Secretary of Semantics

Greg Macabenta By Greg Macabenta

Edcel Lagman and Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, acting as Poster Boys of Anti-Corruption, are threatening the wrath of the law and of God on Noynoy Aquino’s Three K’s (Kaibigan, Kaklase, Kabarilan). They are, of course, speaking on behalf of the Paragons of Corruption, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her Four K’s ((Kamaganak, Kaklase and Kapwa-Kawatan).

Meanwhile, Jojo Binay, in a Solomonic recommendation, is saying, in effect, that Ferdinand Marcos does not deserve honors, by denying him burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

In the same breath, Binay says that Marcos should be buried in his home province with “full military honors.”

Not to be outdone, the Catholic hierarchy has declared its immovable opposition to divorce because “what God has put together, no man must set asunder.”

However, for those who can afford it, the Catholic hierarchy allows the annulment of marriage, which is another way of setting asunder what God has put together.

If it’s any consolation, we Pinoys are not alone in suffering the contradictions and inconsistencies of leaders of church and state. In a book by Charles Osgood entitled, “Funny Letters from Famous People,” one of the entries is a memo issued by President Harry S. Truman in 1947. Truman apparently wrote it in jest. But in the Philippines, Jokers are often taken seriously.

Wrote Truman: “I have appointed a Secretary of Semantics – a most important post. He is to furnish me 40 to 50 dollar words. Tell me how to say yes and no in the same sentence without a contradiction. He is to tell me the combination of words that will put me against inflation in San Francisco and for it in New York. He is to show me how to keep silent – and say everything. You can very well see how he can save me an immense amount of worry.”

Truman must have acknowledged the fact that politicians and public officials have this great talent for talking out of both corners of their mouth.

In fact, among the many cabinet positions that President Noynoy Aquino has constituted, the office of Secretary of Semantics might be one that has not yet been made public. Naturally, such an office, while not part of Malacanang’s communications triumvirate, is actually concerned with Malacanang’s communications efforts.

I’m inclined to believe that the Secretary of Semantics has long been hard at work in the Aquino administration, even while remaining behind the scenes. His handiwork may be deduced from several presidential actions.

For instance, there was the hostage crisis where Aquino appointed Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and a committee to determine accountability. It must have been on the advice of the Secretary of Semantics that Aquino praised the committee for the well-considered recommendations, while disregarding them.

Aquino’s concept of management must also be the attributable to the Secretary of Semantics. How else do you explain Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno not being under the secretary, Jesse Robredo? Puno reports directly to the president.

We would have wanted to see how the Secretary of Semantics would successfully explain how Mar Roxas could effectively function as chief of staff (a virtual Little President) while Paquito Ochoa functioned as executive secretary (also a virtual Little President). But the president deprived us of the interesting spectacle by appointing Roxas DOTC secretary, instead.

Indeed, a Secretary of Semantics fits perfectly in our culture, which demands a win-win resolution of every conflict. It certainly takes a semantical contortionist to make everybody happy.

Only a Secretary of Semantics could have advised Jojo Binay on how to make the anti-Marcos factions happy while making the Ilocanos and Marcos family happy, too.

Furthermore, only a Secretary of Semantics can:

* Persuade the Moro separatists to accept the authority of the  Philippine government while making them believe they enjoy  sovereignty as a separate state.

* Explain the presence of U.S. military forces in the country, while vouching that the Constitutional provision against it is being  respected.

* Rationalize how the Philippines can claim full independence from America and full capabilities against foreign aggression, while actually depending on the U.S. for financial and military aid.

* Rationalize a system of justice that favors thieves in office and sends whistle-blowers to jail; incarcerates VIPs and allows them freedom of movement outside jail; clears a supreme court justice of plagiarism and puts the blame on the computer program; and declares midnight appointments invalid, except in the case of the midnight-appointed Chief Justice.

It takes a Secretary of Semantics to explain all of that to a perpetually perplexed populace.

Incidentally, the United States could use the expertise of the Secretary of Semantics to explain how it plans to honor its defense commitment to the Philippines while keeping its hands off China’s bullying of our country.

And Congressman Manny Pacquiao could use the advise of the Secretary of Semantics to explain how he can diligently represent his Sarangani constituents in Congress while actually spending his time in the U.S. training for his fights.

It’s still uncertain how the Secretary of Semantics can persuade the Catholic Church that its opposition to the RH bill will be given due course, while Congress actually passes the controversial piece of legislation.

But leave it to the Secretary of Semantics to make black appear white and white look black.

By the way, Truman had other ideas in his memo which Noynoy Aquino might find useful. Truman’s memo adds:

“I have appointed a Secretary for Columnists. His duties are to listen to all radio commentators, read all columnists in the newspapers from ivory tower to lowest gossip, coordinate them and give me the result so I can run the United States and the world as it should be. I have several able men in reserve besides the present holder of the job, because I think in a week or two the present Secretary for Columnists will need the services of a psychiatrist and will in all probability end up in St. Elizabeth’s.

Of course, adding a Secretary for Columnists to the current structure of the communications group could further complicate it. I can almost see Edwin Lacierda’s favorite columnists renaming the palace team, The Four-Headed Hydra.

But then, as the Secretary of Semantics can tell you, four heads are better than none.


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