The palace however has no bulldozer to heap scorn on the holier-than-thou local press. Its stable of spokesmen looks barren of the combative type.
Mac Macalintal, the consigliere , was seconded to act as the palace Merlin.
Macalintal was right, or so it seems. His shrift on the derelict local media was right on target. As a lawyer, his drift is to untangle the mess and pound on his argument that there is, indeed, morality among thieves.
GMA’s entourage has an embedded press. All local tri-media were represented. From the time the president and her company reached the United States , the freeloaders included, reports from the encased media came trickling in.
That’s the idea of media embedding. The chroniclers are right there where the action is. It’s like a diarist in the company of the VIP. Some US Presidents, in writing their memoirs, have secretaries on hand, their conversations or reveries recorded for posterity.
With the encased media, the desk is apprehension-free of missing the best event or faux pas worthy of front page from the much-ballyhooed official visit.
The Barack Obama invitation was the much awaited invite from the White House given the number of lost opportunities to meet the US president. Obama’s oft repeated line, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history…” many believed was a short shrift on GMA, among other leaders within the mould of like, Robert Mugabe. But all these turned out to be plain conjectures, just like the rumour floated by Ping Lacson and Ramon Tulfo that the First Gentleman can never set foot on US soil again because of a pending warrant of arrest for money laundering. FG’s abrupt disembarkation at Osaka on the couple’s trip to US sometime last year gave rise to the speculation. FG’s bum stomach was a ruse, the critics chorused. One favourite account abuzz in Makati coffee shops was the alleged bad venture of FG with investment houses in the US that went belly up. It was claimed that FG lost millions of dollars in skewed placements. It was schadenfreude in these parts.
But the meet with Obama was the statement precisely to dispel the tale. It was a perfect trip reinstating the president in good stead with the White House and in good stature with equally respected world leaders. The local media got it all wrong. Obama was just plain busy.
The official visit was finally announced in July, 2009. This is the best time to bring in a friendly gallery just like the configuration of the Batasan hakot in her every SONA, complete with a press coterie.
In this age and time, how can one miss unusual dinners in Washington DC and New York ? Gil Cabacungan, Jr. of PDI bragged his Twitter. In typical pinoy fashion, he minimized the impact of Rey Langit’s shooting a question on Obama during the press con.
More than a dozen Filipino journalists were here covering President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and US President Barack Obama’s “conversation” Thursday (Friday in Manila ) at the Oval Office but it was Langit, with his trademark modulated voice, who was handpicked by Malacañang to ask one of only two questions at the joint briefing. The only other question was asked by a member of the White House press corps.
Why him? Malacañang reporters wanted to know. Obama might think all Pinoys talk like Langit.
“He’s not even a working journalist; he’s a news anchor and commentator,” said one Filipino TV reporter, adding that the Palace should have been more even-handed in handing out the special privilege.
When Obama said he was ready to take one question from a Filipino reporter, there was a cacophony of coughs and snickers as Langit asked his question: “I am from the Philippine media, sir. It’s noted that you’re the first Asian head of state to be afforded by President Obama this—such an invitation. As much as this is your first time to see President Obama in person and you have talked to him, could you kindly share to [sic] us, Madam President, your impressions of the American President?”
‘You blew your chance’
One US journalist quipped, “You blew your chance, dude,” expecting Filipino reporters to ask tough questions of the US leader.
Right after sending the feed, the PDI reporter twittered the minute by minute encounter:
The rest of the White House visit, as they say, is better off tweeted:
1:34 p.m. (1:34 a.m. Friday in Manila )—There are 21 of us—Philippine media and Malacañang staff—on our way to the White House. Strict security. Passports being checked.
1:39 p.m.—Media group enters through Pennsylvania Avenue toward the North Lawn. Very warm 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit. A fine day to visit Obama.
1:49 p.m.— Wish Rizal Park were as pretty as DC. Wouldn’t mind spending the whole day here. Chants of “GMA, terrorist” from less than a dozen Bayan USA protesters at the White House gate breaks my wishful thinking.
2:25 p.m.—Passed through security. Waiting at pebble beach across West Wing lobby.
2:30 p.m.—GMA is running late! We need an hour to be prepped in the press briefing area. We’re looking for Obama’s pet dog, Bo. If we can’t get a photo op with Barack and Michelle, we’ll settle for the First Dog.
2:50 p.m.—CNN’S Washington correspondent Ed Henry is here. TV reporters in our group line up to have their picture with him. Still no sign of GMA. FG’s not coming because it ain’t a state visit.
2:59 p.m.—We’re gathered at West Wing driveway as GMA is about to arrive. Seven cameramen from international press get ready to shoot. Caucasians are out enjoying the sun while we Pinoys head for the nearest shade.
3:10 p.m.—GMA arrives in black limo with Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Speaker Prospero Nograles, Sen. Miriam Santiago, Heherson Alvarez, presidential adviser on global warming and climate change, and Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo. Also present are Philippine Ambassador Willy Gaa and staff Patricia Paez and Mei Ann Austria. Loud protests greet GMA as she enters the gate. We could hear the racket.
Lito Lapid left behind
3:27 p.m.—We’re at the James S. Brady press briefing room. Reporters take turns taking photos at the podium with White House seal in the background. Just fooling around while Madam and the dude talk in the Oval Office.
3:31 p.m.—Just got word: Palace chose Rey Langit to ask Obama a question in the presscon. Why him? Malacañang reporters want to know. Obama might think all Pinoys talk like him.
3:35 p.m.—FYI: GMA ignored Sen. Lito Lapid’s pleas to take him along to meet Obama. Instead, she chose her girl Friday, Remedios Poblador, and her climate change adviser, Sen. Alvarez.
3:43 p.m.—The press room is as big as the one in the Palace but with comfy leather seats and nice view of the White House lawn. Five-minute warning for photographers to come in.
3:47 p.m.—We’re in the hallway where ex-President George W. Bush used to walk in the news videos going to Oval Office. Cool.
The PDI reporter, and the rest of his gang, 21 all, dwelt on Lito Lapid rabid on his failure to get a photo-op with Obama, and Rey Langit’s inanities in baritone.
Here’s Cabacungan’s complete account on GMA’s US sojourn from July 30 to August 1, 2009:
2009-07-30: Talks with Obama could touch on Arroyo legacy
The talks between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and US President Barack Obama have no fixed agenda and could touch on Ms Arroyo’s “legacy” when she leaves office next year, an official of the US Department of State said on Wednesday.
2009-07-30: US aware of FilAm’s torture case — official
The United States government is aware of the alleged abduction and torture of Filipino-American Melissa Roxas and is taking the case seriously, a senior State Department official said.
2009-07-30: Lapid hopes to meet Obama in Washington
Senator Lito Lapid is a man on a mission on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s trip to the White House.
2009-07-30: Jetlagged Arroyo parties with FilAm group
WASHINGTON (via PLDT) — A travel weary President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo frolicked in the company of nearly 500 Filipino-American supporters, mostly her “kabalen” (provincemates), at a hotel dinner party here ahead of her meeting with United States President Barack Obama.
2009-07-30: Go to US, Mike Arroyo dares Estrada, Lacson
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s husband has posed a challenge to former President Joseph Estrada and Senator Panfilo Lacson: Set foot on US soil, as he has done.
2009-07-31: Arroyo meets with key US officials, solons
WASHINGTON DC – (UPDATE) Press Secretary Cerge Remonde reported that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has wrapped up several meetings with key American lawmakers and government officials at her Capitol Suite at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC on Thursday morning (late Thursday in Manila).
2009-07-31: At last, Arroyo meets Obama
WASHINGTON (VIA PLDT)—The meeting that was to take place at the White House between 2 and 3 a.m. Friday (Philippine time) was a meeting of firsts.
2009-07-31: Arroyo party braces for US protests
WASHINGTON (VIA PLDT)— A travel weary President Macapagal-Arroyo frolicked in the company of nearly 500 Filipino-American supporters, mostly her kabalen (provincemates), at a hotel dinner party here ahead of her meeting with US President Barack Obama.
2009-07-31: Arroyo arrives at White House
WASHINGTON DC – (UPDATE) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has arrived at the White House in a black limousine early Friday (Philippine time).
2009-07-31: Lapid doesn’t get wish to meet Obama
Senator Lito Lapid didn’t get his wish to be included in a select group of Philippine officials, led by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who were to meet US President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday.
2009-07-31: All Lito Lapid wants is photo op with Obama
WASHINGTON (VIA PLDT)— Hasn’t Sen. Lito Lapid heard of the wonders of Photoshop?
2009-07-31: Obama names RP as key link of US with ASEAN
WASHINGTON DC – (UPDATE) US President Barack Obama Thursday (early Friday in Manila ) announced the appointment of the Philippines as chief coordinator between the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
2009-07-31: Arroyo glories in praises from Obama
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Thursday (Friday in Manila ) basked in the praises heaped by President Barack Obama, who cited her efforts in counter-terrorism, achieving peace in Mindanao, her pro-American stand on human rights violations in Burma and against the proliferation of nuclear power in the region.
2009-08-01: Obama all praise for Arroyo
WASHINGTON, DC — President Barack Obama has designated the Philippines as its regional coordinator in firming up US ties with Southeast Asian countries but skirted talk that he would skip the Philippines in his planned trip to the region starting in Indonesia later this year.
2009-08-01: Critics: RP glorified errand boy of US
Malacañang yesterday trumpeted President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s meeting with President Barack Obama and the country’s designation as the US regional coordinator with Southeast Asia as a “triumph for all Filipinos.”
2009-08-01: Arroyo meeting with Clinton pushes through
WASHINGTON DC — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed through at 4:30 p.m. Friday (Saturday in Manila ) at the presidential suite of the Willard Hotel .
2009-08-01: No photo op with Barack; First Dog will do
(Excerpts from the following were posted Friday on inquirerdotnet as tweets.) WASHINGTON , DC — Veteran broadcaster Rey Langit was the chosen one.
2009-08-01: Beer summit overshadows Obama-Arroyo gig
WASHINGTON, DC — President Barack Obama tried to coax White House reporters into highlighting his Thursday meeting with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and downplaying his “beer summit”—triggered by a false arrest with racist undertones—over race—with a Harvard professor and a policeman.
2009-08-01: Arroyo says foes’ allegations ‘innuendos’
WASHINGTON, DC — Defending herself against attacks at home, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo told US President Barack Obama at their meeting Thursday that all allegations against her were mere “innuendos.”
2009-08-01: Arroyo orders 10 days of mourning
(UPDATE) A 10-day period of national mourning has been ordered by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for the woman she called a “national treasure.”
2009-08-01: Obama merely ‘ratified’ RP role as ‘bridge’
WASHINGTON DC — A day after President Barack Obama designated the Philippines as coordinator of the United States to Southeast Asian countries, Malacañang grudgingly admitted that this role was nothing new.
2009-08-01: Arroyo plea: Preserve Coral Triangle
WASHINGTON, DC — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Friday appealed to other countries to do their share in preserving the Coral Triangle, one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems and the biggest source of fish products in the world.
2009-08-01: Arroyo to cut US visit short – Ermita
(UPDATE 2) Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita has announced that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will cut short her US trip to return to the Philippines and join Filipinos in grieving over the death of former president Corazon Aquino.
Nothing was mentioned by the Philippine media about the dinners in Le Cirque in Lexington Ave. New York and Bobby Van’s in Washington DC near McPherson and Lafayette Squares. They were 21 all including Malacanang staff whom Philippine media have grown too fond of. From where does one think get the information on deviations from the itineraries? From the Malacanang staff and protocol. The encased Philippine media are familiar fixtures in Malacanang that in any press con, the president’s spokesperson does not need the moderator’s prologue of the identity or provenance of the reporter fielding the question. The spokesperson calls them by their first name, proof of familiarity, breeding contempt.
Macalintal wants to say that the encased Philippine media pigged out with the delegation whether in Washington and New York as well . The dinners were what we call “blow outs”, part of our cultural eating habits no matter where we are (there’s a daily blow-out in any given government office for various reasons: birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, a child’s passing a board exam or graduation,etc). They were celebrating for proving the First Couple’s critics wrong. Right after the bacchanals, GMA’s company was in festive mood to challenge Ping Lacson or Erap to travel to America and see who gets arrested.
If Philippine media failed to leak the events to the Philippine press it was because of hiya.
They took part in and of course enjoyed the parties and should we expect them to rat on the likes of Danny Suarez and Martin Romualdez? Being in a cold and far away place, we are not saying that envelops changed hands. Suarez is noted for his generosity to the press specially. In Quezon, the PDI correspondent is a known ally, and under the pocket, of Suarez. Notwithstanding the magnitude of the 10MW biomass power plant to be owned and operated by the Suarez family and the latter’s pending P1B loan with the Development Bank of the Philippines, nothing was heard from the local reporter.
Some people were indeed red in the face when the Washington Post and the New York Post went to town front paging the lavish dinners. It took two American newspapers to spot the depravity of the feasts.
Here’s a poor country upfront in the White House begging for aid where its elected officials in the company of journalists of what was touted to be the freest press in Asia bingeing in two of the most expensive restaurants in the US .
So, who will guard the guards? The ensuing uproar and the vilification of Suarez and Romualdez were just a Freudian slip of saving faces.
That was what Mac wanted to say.