Monthly Archives: December 2005

Net dissatisfaction

It’s easy enough to understand the concept of a net rating. You subtract the satisfaction score (in the case of SWS; approval, in Pulse Asia’s)  from the dissatisfaction (or disapproval) rating. I’m not really sure, though, whether this emphasis on the difference makes, well, a difference.

One thing I’m sure of: The net rating, as an input for analysis, can be misleading. (Is this perhaps the reason why countries with a longer tradition of opinion polling, such as the US and the UK, do not use net scores?)

Consider the latest SWS survey. Without a doubt, the results show a worse opinion climate for President Arroyo; the fourth-quarter survey should strike fear in the hearts of the President and her men. Conducted at almost exactly the same time as the country’s successful hosting of the Southeast Asian Games, and during a period of macroeconomic good news, the survey should have reflected an opinion boost for the President. No such thing.

But the emphasis on the net scores (GMA’s net satisfaction rating had gone down to -30, her second-worst ever) makes it harder to understand what it is people really are saying. The real story lies in the actual satisfaction and dissatisfaction numbers, not in the (extrapolated) differential.

For example: GMA’s worst net rating was -33, in the second quarter, at the height of the jueteng scandal. One would think that her satisfaction rating then was lower than her satisfaction rating in the fourth quarter. Actually, she enjoyed a 26-percent level of support last May (when her net was at its lowest) — higher than the fourth quarter’s 24 percent. (I know, I know; this is still within the margin of error, but you do get my point, right?)

Another example: One would think that she got a higher dissatisfaction rating across-the-board in the second quarter. Actually, the Mindanao numbers tell a different story: 47 percent in May, 52 percent in early November-late December.

What we should really be focused on are the President’s actual level of support (measured by satisfaction or approval indices) OR the level of resistance (dissatisfaction or disapproval). Perhaps, for a start, we can posit the following: Based on the Estrada experience, a level of support below 25 percent would be problematic. Based on the results of presidential elections since 1992, a level of resistance above 60 percent would be dangerous.

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Down

A funny thing happened on the way to writing regular posts again: My host’s servers crashed.  I resumed writing on Thursday, and then I wrote two posts on Friday; about an hour after, Typepad went down. I guess everyone is a critic.

On Saturday, when I thought it was safe enough to blog again, I wrote something on surveys. But when I tried to post, I couldn’t. I lost the post.

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Criticize THIS

For my money, the real story of the day yesterday was Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita’s endorsement of the Consultative Commission’s unconstitutional proposal to scrap the 2007 elections. I believe Ermita even used the word "disruptive" to describe the mid-term elections.

In truth, it is the scrapping of the elections that will prove disruptive. I happen to believe that the real end to the Garcillano scandal may come only through the May 2007 elections. As I have written before, the outer limit of the President’s crisis of legitimacy will be reached during the mid-term polls, when out of sheer disgust or bone-weariness, an "impeachment Congress" will be elected. (Conversely, if public difference will serve to return the same rascals to Congress — I use the word advisedly, in its traditional sense of, well, members of rascaldom [you could look it up] — then perhaps we can expect the Arroyo administration to limp on till 2010.)

The trial balloon from Malacanang, therefore, strikes me as more than just hot air. It is nothing less than the administration’s most brazen attempt to hang on to power by changing the rules of the political game. The balloon must be shot down, and not only promptly but also loudly.

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Abat idea

Sorry, couldn’t help it. Atrocious pun, I know, but no, I’m not referring to the government’s decision to apply the law to ex-general and former revolutionary-president-to-be Fortunato Abat. I am referring to the critics of his arrest: Does Abat’s advanced age (he is reported to be 80) excuse him from the legal consequences of his actions? To advance the thought is, well, to give in to a bad idea.

In the first place, I am not too sure whether the same people who now castigate the government for arresting "a harmless old man" would have praised the government if it had decided not to detain Abat at all. Some critics are, well, only critics; to paraphrase (and then to apply) a principle of realpolitik, for them there are no permanent criteria of criticism, only a permanent object of criticism.

In the second place, didn’t Abat in fact call for an unconstitutional end to the Arroyo administration? Didn’t he in fact try to establish (in typical Philippine-coup-plotter fashion, that is, by calling a news conference) a revolutionary transition government? Didn’t he in fact name himself head of the new government and, by reasonable inference, commander in chief of any military unit heeding his call? Didn’t he, in fact, break the law?

I think I do understand the sympathetic nature of some of the criticism; we can reduce it to a rather simple formula. We are saying, Give the old man a break. Show some tolerance, for goodness’ sake. Learn to laugh a little.

But my understanding is that clemency comes after conviction (and no, I’m not using strictly technical terms here). He violated the law? Then charge him. Only then will mitigating circumstances  come into play.

The emphasis on Abat’s age is also misplaced. Nobody makes the mistake of ridiculing Sen. Johnny Enrile’s potency (political, I hasten to add). But he is as old, or as sprightly, as Abat. So it can’t be age that excuses Abat from the consequences of his acts. It is, precisely, the lack of consequentiality. He is not a consequential player in politics, at least not enough to bring the multitude streaming back to Club Filipino. (That’s what the critics mean by "harmless.") But does the lack of consequentiality make his declaration of a revolutionary government legal? I’m sorry to say, but I don’t think so. It only makes his precipitate act pathetic.

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Discounting Garci

Amazing. Two weeks after resurfacing, Virgilio Garcillano — with the help of  his handlers, or the opposition, or (name your favorite conspiracy theorist here) — has managed to make himself, well, almost irrelevant. To be completely candid, this is something I did not expect even from our political theater of the absurd.

The other day I caught Rep. Teddy Locsin telling the hard-working Ces Drilon (how many shows does she host, really) that the most important person in the wiretapping hearings in Congress was actually Samuel Ong, he-who-said-he-had-the-mother-of-all-tapes-and-then-disappeared. I suppose from the limited view of a congressman pursuing the truth behind the wiretaps, he is absolutely correct. (I remember he said Ong was "the closest" to the actual making of the tapes. I also think Locsin has the most reasonable approach to the wiretapping mess, but that’s matter for another day.)

But on the larger but intricately related issue of election fraud, the key person must still be Garci, yes? Whether by accident or by design, Garcillano has managed to turn his statements into virtual irrelevancies. I think in a very real sense the public has learned to discount him and his evasive answers. Is that good for him and the principal most Filipinos believe he served during the 2005 elections? I suppose that depends on which criteria we use.

But that doesn’t mean the opposition, or at least the minority in the House, should be reduced to political stuntism. Unfortunately, the best the minority congressmen could do during the first two hearings involving Garcillano was exemplified by Rep. Roilo Golez. He centered his intervention on the whole, legally indefensible notion of getting Garcillano to recite the passages the tape transcripts attributed to him. Nice political theater, if you can get it. But any man is perfectly justified to reject such a request. That would not have necessarily confirmed the fact that it was Garcillano’s voice on the tapes, but that would certainly have condemned Garcillano to endlessly looped vootage and audio recordings of himself, reciting the passages.

Of course that was Golez’s point, but it was not the kind of "evidence" needed to push the hearings forward. I guess what I’m saying is: Our opposition failed the public’s expectations yet again.

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Drowning in detail

There was a whole lotta shaking going on in the newsroom yesterday — in terms of stories, I mean. For the purposes of the Inquirer Compact, which I help edit, any number of news stories could have been the banner on page one: The victorious race for overall honors in the SEA Games, of course. The rare joint rescue by the AFP and the MILF of two kidnapped schoolteachers. Malacanang’s confirmation of its Charter change campaign. The new CBCP head’s appeal for better press (about that, more later, or at least eventually). The naming of the first Filipino parish priest in the diocese of Rome. (Bene!) And then, of course, Garci’s return to Manila (complete with a MacArthuresque landing on an isolated Maguindanao beach).

We went with the SEA Games, because after all this is the first time since we joined the regional meet in 1977 that we placed first overall. But Garci’s dramatic return (landing on that beach, secured by men with AK-47s; arriving in Manila on board a PAL flight, even though his name did not appear — again? — on the flight manifest) would have been a compelling choice too.

Which makes me wonder: I trust Ricky Carandang’s instincts, and his instincts, he has said in at least one interview, make him suspect that Virgilio Garcillano and wife Grace decided to come out of hiding over their handler’s reservations. But the timing seems, well, too perfect: the SEA Games at its height, Christmas rising on the horizon, macro-economic good news already in the air. Could Garci’s handlers have chosen a better time for him to come in from the blue and make a soft landing?

In reporter Nikko Dizon’s story filed from the airport, Garcillano is described as transiting from plane to government-plated vehicle seemingly "drowned in a sea" of bodyguards and journalists. That may have been the whole point: coming out at this time, Garci would have had to swim mightily to rise above the flotsam and jetsam that clog the news stream at this particular time, in this particular year. But why paddle when you can float? 

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Gaming the system

I agree with Manolo Quezon: Ricky Carandang’s surprise interview with Virgilio Garcillano’s wife was "the mother of all scoops." The actual series of interviews with Garcillano that came after, however, were obviously "handled": They followed a script and a schedule. Or in Sheila Coronel’s pungent take: Media organizations were "actually being led by the nose."

Savvy handlers know how to "game" the system, how to make it work to meet their own purposes. Sometimes, they only want to delay publication; this they can do (as I learned first-hand, on two different stories) by simply showing up at the newsroom and insisting on telling every nuance, every complication, of their version of events. (On one occasion, I had to be relieved of my copy-editing responsibilities for the night when a group of representatives, led by an extremely suave lawyer, talked for literally hours, to give me, yet again, the benefit of their side; as a result, the story was delayed, by a day.)

Other times, handlers bury reporters under an avalanche of information, in the hope that the amount of work needed to sift through the material will deter even the hardiest of reporters, or at least delay them.

And then there are those  times, of course, as in the recent Garcillano revelations, when sophisticated handlers use media’s own conventions to tell their charges’ story — from their point of view, according to their timetable. They can do this when they exercise almost full control over either the source or the story; in other words, when they have what the media desperately wants.

Does this make the recent "somewhere in Mindanao" stories on Garcillano invalid? Only if we have an extremely limited view of how media works.

Those stories carried essential information; in the deepest sense, they met the public’s right (and need) to know. I think Tina Monzon-Palma struck the right tone, of skepticism balanced with sympathy, when she interviewed Ricky and Henry Omaga-Diaz several days ago. The notion that major media organizations (including the newspaper I work for) can land a major interview without knowing the identities of the key links in the long chain (who put the blindfold on, who drove the van, who escorted them from point A to point B) is hard to understand and harder to believe. As I remember Tina saying, with some alarm, It was possible then that, say, Henry and his crew were actually being driven around in circles. And yet, there is the fact that the most wanted man in the country was at the end of that chain, speaking on the record.

And then there is also the this-is-good-enough-to-take-to-the-bank certainty that the Garcillano story does not and will not end there. The stage-managed, scripted stories dictated by Garcillano and his handlers are only one act  (or to change metaphors, only one round) in the continuing drama. The media organizations Garcillano reached out to have more resources than his resourceful handlers can even hope to handle. In the same way that Garcillano’s pre-Congress testimony "conditions" are essentially meaningless the moment he shows up in Congress, the media arrangements that governed his reappearance became inoperative the moment the first stories aired or were printed.

When he shows up in Congress on Wednesday, or perhaps even before that, he will find a media raring to swing the pendulum the other way. 

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No closure

The idea that Virgilio Garcillano’s forthcoming testimony (forthcoming, that is, only in terms of time) will finally bring "closure" to the Hello Garci scandal is risible. It won’t. The closest we will come to closure, in the sense used by many political writers, is if Garcillano confesses that he had indeed rigged the elections on the President’s behalf (and at her behest). Nothing short of that will do. Is that something Garcillano looks set to do? Not likely. Of course we should be open to all possibilities, but does Garcillano seem like the kind of career official who goes against authority?

Malacanang, of course, has a crafty take on Garcillano’s reemergence. Closure, in its view, had already been achieved, when the House threw out the flawed impeachment bid against the President. (Did Francis Escudero receive his TOYM award for leading the ultimately unsuccessful impeachment charge? I would hope not. Perhaps it was for becoming House Minority Leader at such a young age.)

Even more craftily, the Palace also views the recent string of good news on the economic front as part of the all-important process of closure, as though the peso’s appreciation and the Phisix’s gains were some kind of vindication for the President’s handling of the political crisis.

It will be in for a rude awakening come January.

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In limbo

Apparently, top Catholic theologians are meeting in Rome to review the entire concept of "limbo." The note in the Guardian mentioned deep papal interest in the matter:

John Paul II was deeply troubled by limbo and had it dropped from the church’s 1992 catechism, a summary of its beliefs. He also asked the International Theological Commission, which advises the Vatican, to take up the issue. When he was still a cardinal, the present pope, Benedict, said he was in favour of dropping the concept so it is unlikely that the theologians will decide otherwise.

I rooted around the Catechism this morning, in search of limbo or its traces, and suddenly remembered an incident from about 10 years ago. We had asked an esteemed relative to serve as our second daughter’s godfather, but he had declined, in a touching two-page letter, out of his own religious convictions. His position led me back to the Catechism (the English translation of which had just come out); I had the sense he had a better idea of what my own church thought about infant baptism, and wanted to understand. As it turned out, he didn’t, not exactly, but one particular provision in the Catechism struck me:

As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God …

I thought then, as I think now (having been led to the very same passage), about my faith’s (new-found, or newly recovered?) humility in the face of uncertainty. Instead of confidently offering the concept of limbo, the Catechism makes an admission: We do not know. We really do not know what happens to children who have died without having been baptized. But our faith makes us put all our hopes in God’s limitless mercy.

Now I don’t know about you (I am the kind of reader moved by the language of Gaudium et Spes!), but I found and still find this admission of ignorance and childlike faith deeply moving.

PS. The idea of writing about this topic suggested itself naturally; after all, having been away from this blog for more than two weeks, I thought I was already in, well, some kind of limbo.

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