Aquino has debased the Senate into a propaganda weapon

by Rigoberto Tiglao on October 23, 2014

Equalling only President Benigno Aquino’s misdeed, in depth of turpitude, of using and bribing the Senate in 2012 to remove Chief Justice Renato Corona, has been the president’s debasement of the Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations, or the so-called Blue Ribbon Committee, as a propaganda weapon.

Aquino, in fact, has been the only President who has exploited the vast powers of the Blue Ribbon Committee to use its investigations as a powerful propaganda weapon to politically demolish his targets’ reputations.

Was there any episode during the administrations of Presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, and Gloria Arroyo when the Blue Ribbon Committee acted as a kangaroo court against a personality, as has been so common during Aquino’s regime?

Under Aquino, it was the committee’s investigations that blackened the bishops’ reputations to mute their opposition to Aquino’s reproductive health bill, as well as to add another case against former President Arroyo when the other charges were fizzling out. Past officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office were humiliated in a Blue Ribbon Committee hearing as media preparation before charges were made and arrest orders issued against them. And it was its investigations into the pork-barrel issue that painted the opposition senators as so corrupt that there was hardly a public squeak at their arrest and incarceration.

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THE YELLOW RIBBON COMMITTEE
Yellow Ribbon Committee at work? You decide: “Blue Ribbon” means independence and expertise; “Yellow Ribbon” is Aquino’s insignia.
“Okay. Anyway, I won’t argue with you. Let the public judge.”
– Senator Alan Cayetano after a lengthy question-and-answer episode in the Blue Ribbon Committee hearing Oct 22, when lawyer Martin Subido tried to explain to him that as a lawyer, he has to rely on documents, and not on claims made in a TV reporter’s interview with somebody.

The committee’s investigations now have become its last-resort propaganda to weaken the chances of Vice President Jejomar Binay to capture the presidency in 2016.

Binay’s spokesman, Congressman Tobias Tiangco’s reference to that committee as the Yellow Ribbon Committee hits it right on the head.

Believe it or not, ours is the only legislative body in the world to have such a “Blue Ribbon Committee,” or any such committee with similar investigative functions. Other countries have politically matured in junking such an investigative committee as intruding into the work of the judiciary, even as it has a powerful pulpit, the legislative body, for lethal character assassination.

Our Blue Ribbon Committee was invented in 1949 with the same intention as it has today, to throw dirt at a major political figure.

It was Senator Justiniano Montano of the Liberal Party who asked for the formation of a “Blue Ribbon Committee” in the Senate to investigate alleged corruption in government. It turned out the main target of the committee was then President Elpidio Quirino, who, ironically, was Montano’s partymate but who supported his political archenemy in the congressional seat in Cavite from which he retired.

Propaganda tool
Then and now, it was an effective propaganda tool. Montano’s Blue Ribbon Committee investigations produced what we would call now as the urban legend of Quirino’s golden arinola (chamber pot). That canard outraged Filipinos that he would be defeated by a landslide by his defense secretary, Ramon Magsaysay – with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency, most historians have revealed.

Quirino was helpless in telling the media, showing to them even, that his chamber pot was not made of gold, but of brass. It’s the same trick used by the present Blue Ribbon Committee, which has been trying to portray a “350-hectare Binay Hacienda,” when the Vice President has only six hectares leased to the owner of that estate.

Montano was as media savvy as his counterparts in the present. The “Blue Ribbon” term he used as a moniker for that committee had meant the highest level of excellence or quality in those times, as in the best cattle being awarded a “Blue Ribbon.”

The term evolved as a term for ad hoc panels and commissions tasked to study an important issue, consisting of individuals known for their integrity and expertise in the field being studied. It also meant the panel had a high degree of independence from political parties and government authority. Thus, the US Congress’ “Warren Commission” on the Kennedy assassination, the “9-11 Commission,” and the Iraq Study Group had been referred to in the US media as “blue ribbon panels.”

I’m sure with that significance attached to “Blue Ribbon,” you’d agree with me that it is utter stupidity for us to call the Senate Committee on Accountability Public Officers and Investigations, a “Blue Ribbon” Committee.

Its members are nothing but “Blue Ribbon” individuals. They are extremely politically partisan and subservient to Aquino. By background or/and by their performance so far, they are the most incompetent to undertake investigations.

Let’s call a spade a spade, for chrissakes. It’s the Yellow Ribbon Committee. Has this committee ever investigated a yellow ribbon-wearing government official?

Cayetano’s statement above in the Oct 22 hearings of the committee shows its obvious motive is to change public opinion over the front-runner in the 2016 elections. It’s the propaganda hit squad of the Yellow Ribbon cult.

Next week: Why a “Blue Ribbon Committee” is another only-in-the-Philippines thing.

Correction on the SWS report
A source corrected my column on the Social Weather Stations on Oct 22. He claimed that an SWS poll of 1,500 respondents cost P3 million, not P2.5 million as I wrote. For 1,200 respondents the price tag is P2.5 million. I was surprised at his claim, though, that the SWS allows a questionnaire of 200 questions. Doesn’t that make both the pollster and the respondent so tired that replies would be so unreliable?

I’ll make a bet with Social Weather Stations president Mahar Mangahas with my year’s fee as a columnist that more than 79 percent will answer, “I agree,” to that question above.

More than 70 percent will also say ‘agree’ to the following questions:

“Do you agree, or disagree that Senator Trillanes shouldn’t use the Senate for politicking or to bring down the image of the frontrunner in the 2016 elections?”

“Do you agree or disagree that the SWS, when it publishes its polls, should disclose who asked for such polls, and how much it was paid for the service?”

All the above questions are formed in exactly the same mold of questions the SWS used for its recent survey: “Do you agree or disagree with the proposal of some Senators that Vice-Pres. Jojo Binay should appear in the Senate to answer all allegations against him?”

Of course the majority would agree. That SWS question and the four above are loaded questions, containing what more professional pollsters would term “response biases,” which would almost automatically elicit the “I agree” response. Who wouldn’t want any official to answer “allegations”?

I’m surprised why the SWS didn’t get a 98 percent “agree” response. But that would show how ridiculous its poll on Binay-must-appear-in-the-Senate was.

The SWS, as it had been in the case of Chief Justice Renato Corona in the impeachment trial, is helping, for a fee of course, push Binay to the same trap in which Corona fell.

The SWS poll question, like many of its political opinion surveys, is flawed for several reasons.

Déjà-vu20141022

Déjà vu, or same old modus operandi? Similar numbers even?

First, it disregards the phenomenon that many of its respondents, particularly the C-D-E classes, may not have sufficient information on the issue. A classic flawed question would be asking a poor Filipino who doesn’t read newspapers if he agrees to the enactment of the “Reproductive Health bill,” without explaining what the hell that is. He most probably would reply, “I agree” as soon as he hears the term kalusugan.

Believe it or not, the biggest-circulation newspaper is read only by 4 percent of the population, according to a recent rigorous study on media I’ve been shown. Most of the C-D-E class, I would bet, aren’t aware of the allegations about the Makati building and the Batangas estate. Did SWS first ask—as it should have—if the respondents were aware of these allegations?

Were the respondents aware, as most of us in the AB class know, that Senators Antonio Trillanes and Alan Cayetano are conducting the investigations against Binay not in aid of legislation but as a demolition job against the frontrunner in the 2016 presidential elections? SWS would come up with a survey finding that Binay shouldn’t attend the hearing if it, instead, asked the following questions:

“Many think that a Senate committee is being used to besmirch Binay’s reputation by making undocumented accusations. Do you agree or disagree that Binay should attend these hearings, anyway?”

Second, the SWS’ question has a very loaded term “allegations,” which was translated in the query’s Pilipino version to “paratang.” Who wouldn’t’ want an official to answer “mga paratang” and by “some senators” – especially when the masses still probably think that the senators now are of the same calibre and integrity as Senators Diokno, Tanada, Recto of the 1960s. Again, a different formulation of the SWS question would have results showing that Binay shouldn’t attend the hearings:

• “Do you agree or disagree that the Vice President should not subject himself to grilling and humiliation in the Senate by Senator Trillanes, who has already concluded that he is guilty of unexplained wealth, and publicly announced that he wants Binay thrown in jail?”

• “Do you agree or disagree that the Vice President should appear in Senate hearings in which Trillanes’ dubious witnesses would humiliate him in front of nationwide TV?”

• “Do you agree or disagree that the Senate has become a tool for Aquino to politically demolish the opposition?

This SWS tack of portraying that the nation wants Binay to attend the Senate hearing isn’t new. Something like this was done before—in March 2012. And the figures involved make me very, very suspicious.

SWS yesterday reported that 79 percent of its respondents want Binay to testify in the Senate. In March 29, 2012, two months before the May 29 decision, SWS also reported that the majority wanted Corona to testify in the Senate. Guess exactly how many? 73 percent. With Corona’s disastrous performance in the Senate, Aquino’s gang obviously, stupidly thought they could do a Corona Part II.

As I explained in my column on Monday, the SWS, as well as its competitor, Pulse Asia, have become Aquino’s propaganda accomplices in all his campaigns to remove from office or jail his opponents.

Aquino’s playbook is to leak to a major newspaper materials alleging corruption committed by the target or targets. On cue, these would trigger the Senate to conduct investigations. The newspaper then sensationalizes the investigations and other newspapers join the fray.

The SWS and Pulse Asia then come in to exploit the widespread misconception over the nature of polls—that the outcome is “objective” truth—to further portray the target as indubitably corrupt. But the two polling firms actually can only capture a snapshot of public opinion, which, however, had been formed by the screaming headlines of media.

I have been aghast at how the SWS had become such a potent propaganda tool wielded effectively by the Aquino Administration.

Its worst participation had been during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, and I wonder how the SWS people can sleep at night with the injustice they contributed to, and their participation in the lynch mob that damaged our constitutional system of checks and balances.

At the height of the impeachment trial in the two months before the May 29 conviction, the SWS barraged us with not one but three surveys:

• 29 March 2012: “53 percent satisfied with the action of the House of Representatives to impeach Corona”

• 30 March 2012: “73 percent prefer Corona conviction”

• 26 April 2012: “63 percent believe Corona has hidden wealth”

Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla and the other senators probably would have jumped for joy reading the SWS polls. The SWS polls gave them the perfect cover to convict Corona, even if they voted so because of the P100 million given them as bribe from the Disbursement Acceleration Fund.

I was told by my sources that the SWS actually did another survey from May 24 to 27, which was designed to be the coup d’ grace, as it would show that 72 percent thought not only Corona guilty, but that even his wife should be indicted.

It turned out that the senators were so eager to finish the trial to get their hands on the P100 million DAP funds that they made their decision on May 29.

Using the SWS, of course, as a propaganda tool is expensive, which indicates that this Administration has accumulated a huge war chest for the 2016 contest. A poll purportedly of 1,500 respondents would cost P2.5 million.

One trick of pollsters, also done by many NGOs, is to get several “sponsors” for the same poll. That is, one client would think he is paying P2.5 million for a particular poll. What he doesn’t know is that the pollster is using the same survey exercise for not just one other client but probably for two or even four more.

This is possible since polling “science” has shown that a respondent could be asked as many as 60 questions in a “face-to-face” interview while most clients would need answers to, at most, only 10 questions. That would mean that for a purported P2.5 million cost of one survey exercise, the pollster could be earning a multiple of P2.5 million – P10 million with four clients.

The SWS, in particular, tries to portray an image to the public that it is a research institution, and makes its findings public. This is a lie: Often, you would find items—as in the poll on Corona’s impeachment—whose results are not disclosed, with the note “reserved for subscribers.”

Of course, SWS is a non-profit corporation, and claims to have academic standing, and even its executives are not called executives but “fellows.”

“Do you agree or disagree that SWS is actually Aquino’s highly-paid propaganda outfit?”

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