The ‘good news’ and ‘bad news’
WITHIN A news cycle of 24 hours, the front page of the Inquirer was a jumble of “good news” and “bad news,” illustrating the impossibility of managing news to suit the desires of the government.
The mosaic of the front page of the news in Tuesday’s edition of the Inquirer alone was mind-boggling and a nightmare to government news managers tasked to highlight aggressively the “good news” of the administration’s “achievements” in a bid to arrest the free fall of President Aquino’s plummeting public satisfaction rating.
In the good news column, the government announced a P22 cost of living allowance (COLA) adjustment to wage earners in Metro Manila, that will be added to their minimum wage of P367-P426, increasing the range to P380-P426. Labor Department officials described the adjustment as a “win-win” solution for all sides—workers who petitioned for a P75 increase, employers worried about their capacity to pay and monetary authorities concerned about inflation. In social peace terms, the adjustment is believed to have headed off labor unrest, fueled by the havoc wrought by inflation on the urban worker’s income.
The adjustment is to take effect before the end of the month, and is expected to set the pace for the increase of minimum wages in regions outside Metro Manila.
On the flip side, the Land Transportation Regulatory and Franchising Board announced that it had approved new fares for the Light Rail Transit and Metro Rail Transit lines. The head of the LTRFB said that the new fares approved by the Department of Transportation and Communications were “reasonable” and would be enforced at an undisclosed date.
According to the new fare rates, commuters will pay a boarding fee of P11, plus P1 for every kilometer. Under this scheme, the maximum fare for LRT Line 1 (Baclaran to Roosevelt) and MRT (Taft to North Avenue) will increase to P30, from P20 and 15 respectively. The LRT Line 2 (Recto to Santolan) will increase to a maximum of P30 from P15. Transportation officials justified the higher fares, saying that they were intended to reduce government subsidy to keep the train lines running. That would have been sufficient reason, and officials did not have to play the blame game. They said that fares had been kept “artificially low” by the previous administration, creating strain on the state’s finances. Transportation Secretary Jose de Jesus said the higher fares would not be implemented (immediately) in the light of the various increases in the prices of other goods and services that have burdened the public.
The effect of increased fares is to cancel off the adjustment of the Cola to increase the take home pay of urban workers. No one is blaming President Aquino for this nimble trade-offs of benefits and costs in other sectors. Indeed, it is not fair to blame the President for these contradictory outcomes of these two contradictory outcomes of decisions of two national government departments which translated into the metaphor of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Government apologists can always claim that Aquino’s “laid-back” style of government gives autonomy to Cabinet departments, according to broad strokes of policy (which is not always clear), and is in sharp contrast to the “micro-management” style of his predecessor.
In the same Inquirer edition of May 10, the Aquino administration was hit by another spiel of bad news, the story that the Sandiganbayan Second Division approved the plea bargain deal between former military comptroller Carlos Garcia and government prosecutors over his P303-million plunder case. The Sandiganbayan ruled that the “weak evidence” against Garcia would have led to his acquittal.
The anti-graft court, supposedly an independent body, said in a resolution that it approved the agreement after Garcia had complied with its conditions—pleading guilty to the lesser offenses of direct bribery and facilitating money laundering, and transferring P135.433 million of his and his family’s assets to the state. “Inasmuch as the provisions of the plea bargaining agreement and the concerns of this court about the protection of the government have been fully addressed, there is no reason why this court should withhold approval of these plea bargaining agreement in these cases,” the resolution said.
A wail of outrage rose from supporters of the government, who assailed the resolution as “totally erroneous” and “a disappointing development” and “highly questionable.” The resolution was seen as a setback to the anti-corruption campaign of the President. It galled the government’s supporters to see Garcia walk out of Camp Crame, where he had been detained for six years, on a bail of P60,000.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the approval of the plea bargain agreement was “a disappointing development,” because there were many substantive points and arguments that were raised by the Office of the Solicitor General in asking for the revocation of the agreement. Senator Franklin Drilon, an administration ally and a lawyer, said the state cannot be bound by the “incompetence of its agents,” and urged the OSG to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
Going back to the administration directive to the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning office to pursue a more aggressive “good news” campaign drumming up the government’s “achievements,” this propaganda office is in a quandary in defining what is “good news” and “bad news.” This round of bad news emanated from actions of government offices and/or autonomous government offices. What then is good or bad news? Is this defined by the source of the news? In what way can news managers of the administration massage bad news into good news?
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