The Battle of the Frames Continues

Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms.  This article was published in Business Mirror May 23, 2007 edition, p. A6.

Mrs. Gloria M. Arroyo is not stupid. She knows that whoever controls the frame controls the language of the debate.

Frame theory is best demonstrated by the phrase. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

We saw the battle of frames during the campaign. Mrs. Arroyo sold hers as “moving forward instead of fighting battles of the past.” The opposition sold theirs as “People of the Philippines versus Mrs. Arroyo.”

Now that the elections are over, we will see the battle of the post-election frames.

The opposition says the election was a resounding rejection of Mrs. Arroyo. They point to the dominance of the Genuine Opposition in the senate race, the reelection of congressmen who voted for impeachment, and the high-profile local races where Mrs. Arroyo’s handpicked candidates were routed.

She, on the other hand, ignored the corpses of her anointed dragon slayers and highlighted “the victory of the overwhelming majority of candidates sympathetic to the administration.”  This, she told an investors’ conference organized by JP Morgan, “shows a vote for political stability and economic reform.”

This “victory-of- the-overwhelming-majority” frame is being peddled everywhere. I even saw an over-the-top version of it in the blog of Manuel L. Quezon III.

An Arroyo keyboard warrior, Jude, oversold the victory frame with:

“… Such a dominating majority would not be possible if discontent were as widespread, as Mr. Quezon would want the world to believe.

“It was all a grand show and the administration orchestrated it with skill and precision. There were amusing sideshows featuring Fr. Ed Panlilio, Manny Pacquiao, Garci, Binay and others, which took the steam away from the very torrid atmosphere. In the end, it only delivered the message that democracy is alive and well in the Philippines.”

Another Arroyo warrior, Cat, immediately applauded Jude’s comment. “Very good observation. Only a corporate strategist can understand the grand plan of the administration…” she wrote.

My first reaction to the pathetic oversell was pity for the innocent lambs sacrificed for Mrs. Arroyo’s “grand show.”

My second reaction was to laugh uncontrollably because it reminded me of the story of two losers—the little boy who went home with a bloody nose and told his mother, “I got into a fight but I won. I used my nose to break the other boy’s fist” and the cowboy who lost a gunfight and who, as he lay dying, told the man who outgunned him, “I tricked you.  Now you’re out of bullets!”

The overwhelming majority of local races were “free-for-alls” among candidates sympathetic to Mrs. Arroyo.  Lakas, Kampi, and Rainbow Coalition members fought each other bitterly and with a fair amount of violence.

Where in the democratic world, other than in Masbate, was a “no-fly-zone” ever declared during an election? Were followers of Mrs. Arroyo about to bomb and strafe each other?

And why was more than half the country designated as “hot spots” when, in fact, the opposition was not even contending in most of those areas?

It’s obvious that, in addition to intimidating voters and ballot canvassers in the senatorial and party-list races, the AFP was deployed to keep candidates sympathetic to Mrs. Arroyo from killing each other.

That’s the truth behind the “victory of the overwhelming majority” statement.

What is the real score on “political stability and economic reform?”

Mrs. Arroyo is a lame duck.  A lame duck is a sitting duck… with a bulls-eye painted on it.

To survive until 2010, Mrs. Arroyo must convince her followers to stay united behind her. She has to make them forget their recent animosities and power struggles.

In order to do that, she must give them a common enemy—oversight and checks and balances—and a common cause—a shift to a unicameral parliament. Unfortunately, doing that won’t be as easy as it was before the election.

The election revealed a kink in what, over the last two years, seemed like an impenetrable shield of power and good luck protecting Mrs. Arroyo. The election proved once and for all what surveys have been saying all along: Mrs. Arroyo enjoys very little public support.

And so, Mrs. Arroyo’s “overwhelming victory” statement was meant not so much for the opposition who, anyway, will not stop until all their unanswered questions are answered; it was meant for her followers.

Mrs. Arroyo knows danger lies not in enemies smelling weakness but in followers beginning to doubt their leader’s strength. Doubts cause desertions.

Political stability will depend on whether Mrs. Arroyo can continue to project an image of strength among her followers—only the powerful are feared because only they can reward and punish. The amount and extent of economic reforms will be tempered by the cost of maintaining Mrs. Arroyo’s support.

Mrs. Arroyo’s Achilles heel has been exposed. Let’s see if framing can cover it.

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