Why the rushed media arrangement for Duterte's Japan trip?
In Malacañang’s New Executive Building, a flurry of activity marked the days following the Japanese government’s confirmation of President Rodrigo Duterte’s second visit to the country.
The media and the government’s Media Accreditation Relations Office (MARO) scrambled to arrange media coverage of the President’s trip. Reporters were dismayed because unlike in past foreign trips, the MARO appeared to be not as prepared to arrange coverage.
The MARO is an office under the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) in charge of dealing with media and coordinating media coverage of all the President's events and activities. So when the President's Japan visit was announced, Palace media were expecting the usual assistance from the office.
At first, even the application for visas were left to individual reporters when the usual practice was for MARO to coordinate with the embassies involved so that the visas would be released on time.
Unlike in the past, there was initially no effort to help arrange airfare and hotel accommodations. For this trip, reporters were initially told they would have to arrange their hotel and flights on their own and MARO personnel would only assist them in the coverage of events.
To ensure easier coordination, the MARO usually chooses the media hotel and helps book seats on the same flight. Private media agencies would just have to pay for their representatives' travel and accommodations.
The idea is to keep the media together and as near as possible to the venues of the President’s events so that coverage could go smoothly. This also ensured that all reporters were on the same page as the President’s delegation on regulations and policies the foreign government imposed for the various official events.
In a Palace press briefing on Thursday, October 26, a reporter raised the observation about the seeming half-hearted effort on the part of Malacañang to facilitate private media coverage of the Japan trip.
The reporter asked Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella why the Malacañang Press Corps was not informed ahead of time of Duterte’s visit.
“I think some details were being made or being clarified,” Abella replied.
Foreign department spokesman Robespierre Bolivar also explained that the announcement was only made recently because the Philippine and Japanese governments had to “pin down the most important details” first.
A source privy to media arrangements for the visit said that the MARO was not to blame for the last-minute facilitation. After all, it was just following orders.
It was initially decided that the entire Japan trip would not be open for media coverage and would only be documented by the President’s close-in photographers and videographers.
At the last minute, however, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to open one event to Japanese media. And so the Philippine side decided that “if there will be Filipino media in Japan, we will also accommodate them.”
Further complicating matters was the uncertain political climate in the weeks leading up to the visit.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had invited Duterte to visit Japan, called for a snap election on September 25, saying he needed a fresh mandate in order to lead the country through crises, including a nuclear attack threat from North Korea.
Abe won by a landslide in the elections held only on Sunday, October 22, a week before Duterte’s trip.
Releasing details about the trip – even just to media for coordinating purposes – would seem like a preemption of Abe’s victory, said a source.
The Japanese government officially announced Duterte’s visit on Wednesday, October 25 – 3 days after Abe’s electoral victory.
The Philippines’ DFA made its own announcement right after Japan’s. Only then did Malacañang begin coordinating with media on the trip’s coverage. – Rappler.com
Inside Track is Rappler's intelligencer on people, events, places and everything of public interest. It's a take-off from Newsbreak's Inside Track section. Contributions are most welcome. Just send bits of information to email@example.com.