Relief and reform

Greg MacabentaBy Greg Macabenta

The past week I have received email messages from Manila, responding to a series of columns that I wrote about the need for “relief and reform” in the Philippines. These responses have given a badly need boost to my hopes for our country. In sum, they’re saying that we have not talking to the wind, that our expressions of concern over the qualifications of the would-be presidential candidates and the way the 2010 elections will be conducted are shared by other well-meaning individuals.

Reacting to my piece last week that “dared” the presidential candidates to agree to a series of debates being proposed by Filipino organizations in the United States, Senator Ed Angara sent me this note:
“Your column ‘Dare to Debate,” challenging the Presidential candidates to hold a series of debates on their programs and vision, is an exciting prospect and proposal.

“It’s about time we put a stop to the ‘dumbing down’ of our electorate and instead incite their hopes and dreams of their increased potential.

“I wholeheartedly support your suggestion to have a televised debate co-sponsored by the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) and Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FALDEF).

“I suggest that the debates be held in Manila, televised nationally, so that the candidates will have no excuse to decline.
I’m sure that my colleagues in NaFFAA and FALDEF will be thrilled at this endorsement by one of the most respected intellectuals in the Philippine Senate. The last time I worked with the good senator was when he was chairman of the Philippine Philharmonic Society and I was a trustee and a member of the executive committee. In the aftermath of the People Power revolution, the PPS was organized to save the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.

The other emails I received where from Dodie Lucas, CEO of SmallBytes Corporation and one of the pillars of the Philippine advertising industry. Dodie had reacted positively to comments I had made about the spontaneous concern and generosity demonstrated by Filipinos all over the world in connection with the series of natural calamities that have devastated Metro Manila and parts of Luzon. I pointed out that the same concern was badly needed to address a scourge worse than the natural calamities – a scourge inflicted by Philippine politics and self-inflicted by the Filipino people themselves.

I had also called on the Philippine advertising industry, which is holding its biennial advertising congress in late November, to use the unique communications capabilities of is practitioners to persuade the Philippine electorate to vote wisely in the coming presidential elections.
Anxious to get something done, even while the organizers of the ad congress are still discussing my suggestion, Dodie presented the same challenge to the member of the board of the Advertising Foundation.

Writing to Ad Foundation chairman, Johnip Cua, and to Louie Morales, Tony Samson and executive director Linda Gamboa, Dodie pointed out that raising funds for the victims of the calamities was something that many other organiztions could do, but the advertising industry has the unique capability to effect change in the perceptions and attitudes of the electorate, if it only has a mind to.
Supporting his appeal with a Power Point presentation, Dodie commented that the electorate have a very shallow appreciation of the stakes in the coming elections and could end up voting for the “most likeable” and “most popular” candidates rather than the most qualified to lead the country out of its present hapless state.

Wrote Dodie: “As a background, this is the result of Greg’s and my anguish about the recent Ad Board and Ad Congress response to the recent tragedy. While their concern is laudable…it does not strategically make use of our strengths.”

Dodie pointed out that a P3 million contribution by the ad industry to the relief efforts would “go only so far as helping 15,000 families with a day’s groceries, 7,500 for 2 days or a mere 5,000 for 3 days.” He added that a voter education campaign would be “more lasting and could even create the ‘Tipping Point’ for the country’s electoral maturity.”

Johnip’s response was quick and encouraging. So were the responses of the other Ad Foundation stalwarts. As far as I can tell, the group is planning to stage a competition among ad industry and media industry practitioners for the most effective communications campaign designed to “jolt” the electorate out of their traditional complacency and ignorance. In fact, that is what they are calling the effort: Operation Jolt. Substantial prizes are being considered for the winners.

I’m endorsing the plan to the NaFFAA leaderships as well as to a group composed recipients of the annual Filipinas Magazine Achievement Awards – among them, prominent neorsurgeon Eustaquio “Boy” Abay, lawyer Rodel Rodis and former TLC Beatrice Internatioal CEO Loida Nicolas Lewis.

Hopefully, they will agree to add to the prize pot and we can arrange to have the communications campaigns resulting from the competition used in Filipino media in the US.

If they don’t, then heaven help our poor country. We should steel yourselves for the worst that is yet to come.

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