It is so easy, even for a bishop, to say there was massive fraud. All one has to do is say it. But it is something else to evaluate the evidence, if there is hard evidence, and prove the accusations.

To say with certainty that GMA cheated to win the presidency, we have to specify and show in what precincts the cheating occurred, who did the cheating, how many votes were stolen, and by how much those votes affected the final count.

Has anybody done this? Nobody! Have the bishops, individually or collectively, done this? No.

And then, if some local officials cheated to assure their reelection, and the altered count happened to benefit GMA, is it correct to say that GMA cheated and must be stripped of the presidency?

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REGULARITY PRESUMED: Assuming there was cheating, and I believe there was cheating as usual, fairness demands that the proper complaints be filed and heard so the proper body — not just any forum, much less the streets — using accepted rules of evidence.

After the official canvass, the proclamation and the swearing in of elected officials, we have to respect the presumption of regularity to maintain the equanimity of our democracy.

We cannot continue with disgruntled elements (we will always have them) disturbing the peace by talking endlessly about poll fraud and amplifying loose talk with loose thoughts.

This long-suffering nation has to move on.

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COMMUNICATION WAR: But the legal point that Gloria Arroyo is the duly elected president has grown irrelevant. What seems to matters now is that she and her husband Mike are perceived to have masterminded massive fraud to clinch the presidency in 2004.

With this perception having found currency in media through endless repetition, and with the Palace propaganda team in disarray, the election fraud charges have evolved into conviction in the public mind.

The media, many of whom are oppositionist by default, have found it easier – also fashionable and sometimes rewarding – to lambaste the President and repeat charges of cheating without attempting to balance their reports.

That Gloria Arroyo is taray queen of sorts has not helped her gain sympathy. That her husband has nurtured the image of one who can never do right has compounded her perception problem.

So now we have a majority of the population, and I suppose even of the CBCP, believing the unproved charges that GMA cheated to win.

Gloria Arroyo has lost in the perception game.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 2, 2006)

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