Communication Strategy

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Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III

Yellow Pad


In a world torn apart, where clashing forces are driven by a singular objective of annihilating one another, superior strategy is the key to victory.

Some think naively that the good side always triumphs. But history and current events refute this. From my viewpoint, the bad forces — authoritarians, fascists, killers, racists, misogynists, plunderers, and the like — at present dominate the world.

But then, the naïve will say the good will inevitably win. But as wise men say, one cannot accurately predict the future; one cannot predetermine the future. Having faith is a virtue, but it in itself does not make the world a better place.

Liberation movements led by communists possess a just cause — the end of exploitation and oppression, the elimination of poverty and the realization of equality, the attainment of democracy and independence.

Some revolutionary movements like neighbors China and Vietnam succeeded, but others like Indonesia and Malaysia failed. The Philippine communist movement, its armed struggle re-launched in 1968, is still struggling, and its victory is nowhere in sight.

Communists of course do not have a monopoly of what is good and just. Think of Nandy Pacheco, the advocate of peace, good governance, and moral politics; the founder of Gunless Society and Ang Kapatiran, a political party that describes itself as an “alliance for the common good.” Nandy Pacheco is pure of heart, but he and his party are marginalized in Philippine politics.

In short, having a just cause or being good is not a predictor of victory.

I have read about how Ho Chi Minh and his band of revolutionaries won their “just war.” How could have a poor country defeated the most powerful force on earth?

An insight from historian Jeffery Record, as cited by journalist James A. Warren (“The Genius of North Vietnam’s War Strategy,” Daily Beast, November 18, 2017), is spot-on: “a superior strategic grasp of the political and social dimensions of the struggle.” Accordingly, “the Americans were not so much outfought in Vietnam as outthought,” said Warren.

There you are, strategy is the key. I attempt to elaborate on this but not in a comprehensive manner. Rather, some facets of strategy are worth retelling.

In my search for strategy, I found a 2007 article written by Richard Halloran titled “Strategic Communication” for Parameters (Autumn 2007), a US Army War College quarterly. Methinks this is essential reading for both the good and the bad guys.

The ten-page article began with a story, again about Vietnam. There was a Colonel Harry Summers who was part of a delegation sent to Hanoi after the war. At the airport, he had a chat with North Vietnamese Colonel Tu. Colonel Summers told Colonel Tu: “You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield.” Colonel Tu took about a minute to respond, but his response was witty. “That may be so. But it is also irrelevant.” Touché!

Another anecdote from the article was about the remark of a Singaporean diplomat and scholar named Koshore Mahbubani, who was asked about “what puzzled him about America’s competition with Osama bin Laden. The diplomat’s answer was a question: “How has one man in a cave managed to out-communicate the world’s greatest communication society?”

Strategy revolves around communication. Strategy is about the struggle of ideas, of “out-thinking,” and “out-communicating” the adversary.

War is but an extension of the political struggle. And the political struggle is about winning the war of ideas. Thus in crafting strategy, communication plays a most essential role.

Communication strategy is the new term for propaganda. One must embrace propaganda, though its original meeting has been lost. Halloran reminds us that the term propaganda is derived from the Latin propagare, which means to spread.

To quote Halloran: “Strategic communication means persuading allies and friends to stand with you. It means persuading neutrals to come over to your side or at least stay neutral. In the best of all worlds, it means persuading adversaries that you have the power and the will to prevail over them.” Note the emphasis on the verb “persuade,” which likewise applies to the relationship with the enemy.

The victorious Vietnamese and Chinese communists are adept at persuasion. They share the common slogan of arousing, organizing and mobilizing the masses, winning over the middle, and neutralizing or isolating the enemies.

Communication strategy is in fact a modern reiteration of what great thinkers and strategies said centuries ago. It’s about Sun Tzu’s “breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” Or Clausewitz’s statements like “war is politics” and “the enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan.”

Sadly, the forces of the good have not learned these lessons well.

How can the Duterte opposition win over the people when the message being repeated is to blame the Duterte voters for the triumph of evil? The problem with this message is that the support for Duterte is no longer confined to his voters but has covered the majority of the population. Surveys by the Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia show that Duterte’s trust and performance ratings remain quite high. Like it or not, Duterte’s message resonates across the country, even as we grope for the core values that he represents.

The challenge then is how the opposition can “out-communicate” and “out-think” Duterte. Blaming the Duterte voters and supporters for his rise only intensifies polarization but further isolates the opposition. The unwarranted belligerence shows in other ways: Ferociously attacking an apolitical Lea Salonga, who unfortunately made a politically incorrect though innocent statement. Or accusing a Marvic Leonen, always a champion of progressive if not radical causes, of being an opportunist and a coward for asking his colleague, former Chief Justice Meilou Sereno, to resign. Here, criticism is welcome, but it should be tempered and constructive when directed at a friend or a potential ally.

These actions run counter to persuading, winning over, and uniting the many. To quote Halloran, actions, more than words, are “the better purveyors of strategic communication.”


Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.