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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Deafening silence

“Just look at the saga of her senator chums, whether clowns or politically resurrected recipients of much worse accusations in their colorful past”

A former consultancy principal during his term as senator, Orly Mercado, a certified mass communications expert, used to tell us that often, when political ‘turbulence’ happens, the best way to respond is to simply ‘fasten your seat belts’ and wait for it to abate.

Indeed, using the analogy of a plane ride, air turbulence usually has a short if disturbing shelf life.

“Lilipas din ‘yan,” he would say, just as when people greeted him on his birthday, he would quip that “isang araw lang ‘yan, lilipas din.” Rarely did the former senator give a party to celebrate his natal day.

The ‘deafening silence’ response, or better yet, non-response, may have been applicable in the last decades of the 20th century where tri-media was the only channel of mass communication, but in these days of the prevalence of social media, fastening seat belts and waiting for the turbulence to pass away is no longer applicable.

Print, television and radio normally cannot sustain hot news beyond its usual shelf life of a week, except when it has several twists and turns that keep reviving the news from becoming stale.

An example is the Napoles ghost projects-from pork barrel-scandal, where new revelations kept cropping up, such that it never died until Madam Janet was in prison, and likewise her “suki” among well-known political personalities.

The scandal resurrects every now and then, but then again, Filipinos have short memories, which explains why Madam Janet’s favorite suki are back in power while she continues to languish in prison.

But that’s another story. So let us shift to yet another issue concerning the abuse or mis-use of public funds.

Vice-President Inday Sara Duterte has been quite nonchalant, dismissive even, about the confidential and intelligence funds scandal, even the contingency funds from where it would seem the DBM justified the fund transfers from the Office of the President.

And in the singular opportunity where she responded, she launched ad hominems against her ‘accusers.’ mainly the lady senator and lady congresswoman for whom she has “no respect” and who she classifies as part of the ‘left.’ her perennial bete noire.

That instant retort was certainly ill-advised, assuming she has advisers who know better, or to whom she listens.

Such labelling invites fierce reactions, as had happened, even if her camp suspects some ‘evil plotters’ leaked the information to the ‘leftists’ as part of a demolition job against the vice-president who is considered by many as a shoo-in for the 2028 presidential derby.

And fierce tempest indeed accompanied the opening of the can of worms, after layer upon layer of revelations regarding the provenance of her confidential bounty were peeled in time for the plenary budget circus in the House of Representatives.

Silence is not golden when demolition crews attack.

And the attacks have intensified in social media, where naughty memes have proliferated, spiced with the usual sardonic humor that is the ‘talent’ of Filipinos.

If she listens to advice, and assuming she has qualified advisers, and further assuming these advisers have sifted through the minutiae of the provenance, back-tracking through their files, which included a letter to the Office of the President, doing what the late PFVR kept insisting on — ‘CSW’ or complete staff work, a better response to the instant accusations could have been formulated.

She had that moment when she faced the Senate finance committee that was going through the budget submissions of the National Expenditure Program, the “President’s budget” it is often called.

Listening to her in the Youtube replay of that committee hearing, she calmly told her inquisitors that it really is up to the legislature whether to grant the 2024 CIF to her offices, both in the OVP and DepEd where she presides.

But she stopped at that declaration, which was thus taken as haughty challenge.

It was a lost moment.

A ‘killer’ statement from her could have quelled the howling storm before it reached calamity proportions.

Imagine if Inday Sara used that moment to say that she was foregoing those entitlements proposed in the President’s budget, with emphasis on “the President’s budget,” and instead asked the legislators to add the same as additional “ayuda” to palay farmers, or subsidies to hinterland schools serving the children of indigenous tribes where the NPA-NDF operate.

Sure she would lose those funds, a measly amount when measured against 2028 political prospects, but she would have won the day, captured the moment, and quelled the noise.

Then her ‘defenders’ would not have had to go through ill-thought contortions, such as Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo’s definition of “zero” as an appropriation, something that made lesser mortals from the UP School of Economics (where she graduated summa cum laude) shrink in embarrassment.

Nor how she spent the fund transfer from the OP in 2022 come up in further deliberations.

Now a committee of four, composed of a mega-contractor turned appropriations chairman, her initial ‘defender’ Quimbo, a Samareno who fiddles with the classic guitar, and the Zamboangueno majority floor leader, will “decide” the fate of her entitlements, all of them beholden to the man she earlier chided with a Bisaya descriptive.

If she had not ‘lost’ that Senate moment by haughty nonchalance, she would have achieved both an accepted ‘mea culpa’ and ‘case closed’ in one graceful blow.

And I do not write this as 20/20 hindsight, because right after her Senate moment, in our Wednesday group as well as the younger group that I periodically meet (last Thursday’s column entitled “Bliss or bore”), some of whose members are respected journalists and public relations experts, I discussed that “What If She Said…?” idea, and got positive reactions.

Now the proverbial shit has hit the fan, and what could have been cut short by an act of ‘noblesse oblige’ has become fodder for political demolition and character assassination in social media.

Then again, she could take comfort in the fact that 2028 is a distant future in the world of Philippine politics.

And contrary to how the President fends off the description of our people as having a “damaged culture” (from American James Fallow’s description of us, explaining that ours is a “nation without nationalism but also without much national pride”), the Vice-President and her staff can perhaps harken to the thought that Filipinos easily forget, and they forgive all too easily.

Just look at the saga of her senator chums, whether clowns or politically resurrected recipients of much worse accusations in their colorful past. They have managed to bounce back from what seemed to be quicksand.

Lessons learned from this saga, which obviously would eat into her immense political capital, can yet be building blocks towards recovery.

Continued silence would be disastrous.

And if I sound like a cynic, well, we live in a cynical society, whether it is called Bagong Lipunan or “Bagong Pilipinas.”

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