DAVAO JOURNALISTS MORPH INTO CORE OF INTERIM PANACANANG PRESS CORPS

Davao City – The local press here is slowly rising as the Panacañang Press Corps, a team of reporters already veterans to the quirks and antics of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, who remains a mystery to Manila-based journalists who were parachuted here.

The term was coined by local reporters, who combined the term Panacan, a barangay in the industrial zone of the city, and Malacañang, which apparently has a branch here in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) depot.

For local journalists, the cursing and the tendency towards knee-jerk anger have already been desensitized, in that the newsworthy items are filtered through a mess of curses from the colorful character that is Rody or Digong (by the way, it’s pronounced d’gong, like pagong and not deegong, like payong). And there is no excuse where there is political incorrectness; it’s just that those things are old news. Bahaw. Panis.

Aside from Panacañang, the reporters here are already wondering what to call the nationalized version of tokhang, short for toktok-hangyo, a gentle persuasion tactic used by the police to reduce the drug trade by letting the personalities know the police are aware of their activities. Incoming Philippine National Police Chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa himself asked for help from media. KatoPak (Katok Pakiusap) appears to be in the running.

Aside from the knack for making up terms, the Panacañang Press Corps has a sense of humor.

It was a Davao City journalist that cracked the joke as the press was waiting for the potential cabinet members to arrive at the DPWH depot in Barangay Panacan last May 31. “Nandyan na ang mga cabinet o!” In the seconds that followed, all eyes and cameras pointed towards the gate, everyone both disappointed and amused at the arrival of pieces of furniture being dropped off for use in the first Cabinet meeting called for by Duterte since his official proclamation by Congress.

Such was the lighthearted amusement that makes the work easier here, for local journalists so used to waiting around for hours for the arrival of Duterte.

Duterte has said and retracted statements so many times, unsure of what to make of a media suddenly unfamiliar to his tendencies for exaggeration. So many times, his words were made news, such as his “plan” to speak for only five minutes during the oath-taking at the end of this month. He later retracted this and made fun of those who thought it was true.

He had since advised the journalists from Manila to ask Davao-based reporters whether he was serious or not. For those covering the news, it is so easy to get confused, what with Digong spewing out invectives and death threats from one interview to another. And therein lies the problem. In the everyday hunt for news, those words overpower policy.

“I am enjoying my last days [as the mayor of the city]. Kaya kung preposterous [ang statement], kalabitin mo ang taga-Davao [to ask whether I was joking],” he was quoted as saying.

But this is not to generalize. While what became popular in recent headlines were Duterte’s wolf-whistles to TV broadcaster Mariz Umali and his threats to put up a bounty from campaign funds for the heads of drug personalities, there have been news items that spoke of policy, especially in the reports about the incoming cabinet members.

Last Saturday, Digong’s speech at a crowd of around 350,000 supporters at the Crocodile Park here was the first that did not allow direct access to national broadcast stations. Despite being allotted slots near the stage, TV crews were shocked Saturday morning when they were suddenly asked by the Presidential Security Group to remove their setups and move around 500 meters away from the stage, far from decent lens framings compared to the coveted media boxes.

In his speech before his supporters, he spoke in Cebuano (Bisaya). The reporters here agree: Even his speech last Saturday was strategy against a largely visiting national press that did not speak the dialect. He also spoke in a “language” that endeared him to at least 16 million voters who chose to elect an unconventional, often potty-mouthed president. That language was anger, and Saturday’s resistance to mainstream media was another example.

Behind this is an understanding from local press; the relationship between the former mayor and the media here has always been a healthy mix of policy-based reporting and light banter. Oftentimes, the interviews here lead to action, the one that usually makes it to the news.

IMPROVED RELATIONSHIP

Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said he hopes the relationship between Philippine journalists and Duterte will improve in the next few months after he formally assumes office on June 30.

After all, Sotto pointed out, the incoming president has vowed to “metamorphose” once he takes over and refrain from making fiery statements.

“My analysis for now is that, we are all in ‘getting-to-know-each-other stage. The media is still sizing up President Rody, and President Rody is also trying to understand and how to deal with the media, especially the national media,” Sotto said in an interview over Radio DWIZ.

Sotto said he could not fault the Davao City mayor for being tactless with some members of the media considering he is much more used to dealing with local media practitioners to whom he is used to talking brashly most of the time.

“He’s so used to local media, especially in Davao City. That’s why I can’t fault him. I think he is still trying to get the feel and he is just learning it now,” the senator said.

“So there is a huge possibility the situation will change. Everything will go back to a normal routine. I’m sure the national media knows how to associate and interact very well. I think the media should just learn to know when he is being serious and when he is just throwing a joke,” Sotto said.

Sotto said Atty. Salvador Panelo, who would be the presidential spokesperson of the Duterte administration, and Duterte’s incoming Executive Secretary, Salvador Medialdea would have their hands full in ironing out the kinks in the relationship of journalists with the tough-talking mayor.

SHOW FOR THE MASSES

The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) has plans to air a national level version of the local government show Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa (from the masses to the masses).

Incoming PCOO secretary Martin Andanar said that the program is among the plans of the administration of President-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte.

Andanar said that there were no details yet to the format of the program and whether this would be aired live or canned, such as the episodes aired here.

Every Sunday morning, during his term as Mayor, Duterte spoke in front of Dabawenyos through the television show to discuss local policies and his response to current events.

The episodes are usually laden with expletives, in Duterte fashion, promptly bleeped by producers running the program.

Meanwhile, Andanar said it was the local media’s role to help the PCOO and the public “understand” the mayor.

Andanar said that the office will soon be drafting a national communications strategy and will soon be meeting with the staff of former PCOO Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma for the proper turnovers.

“We haven’t set a schedule yet,” he said, estimating the meeting to be held this week.

Andanar was a surprise addition to the Cabinet when he was invited to Davao by Duterte’s camp and later asked to be part of the team.

“I am happy to serve the mayor, I cannot say no to the mayor, and I cannot say no to the public,” Andanar told reporters. MANILA BULLETIN with Hannah L. Torregoza. Photo by AP

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