Numbers Don’t Lie

Many may not realize it but the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) is arguably the most powerful government agency in the country, one bestowed with one of the largest budget allocations.
The PCOO’s power lies in its ability to sway public opinion, both locally and internationally. It is the lead communication office of the Philippine government with sub-agencies that cover radio, TV, print and online media.
For those unaware, the PCOO is made up of multiple agencies and bureaus that include the Comprehensive Communications Committee, the unit that contextualizes and writes the stories on the workings of the Executive branch; Radio Television Malacañang (RTVM), the agency that covers the President’s daily activities; the Philippine Information Agency, the body responsible for disseminating messages, especially in far-flung areas; PTV4, the government’s mainstream TV network; the Philippine Broadcast Services, a unit consisting of several radio stations on the AM and FM band; The International Press Center, the agency that acts as government’s voice to the world; and the Philippine News Agency, the official news agency of the Philippine government.
With its national and global reach, the PCOO has the power to change the way the Philippines is perceived by the world and even how we Filipinos view ourselves.
Unfortunately, the PCOO is hugely underutilized given that its sole purpose is to propagate government’s propaganda, attack and defend certain personalities according to the President’s agenda, and make the President look good. Its scope and purpose are inward-looking and myopic.
Look, I consider PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar as a friend and do not wish to undermine his work. Martin is only fulfilling his mandate and, mind you, doing a good job at it. My problem is that the PCOO, with its enormous resources, works solely for the interest of the President and the Executive branch. It is a very narrow and self-serving mandate. With billions of taxpayers’ money appropriated to the PCOO, it is only right that its mandate be expanded to one that benefits the entire nation.
With the resources at its disposal, the PCOO can have an enormous impact on the economy, on our geo-political status and on our diplomatic influence. Domestically, it has the power to change the way we Filipinos view ourselves and influence the choices we make. To do this, its mandate must include International Country Brand Management and National Identity Management.
The PCOO is in the best position to shape and promulgate our international country brand.
For those unaware, country branding is the process of managing the way the country is perceived by the rest of the world. It is an important component to national development given its effect on global trade, investments, tourism, and diplomacy.
Country branding involves following carefully crafted communications strategies designed to form public opinion on what a country is all about. It involves defining and promoting our culture and what makes us distinct from the rest of Asia; it involves speaking about our competitive advantages as a work force (e.g. proficiency in English, competence in healthcare and creative industries, etc.); it involves speaking about our many economic achievements (eg. success of the manufacturing resurgence program, seven years of GDP growth beyond 5.5%, an emerging middle class, global leadership in voice-based BPO’s, etc); it involves speaking about break-out Filipino success stories (eg. Efren Peñaflorida as CNN’s man of the year, Ibu Robin Lima as CNN’s Hero of the year and Tony Meloto of Gawad Kalinga, etc.); It involves speaking about our economic aspirations (eg. to be an upper middle income economy by 2020, to be among the top three nations in ship building and to regain our supremacy in coconut industries, etc)
Global public opinions on a country are shaped by newsfeeds. If government does not provide content or manage what comes out, then foreign news agencies will. You can be sure that news agencies will always select the most gruesome, sensationalized content since this is what sells. This is what is happening today and the reason why outsiders generally perceive the Philippines to be an unsafe, economically backward and one with unpredictable and corrupt leadership.
In addition to managing newsfeeds, a country brand is fortified by three factors: The number of globally known consumer brands made in that country; The number of known expertise of a country; and the known favorable traits of its people.
The Philippines has much to build on. As far as global consumer brands go, we can leverage on the brand equity of San Miguel Beer, Jollibee, Jack n’ Jill, Penshoppe and Oishi, among others. In terms of skills and expertise, we can trumpet our competence in healthcare, maritime and BPO services. In terms of favorable traits, we can speak of our artistry, hospitality and fun factor.
An example of an expertly branded country is Japan. Throughout the last 60 years, Japan has purposely built an image around its manufacturing prowess, unique culture, discipline and cuisine. Hence, studies show that the words associated with “Brand Japan” are: technology, excellence, culture, respect and gastronomy. These collective perceptions have helped make Japan an export powerhouse of high technology products and a prime tourism destination.
Studies further show that the strength or weakness of a nation’s brand influences the world’s decision to visit , work, study or invest in it. More significantly, twice as many people are inclined to patronize products or services that emanate from a country with a favorable perception rather than one with a vague or negative public image.
By expanding its mandate to include International Country Brand Management, the PCOO can significantly contribute to economic development.
Similarly, it can have an impact on our geo-political status. This is something we need today, especially in light of China’s creeping invasion of the West Philippine Sea.
The ability to influence policy and global decisions is where true power lies. Traditionally, power was gained by amassing military power and/or economic might. But in this age of hyper-connectivity, “soft power” can be just as powerful.
Soft power refers to a nation’s ability to attract coalitions, followers, cohorts and cliques not by force or money but by persuasion. It is the ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction.
To make the Philippines more attractive, we need to underscore the fact that we are good citizens of the world.
This can be done by reminding all that we voluntarily welcomed 1,200 Jewish people during the Holocaust even when we could not afford it; that Rizal, Bonifacio and Mabini ignited the revolutionary movements in Asia; that Carlos P. Romulo helped draft the declaration of human rights of the United Nations; that the Philippines abided by the rule of law in its spat with China and turned to the UN-ITLOS courts for a resolution; that we agreed to absorb Syrian refugees when civil war broke out in Damascus in 2011.
The Philippines must plant the seeds today to gain its diplomatic goodwill tomorrow. Amassing soft power must be part of our arsenal of defenses given our military and financial limitations.
For decades, government has failed to embark on a credible campaign to define our national identity. As a result, our identity has been formed by mainstream media which continues to dumb-down the populace in the name of ratings and profits.
These days, it is not far-fetched to say that Juan de la Cruz views himself as the principal characters of a teleserye. He looks at himself as a victim, inferior, one who should be content with survival, not excellence. The victim mentality is the overarching trait in society and this has robbed most of our countrymen of their power. Of course, there are exceptions.
It is the government’s responsibility to define our national identity and emphasize traits and values that serve us well. Its efforts must be designed to boost self worth, national self-esteem and a patriotism. It should unify the country and align the citizenry towards our common goals.
Defining our identity involves articulating our beliefs, morals, customs, traits, capabilities and habits and explaining why they are so. To contextualize why we are how we are leads to self discovery and understanding. It also leads to tolerance.
We need to be reminded about the traits that make us extraordinary. By underlining characteristics of value (eg. resourcefulness, creativity and industriousness), we reinforce them.
Negative stereotypes (eg. Juan Tamad) should be shattered and replaced by role models who lived a life of excellence (eg. Paeng Nepomuceno, Hidilyn Diaz and Cecil Licad)
Achievers in fields of worthy pursuits must be celebrated so that the youth may emulate them. In the academe (eg. Janelle Micaela Panganiban, a tribeswoman from Isabela who graduated summa cum laude at New York University); in the sciences (e.g. Dr. Lourdes Jansuy Cruz who won a UNESCO Science award for discovering a toxin a thousand times more powerful than morphine); in literature (e.g. Marivi Soliven, whose novel The Mango Bride is an international best-seller); in technology (e.g,. Diosdado Banatao who created the first 10 Mbit Ethernet CMOS computer chip). More intellectuals and less entertainment role models will auger well for our next generation.
Through its information campaigns, the PCOO can steer the Filipino towards believing in his own capabilities. Our national identity should be shaped as winners who are masters of their own fates.
The Philippines needs new a new narrative… a narrative specially framed to reflect the nation’s virtues, culture, competitive advantages, victories and potential for a bright future.
All these should be part of the mandate of the PCOO. After all, it has the resources to do it. Its benefits will transcend generations.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist