Controlling the narrative

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

They might be able to permanently dodge interviewers they deem to be “biased” against them or unfriendly, but the UniTeam of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte-Carpio can’t afford to keep their mouths shut until May 9, as part of a less talk, fewer mistakes campaign strategy.

Somewhere along the campaign trail, they have to confront issues relevant to their election bids, including questions about their backgrounds and their family histories.

Since they are applying for the two highest posts in the land, nearly everything can be relevant to their bids. They can’t dodge the questions forever and control their desired narrative.

If the “biased” questions they dislike aren’t asked by Jessica Soho, these could be raised even during virtual forums organized by the business community or other sectors that presidential aspirants cannot ignore.

It’s the first time that I’ve heard Jessica accused of biased reporting. This incident should give the public a hint of what the mainstream media environment would be like under a Marcos administration. Unlike in the anonymous, fake news realm of social media, journalists in mainstream media are accountable to the news-consuming public. We can be sued. Our real faces and names are out there instead of mere avatars, so we can be targeted even for murder.

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Mayor Sara, for her part, stirred controversy when answering a question from a non-media member of what must have been deemed by the UniTeam to be a friendly audience, during a virtual caravan last Wednesday.

Asked by a Sangguniang Kabataan councilor about how the youth could be tapped in nation-building, the Davao City mayor said that if she became vice president, she would press Congress to pass a law making military service mandatory for all 18-year-old Filipinos, male and female. This would instill patriotism, she said, as she cited Israel and South Korea as examples.

Girls and boys, this is not a proposal to make the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), currently optional for college students, mandatory for all; it is mandatory military service.

Inday Sara’s dad President Duterte merely wants to make ROTC mandatory. “Daughterte” apparently wants to be tougher than dad.

As for her role models, Israel faces an existential threat posed by neighbors hostile to the Jewish state, with missile attacks (and Israeli counterstrikes) occurring regularly and peace elusive.

South Korea, meanwhile, is still technically at war with its northern neighbor. The demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas is the most heavily militarized area in the world, with an estimated two million landmines planted by both sides.

So there is reason for military conscription in Israel and South Korea.

What about the Philippines? Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana tactfully expressed support, in principle, for the idea of military service contributing to nation building and instilling patriotism. But he also said the country is not on war footing, and military conscription requires an enormous amount of funds. Making the ROTC program mandatory for Grades 11 and 12 in both public and private schools is a better option, he said. The reserve military officers can be mobilized not necessarily for war but during natural calamities.

You wonder which enemy the prospective vice president might be preparing for that might call for military conscription, considering that her standard bearer is seen as Beijing’s Manchurian candidate in the 2022 elections.

If Uncle Xi is happy to have Rodrigo Duterte at the helm of the Philippines following that nasty 2016 arbitral ruling invalidating China’s nine-dash-line claim over nearly the entire South China Sea, Uncle Xi would be ecstatic to have the Marcos-Duterte-Carpio tandem taking over.

China need not go to war with the Philippines over Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal, Reed Bank and Scarborough Shoal; all it needs is to see the right candidates win in the Philippine elections this May. So why would we need military conscription?

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Diane Fajardo-Valencia, deputy executive director of the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), can think of many other ways to tap the youth for nation-building.

Instilling civic consciousness, beginning at an early age, would be a good start, she told us last Friday on One News’ “The Chiefs.”

Improving the quality of education, including proper grounding in accurate rather than revisionist history, would be another way of molding the youth to become responsible citizens who love their country.

With proper education, Fajardo-Valencia believes people won’t easily fall for fake news, revisionist history, and stories about vaccinated people turning into zombies after two years.

The disinformation pandemic is an urgent problem bedeviling the country. But Fajardo-Valencia says the candidates for president and vice president haven’t sufficiently focused on education issues or outlined their plans to address what PBEd describes as the “serious crisis” in education that has developed amid the COVID pandemic.

PBEd will launch this week “BET sa Balota” – for Boto para sa Edukasyon at Trabaho – to inform the public about the education platforms of the candidates. The site will be updated regularly throughout the campaign period.

Mayor Sara’s proposal for military conscription, which will cover students in higher education, could be included.

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Even if Mayor Sara limits herself to interviews with friendly faces such as accused sex trafficker Apollo Quiboloy, her stand on specific issues can still be squeezed out.

The same goes for her standard bearer. Bongbong Marcos can avoid Jessica Soho for life, but leaders are called to confront the most difficult questions and provide the answers. He has to live with the reality that not everyone will hew to his script and won’t question his version of events.

Dodging perceived hostile interviewers can only reinforce what President Duterte said about the “weak” candidate.

It’s early days yet; the official campaign period still hasn’t started. Even with the lockdowns, voters inevitably will get glimpses of what’s in store in case certain candidates win.

Young voters can now start pondering if they want military conscription. And since ABS-CBN lost its franchise because politicians accused the network of bias, people can also start pondering the possibility that Jessica Soho and her network might go the same way, in case Filipinos embrace Version 2 of the dictator’s promise about making this nation great again.



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