COMMENT: Arroyo on the Offensive

"The memos, often referred to as 'snowflakes,' shed light on Rumsfeld's brusque management style and on his efforts to address key challenges during his tenure as Pentagon chief.  Spanning from 2002 to shortly after his resignation following the 2006 congressional elections, a sampling of his trademark missives obtained yesterday

reveals a defense secretary disdainful of media criticism and driven to reshape public opinion of the Iraq war." (Bold supplied)

When, in 2004, media reported the deteriorating situation in Iraq, Rumsfeld wrote: "Pessimistic news reports – 'our publics risk falling prey to the argument that all is lost' – simply result from the wrong standards being applied."  In short, just a difference of viewpoints or motives.

When retired generals, in a series of newspaper op-ed pieces in April 2006 denounced him and called for his resignation, he wrote in a memo, "Talk about Somalia, the Philippines, etc.  Make the American people realize they are surrounded in the world by violent extremists." In short, deflect attention, change the subject.

This one is very familiar to Filipinos: He wrote after a meeting that people will "rally" to sacrifice. "They are looking for leadership. Sacrifice = Victory." Catchy rhetoric, sloganeering.

Because of oil wealth, he wrote, "Too often Muslims are against physical labor, so they bring in Koreans and Pakistanis while their young people remain unemployed.  An unemployed population is easy to recruit to radicalism." Then he warned that if radicals "get hold of oil-rich" Saudi Arabia, the United States will have "an enormous national security problem". This is spotlighting dire consequences to elevate threat to the nation.

According to Wright, during his four-year tenure, he wrote 20 to 60 snowflakes a day. These were memos for his staff to answer media and other public criticisms or for his assistants and generals to formulate, define or reshape policies.

Rumsfeld and his snowflakes were essentially not different from President George W. Bush and how he, his White House staff and close cabinet secretaries rally the Americans to support the Iraq war that had become unpopular.

Arroyo's Offensive

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is, again for the nth time, on the offensive to deflect the backlash of the anomalous national broadband project and the scandalous payola to governors and pro-administration House representatives; and to make Filipinos accept the contemptuously unacceptable pardon of the convicted plunderer – the former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada.

She and her spin doctors are outdoing Rumsfeld. More than Rumsfeld, they rally the public to support an increasingly unpopular government; are disdainful of media criticisms; are trying to reshape public opinion; dismiss negative reports as products of ill-motives; change the subject of controversies to deflect public attention and to ease pressure.

Like Rumsfeld's "bumper sticker statements", their catchy rhetoric, sloganeering and lofty statements of principles and policies are primed to spin around the negative. Here are some to justify Estrada's pardon:

Unpopular but Right

"Arroyo was aware her decision to pardon Estrada might not please her allies, especially those who helped convict the deposed president, whom she replaced after a military-backed popular uprising triggered by allegations of massive plunder and corruption," Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said as reported by INQUIRER.net, October 25.

Puno stressed to reporters: "But she believes this is the right decision" – a "very major step" towards national reconciliation.

And to ennoble the ignoble: "Actually, the request and grant of pardon required a little sacrifice and willingness from both directions – the willingness to face political risks and face unknown political situations."

Behind the Pardon

On Friday, October 26, the day after pardoning Estrada, President Arroyo told the Philippine Business Conference that "national unity, the rule of law, justice and accountability" were her guideposts in granting pardon to Estrada (INQUIRER.net, October 26).

The report continued: "She said she was aware her decision would be 'debated, welcomed, criticized and given all sorts of meanings and motives,' but stressed freeing the nation from political rivalry has been her administration's agenda since she assumed office."

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye Jr. remarked: "With this decision, the administration's message is to look to the future, seize its opportunities, and forge ahead with unity and patriotism."

Last October 31, in her All Saints' Day message, she reiterated: "Political discord stands in the way of our progress as a nation.  It is time for us to heal the wounds from our troubled past and join hands in confronting the myriad challenges of the future." (INQUIRER.net, October 31).

Situation Defused

Like driving a nail, they keep on pounding to make the message sink. On Sunday, three days after Estrada was granted pardon, Puno said: "So this is one area of political noise that is quieted down … it's a problem solved.  It's a problematic situation defused," deploring too much politics — including a Congress more inclined to focus on

investigations than legislation (INQUIRER.net, October 28).

In granting executive clemency to Estrada, Puno explained that Arroyo acknowledged … that the case of her predecessor … "constituted the single most significant cause of political noise and controversy in the national firmament".

Puno disagreed with reports and critical opinions in media "that the President's decision to grant Estrada pardon had only deepened the division in the country" — naming Senate President Manuel Villar, Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., Cardinal Ricardo Vidal and former

President Corazon Aquino among the "many of the country's leaders" who "were not opposed" but for it.

Puno "did not see anything negative in the reaction made by former president Fidel Ramos" despite Ramos' statement that Estrada had not met the necessary conditions for pardon and his condemnation of the pardon as "a terrible calamity to the great, great, great majority of the Filipino people who have suffered from the plunder". (INQUIRER.net, October 28, 26)

Ramos merely gave "words of caution or advice", Puno kidded himself, adding "I'm going to study carefully [what Ramos said] and formulate a way of addressing his fears".

And he threw a challenge: "Who suddenly developed a deep hatred for the President because of [the pardon]? Can you name at least three?"

Wait for 2010

Like taking bulls by the horn, Arroyo disdainfully reminded leaders of the impeachment and "Oust Gloria" movements that there is no way for them to remove her from office. It's a dare to the opposition in the House and leaders of the Kilusang Makabansang Ekonomiya (Movement for Nationalist Economy. (INQUIRER. net, October 31).

She twitted her critics: Just wait for the next presidential election in 2010 to change me.  No way now.  And refrain from resorting to extra-constitutional means which will surely fail or you will regret.

And she advised: "Let us not be distracted by the impatient few who believe that they are above the rule of law, and thus are entitled to undermine the sacrifices and hard work of our people."

Who's Fooling?

The above quotes and citations are just a few of the many so repetitiously given to media. The unaware may be taken in – the catchy rhetoric and slogans catching them wide-eyed.  But to the informed and vigilant, those are oft-recycled platitudes.

To the many remarks like that of Ramos, especially from legal luminaries, Malacañang has repeatedly insisted like an old refrain that it had followed the "rule of law" in granting pardon to Estrada. But instead of giving details and specifics, it only resorted to generalities.

"From our end, every Filipino knows that the rule of law has been upheld and justice has been served.  No one is above the law when it comes to meting out punishment, including former presidents," said Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye. (INQUIRER.net, October 27).

But those questioning Arroyo's decision – pointing out the requisites of law — are Filipinos learned in law.  This claim of legitimacy flies in the faces of the President and her legal advisers.

The Palace is unaffected by the move to impeach anew the President (INQUIRER.net, October 31), a statement from Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita obviously to deflect the impact of the criticisms against the scandalous pardon.  It may also be a pretext that the President is not affected by the criticisms.

By those statements cascading from the Palace in defense of the pardon, Arroyo and her men are whistling in the dark.  They fear the consequences. They know they are trying to fool their way through.

And they know many of the people know very well their President and her men.

When Rumsfeld resigned, he knew he would be remembered by his "snowflakes" as President Richard Nixon was haunted by his "tapes" – tragic faults that led to failure.

Have Gloria and her men not realized that many — if not most – people believe the opposite of most of what say? Her offensive is bound to fail.  Together with her "Garci tapes", the Estrada pardon will haunt Gloria long after 2010. ("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the

recipient of a "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]).

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