Tonypet J. Rosales | Editor
IT APPEARS the most bloated government department—the Communications Group PNoy—simply can’t get the job done. To arrest the President’s sagging image, the administration is bringing more people into the fray, a move that could spark new hostilities between the Samar and Balay groups in Malacanang.
Since 2010, despite an awesome PR machinery, Malacanang never really got a hold of the public relations game. A series of missteps, snafus, blunders and miscommunications (beginning with the mishandling of the Luneta hostage incident involving a tour bus filled with Chinese nationals) have kept the President’s team of spokespersons and speechwriters busy fending off critics.
On Tuesday, a newspaper report by that the Palace is in “PR crisis mode”, hiring the services of a foreign pollster and political strategist to help reinvent the image of the President after the government’s net approval ratings plummeted to a record low.
The report said a crisis management team under Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. (Samar Group) and a political strategy team under Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas (Balay Group) has been activated to help refurbish PNoy’s image which has taken hit after hit since assuming the presidency in 2010.
A Palace source said Roxas is bringing back one Paul Bograd, the political strategist said to be responsible for Mar’s “Mr. Palengke” brand which made the DILG secretary No. 1 senator back in 2004. Bograd’s assignment: to fix PNoy’s image which suffered massively because of the Supreme Court’s adverse ruling on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
On the other hand, Ochoa has made changes in the Palace media group starting with the appointment of Presidential Operations Office Secretary Sonny Coloma as presidential spokesperson taking the place of Edwin Lacierda who is identified with Mar’s Balay group.
Ochoa is also said to have reactivated members of the Samar group involved in the 2010 campaign, including television director and PNoy cousin Maria Montelibano. Montelibano served as head of Radio Television Malacanang (RTVM) during the time of President Cory Aquino and was also the designated point-person for media in Noynoy’s 2010 campaign.
While Bograd’s appointment can be considered a slap in the face of Secretary Coloma, observers believe that recent turn of events is symptomatic of a leadership breakdown in Malacanang. The administration is slowly falling apart and may eventually cost the ruling Liberal Party (LP) the 2016 presidential elections.
Seed of Discord
The conflict between the Samar and Balay group started shortly after Mar Roxas lost the vice presidency to Jojo Binay. Balay is the the group that met regularly at the residence of Roxas and its core is composed of the LP leadership together with the Black and White Movement and Ronald Llamas’ Akbayan. Samar Avenue in Quezon City is where Montelibano’s media bureau and Ochoa’s legal team held fort. PNoy sisters Pinky and Ballsy and Sonny Belmonte also regularly joined the Samar meetings.
The difference between the two groups emerged when Balay members started blaming Samar for the emergence of the winning NoyBi (Noynoy-Binay) tandem. In 2010, Mar’s presidential candidacy was floundering (he was usually ranked 4th in the ratings) and things looked up only after he gave way to Aquino and ran for vice president instead.
However, in the last weeks before the elections, Binay eventually caught up with Mar in the ratings.
From sure winner, Roxas became a pathetic loser. The two camps exchanged barbs blaming each other for Mar’s loss with Balay—despite the polls—claiming the Binay win as a fluke. The seed of discord had already planted as early as 2010.
The latest polls showing the President’s net satisfaction ratings at an all-time low, forced both the Samar and Balay groups to reactivate their crisis management teams. The Palace is in panic and by racing to save the President and effect a quick turnaround—Pnoy and company could find himself in even deeper trouble.
Mar’s panic is understandable because his chance of becoming the LP standard bearer and winning the presidency in 2016 is directly proportional to PNoy’s pop ratings. If PNoy crashes and burns, Roxas might as well kiss his presidential aspirations goodbye.
Palace insiders say Ochoa is concerned with the way the LP has handled the DAP issue. The August 23, 2013 speech of the President defending the DAP was reportedly the idea of Roxas who managed to convince PNoy to deliver the speech on primetime television despite Ochoa’s protests.
“Ochoa believes the (Senate President Franklin) Drilon and (Budget Secretary Butch Abad are dragging the President down with them,” the Palace source said.
Abad is the architect of the DAP which has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Drilon—who failed on his promise to scrap the Senate pork—tried to make up for his failure with an attempt to salvage the impounded money by circumventing the TRO issued by the SC by having the funds declared as “savings” that the President can use in the event of a calamity. Drilon’s antics reportedly did not sit well with House Speaker Belmonte.
The situation has become a fight for the Aquino-Cojuangco clan’s life that even the “First Bunso” Kris has been put to active PR service.
Kris’ strategy jumps off from PNoy’s recent State of the Nation Address (SONA) where the camera cuts away to the gallery and catches the “Queen of All Media” wiping off her tears as her PNoy mouths off the sacrifices of their parents Cory and Ninoy in his impassioned speech.
On August 1, on the occasion of Cory Aquino’s 5th death anniversary, Kris even hinted on the potential martyrdom of PNoy. “He [Noynoy] can’t do it on his own. We need to stand by him and give him strength. Please pray with us also that he stays alive,” Kris told guests after the Holy Mass at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque City.
Kris, of course, was alluding to PNoy’s mentioning in his SONA of certain “dark forces” that were supposedly out to get him. While much of what makes the Aquino dynasty great has something to do with death, the idea of President Aquino dying to achieve a PR bonanza is totally out of the question.
If PNoy dies, then Vice President Binay becomes President defeating the whole purpose of initiating an ambitious PR mode to save PNoy’s neck and the LP from a public hanging.
What remains clear is that the scenario in the Palace remains as chaotic as ever with the administration content in plugging loopholes and providing band-aid solutions to the country’s problems. Common sense dictates that it is never wise to have two captains run a PR ship.
Right now, PNoy and company appear secure and safe—just like the passengers of the Titanic.
TYPHOON Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) has left the Philippines totally devastated.
With an official death toll of 2,357 (and going up) and 600,000 people displaced—tales of death, destruction and survival have come to light recently as “normalcy” slowly returns to the provinces which suffered the brunt of the tropical cyclone.
Perhaps a side-effect of the Janet Lim-Napoles pork barrel scandal, but the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has confirmed that most of the donations will not be handed over to government agencies, but instead sent—as directly as possible—to the affected communities.
Worse, there are also reports that US Marines escorting cargoes of relief goods from the United Nations have been instructed not to let Philippine government officials and politicians get their hands on relief goods that are scheduled to arrive in Samar aboard five C130 planes.
Has the image of the Filipino government official gone so crookedly low that he can’t be trusted even during this time of great crisis?
You fill in the answer to this one, reader.
Survivors became increasingly frustrated with the government’s slow response to distribute badly needed food and water. Tacloban City officials have reported that only 20 percent of the typhoon victims have received aid. There have been reports and video footage of near anarchy as some people resorted to looting warehouses and shops to find food, water and supplies. The images are enough to make anyone cringe.
The storm has passed but the death toll continues to rise. Eight people were crushed to death when alleged looters decided to raid a government stockpile of rice in the town of Alangalang, Leyte. In another incident, a homeowner shot and killed a number of persons outside his home thinking they were out to rob him of his food and supplies.
Looters, officials said, should not be treated as criminals since they are just desperate for food and water. It’s all a matter of survival and self-preservation. But what about those who break into ATM machines, are stealing television sets, chest freezers and small appliances essential for survival? It has also become a field day for common thieves.
President Benigno is embattled as ever, this time fending off supposed false reports on the number of deaths, which was initially pegged at above 10,000. At ground zero, aid workers and survivors are increasingly becoming skeptical of the President’s comments.
They expect PNoy to give it to them straight like the promises of his “Daang Matuwid”.
- 8 dead in rice looting in typhoon-hit Philippines (boston.com)
- 8 dead in rice looting in typhoon-hit Philippines (stripes.com)
- Haiyan/Yolanda: Eight die in food stampede amid desperate wait for aid (crofsblogs.typepad.com)
- Desperation triggers anarchy in typhoon-hit areas (worldnews.nbcnews.com)
- Eight killed in typhoon food crush (itv.com)
- Philippines typhoon: eight die in food stampede amid desperate wait for aid (theguardian.com)
- Typhoon Haiyan Death Toll Tops 10,000, According To Official Estimates (huffingtonpost.com)
- 8 Dead in Rice Looting in Typhoon-Hit Philippines (abcnews.go.com)
- Storm survivors ‘desperate for aid’ (bbc.co.uk)
- 8 dead in looting of government warehouse in typhoon-ravaged Philippine town, official says – @AP (seattlepi.com)
IS THERE trouble brewing in Malacañang? With two camps running the Palace—the so-called Balay and Samar groups headed by Sec. Mar Roxas and Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa, respectively—the answer is a resounding YES.
It’s an odd marriage forged in 2010 during the election campaigns, a partnership that was immediately strained with the loss of Mar Roxas to Jejomar Binay in the race for Vice President. From then on the two camps barely managed to co-exist, engaging in minor scrapes and arguments every now and then on the handling of issues of national import. But that was before the PDAF scandal got out of the bag which put the whole administration in its biggest quandary.
The fragile relationship between the two camps have reportedly reached critical mass anew with President Aquino’s “I am no thief” speech, which aired on primetime television recently. Apparently, the idea of giving the speech was a unilateral decision made by the Roxas camp—a call made by the Liberal Party. This means Ochoa and company were against the speech which put PNoy on a defensive stance on the PDAF issue.
In hindsight, PNoy’s speech appeared to have had very little positive impact on the public perception that PNoy and company are equally liable in the PDAF scandal. If the intention was to disconnect PNoy from the PDAF fiasco and reinforce his “matuwid” image, the speech backfired. “Why deny involvement in the PDAF scam if you are not involved in it the first place?” Ochoa’s camp must have argued.
As it is, the PDAF scandal will involve lawmakers in both the opposition and administration camps. The present ploy of limiting the scandal to a handful of lawmakers is simply a means to buy the PNoy administration some time to figure a way out of the fiasco.
If there is a way out.
With the Senate Blue Ribbon failing to get a piece of testimony from Janet Lim-Napoles, it is clear that the PDAF scandal will be a long-drawn drama. It will take years before charges are filed against the guilty parties and even longer before the guilty are brought behind bars. PNoy and company do not care if the whole investigation process takes forever. Right now, they just need to survive until 2016.
- CHRONOLOGY OF THE RIFT: Pacquito Ochoa VS. Mar Roxas (opinyon2010.wordpress.com)
- Trouble at the top (manilastandardtoday.com)
- Palace urged to adopt ‘orphaned’ pork scholars (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- PDAF defeat prompts Aquino to fly back to Manila (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- LP eyes new budget scheme vice PDAF (manilastandardtoday.com)
- President to discuss pork issue Wednesday night (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- Why I Voted No to the Pork-laden 2014 Budget (mindanews.com)
- Philhealth, BSP got P29-b of PNoy’s special ‘pork’ (manilastandardtoday.com)
- What Is PNoy Up To? (opinyon2010.wordpress.com)
- Snake Pit (opinyon2010.wordpress.com)
By Miguel Raymundo
MOST of us believe the pork scandal is a corruption issue. Yes it is, but to some high-risk political operators, this is just the start of the 2016 presidential campaign. The last three years in Malacañang has been the most dangerous, if not unproductive, for sitting President BS Aquino. Not only has he found himself abandoned, but also tamed even by his most trusted allies. As expected, powerful forces are now on each other’s throat in what could easily be a warm-up fight for the presidential contest two and a half years from now.
But if you think the war is between Malacañang and the opposition, you fail to see deeper into what is happening behind doors in the current pork barrel scandal. The war is now between forces inside Malacañang. Manila Standard Today reported that DILG Secretary Mar Roxas is to blame for the 12-minuter fiasco, the “I-am-no-thief” televised speech of PNoy. The Manila Standard also reported of a Laygo survey that said PNoy’s popularity rating is down by 35 percent, a major slip in his ratings. The broadsheet said Malacañang is in panic. The paper said they have a Malacañang insider for a source. OpinYon sources inside Malacañang say the Manila Standard story is half-true. It is true that there is a bloody war between forces of Executive Secretary Pacquito “Jojo” Ochoa and those of the Liberal Party led by Roxas. It is too bloody that PNoy has been reduced to become a victim of the ambitions, greed and fears of the Ochoa camp.
BOC: Cash Cow
The Ochoa camp is not ready to give up its control over Malacañang even after PNoy is gone. That is the ambition and the greed. The fear is should an enemy group take control of Malacañang, Ochoa and company could be joining another President behind bars. The fears of Ochoa’s group are not unfounded. There are persistent reports that some top Malacañang officials are in control of smuggling. Billions of pesos in lost taxes and government revenues end up in the pockets of the relatives of these Malacañang officials. Out of power, they will not only lose this cash cow, their boys might even be charged of corruption. The Bureau of Customs is the favorite cash cow of any political party in power. It has lately become a center of controversy and power play between Samar and Balay groups. Attempts by the Balay group to take control of BOC has always been derailed resulting in Ruffy Biazon keeping the post even with his dimwit performance. Also the agencies known for massive corruption like the DPWH are controlled by the Samar group. There is sharing of powers in some agencies that bring in the cash. The bigger pie almost always ends up with the Samar group.
In the elbowing in the power game, pockets and egos are bruised creating deep resentment and plotting between the two forces. The war inside Malacañang is a very interesting as regards the use of dirty tricks. Unbelievable it seems the claim that only the Roxas camp is to blame for the 12-minuter speech fiasco. The report said that PNoy delayed facing the camera for that “I-am-no-thief” speech to give time for corrections of the speech by Ochoa. Being the last official to tinker with the transcript, Ochoa should take the blame for the final copy. But the Manila Standard source from inside Malacañang said that Roxas takes the blame and played up the slant that he is bringing down the President.
Who owns Manila Standard?
An OpinYon source said it is the other way around. The almost perfect handling by dirty tricks operators of Samar is making Roxas the bad boy. Almost perfect is the handling in the demolition of Roxas except that the top broadsheets appear to be treating the story with suspicion. So does OpinYon, forcing us to sneak in and get our side of the truth. Why is Manila Standard on top of this “inside sources” trick? This brings us to ask: who owns Manila Standard? That paper is owned by the Romualdezes, who are actually the Marcoses. We encourage you to do your own math and we would end up with the same conclusion. Notice one story finding space and getting viral in social media: the Marcos wealth and insinuations that its return will solve poverty in this country. Another interesting side of this 2016 battle for the presidency is how the camp of Binay is being treated by these two forces inside Malacañang. It appears that a decision has been made that Binay is not a serious contender, if not an already destroyed potential enemy.
Binay, A Goner?
With Binay already reduced to ashes, ironically by his own acts and moves by Malacañang, the two groups are now on each other’s throats, suspecting that whoever takes Malacañang will have the other join the President behind bars. Roxas has minced no words in seeking the presidency come 2016, but speculations are rife that Ochoa may have a different agenda – backing the presidential bid of opposition Senator Ferdinand Marcos “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. The Ochoa-Marcos link is via a law firm – the Marcos, Ochoa, Serapio and Tan, thus the acronym MOST. Marcos refers to Liza Marcos, wife of Senator Marcos, while Ochoa is Aquino’s executive secretary and S and T for Edward Serapio and Joseph Tan, respectively. The law firm was recently tagged as lawyering for pork barrel queen Janet Lim-Napoles, accused in a case of kidnapping and serious detention.
It should be noted, as well, that as early as Aquino’s 2009 presidential campaign, the salt to the wound has already been added. Members of the Balay faction of Aquino supporters, the one headed by Roxas, started blaming the Samar group under Ochoa for the failure of the Aquino-Roxas banner, after Chiz Escudero endorsed the Aquino – Binay tandem, without the knowledge of the said candidates. Escudero even went as far as to print t-shirts saying ‘Aquino-Binay’, which did not help the already widening division between the two groups that are supposed to be united under the Aquino flag. The publicity spin doctors in Malacañang were quick to rush and patch up the holes created by the infighting, but not fast enough that sources from inside were able to spread the knowledge that Aquino is running a divided political household.
Since Filipinos are known for putting premium on keeping up appearances, Ochoa and Roxas would come in public ceremonies together, standing side by side, just to make it appear that allegations of infighting are baseless. Other than the obvious nonverbal tension that one can observe in this play-acting to feign truce, we know that the Filipino public has seen the same political drama repeated over and over again, and they are not fooled.
As preparations for the 2016 elections begin, we see a repeat of the 2010 battle royale between these two groups. But this time, it will be bloodier and it might trigger the fall of Pnoy even before the 2016 elections.
Malacañang is now the most dangerous place to be: a snake pit.
- Trouble at the top (manilastandardtoday.com)
- Coloma tags MST report ‘speculative’ (manilastandardtoday.com)
- PDAF defeat prompts Aquino to fly back to Manila (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- An irrelevant president (opinion.inquirer.net)
- Aunt Tingting vs ‘Digi-President’ (opinyon2010.wordpress.com)
- Coloma gains more air time in Malacañang (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- This Week on OpinYon : SNAKE PIT (opinyon2010.wordpress.com)
- Palace mum on Roxas-Romualdez tiff (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- Aquino moves to stem skid in ratings (manilastandardtoday.com)
- LP disowns mayor, mum on Drilon-Napoles link (rappler.com)