The hazards of political weather tracking
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2005-01-10
Being a political weather tracker – the term I use to describe what political analysts and commentators do – has its highs and lows. The hazards that come with the rewards promise only that there never will be a dull moment.
Like storm trackers, we keep our antennae tuned in to political atmospheric disturbances and report these to forewarn others of things to come. Advance notification gives the wiser folk ample time to adjust, plan, cope or even take stock of whatever hidden opportunities there may be. But like weathermen, we too can make mistakes. In the times when we were right, sometimes we even honestly wish we had been wrong in the aftermath of a previously foreseen political tsunami or typhoon.

I had felt exactly this way when increasingly negative and disturbing feedback from a restive military in the Mindanao front led me to the compelling conclusion that there will be a military reprisal in the offing. A year later, this ‘reprisal’ came to be and was known as the Magdalo Oakwood Incident. When the Magdalo junior officers bared their reasons for the Oakwood siege, on top of their list were the sorry conditions that they had to endure in fighting the Mindanao Muslim separatist rebellion; the very same reports that I had been getting a year earlier.

I had known and despised deprivation of freedom under Martial Law and had fought for the restoration of democracy. I most certainly do not relish the prospect of any military takeover. But I cannot blame the Magdalo officers for feeling betrayed, neglected and abandoned by their own government and AFP leadership which could not even provide them with basic materiel and moral support every Filipino soldier deserves in order to feel valued and fight the good fight. It would have been understandable if there had not been funds for it but this sorry situation is contrasted with the wanton extravagance, graft and corruption of the AFP brass. As insiders in the military organization, they must have ‘personally and directly known’ many examples of the abuse and greed of their leaders long before Maj. Gen. Carlos Garica’s fabulous hoard was made known to a shocked civil society. But nonetheless, I cannot subscribe to their method of seeking to correct the situation.

I would make an exception in cases where there is civilian support to a military mutiny, where civilian rule is understood to be held supreme, as it had been in EDSA I. The same was true for EDSA II, only in this case, it was initiated by the civilians and the military followed and supported it. The country needed to be rescued from the rapacious regime of Joseph Estrada who gave a whole new nauseating meaning to the term ‘abuse of presidential power’.

Nobody likes to be the messenger of bad news or to be a prophet of doom. Having the foreknowledge of a tragedy that one is helpless to prevent – makes one feel like being in the chorus in Greek tragedies Oedipus Rex and Antigone. You see the tragedy coming, you try to warn and entreat the misguided king to alter his course but alas hubris would not be denied and the folly of kings, as we have seen time and time again throughout history, repeats itself. Woe befalls not only the misguided king but also the nation.

Sometimes tragedy is not the fault of the foolish monarch alone. In many instances, the people create their own tragedy by unwisely exercising their right to select their leaders. They can sell their votes. They can blindly follow the music of showbiz pretenders. Or, they can confine their choices to the battle between the ‘lesser evils’ as though being ruled by the lesser vile and the less corrupt of leaders would make their hell burn more kindly.

However, unlike the regular weather man, the political weather tracker faces more controversy in the course of accomplishing a journalistic mission of providing insights to emerging political scenarios. The regular weather man is criticized only when he is wrong. The political weather tracker gets it both ways. Even if he is on the mark, the political weather tracker will still get brickbats for a forewarning that makes people worry. The more frequent sources for these controversies are the following:

Political partisans

People with partisan affiliations cannot readily accept a political assessment – no matter how truthful or logically premised – that puts their partisan interests in a bad light or at a disadvantage.

Perhaps no other country in the world is dominated by politics as much as the Philippines. In fact this is why the Philippine economy is so weak and sickly: it is anchored to the fate and fortune of political developments. Unlike the UK, US and other EU countries, major companies here had waxed and waned with the sunrises and sunsets of their political affiliations. The Benedicto companies rode high during the Marcos years and just as quickly dove to the same unlamented demise as their benefactor, the dictator.

Thus when your political assessment threatens the economic interests of beneficiaries and proponents of a certain political circle – you can expect them to go after you with hammer and thongs. Expect to be accused of doing a “deliberate political demolition” whether out of personal prejudice or worse – as a paid lackey of the other camp. This reaction is common to both the administration and the opposition whenever they are confronted with an issue. Readers with partisan leanings react the same way.

Selective perceptions

Marketing taste tests have proved time and time again that people taste what they expect to taste. SMC vs. Beer na Beer, Coke vs. Pepsi blind taste tests showed that people will insist that they are tasting the dominant brand even if they are actually sampling a lesser known brand challenger. This phenomenon extends to people who read political analysis or commentaries. Even if the article provided a balance of the pros and cons between two warring political factions, the reader with set views will somehow get the net impression of a one-sided presentation, one that seems to enlarge the positives for the side which he opposes, and bypass the good that has been said about the side he favors.

This phenomenon was quite apparent when people voted last year on the basis of a ‘fear FPJ’ factor. Rather than voting on the basis of favorable attributes, the people who feared Fernando Poe Jr. becoming president voted someone who they believed could best prevent an FPJ presidency. The effect of this of course is having a president questioned for her legitimacy to lead and behind whom people cannot even rally in confidence to weather the fiscal crisis, the sinking economy and a very possible social explosion.

Even FPJ’s death had not calmed down their inordinate fear of the man, going to the extent of working against giving due recognition to the man for his legendary generosity even if this was only in keeping with our custom of venerating the good deeds and remembrances of the departed. Reminiscent of those days when the Marcos propagandists had unabashedly cropped all photos showing the mammoth crowd during Ninoy Aquino’s funeral march, they too tried to refuse recognition of the immense crowd which came to bid farewell to one they called ‘Da King’.

Then there is what seems to be our national aversion to accepting bad news. This is of course not a Filipino exclusive. Before Hitler’s Final Solution reached its barbaric peak, many Jews in Nazi Germany in the 1930s had refused to believe that they could ever fall victims to the world’s worst inhumanity to man in the land of Goethe and Wagner. Instead of heeding the handwriting on the wall and migrating to safer ground, those Jews wallowed in denial until doomsday proved them fatally and horribly wrong.

In our country today, all the signs of what could be the worst of all politically-induced disasters are all around us yet our upper and middle classes – the people who can do something about it – are still leisurely strolling the beaches believing that the ‘Big One’ of political tsunamis will never come. Why is our country’s elite so unmindful of the lopsided distribution of wealth? When you have a situation where 80% of the wealth is in the hands of but 3% of the population it can only forewarn of a social explosion waiting to detonate. How come the middle class, traditionally the bridge between the haves and the have nots, is not even trying to reach out to the impoverished teeming majority? EDSA I and II were middle class initiatives. Now when we are facing a worse crisis, how come there is hardly a murmur heard from the ranks of the traditional “conscience of society”?

Flawed media inputs

Our media has its flaws. A great number of opinion makers taking bigoted partisan positions can be dumbfounding. It is therefore not surprising that news consumers suffer from what I would call the TITO (trash-in, trash-out) syndrome – flawed assumptions resulting from a mind filled with propaganda and politically partisan trash. If it is any consolation, we are not the only one afflicted with this syndrome. How do you think George W. Bush got re-elected? Start with Fox News and you will get a glimpse of how Americans were conditioned by outright partisan media to re-electing someone who the rest of the world saw as the lesser presidential candidate.

Conditioned by a continuous barrage of flawed assessments, half truths and white lies, the public mind naturally finds it difficult to cope when confronted with the truth. The public mind tends to question the idea that runs counter to all the other ideas that it had been previously fed (even if these were lies and half truths). Joseph Goebbels’ dictum of “a lie told quite often becomes the truth” gets validation; the lie gets accepted with repetition and sufficient endorsements.

General lack of credible resource persons

Starting with the government, our country suffers from a general lack of a pool of credible and reliable resource persons. If indeed a few exists, it is likely media have failed to present and establish their credentials so that the public can accordingly exercise appropriate judgment.

Amidst all these, we continue to strive to share the light, as we truly see that light, and hope that in our own small way we can help bring our nation out of the dark ages.

  Previous Columns:

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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