Saturday February 1, 2020

Interviewed by Publisher: Sonia Dionela Bermejo
Transcribed by: Naiia Lajoie

With the sensationalism surrounding US politics, particularly the controversy regarding recent American Press Secretaries, one cannot help but wonder whether other nations follow suit when it comes to government and public relations. Since his election in 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has come under direct media scrutiny and has been a subject of comparison to the United States’ own leader Donald Trump. That being said, do their cabinets compare? Manila Up! Publisher and Executive Editor Sonia Bermejo was afforded the opportunity to interview Secretary of the Presidential Communications Office of the Philippines Martín Andanar, and coming from a broadcaster background himself, this exclusive discusses what internal policies are like directly from the source.

Secretary Andanar’s academic journey begins at the Pilot Elementary School in Surigao City. His father hails from Surigao, which Andanar proudly states is the surfing capital of the Philippines. He finished his elementary level studies at Xavier University in Ateneo de Cagayan, and thereafter spent his high school years in Cagayan de Oro as well as Quezon City, Manila. He went on to attend the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, but due to a lack of interest in his studies he opted to move to Australia with his mother instead, where he subsequently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Social and Political Studies & Film and Media Studies from Federation University. Like so many of his fellow Australian classmates, he worked during this time to make ends meet. He found employment working in a Chinese restaurant, in addition to being a radio presenter for a station in Melbourne. Andanar returned to the Philippines in 1998 where he capitalized on his degree and practical newscaster experience, garnering him a job as a news anchor for GMA 7. He bounced around networks; from GMA to the People’s Television Network (PTV) and onto ABC 5 (now TV5), ultimately working on Philippine air for sixteen years. During this time he held the positions of news executive, on cam anchor, radio anchor, audio/image voice over, and even initiated the creation of the “online news portal” of TV5 – all leading up to his departure in 2016.

While his on camera personality had to remain apolitical, Andanar’s personal life was quite politically charged. In 2013 he referenced the then Mayor Duterte while reporting on criminals “riding-in-tandem” (a crime wherein a motorcyclist has control of bike while their accomplice sits behind them wielding a weapon, committing acts such as drive-by shootings). “If you want [something like] this solved, you’d have to elect someone like Mayor Duterte” he reported. “If he can take care of a city like Davao – situated in one of the most hostile environments – then he already has an established track record” and could presumably due so on a larger, national scale. In 2015 Andanar had the opportunity to interview Duterte on his personal in broadcasting, when Duterte ran for the presidency in 2016, Andanar decided to help him. He goes on to explain:

In the Philippines, these crimes are a part of daily living. It takes discipline [to do what Duterte does]. Look at a political map, decipher who can solve these problems, anticipate which citizens would not follow the rule of law; with bribery, for example. Or using middle men during government transactions… There was a weak rule of law in our country. In Davao, the law was working for the people. Therefore there must be something in the leader. In the middle of Mindanao, Davao became the most peaceful and progressive. This guy must be doing something right.

Through Duterte’s campaign, Andanar got to know him on a more personal level and became close with his special assistant, Bong Go. Once Duterte secured his political position he offered Andanar a job. Having foreseen Duterte’s potential in leadership, there was now a monumental workload ahead of them in order to make true on all of Duterte’s campaign promises. Andanar was not fazed by the changes needing to be made, and in hindsight touches on what they as a party have done to help Manila – and the Philippines in general – boom once more. In terms of the War on Drugs, crime in the country is down to 5.6%, which is already down from the 7% recorded in June of 2019. 400,000 drug dealers have surrendered themselves to the authorities, resulting in the price of shabu (methamphetamine) shooting up from PHP 2,800/gram to PHP 6,800. Moreover 15,000 barangays (villages) have been declared drug-free. Still, Andanar presses on, stating 17,000 more need to be cleared.

Regarding the country’s economy, 23% of the Philippines’ population was living below poverty level in 2015. Duterte made an oath to bring that number down to 14% during his term. Just a few short weeks ago, that initial 23% was down to 16%. Andanar anticipates that by the end of 2022 – “perhaps even the end of 2020”, he states – Duterte’s 14% can be realized. He then shifts the topic to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front; how they have joined the government by signing the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which both houses of congress agree to enact into law. “Peace and order-wise, we have already delivered. There is a National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, showing unparalleled achievements in terms of numbers of rebels surrendering” he explains. “Because we [the government] are aggressive. The strategy is no longer just militaristic. It involves civilians, churches, non-profits, and businesses giving a helping hand”.

When it comes to infrastructure, anyone who has visited the Philippines is well aware that this is a perpetual issue. Traffic is always a problem in Metro Manila, but Andanar stresses that the first subway system in the Philippines is already under construction. By the end of Duterte’s term there will supposedly be two or three stations already in operation. Furthermore, the longest bridge connecting Lanao del Norte and Misamis Occidental has also been green-lit; a project that is longer than the existing San Juanico Bridge built during the Marcos era. He also tells of rehabilitating the railway, extending it north to the Clark International Airport in Pampanga, and south beyond Los Baños, Laguna to the Bicol region. He reassures that everything has already been purchased and is underway, drawing from the construction of the newly built New Clark City Athletics Stadium which hosted the recent Southeast Asian Games. After the success of hosting this world class sporting event, the New Clark City Aquatics Center is already slated to host the 2020 Asian Swimming Championships. With so much change having occurred in such a short amount of time, Andanar reflects on his proudest achievements. He unearths the “dark times” of journalism in the Philippines, mentioning the Maguindanao Massacre having happened just ten years ago, and how at the time the Philippines was regarded as one of the top five most dangerous countries for journalists. “[Since then] we have instituted policy reforms: Freedom of information, making the government transparent. Security of the media through Administrative Order #1, so the government protects the media. Policies that open the government to scrutiny” he lists. They have also reformed the Philippine Broadcasting Service from a tattered radio network to implementing three new radio stations, and even the People’s Television Network has experienced a great change from old to new. The launch of the first Mindanao Media Hub has expanded government channels; the largest of which was previously in Manila, and now future plans will expand them to Cebu. What is arguably most impressive and significant is the first Government Strategic Communications Academy in Bukidnon, which will teach information officers from the barangays, municipalities, cities, provinces, regions, and within the national government. “Finally we will be operating using a communications paradigm that allows the national and local governments to talk to each other” Andanar exclaims.

We have instituted so many changes in our department. I just want to focus on finishing and delivering these changes before I leave office. I’ll cross that bridge [of what comes next] when I get there. Work hard, realize these dreams, and fight for the freedom of information to become law instead of just an executive order. We’re continuing to improve the Philippines’ news agencies; PTV, Radyo Pilipinas, the Philippine Information Agency, the National Printing Office, and the newly created Global Media Affairs Office since we don’t have media attach és anymore. The last time the media had press attach és was during the time of President Marcos. Carried by President Aquino but slowly taken away. It’s about the initiatives we have done; I have a competent team that follows through on delivering these promises so that Duterte will have a significant legacy. We keep on working to improve the performance of other agencies. We digitized all of the presidential tapes to facilitate people researching our history. We are birthing digital archives.

Regardless of how people feel about the candor of President Duterte, he and his cabinet have undoubtedly and drastically changed the lives of the average Filipino during his time in office. Andanar, from his reporting days to his serving ones, always offers his viewpoint, “People have criticized Duterte, but people need to be more informed of what’s happening on the ground. He has an 80% approval rating for his war on hard drugs, and a 78% satisfaction rating in the Philippines regarding human rights”. While that latter statistic may come across as contradictory to what has been widely portrayed in the news, he counters, “As [human rights] includes universal healthcare, Duterte signed that bill. Free education for everybody – he signed that law. Emancipation of the poor people from poverty – he lifted those 5.9 million Filipinos from it. Any world leader would be jumping for joy if they had a 78% approval rating. We don’t embellish the news. It’s not difficult, because we don’t have to lie.” He goes on:

After Filipinos experience all of the good things happening during the Duterte administration, the people will clamor for more change and continuity for the projects. There is so much pressure for the next president due to the gold standard service Duterte has delivered. Big companies are paying taxes due to him being so tough. He runs the country with an iron fist. The Filipino people will not allow a weak leader to replace him.

In closing, Andanar simply stated that he wants to thank the public for their continued support. “I want the people to realize that this government works so hard. We’ve cleaned Boracay in just six months. We’ve ended our war on the Moro Islamic Front, jailed drug lords, the same way the president has fired many corrupt officials. And those who evade taxes should start paying up. We strive to deliver everything we can. Realize that the president has already delivered on his four promises”. Now, Secretary Martín Andanar would like to invite foreigners to come and visit the Philippines, given his family is no stranger to travel themselves. His twenty year old daughter is studying abroad at Boston University, while his son is sixteen and in eleventh grade. He and his wife, who is an active cabinet spouse, live in Manila. During his downtime – should it ever happen – he tries to go to Surigao to surf (given it is, after all, the surfing capital of the Philippines), or to Mindanao to see his mother’s side of the family. While this entrepreneur by art created News5 Everywhere and the imaging of Radyo Singko, it was Duterte who gave him enough leeway to improve the media. For that, he – and we the people – are thankful.

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