MY wish for 2017 is for the government of President Rodrigo Duterte to improve its communication of official information to the public.
The last days of the year was marked by violence brought about by explosions in public places. Lack of communication or the release of wrong information marked one event. The incident with the biggest number of casualties was the twin explosions that hit the Hilongos, Leyte public plaza last December 28. A total of 32 persons were injured in the explosions at the height of a boxing match that was part of the fiesta celebration.
Miscommunication happened after the Leyte explosions with government pronouncements varying in the number of those injured and those supposedly killed. Minutes after the explosion past 9 p.m., social media accounts ran a supposed death toll based on hearsay and perceptions of those at the blast site.
Information then trickled in on the number of those injured with Sen. Richard Gordon posting a tweet on the 31 people hurt. Gordon is also chairman of the Philippine Red Cross. Minutes later, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella sent a message to reporters that there were 10 persons who reportedly died and 20 others injured. He based his report on information from Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo whose office was in charge of post-emergency assistance and coordination. The next day, Taguiwalo apologized for the “false alarm” on the fatalities and explained that what she gave Abella was “unofficial.” Media organizations by that time had disseminated the information from Abella, considering he was spokesman and among the best persons to give out the report.
In an emergency, it is understandable for information from the ground to be tentative, even erroneous, as it normally takes time for authorities to process what is happening. The Leyte blasts was an example of such an emergency where media organizations had to wait for official word on the extent of damage and casualties.
It was only after Gordon and Abella gave the information that numbers were used in media reports.
But, as Taguiwalo was fixing her statement, media organizations took some flak for a supposed misreporting. Conspiracy theories cropped up and media got tagged as tools of the opposition by painting a picture of instability in the countryside.
This is why it is important for official information to be processed correctly and disseminated immediately to control the flow of reports. The curtailment of information or the giving out of false accounts does not help in restoring order in a tumultuous situation.
President Duterte and his government have been criticized for being imprecise and, even, reckless in some of its official statements that detractors see these communication failures as unprofessional and dangerous to the country’s fate. Explanations on government’s stance on the United States, President Barrack Obama, United Nations, and even on Duterte’s seating arrangement or absence from events during gatherings of Asian leaders were among those instances when the message was not clear.
For 2017, I wish the government could fix its communication procedures and protocols for a correct presentation of what is happening.