THE circumstances around the banning of Pia Ranada and Rappler from Malacañang demonstrated that a policy can be developed mainly based on pique. A policy, for that is what it is: signaling through formal and informal means that, according to Edna Co, a “stance that contributes to a succession of decisions and actions” has been selected over other options. It is pique; for although officials scrambled to offer various explanations, it cannot be denied that this was about rousing the ire of the highest official of the land.
Are those bad circumstances in themselves?
Not necessarily. Then candidate Rodrigo Duterte’s much-publicized anger about the ‘tanim-bala’ and ‘laglag-bala’ incidents that had become sources of corruption and frustration endeared him to overseas Filipino workers. As president, he ordered that passengers could no longer be arrested for bullets found in their possession.
The reasons cited to justify the ban include the president’s loss of trust in Ranada, his irritation (‘buwisit’) over her rudeness, his view that Rappler is a purveyor of fake news, and the cancellation of Rappler’s incorporation papers by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). To those who support the ban, these are reasonable bases.
The problem though is that they are not.
Ranada is not being appointed to a public position that requires the trust of the appointing officer. Until Malacañang has threshed out the implementation of its policy on fake news, penalizing Rappler can be viewed as vindictive. Rappler has appealed the SEC’s decision with the court; pending its final decision, the ban appears preemptive and punitive.
But really, can the president ban anyone from ‘covering’ him? He obviously can in that he just did. He will obviously be challenged for it. But should he have done it?
There are reasons that policies should go beyond the emotional reactions of policymakers and not be developed because of isolated events. Many decision-makers have rued making an overarching policy to resolve one issue because it invariably caused more problems.
What could the president have done with Ranada and Rappler? For one, he could have done what another president did to journalist Luis Beltran (who, contrary to the claims of Asec Mocha Uson was not jailed by Pres. Cory Aquino, but by the father of the person who, to Asec Uson, is the real vice-president). He could have filed a case against her, although I do not know if vexation is enough grounds to waste the resources of the country’s chief executive.
Among the reactions to the banning of Ranada and Rappler were those who called her out for being ‘bastos’ (rude) because she had interrogated the guard who did let not let her in, for insisting on entering Malacañang, and for her clothes. None of these warrant a ban but they do succeed in further painting an undesirable picture of Ranada.
Ranada and other journalists were accused of ganging up on the guard. But that encounter is also a prime example of how a policy conceptualized by those in power are enforced by those who really only wield procedural power but end up absorbing and reacting to the defiance of those who challenge it.
But what if the banning were only the consequence of the real policy? What if the actual stance is “thou shalt not pique the president?”
This seems to be the policy in the minds of those who would ‘penalize’ anyone who dares question or criticize the president and authority by attacking not the matter at stake, but the persons who articulate it. This is a stance intended to preserve the status quo; and those committed to it are prepared to use coercive powers. PSG Chief Col. Lope Dagoy, who does not see any problem using force to deal with civilian behavior that he considers “rude and disrespectful,” demonstrates this.
But it is always those who are in power who define and enforce what is “rude and disrespectful.” Ordering soldiers to shoot NPA women fighters in the vagina and offering 42 virgins to attract tourists are not “rude and disrespectful.” Insistently waving a cellphone in front of a guard to seek clarification about an important matter apparently is.
Now if only Filipinos’ sense of buwisit over politicians with an overblown sense of prerogative and privilege — and there have been many lately — would escalate to a point that we will collectively make an uncompromising policy banning them, and implement it quickly.
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