POSTSCRIPT / January 13, 2019 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Duterte’s problem of communication

IT IS pretty obvious that President Duterte is handicapped by his inability to communicate effectively to the public, a problem that impacts negatively on many aspects of his administration.

This is one of the reasons why after the President makes a major statement, or even a trivial remark, a spokesman or interpreter often has to jump in to clarify, explain, recast or even to overhaul what the President had said or tried to say.

For lack of a credible explanation, the interpreter often falls back on the worn-out excuse that the President was just joking, inadvertently portraying Duterte as a standup comic dishing out what he thinks (erroneously) the crowd loves to hear.

The basic Palace comsys or communication system has the President (Source) delivering to the people (Receiver) certain statements (Messages) transmitted through various means (Media). For optimum interaction, all the components must be operating in the same cultural context.

Examining the comsys’ components to isolate the problem areas, we note that the targeted Receiver is there ready, and even anxious, to catch whatever the President is beaming through the media.

Duterte has at his disposal, in spite of the Commission on Audit, billions of pesos, a largely cooperative or coopted private media in addition to the government’s public information network and its potential to dominate social media.

The cause of the on-and-off failure to communicate effectively lies elsewhere. With all due respect, we trace the problem back to the President (the Source) and/or the content or substance of his Message.

There are some attendant noise or static (sometimes generated by his detractors) disturbing or interfering with the transmission, but the effects would be minimal if the components of the presidential comsys are solid. They are not.

• Duterte weakest link in Palace comsys

IT HAS been said that being president is a case of role-playing, assuming he is equipped to play it. A consummate actor with communication skills, given the right script and director, could hack it and, if he wants, even package himself as a populist leader.

It is too much to ask President Duterte to approximate the talent and the humanity of, say, the late US President Reagan, a former actor and California governor before he became president (1981-1989). Among other things, he is remembered as “The Great Communicator”.

Reagan’s success as communicator sprang from the human depth of his messages and the effective style of his delivery – something the Davao Mayor and his handlers can only dream of.

Watch the speeches of Duterte (you can review them on YouTube) to know what we mean when we say that the weakest element in the presidential communication system is the Source, the President himself.

His repetitious messages lack substance worth imbibing. He is usually sowing hatred and dissension, spicing his tirades with sexist jokes, curses and threats to his critics and perceived enemies, notably the political opposition and the Catholic church.

There is nothing in the presidential messages that inspires and ennobles, or stokes the humanity lying in the bosom of distressed Filipinos. A listener can almost see himself splattered with the blood that Duterte wants drawn from his targets.

His State of the Nation addresses could be occasions for great, soaring oratory, but these are generally mangled with his fumbling through the English (interspersed with some Taglish) text he reads off the teleprompters.

This language difficulty of Duterte gets in the way of his attempts to communicate. When talking off the cuff after discarding his prepared text, he is unable to complete one simple sentence before his rambling thoughts lead him adrift into endless ellipses.

When addressing Filipino workers abroad, he recites his now-familiar script – after introducing his coterie that includes billionaires, valedictorians, magna cum laudes, etc., who were his classmates but who are now doing his bidding as president.

In the provinces, he usually starts by saying he has a two-page speech (showing it) and that in fairness to the speechwriter, would read the last paragraph. After that, he sallies forth into his favorite lines sprinkled with vulgarities aimed at his usual targets.

If he delves into foreign relations and geopolitical issues, Duterte dishes out arguments that are the product of the hurts he has experienced in his brushes with foreign officials. Foreign policy is determined by personal animosity.

• GMA behind harassment of Diokno?

THE HOUSE Rules Committee is set on Tuesday to conduct another hearing into the flood control allocations set by the Department of Public Works and Highways and released by the Department of Budget and Management for Sorsogon.

It is clear that House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr., who heads the committee, is bent on pressuring DBM Secretary Benjamin Diokno into releasing the Road User’s Fund.

After the harassment that Diokno experienced at the Question Hour last December, President Duterte told the DBM chief not to attend those House hearings. Yet Andaya still invited Diokno.

Andaya even invited Diokno’s daughter, Justine Sicat, who has nothing to do with the contractors nor the DPWH nor the DBM, presumably as part of pressure tactics to force releases from the Road User’s Fund.

The Rules Committee has no jurisdiction over matters relating to the budget or flood control. Its tasks are limited to investigating matters pertaining to House rules. Issues regarding the budget or flood control properly fall under other standing committees.

Neither can Andaya call an investigation motu proprio. Invitations, especially subpoenas issued by the House, must come from the House Speaker upon recommendation of a committee. Speaker Gloria Arroyo should have vetoed Andaya’s invitations, but she did not, raising speculations that she is behind the harassment of Diokno.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 13, 2019)

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