@boyexpert first posted about the Wall Street Journal piece courtesy of Maria Ressa earlier today. I posted a few cursory comments on it and was going to leave it at that. But the piece kind of stuck in my head. Her column in its entirety can be read at ABS-CBN’s website.
It was with surprise that I read the Wall Street Journal piece by Maria Ressa earlier today. Surprise in part because of who wrote it and additionally on its structure and overarching theme. The quality of the analysis left something to be desired. It reminded me of old-fashioned yellow journalism actually.
On to the analysis…
In multiple locations she drives home this point that President Noynoy Aquino is his mothers son; utilizing this now flawed, yet accepted view, that Cory was a well intentioned bungler. A charge that is contextually untrue in part, yet she leverages for her argument. It is an attempt to frame Aquino in the worst possible light, an incompetent who thinks with his heart not his head. And with the generally accepted perception of Cory Aquino as being just that, her linking of the two, especially with regards to this piece, is unsurprising. As I’ve written in this space in the past, I have felt that situating Cory Aquino within the context of the period actually improves her performance as president. But, that is not a popular belief, nor relevant to what Ressa is attempting.
By the way, this is not an impassioned defense of the Aquino legacy, or Noynoy’s presidency. In this instance and in this specific critique by Maria Ressa I find serious fault. As with politicians who I have also singled out, there appears to be either an attempt to leverage this tragedy for political means or some sense of defense and the reshaping of public narrative.
Very early in the piece we are clued in to a possible agenda in the piece: a defense of the media, an exoneration of you will through specious arguments and disinformation. It is not so much and impassioned critique, but an attempt to shift blame on an easy target in the current political climate.
"His first instinct was to blame the national media for covering the event live, a sentiment that citizens in the blogosphere and on Twitter quickly echoed. "
Within this context her agenda in the column is very clear and, in truth, the insinuations and half-truth becomes understandable. And I am tickled by her subtle jab at the blogosphere, insinuating something about our opinions.
The truth is, as I’ve said, there is more than enough blame to be apportioned. Though again, my suspicion is she is trying to change the course of the narrative away from media mix-ups and refocusing solely on en vogue Aquino criticisms.
"During the crisis, Mr. Puno exerted almost no leadership, preferring to let the local police handle the situation. There was little crowd control, and a local radio station was allowed to speak to the hostage-taker in the final moments of the crisis. During the later hearings, Mr. Puno said, "I am not capable of handling hostage situations… I am not trained to do that"
As it should be. Her fervent wish, obviously littered throughout this hit piece seems to boil down to a desire for some sort of totalitarian control exerted from the national government. One that I do not believe she actually holds. Yet the insinuation of such a form of leadership provides her with ready ammunition to criticize the current national government. Which is curious enough in itself. She goes out of her way to detail the failings of the current administration, without putting the failings of the relevant institutions within some sort of historical context. Almost as if these problems only exist because of the Aquino administration (except for a throw-away line in the beginning saying he promised to reform institutions).
Further, this demand that an almost cabinet level secretary exert operational control over the PNP leadership, as opposed to governmental administrative control, is head scratching as best. Based on her comments, I would hazard that almost all secretaries are ill placed as they are not in trained to effectively handle all aspects of the jobs that employees of their attached agencies may be engaged. This as akin to lobbying for the removal of a President because he is not trained in guerilla warfare tactics.
Again, what I find curious is she is basically ignoring the chain of command, linking activities that take place on a ground level with cabinet and presidential level concerns. If that were the case, then we should expect the Secretary of the DILG and the President to be planning out and mapping counter-terrorism activities in Mindanao. Or is direct national government oversight only applicable in Manila?
"To add insult to injury, the authorities in charge left the scene to eat in a nearby Chinese restaurant precisely when the killings began"
From the get go she essentially establishes that no culpability lies with the PNP and Manila city by purposefully excluding their names. For no blame is applied to anyone on the ground or in local government, period. The only figures identified in thence are national government officials. By inference saying that they were the ones who abandoned the scene of the tragedy. It again is a curious construction of a column and essay. The only names mentioned, ignoring media activities, negotiators, police chiefs, PNP officials, City of Manila government and so on, are Jessie Robredo, Noynoy Aquino, Rico E. Puno and the communications team of Malacanang.
When politicians become involved in these types of tense situations, we get disaster. Plain and simple. Those who are supposedly trained to handle these situations should be. Simple. Yet, here we have an instance where politics, on a local level, did get involved and it resulted in tragedy. In hindsight, we could wish for Aquino on a white horse to come charging into save the day. To hold the national government solely and wholly responsible is false.
The piece ends with a wearingly familiar litany of the faults of Cory Aquino and Noynoy Aquino. Describing them as easy-going and well liked. By inference I am guessing with little fire in their bellies for the harsh realities of Philippine politics. Yet, within 100 days (we have not even hit that mark) the Aquino administration has some feathers in their cap (and more than few missteps). Ah yes, but those broader successes do not play into the narrative that she attempting to form here.
The government, national and local, has their share of blame in this tragedy. But, what I find completely disingenuous is her attempts to reframe the national government as the sole entity of responsibility. She uses disinformation to try and craft this type of argument. This is more a diatribe than discourse; disinformation than fact-based analysis and reporting.
And in her apparent zeal to criticize Aquino through any means, she further muddies the issue, adding little. As I have said, my suspicion is that she is attempting to distract from media’s culpability in this tragedy. What I find curious is why, in doing this, she is also exonerating the PNP and the City of Manila for any errors or mistakes.
This is a disservice, plain and simple. It is elements of traditional yellow journalism indeed.
If I may come off as defending the Aquino administration, that is not my intent. I am trying to demonstrate how this specific piece appears to be driven by ulterior motives and, as such, does little to further the conversation. As I have repeatedly said, there is blame and responsibility aplenty to be passed around. And the national government has its share as well.
This type of superficial analysis does nothing to ensure that responsibility is correctly identified and apportioned. While it is part of the discourse, it is a part that adds little in truth.
The conversation must be focused on identifying and correcting extant issues will fail; and we will see this type of tragedy again. This piece does not help in that regard, in my opinion.