THE latest kerfuffle over President Rodrigo Duterte’s comments about martial law exposed once again the weakness of his communications team.
After the President told the Davao Chamber of Commerce and Industries Saturday night that if he were to declare martial law, nobody could stop him—not even the Supreme Court—Communications Secretary Martin Andanar immediately sprang into action, blasting the media for “misreporting” Mr. Duterte’s remarks.
“The President has categorically said no to martial law. He even made a pronouncement saying that martial law did not improve the lives of Filipinos. We therefore decry the latest misreporting that the President will declare martial law simply ‘if he wants to’ or that ‘no one can stop the President from declaring martial law,’” Andanar said in a statement.
“Such headlines sow panic and confusion to many. We consider this kind of reportage as the height of journalistic irresponsibility,” he added.
Andanar said Duterte was clear in saying he would only declare martial law “under the premise that the country has deteriorated into an utter state of rebellion and lawlessness”—even though video recordings of his speech said neither invasion nor rebellion would be his reason for putting the country under military rule.
Instead of providing clarity, Andanar’s knee-jerk reaction was to attack the media. This attempt to deflect criticism of his boss was all the more foolish, because video evidence clearly showed there was no misreporting.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines called Andanar out in an open letter, commiserating with him over having to spin the President’s words “every time he utters something inappropriate.”
The group also took the Communications secretary to task for the “utterly dishonest tack” of blaming the media for accurately reporting the President’s remarks.
The NUJP pointed out that contrary to Andanar’s claim that the President would only declare martial law if “an utter state of rebellion and lawlessness” existed, Duterte specifically said Saturday night it would not be about invasion or rebellion, but about saving the country from the drug peril.
Ranged against the facts and the video evidence of Mr. Duterte’s remarks, Andanar’s attack on the media was just lazy and dishonest.
It is not media that sow panic and confusion when they accurately quote Mr. Duterte, it is Mr. Duterte himself who does so.
When Andanar and his colleagues in the Duterte Cabinet suggest that we not take the President’s words literally, but apply “creative imagination” to his statements, they have left the realm of journalism and accurate reporting and entered the world of propaganda and spin.
But Andanar and company ought to remember—that’s their job, not ours.