A matter for Buddy, attention Ducky

Manila Standard 1 Nov 1991

Whatever the scenario in 1992 – elections or no elections – Uncle Sam is sure to intervene in our political affairs. The objective: to get pro-bases people into Malacañang Palace and Congress in one fell swoop, the quicker to reverse the senate ruling on the bases treaty and the better to ensure the stay of US military forces in Subic all the way to forever.

Anti-bases people have their work cut out for them: a bases-information campaign to reinforce the anti-bases sentiment that has begun to take hold in the hearts and minds of thinking Filipinos, and also to counter US propaganda claiming that majority of Filipinos remain pro-bases (meaning, intervention is justified).

Ideally it is government, particular, the Executive department, that should be conducting a bases-information campaign. But having taken a pro-bases line, the Executive can hardly be expected to countenance anything but pro-bases propaganda; not even if, back in July 1990, Press Secretary Tomas “Buddy” Gomez promised on live television (9, Tell the People) that an “objective” info campaign was in the works.

But those were the days when Mrs. Aquino’s options were still open, and Secretary Gomez must really have been trying to come up with something to satisfy both the pros and antis.

Not incidentally, those were also the last days of Noel Garth Tolentino as press undersecretary and director-general of the Philippine Information Agency (PIA). Supremely confident that Malacañang would go anti-bases (a la Health Secretary Alfredo Bengzon), Tolentino made the mistake of preparing an unabashedly anti-bases campaign in February 1990, in time for the exploratory talks. Of course it was rejected by Malacañang, and I suspect that it’s what cost him his job. By November he was out.

For my part, as the writer commissioned by Tolentino to plan and write the materials for the proposed multi-media campaign, I was prepared to be objective. But Tolentino was adamant, he had the primary messages all thought out: one, niloko tayo ng Kanô; two, kaya natin mag-isa; three, kailangan nating maghanda.

Mostly I organized the information into modules, each focusing on a particular bases issue: extent, duration, jurisdiction, compensation, nuclear weapons, AIDS, etc., tracing how each arose and how the Americans responded through theyears, from the 1890s to the 1990s. Also I turned out several slogans for stickers and buttons, billboards and streamers; several scripts for radio andTV spots / teasers; a script for a mini-docu; a primer on the bases, for print / leaflets; and translated into Filipino a history of the US bases in the Philippines, for serializing in comics spreads. To collaborate with Fred Llongoren on the comics materials, I called in Iskho Lopez (my one-and-off editor), and he turned out, besides, a couple of poems and script for a film commercial. All of the above duly approved by Tolentino. In charge of production was Leo Martinez, Tolentino’s creative consultant, who had recommended me for the job.

Alas, Leo didn’t get farther than demo tapes of some radio spots, which I suppose was all the Palace needed to say no. And, alas, I am still trying to collect my fee, so I can pay Iskho (so he can pay Domingo Landicho, the poet, who sent in a few verses).

First I was told that Tolentino and Bengzon were still trying to raise funds from private sources. Then I was told that my check was ready but the Commission on Audit was auditing the Tolentino administration’s finances so no checks were being released. Later, I was told that my appointment papers had been sent to the Department of Budget and Management for approval andwere stuck there.

Incensed, I wrote to the Officer-in-Charge of PIA, a Paul Alvarez, to complain. I pointed out that my appointment was for two months only, meaning, it didn’t need the approvalof the CSC, and that I had done work for PIA before and never encountered any such problem. I intimated that perhaps I was being punished for being anti-bases?

In November I received a response: a phone call from no less than Press Undersecretary Horacio “Ducky” Paredes, whom I had met once, some ten years ago. He came on like an old friend, eager to help out, explaining that there was nothing political about the stopping of my check, only that Tolentino had so juggled funds, they were still straightening things out. He asked for a little time, till the end of the year. Come Christmas I called to remind him. He wouldn’t even come to the phone.

That was a whole year ago. Since then – against all odds, despite Cory’s and the US government’s pro-bases propaganda, despite Pinatubo and the economy’s dire need for aid, despite amboys Dick Gordon, Sonny Osmeñá, Joey Lina, Tito Sotto, and Joey de Leon – the Senate has ruled on the bases, the Terrific Twelve saying NO to the proposed treaty. I was so high, I forgave and forgot Tolentino and Paredes.

One year or three years to withdraw, it almost doesn’t seem to matter (given how long we’ve waited), so long as the withdrawal process is irreversible. And if the Terrific Twelve, along with Luis Taruc, Solita Monsod, Renato Constantino Jr., JoeCon, and others like them, were to run and / or go all out to campaign for anti-bases candidates come 1992, tiyak, may tulog ang Kanô.