Throughout the course of a week, a six-strong team of writers puts together press releases, speeches, transcripts and statements that are email blasted or handed in person to a long list of journalists and news desks. A battalion of researchers train their thoughts solely on their laptops and smartphones finding the facts and figures necessary for the day’s policy briefs or talking points.
Executive assistants hurry frantically once beckoned but remain stoic when ordered to stand down and remain in plain sight. Alongside the tall, burly men speaking into their headsets or walkie-talkies, photographers and videographers stay attentive in preparation for whatever opportunity may come.
All this for a single man who just happens to be a revered lawmaker of the Republic of the Philippines.
Sticking to a very grueling, clockwork schedule, the staff members follow him to every meeting, legislative hearing, interview, roundtable discussion, and public appearance seeking to document every word uttered, every pronouncement made. Somehow, when spoken by a person who helped craft some of the most important institutions of the land, words become newsworthy and have the potential to become public policy.
The topics covered are numerous—from good governance to good graces, from basic legalese to basic living standards, from post-harvest facilities to students eating more vegetables. The knowledge of the solon is perhaps as encyclopedic as the breadth of his advocacies. After all, the researchers are there to feed him the data he needs.
Vast is the task at hand, that it is often challenging for the team to keep up. Days are spent toiling through piles of reports, academic journals, and posterity recordings, if not on Xeroxing event programs, writing speech summaries, or filing news monitoring reports. Nights tend to be sleepless, not for lack of respite, but out of necessity. Several cups of coffee are served as lifelines, while cup noodles and Sky flakes become standard fare. Office spaces transform into temporary living quarters, blurring the line between work and home, between “that thing you do for a living” and “the thing you do that kills you.”
Many will not find the work environment ideal. The principal sometimes berates and scolds the staff for the errors in their work, as hurtful words do get thrown around even more than sticks and stones. A shaky disposition would easily crumble under the barrage of orders (and sometimes expletives) emanating from a man who can either be just a really impatient boss or a statesman. Of course, it may just be that the pressure is simply commensurate; the challenges the country faces are in no way insignificant, after all. Beset with lackluster economic growth, an impending constitutional impasse, a growing incidence of poverty, and natural disasters exacerbated by human blunder, the Philippines needs far-reaching solutions–and needs them fast.
And so one-hour deadlines become commonplace, multi-tasking cultivated into a core competency. Many hats are worn, while many coats are adorned. An agreement to be on call 24/7 stands as a precondition to having one’s appointment papers signed. Thus, no questions are asked if call times are set at 6:00 am, whether or not work ended at 10:00 pm the day before.
Perhaps there really should be no breaks and timeouts when it comes to facing the country’s incessant problems. Maybe it is all fueled by the optimism that something meaningful would come from all the hard work. Why else would an entire team of writers, videographers, and photographers devote so much time documenting the activities of one man? Why else would researchers and subject matter experts offer their brain power if not for the betterment of the nation? Why else would executive assistants and security professionals loom around often hours on end, patiently waiting for the next order to be given?
And yet, as one’s very existence may become the offering selflessly made in service of the people, it can also become the fodder for the maneuverings of a strongman operating at the top tier of this winner-take-all society. The stakes are only higher the longer power stays in the lawmaker’s hands, making the jobs of his staff all the more demanding. The passage of the years in office brings with it the accumulation of influence to peddle, largesse to dispense but also favors to repay. And so an entire legacy with a distinguished reputation at its core stands to be lost if ever a fall from grace ensues.
Scholars contend that politics has always been centered on rationality, ever since people banded together and tried to organize themselves. But rationality can just be another word for self-preservation, which can also be another word for selfishness or arrogance.
Thus, in a context where signs and symbols become the currency of power, any hint of wavering has the capacity to crumble a network of negotiations and all previously agreed upon arrangements.
Appearances have to be maintained and perceptions kept favorable, especially if modern politics is indeed war by any other means. The writers—or spin doctors—then aim for the article angles that get media mileage and not necessarily the story arcs that reflect reality. Researchers seek the data that boosts their case and gloss over the figures that dismantle it. Executive assistants are chosen for their good looks—not quite for their handle of the legislative process.
This fleet of people will be organized simply as a silent display of power. They will be deployed to control everything and make sure nothing is out of place. No word shall be said out of turn and no course of action shall be undertaken without calculation. And again, all for one man’s power to be maintained. If some good does come about from a man staying in power, does it merit the long nights, the harsh words, the grueling schedule, or the exercise of discretion?
And somehow, he has managed to get elected term after term—neither an easy task nor one that comes without cost. And so some would cry that longevity in Philippine politics assumes depravity. Absolute power—or even small doses of it—is said to corrupt absolutely, especially in this land of dynasties, both familial and expedient in nature. Does in fact the betterment of the people necessitate vesting the elected few with almost unbridled power?
Others however point out that the longer the political career, the greater the opportunity to make a long-lasting impact and propose comprehensive policy solutions. In an immature democracy like the Philippines, some have said, the stability of its institutions is paramount over the progressiveness of its policies. The end justifies the means, Machiavelli once said and ever since he has been characterized as an evil and duplicitous man, favoring what is necessary over what is moral. Mass murder, genocide and political guile have all been attributed to his prescriptions of expediency in statecraft.
So is the lawmaker a selfless statesman or a self-serving strongman who simply wants to perpetuate his position? He might just be both. Maybe despite the system’s predilection to breed corruption, it is still possible to have a politician who gets his slice of cake, while making sure everybody else does, too.
ANONYMOUS is a real person who also happens to be part of the 6-man spin doctor team of a Philippine lawmaker.