Gazette draws flak for Marcos boo-boo
IT WAS another misstep for Malacañang’s communications office, this time involving a caption of the online graphic of the Official Gazette to commemorate the 99th birthday on Sept. 11 of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The caption posted on Facebook read: “In 1972, he declared martial law to suppress a communist insurgency and secessionism in Mindanao. In 1986, Marcos stepped down from the presidency to avoid bloodshed during the uprising that came to be known as ‘People Power.’”
The caption quickly drew fire from netizens, who accused the Official Gazette of historical revisionism. They pointed out that the caption supposedly whitewashed the atrocities, human rights abuses and stealing of public funds during the Marcos dictatorship.
The furor is the latest chapter in a struggle over the national narrative in a fiercely partisan country, where power has traditionally been passed among a small number of elite families.
President Duterte, a close ally of the Marcos family, has reignited squabbles over Marcos’ legacy with a plan to bury his embalmed body at Libingan ng mga Bayani despite strong opposition from rights victims and advocates.
The Supreme Court has extended its status quo order on the planned burial of Marcos, who died in 1989, at Libingan to Oct. 18.
Amid the firestorm, the Official Gazette edited the last part of the caption of the reposted graphic, which now reads: “He was the longest-serving President of the country for almost 21 years, declaring martial law in 1972 then went to exile to the United States in 1986 at the height of the People Power Revolution. He was succeeded by Corazon Cojuangco Aquino.”
Ramon Cualoping III, assistant secretary of the Presidential Communications Office (PCO), admitted to approving the content of the controversial social media card, which was supposedly written by one of the PCO staff writers, Marco Angelo Cabrera.
Cualoping said Cabrera used to work for Marcos’ son and namesake, former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Mr. Duterte’s staunch supporter who lost to Leni Robredo in the tightly contested vice presidential race.
The social media card, Cualoping added, was approved by the Official Gazette’s consultant, Van Ybiernas, an assistant professor of history at De La Salle University.
The Official Gazette defended itself from criticisms of historical revisionism but vowed to be “more prudent” and to “improve accordingly” after what it called a “learning lesson.”
“The Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines is the repository of government documents as stated by law. We are not in the business of revising history. We only convey what is documented in the official records,” Cualoping said in a statement on Sunday.
He said the PCO wanted to make the “simple social media card” more neutral, devoid of any political color by reposting it with a shorter caption.
“We all know that martial law happened. It really happened. But what we did was for the birthday card. It shouldn’t be agnostic; it should just be about the date that they were elected into the presidency,” Cualoping said in an ambush interview in Malacañang.
The gaffe happened a few days after the PCO, headed by Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, drew flak for claiming that Mr. Duterte would be seated between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US President Barack Obama at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit’s gala dinner in Vientiane, Laos.
Cualoping said the Official Gazette incident was a lesson for him and his staff. “[W]e will improve accordingly, based on efforts to have a streamline national communications policy,” he added.
Asked if the Official Gazette would issue an apology, Cualoping said the apology “would not be from the office” but a personal one.
“We are not circumspect in terms of writing the accompanying copy … So this is a learning lesson and we commit that we will have a better gazette in the next few months … [P]ersonally, we could have been more circumspect, we could have been more prudent,” he said.
He added: “We should not be blinded by our own propaganda, statements. We have to listen to the people.”
Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said the Palace overstepped its boundaries in its attempt to spruce up the image and legacy of Marcos.
“Malacañang is getting too far in accommodating the Marcoses. Tinkering with history to gloss over the fact that Marcos was ousted by a people power revolution is tantamount to doing away with our Constitution,” Villarin said. With reports from Gil Cabacungan and AFP