Palace in PR crisis mode

Foreign pollster to help recreate Aquino’s image

THE Palace is in a crisis mode and has hired a foreign pollster and political strategist to recreate the image of President Benigno Aquino III after the government’s net approval rating plummeted to a record low of 29 percent, a source in Malacañang said Monday.

A crisis management team under Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., and a political strategy team under Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II will do damage control, the source added.

“It will be like the 2010 campaign again or a glimpse of the 2016 campaign,” said the Palace source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “All the political and PR strategists being recalled to mount a massive media campaign, going back to the old platform of governance and slogans against corruption, transparency and good governance.”

The Palace source said Roxas brought in Paul Bograd, a foreign pollster and political strategist, to advise the President on strategies that would recreate his public image, following his tiff with the Supreme Court, which declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund and parts of the Disbursement Acceleration Program unconstitutional.

The President’s public image has also taken a beating from rising prices of basic commodities and fuel, incompetence in government agencies and a surge in violent crime.

To arrest the sagging image, Roxas broached the idea of a second term for the President by amending the Constitution, which the President affirmed during a television interview last week.

Bograd was Roxas’ political campaign strategist when he ran for senator in 2004. Roxas topped the race with the “Mr. Palengke” brand.

The Palace source said Bograd was also a pollster for then Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and also worked on the unsuccessful presidential campaign of then House Speaker Ramon Mitra in 1992. Bograd also worked for deposed President Joseph Estrada during his short-lived presidency.

Bograd’s link to Mitra and Estrada were the Zamora brothers – House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora and businessman banker Manny Zamora, the Palace source said. In the case of Roxas, it was another brother, Salvador Zamora, who brought Bograd in.

“Basically, Bograd’s expertise is to develop, together with established local pollsters, some survey questionnaires. He also develops focus group discussions or FGDs to test the sample voters’ reactions to issues and policies,” the Palace source told the Manila Standard.

An online entry on Bograd describes him as an “international communications advisor specializing in economic policy communications, crisis and risk management, public and regulatory issues management and communications, institutional brand development; and behavioral economics…. He has advised electoral campaigns in Asia, the United States, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Russia, including past presidential campaigns in the Philippines, Russia, Indonesia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and the United States.”

“But this time, while the PR strategies of the Balay and Samar camps are worlds apart, the focus is the President,” the source said.

“The President was dragged down by the mishandling and bungling of the issues on pork barrel and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which were both declared by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional,” the source said.

“Not to mention the inefficiency of some of his Cabinet members who would rather stick to their positions even if their performance were found to be dismally poor,” the source added.

The Samar camp insisted that the blunders were committed by the ruling Liberal Party leadership, including Senate President Franklin Drilon and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, the source said.

The two groups revived their crisis management groups, hoping for a “quick turnaround,” the source said.

“The pork barrel issue is a concern of the middle class. But the latest survey showed a huge dip in approval rating among those in the E-class. These are supposedly the poorest of the poor that are recipients of the controversial Conditional Cash Transfer program, yet the huge drop was recorded in this class,” the Palace source said.

“This is no laughing matter anymore,” the source added. “The two groups are racing to arrest the flagging survey ratings of the President.”

Ochoa has made changes in the Palace media group, designating Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma as presidential spokesman, replacing Edwin Lacierda, who is identified with Roxas’ Balay group.

Ochoa has also called in the Samar group involved in the 2010 presidential campaign, including Maria Montelibano and some former staff of Senator Francis Escudero, who ran a parallel presidential campaign with Ochoa.

Apart from Bograd, Roxas also tapped as political strategist LP stalwart former Alaminos City Mayor Hernani Braganza to take care of the LP concerns.

The Samar group, headed by Ochoa, was only concerned about the ratings of the President while Roxas had to arrest the sagging popularity of the ruling Liberal Party, the President’s party, including a turnaround in the negative ratings of Drilon and Abad.

Abad was the first to admit that “savings” were used to disburse additional P50 million to P100 million in funding to each senator and P10 million to each congressman.

But opposition lawmakers accused Abad and Drilon of bribery because they granted the extra allocations only to those who voted to impeach and convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona, whom the President had vowed to remove from office.

“Ochoa believes Drilon and Abad are dragging the President down with them,” the source said.

Palace sources said Ochoa became concerned when Roxas started to assert his role as LP leader and go straight to the President without passing through him.

“Roxas had to bypass Ochoa because Ochoa was already complaining about the wrong political strategies being done by the LP in handling the issue of pork barrel,” the source said.

“Ochoa was not even aware of the hiring of Bograd. He only learned about it when Bograd started frequenting the Palace. Bograd comes and goes anytime of day,” the source said.

“Ochoa is becoming worried because the LP wanted the President to save their necks when it was supposedly their job to take the bullet for the President. In this case, it’s the other way around,” the source said.

The source cited the Aug. 23 speech of the President last year defending the DAP, which he described as a fiasco.

Roxas was able to persuade the President to deliver that speech, which also focused on protecting his allies by saying he and his allies were no thieves but were running after thieves.

“True enough, after the President’s speech, Drilon and Abad were all around town echoing the Chief Executive’s lines that the administration was judicious in disbursing and allocating the funds and those in the opposition were the ones who stole the public funds,” the source said.

Drilon, the source said, exerted a separate pressure on the President after the Senate President was convinced that he could not deliver his promise of abolishing the pork barrel allocations of the senators.

“In their being overzealous in extricating themselves from the controversy, the LP leadership committed one blunder after another.

“To make up for his failure to deliver the promise of scrapping the Senate pork, Drilon even tried to salvage the impounded money by getting around the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court and declared these funds as ‘savings’ that the President can use for calamities and this move elicited a word of caution from Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., who said the Senate could not do that without the concurrence of the House,” the source said.



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