A mockery of meritocracy and truth

Where but in the Philippines does a sorely unqualified and inexperienced figure get appointed to a critical position in government as reward for services rendered during a political campaign?
Margaux “Mocha” Uson’s appointment on May 8 as assistant secretary at the Presidential Communications Operations Office is the latest proof. She has been assigned to take charge of PCOO’s social media.
President Rodrigo Duterte made no secret of the reason Uson has been with his government. “Utang na loob ko yan sa kanya because they offered their services for free,” he said. “It’s my time to believe in them.”
Uson’s position at PCOO is not her first job in government. In January, Duterte appointed her to the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board where and she and MTRCB chairperson Rachel Arenas and board members didn’t exactly see eye to eye.
Political “payback” is, of course, nothing new in the Philippines and elsewhere. Like many before him, Duterte was quick to name his friends and partners in Davao and his supporters to government positions when he assumed the presidency.
Uson’s appointment, however, raises the question of how much – or how little – the president values meritocracy.
Communications is a vital government service. Knowledge, accuracy, skills, training and experience should be key considerations in appointing anyone to the PCOO.
Even veteran journalists and communicators who once held positions in the Palace’s press or communications office have had difficulty meeting the demands of the job. Grave mistakes and faux pas were committed, prompting some of them to leave their posts.
I really wonder how a Mocha Uson can handle the job?
It was bad enough when she was appointed to the MTRCB board. Other board members pointed out that MTRCB members come from various sectors representing industries such as film, broadcast, print and other allied occupations. They were worried that Uson’s background and past experiences will denigrate the “regulatory” aspect of the MTRCB responsibilities. How can she regulate lewd, indecent and vulgar shows when she herself used to be part of those shows, some of them asked.
Now, it has gotten worse. For her inexperience and lack of qualifications, the newly appointed assistant secretary for social media will get a monthly gross salary of at least P106,454, plus allowances and bonuses. That’s taxpayers’ money going to someone who we fear will shortchange the public when it comes to performance and services as assistant communications secretary.
A young assistant professor in Chemistry at the University of the Philippines, with his hard-earned Ph.D. from Houston, Texas, gets a salary of P50,000 (take home pay of P35,000). It is unfair!!

Do not be her
Renowned journalist Inday Espina-Varona raised an interesting and valid point about Uson’s appointment. She said we should not adopt double standards in looking at the appointment. We should look only at her track record and ignore what she was in her past in judging her qualification for the job of assistant secretary.
Varona said Uson should face opposition, non-stop, for these reasons and only for these reasons: “She lies. She posits her lies as questions – knowing these are lies – and then shrugs off the repercussions and moves on to the next lie. She uses insults – grave insults – as a substitute for discourse. She uses and fuels the use of stereotypes to defend an issue or call the charge against someone. She encourages violence against dissenters, critics and people seen as ‘others.’”
“DO NOT BE HER,” Varona repeatedly exhorted those who oppose Uson’s appointment.
Sen. Leila De Lima echoed Varona’s views and asked Uson’s detractors to stop slut-shaming her.
“I would ask people not to slut-shame her, to use her past career, relationships, or sexual history to malign her, to subject her to misogynistic attacks, or any other form of ad hominem attacks, for that matter,” she said.
But, at the same time, the senator asked Uson to be a purveyor of truth, to stop spreading fake news and lies, and to be “more circumspect about her choice of words and way of saying them,” especially as children listen to public officials and because she is no longer just a private blogger or social media personality but an assistant secretary.
Journalist Ellen Tordesillas says it better: “Why question Uson’s appointment? She’s the best alter ego of the President. They pass on unsubstantiated claims as ‘tamang balita’ (correct news) and dismiss truth as ‘fake news.’ They deserve one another.”

Difficult communication
It was difficult to watch presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella flounder at his May 18 press briefing. Everything went smoothly with his prepared speech on how well the Philippines is doing: Remittances increased. Agricultural production increased. Floodings in Mindanao have been addressed…
Then he opened the floor to questions.
It was most painful to watch him discombobulating when he was bombarded with questions about President Duterte’s pronouncement rejecting grants from the European Union that he said may allow the EU to interfere with the country’s internal policies.
Of course, he emphasized that “the President has approved the recommendation of the Department of Finance,” but could not answer why the DOF would do that. He clarified that the grants pertain to projects or programs that affect the autonomy of the country.
When asked to specify the grants and how these would have the supposed effects the president was afraid of, Abella either said he could not comment, referred the matter to the DOF, or gave vague and open-ended answers.
The reporters were naturally persistent, asking one follow-up question after another. To his credit, Abella did not lose his cool. Neither did he give what was the obvious answer – that Duterte considers EU’s criticisms of his human rights records as a consequence of the extrajudicial killings as interference in our domestic policy.
Of course, now that Uson is at the Palace, Abella and the PCOO can always depend on her to put a spin on the reporters’ questions and public criticisms the President’s decision has elicited.

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