It was more than a year ago when I had last written about the kind of image that First Gentleman (FG) Mike Arroyo projected (July 5, 2004 – How do you solve a problem like Mike Arroyo?). In that column, I warned Mike about taking a high profile because he had been the center of far too many controversies. He is like a lightning rod of sorts that attracts a lot of flak. For my effort, Mike sued me for libel—a case that remains unresolved in the Manila prosecutors office for over 16 months now.
An old lawyer friend of mine who is also a Palace appointee told me last December that the case will just remain in archive because the column did not contain anything that could be libelous (although in our flawed justice system, it is common for even non-issues to get tried). Another member of the Malacanang inner circle also told me that Mike is not inclined to allow the case to go to the trial level. A trial meant putting Mike Arroyo on the witness stand where he would have to establish that he is not at all controversial. Now that will be really be a challenge considering that establishing the contrary would be the easiest thing to do.
To top it all, Mike’s own spouse—Madame Gloria M. Arroyo—has validated all the points that I have raised. Right after the messy unraveling of the Garci tapes which had led to a national crisis, Madame Arroyo sent FG Mike packing to the United States as if to say: I have enough problems here already and I don’t need you around to exacerbate it.
Mike has since returned and in fact scored some public relations (PR) points for his contributions to the success of the 23rd Sea Games last year. Philippine Olympic Committee Chairman Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Jr. personally confirmed that Mike worked to get financial contributions from the private sector for the hosting of the games here. Mike did well too by maintaining a moderate level of media exposure during the games.
It is however a different story on the day Manny Pacquiao knocked the daylights out of boxing legend Eric Morales. Sunday, January 22: just as Filipinos all over the world were relishing the triumph of their homegrown hero, in climbs Mike Arroyo, along with Chavit Singson into the ring in Las Vegas to congratulate The Pacman. It proved to be public relations disaster for Mike Arroyo.
A few hours after the fight, Batas Mauricio posted his comments on his website (www.batasnews.com) which were culled from negative feedback that he received from those who watched the fight live via satellite feed on SM cinemas. Mauricio wrote:
“If the Pacman must know, I got one particularly nasty text from cell phone number 09157851545, a regular texter of mine, which went like this: “We watched Pacquiao KO Morales n 10 at SM Cinema. It was a great fight. Ang saya ng mga tao. 4 a while nakalimutan ang mga problema ke GMA at mga corrupt na kasama. Kaya lang, nung nkita si Mike Arroyo niyakap si Pacquiao, bi-noo malakas ng mga tao. U cn feel that even if we won & happy we still don’t 4get der corruptions.”
“I dismissed this message as having been exaggerated and was meant merely to humor me, considering my official and well-known position on government and related corruption in my UNTV programs, but then, when I met a group of friends who went to see the fight at the Powerplant Mall at Rockwell, Makati City, they were breathless in narrating to me that the mall was rocked to the seams by similar shouts of disgust and disapproval from the usually reserved Powerplant habitués over the same scene showing the First Gentleman and Chavit ascending the ring.
“Oh well, the reaction from Rockwell I can understand, considering the social level the mall’s patrons belong to. But how explain what the patrons of SM did in booing the better half of the President? I am not saying that SM customers are not capable of expressing their sentiments, for everyone should be able to make public their disgust and their disapproval of anything, but these are people who are supposed to come from the C, D and E strata of our society and hence are usually shy about publicly displaying their feelings, especially in relation to powerful public figures. If they reacted the way they did today when they saw Mr. Arroyo and Mr. Singson getting close to Manny after his victory, it could only indicate the level of distrust that these personalities and their relatives who are in office have already earned from the Filipino masses.”
Two friends of mine who saw the fight in two different SM cinemas confirmed what Batas wrote. One of them was already on his way out when he heard the boos and catcalls of the people who were still inside the movie house. That brought him back into the movie house to check what had upset an otherwise jubilant crowd.
In the days that followed, a lot of similar observations were published in print media and discussed on radio. I personally read an editorial on it, plus the views of Conrad de Quiros, Lito Banayo and Dong Puno in their respective columns. Text joke messages echoing the negative responses went the rounds all day after the fight.
I do not begrudge FG Mike’s eagerness to congratulate Manny Pacquiao after his superb ring conquest. Who is the Filipino who did not rejoice over that victory? I will even believe that there are real benefits that Manny Pacquiao must have received from Gloria and Mike Arroyo for The Pacman to be so profusely thankful to them during his post-fight interview.
But Mike should have been more circumspect in his methods. He should have thought about these tried and tested PR operating guidelines and precepts before he climbed up that ring:
1. Avoid being an odd-man-out in the picture. Whatever favors he may have given Pacquiao, Mike is not a part of Pacquiao’s closely knit team whose investments had been far beyond anything material. Mike should bear in mind that this was their moment when all their hard work and sacrifice had been rewarded by Pacquiao’s successful offering of blood, sweat and tears. For most Filipinos, this was a shining moment for Pacquiao and his team and the rest of the Filipinos who watched the fight were sharing that moment with them. As far as they were concerned, Mike Arroyo stood out as an ‘intruder’ up that ring. When Ferdinand Marcos climbed the ring during the “Thrilla in Manila”—he was seen as a bona-fide head of state of the country where the fight was held and he had all the right and circumstance to congratulate the victorious Ali. Such was not the case with Mike.
2. Learn the virtue and the value of the ‘soft sell’ approach. It could have been easily arranged for Pacquiao to go to Mike where he was seated. That would have made a lot of difference because that would have conveyed Pacquiao’s own voluntary expression of gratitude and respect. That would have made the positive impact instead of the PR disaster that Mike’s ‘self-imposed’ ring appearance created.
3. Always consider the impact that size ratio and proportion effects on transmitted images. Manny Pacquiao is size medium to Mike’s XXXL. Beside Pacquiao, Mike’s frame dominates the picture, easily reinforcing the impression that he was trying to steal the thunder from Pacquiao.
It was really the ring appearance that caused the negative responses that were generated. Giving Pacquiao the mobile phone to be able to talk to Madame Gloria Arroyo, sitting beside The Pacman and giving a cheer here and there would not have elicited so negative a public reaction.
Mike should also bear in mind that all the controversies that have hounded him cannot be simply erased by his contributions to the 23rd Sea Games or to Manny Pacquiao. Compared to good news, bad news tends to linger longer in the public mind.
William Shakespeare was right. “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.”
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org