This Week in Media (October 3 to 7, 2022)

Palace defends Marcos Jr.’s unannounced Singapore trip as a productive business trip; but three Palace officials resign

LESS THAN a week after his return from New York, amid continuing recovery efforts for the victims of Super Typhoon Karding, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. flew to Singapore on October 1 to attend the Formula One Grand Prix event. 

The trip was not on schedule and was unannounced by the Palace until after it was over. Photos of the President at the sporting event circulated in social media. Journalists immediately picked the story and admitted that they could not get confirmation from any Palace official. Based on pictures posted, reports said that the entourage included family members: First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos, his son Ilocos Rep. Sandro Marcos and Sandro’s rumored girlfriend, his cousin, House Speaker Martin Romualdez; as well as some politicians including Cavite Rep. Aniela Tolentino. 

The President made three other trips in September, two of which were state visits to ASEAN countries: Indonesia (September 4-6) and Singapore (September 6-7). A working visit brought him to the United States to attend the UN General Assembly in New York (September 18-24). Members of the Palace press corps traveled with the official delegation and reported on all the activities. In contrast, the Palace kept mum when media asked for details before the President returned to Manila. 

On October 2, news reports questioned Marcos’ latest trip, citing peasant groups and political groups tagging the trip as “insensitive,” “shameless,” and “callous.”

News organizations, including and Rappler, noted that the cost of the race tickets range from PHP5,250 (general admission) to PHP470,412 (exclusive) for a two-day pass. Reports cited that Marcos and his company watched the race at the exclusive F1 Paddock Club which charges around PHP400 thousand per person.

No details about his actual departure and which flights he took were confirmed.

On October 3, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles finally confirmed the Singapore trip thru Facebook describing it as “productive.” Angeles shared a screengrab of a post by Tan See Leng, Singapore’s Minister of Manpower, who said that they affirmed “bilateral economic relationships” on the sidelines of the race.

On the same day, Marcos also posted on his Instagram a gallery of photos from the event. He compared F1 racing to golf to which was “the best way to drum-up business.” His caption also assured meeting potential investors for the Philippines. But none of these were identified.

The Manila Bulletin only echoed the administration’s response with no questions asked or answered in its updates on the trip. Accounts in the other two broadsheets, The Philippine Star and The Philippine Daily Inquirer, included quotes critical of the “luxurious” trip.

TV Patrol emphasized Malacañang’s remarkable silence by reiterating several unanswered questions: Is the trip official? When did the President leave? Who paid for it?  The report also noted journalists’ attempts to ask Marcos Jr. about it at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Metro Manila Subway Project in Pasig. But the President ignored the questions.

On October 4, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, former Supreme Court Chief Justice, told the media that information about the funding of the trip was “irrelevant.” Bersamin clarified that they were not privy to the details and tried to deflect criticism by saying that Marcos was “still performing his presidential mandate” while at it.

Rappler’s John Nery in his column On October 6, berated Bersamin’s rationalizations of the President’s excursion. The journalist pointed out that as former Chief Justice, the Executive Secretary’s arguments were “ridiculous.” It was ironic, Nery said, that Bersamin, a person of law, was attacking the constitutionally guaranteed right of the public to criticize government officials. 

Marcos’ attendance at the F1 race revives the image of Bongbong, the youngest of and only son in the family, as a party boy when his father was President. The Palace had publicized the number of parties held in Malacanang since his inauguration; Marcos already held two birthday parties in Malacanang: his mother Imelda’s on July 2; and, his on September 13, and his presence had been duly reported in other parties by the media. Marcos also attended the Eric Clapton concert in New York and enjoyed t a luncheon with the business group in a high-end New York restaurant. Reports on the working visit should have noted who was paying for the cost of his attendance and that of his family and party in all of these events.

Through the week, the media (ANC, Interaksyon, Bulalat, GMA News, among others) continued to report voices of dissent against the obvious cover-up by Marcos and his government. Media should continue to flag the dismissal of inquiries into these matters which are of legitimate public concern. 

Reappointments and resignations 

Meanwhile, back in the Palace, reappointments and resignations were duly reported in the media, with sharper focus on the latter.  But coverage did not discuss what the resignations indicated, if these should signal a failure of management in the conduct of Presidential affairs. 

On October 4, three resignation announcements were made: Presidential Chief of Staff (PCS) Vic Rodriguez; Press Secretary Angeles; and, Commission on Audit (COA) chief Jose Calida.

That afternoon, Malacañang confirmed that Rodriguez resigned for “personal reasons.” Rodriguez initially resigned as Executive Secretary on September 17 but was given the PCS role. Media recalled that Presidential consultant Juan Ponce Enrile was against his delegation as PCS since its mandate was redundant as other Presidential staff also held some of its duties. The PCS was a position initiated by Gloria Arroyo during her term but which she later withdrew. The Executive Secretary has always served as the “little president,” sometimes bigger than the White House Chief of Staff.

Few hours later, Angeles announced her resignation as press secretary for “health reasons.”  It was followed by the announcement of Lawyer Jose Calida who resigned as COA chief without providing any explanation. 

BusinessMirror noted that all three were among the 15 Marcos appointees (Cabinet secretaries and other officials under the Office of the President) bypassed by the Commission on Appointments as the sessions adjourned last October 1. 

Earlier that day, CNN Philippines reported that 10 re-appointees, all Cabinet Secretaries, took their oaths in Malacañang: Benjamin Diokno (Department of Finance); Manuel Bonoan (Department of Public Works and Highways); Alfredo Pascual (Department of Trade and Industry); Erwin Tulfo (Department of Social Welfare and Development); Jaime Bautista (Department of Transportation); Renato Solidum Jr. (Department of Science and Technology); Raphael Lotilla (Department of Energy); Maria Susana Ople (Department of Migrant Workers); Arsenio Balisacan (National Economic and Development Authority); Jose Acuzar (Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development). Still no appointment made for the health secretary position. 

Bersamin was sworn in as the new Executive Secretary. 

Not present in the ceremony were: Secretary Ivan Uy of the Department Information and Communications Technology (DICT) who was away on a trip; and Nelson Celis, a Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner. 

On October 6, reported that several personalities were being considered to replace Angeles. Among them, Transportation Undersecretary Cesar Chavez; Mike Toledo, an executive for Metro Pacific Investments Corporation and former Presidential Spokesperson for President Joseph Estrada; and, former Cavite Rep. Gilbert Remulla.

On the same day, TeleRadyo’s Karmina Constantino emphasized the importance of filling the vacancy to ensure the flow of and media access to information about the conduct of Presidential affairs. The report interviewed Prof. Danilo Arao of the University of the Philippines who encouraged the President to find someone who will safeguard transparency and accountability as well as freedom of information and of the press.

Also on October 6, Marcos reappointed Uy as DICT secretary. He also reappointed Celis and appointed Ernesto Maceda as Comelec commissioners.

On October 7, media reported that lawyer Cheloy Velicaria-Garfil resigned as chief of the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board, and accepted her appointment as undersecretary and officer-in-charge of the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS).

As of press time, Marcos has yet to find replacements for the other vacant posts.

CMFR flags other issues this week: