Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:24:00 03/27/2009

The President of the Philippines expresses her contempt for public opinion by deputizing the most ill-informed, the least knowledgeable neophyte politician available to speak on her behalf. We mean, of course, Lorelei Fajardo, one of two deputy presidential spokespersons.

Her role is lip service, in a deeply literal sense. Fajardo makes herself available to the media for comments on various issues, ostensibly on behalf of the President. But what insipid comments! Even critics of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will acknowledge the strength of her work ethic and the quality of her intellectual equipment. But Fajardo is the complete opposite; she is obviously out of her depth.

But she has a task to do, and she does it. By engaging the media, she allows the Arroyo administration to reinforce its claim that it respects the role of a free press in a democratic polity. By offering jejune commentary and sophomoric statements, however, she and the administration she works for undermine both the work of the press and the object of democracy.

How can the consent of the governed be informed, when the government only wants to pretend to inform the public? Call it Lorelei-ing (or Lore-lying).

The ideal approach is to ignore her, and to wait for more authoritative statements from Anthony Golez, Cerge Remonde, Eduardo Ermita or the President herself. Last Monday, however, she said some things in reaction to the news that Fr. Ed Panlilio, the priest-governor of Pampanga province, was considering a presidential run, that made us sit up and take notice — but for all the wrong reasons.

“It’s easy to talk, that’s rhetoric, but what about performance? We should look at performance, because we are already talking about the highest leader of the land,” Fajardo told reporters.

Her emphasis on performance seems to be yet another of those unexamined motherhood statements she was hired to spout. The deputy presidential spokesperson may be incapable of phrasing the thought felicitously, but who can argue with the idea that “performance” is an essential criterion for choosing the next president?

She dismissed the whole notion of “reformist” or value-based politics by asserting that the only — or the main — thing that distinguishes politicians is performance. For instance: “You are a traditional politician, and your performance is good, [then] I think performance should be the basis [for voters to choose you again].”

So far, so party-line. It is no secret that President Arroyo justifies her long tenure in terms of performance. Forget all the political noise (which in a moment of greater candor Ms Arroyo once admitted she was in large part responsible for); the important thing is that the economy is growing, poverty incidence has fallen, tourism is booming, and so on.

But Fajardo did not leave well enough alone. She also said running a province (a jab at Panlilio) was different from running a country. “If your performance is not good in a lower position, let’s say as mayor or governor or any position for that matter, how can you lead the entire nation? That’s what we have to be careful about.”

First things first: The implied criticism of Panlilio is part of a long-term Palace strategy to weaken his chances of reelection. Despite what Panlilio has done to stop corruption in Pampanga, the Arroyo administration has found excuses to get in his way: by refusing police support for the fight against the illegal numbers game “jueteng”; by organizing resistance to Panlilio among town mayors; by marginalizing the governor’s influence in the President’s home province. Fajardo’s dig at Panlilio’s record should be seen in this highly partisan context.

But, more important, let’s examine the assumption behind Fajardo’s blithe putdown of other offices. By her own logic, only four politicians are qualified to seek the presidency: the three former presidents, and the incumbent herself, all of whom are disqualified from running again.

Of course, running a province is different from running a country. But no one disputes that a state governor in the United States can become commander in chief, or a mayor of Paris an effective president of France. Why should Fajardo suggest otherwise?

The easy answer is to suppose that she wasn’t thinking. But the scary possibility exists that, on this point, the spokesperson is in fact reflecting the views of the person she speaks for.


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