Something’s gotta give

THE PR temperature has cooled down a bit since Sonny Coloma took over as presidential spokesman. His explanations about happenings in Malacañang, that are not as laborious and convoluted as that of spokespersons Edwin Lacierda and Abigail Valte, have been printed by the press with much less sniping.
While Coloma comes with impressive credentials as a government official, a professor in management, a corporate communications specialist and a former columnist of BusinessWorld, he has managed to project the kind of cool, non-combative demeanor that made former Arroyo spokesman Titong Bunye an effective cushion for media attacks on his irritable and sharp-tongued boss.
Coloma is certainly a welcome contrast to the increasing pugnacity of Edwin Lacierda. The daily skirmishes with the media apparently got into Lacierda’s nerves. The moment he started spitting out insults and got into a media duel with former senators Joker Arroyo and Kit Tatad, it was obviously time for Coloma “to offer to help out” in the media briefings.
In the case of Ricky Carandang, he was really better off unheard and unseen. Anyone who has to devise a kilometric description for the position of press secretary (Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office) has much to learn about the virtue of brevity and conciseness, mandatory qualities in a spokesman.
Coloma also comes across as knowing what he has to say and, as importantly, knowing how to say it. Except that, it looks like he is not the main scriptwriter in the palace.
An example is how Lacierda and Valte explained Coloma’s emergence as Noynoy Aquino’s principal apologist. Of course, nobody believed the line that Coloma had “volunteered” to help them with their tasks. Happily for them, no one made a big issue out of it, except to quip, “What else is new? These guys would never be good poker players.”
But now, Coloma has to draw liberally from his reservoir of human relations skills to be able to keep his sense of humor in his new job.
Coloma’s first problem is Noynoy Aquino’s close-in advisers. Recall how the Tsarina of Russia, who had tremendous influence over the Tsar, was so under the spell of Gregori Rasputin that she caused the Romanov empire to flounder.
Aquino appears to have his Rasputins: Mar Roxas, Frank Drilon and Butch Abad, stalwarts of the Liberal Party.
If we are to believe a story in one of the Manila dailies, it was Roxas who persuaded Aquino to make that all-network TV appearance to explain and defend the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). The report said it was against the advice of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.
That “I am not a thief” assertion by Aquino may, unfortunately, go down in history alongside Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s lame apology, “I-am-sor-ry,” Richard Nixon’s protest, “I am not a crook!” and Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman.”
In all fairness to Roxas  (who has been nicknamed, Roxasputin by some mischievous characters), maybe the story isn’t accurate. Maybe he didn’t persuade Aquino to make that speech. Is he willing to make that denial? Is he willing to declare: “No, I did not give the president that advice. It was PNoy himself who made that decision?”
One need not belabor how Aquino’s sorry protestation of honesty compares with his father’s immortal words, “The Filipino is worth dying for!”
For someone who started his tenure from a position of moral ascendancy, Aquino’s “defense” of DAP by laying his integrity and honesty on the line was a low point in his presidency. And the “75% approval” rating claimed by the palace PR machinery, without any attribution, simply reinforces the impression that the communications team would fail miserably as poker players.
I still continue to believe that Aquino is well-intentioned. But there appears to be some truth to the Roxasputin rumors. For instance, it is said that it was Roxas who advised Aquino to agree to have Janet Lim Napoles surrender to him in Malacanang.
Maybe Roxas should speak out and deny it vehemently, if it is not true. But true or not, Roxas certainly seemed to agree that it was a good move, by the way he and Aquino escorted Napoles to Camp Crame and the way he personally attended to Napoles’ accommodations.
But to go back to Sonny Coloma. It would be interesting to see how he can put in a word edgewise when Frank Drilon, Butch Abad, and Mar Roxas bend Aquino’s ear on his next moves, in the face of the DAP controversy. Another equally daunting problem that Coloma faces is Aquino’s reported bullheadedness. According to reports, once he makes up his mind on something, he refuses to budge.
For Coloma, that is bad news. Having been a corporate communications specialist, presumably schooled in PR, Coloma must be familiar with the cardinal rule in dealing with a crisis.
I devoted a few paragraphs to it in the chapter, “A Primer on PR,” in my book on advertising:
“A cardinal rule in dealing with a PR crisis — where the reputation or even the survival of a business hangs in the balance — is to take the perspective of the PR publics involved, and then to weigh the negative and positive tradeoffs of available options, both short-term and long-term.
“Taking the public’s point of view means that, even if you are 100% convinced of the righteousness of your position, you must learn to understand and appreciate why the other side believes you are wrong. That could hold the key to solving the problem, either on a win-win basis or in a manner that allows you damage control or makes the opposition sue for peace.”
The way Aquino has doggedly defended DAP, there is little doubt that he is 100 percent convinced of the righteousness of his position. Unfortunately, while he insists that his “bosses,” the Filipino people, should try to understand and appreciate that position, he seems unwilling to understand and appreciate the position of his constituents, not to mention some of the most reputable constitutional experts in the country.
On the other hand, in announcing Aquino’s plan to go on the road to explain the DAP to the people, Coloma may be signaling a softening of Aquino’s position. Coloma said: “We reiterate government’s willingness to conduct continuing dialogues with our people, especially in the regions and provinces, to ensure adequate understanding of the issues that will enable them to make correct choices and decisions in matters affecting their communities and the country’s future.”
The question is: Is Aquino willing to acknowledge that his “bosses” could be right? What happens if the Supreme Court decides that the DAP is unconstitutional?
Maybe Aquino knows something that the people do not, which is that the Supreme Court will decide in his favor. But then, what happens if the Filipino people refuse to accept the decision of the high court?
Remember that axiom about the irresistible force meeting an immovable object? Something’s gotta give.

* * *

Email [email protected].

The Filipino-American Community Newspaper. Your News. Your Community. Your Journal. Since 1991.

Copyright © 1991-2024 Asian Journal Media Group.
All Rights Reserved.