Duterte, Shabu and the Media

[Photo via CNN]

By A Distant Observer

Framing, issue ownership and attention shifting

This article I wanted to write for a long time. While the societal consequences of the mechanisms described here have arrived in Filipino society for quite some time, this article aims to shed light on the mechanisms themselves. By mechanisms I mean how people process information and how this translates into the behavior of politicians, the media and the broader public.

This article aims at analyzing elements of human communication and their consequences and is not intended to bash any side of the political spectrum. It presents an empirical quest that I carried out lately to investigate how Duterte’s rise influenced the saliency (Oxford dictionary: “the quality of being particularly noticeable or important; prominence”) of the drug problem in the Philippines and how this in turn influenced Duterte’s national popularity and the media’s reporting in general.

The Philippines was recently displaying emboldened tendencies towards authoritarian rhetoric and policy agenda and the seeming shift in public sentiments and policies coincides with Duterte’s rise in popularity. His campaign rhetoric involved a strong emphasis on the alleged major drug problem of the Philippines. It was not as if the country did not have any other major problems to tackle; widespread poverty, rampant corruption, recurring typhoons leaving thousands of people dead or homeless, and an encroaching Chinese Navy in the South China Sea,just to mention a few. But the framing of drug pushers and users as the main culprits of impeded Filipino progress turned out to be a successful strategy: Duterte not only gained an overwhelming majority of the votes in the presidential election, his “War on Drugs”bbecame the major legitimization task of his initial incumbency period.

In order to develop my discussion further, I first need to mention three relevant concepts taken from political communication research: framing, issue ownership and attention shifting. I do not include the literature references for the sake of readability, but I am happy to refer to specific literature questions in the comments.

Framing refers to the process by which people develop a particular conceptualization of an issue or reorient their thinking about an issue. Hence, framing is not necessarily about policy decisions but focuses on a prior stage of agenda-setting where frames are used by politicians to influence public opinion in their favor. However, as a study on a similar policy field in the US has shown, the effects of framing are not constrained to the mere realm of opinion formation but have real policy effects as well.

In the US, politicians’ changed rhetoric concerning poor Americans led to a gradual decrease of government assistance over the years, or as this study concludes; “as the frames have shifted, policies have followed”. This effect of frames on people’s lives is even more serious in the Philippines as ten thousands of people are estimated to be “extrajudicially” killed as a result of Duterte’s call to “end the drug problem once and for all”.

As some point out, citizens have an instrumental attitude towards the electoral process, in that they want to elect the candidate who is reckoned as better at handling the most pressing problems facing the country compared to all other candidates. This association is what some call “issue ownership”. Duterte, who was seen as a “strong man” and a leader “who walks the talk” was deemed by many as the best candidate to fight criminal activities in the Philippines. In this sense, Duterte owned the issue of criminal prosecution. The question however arises whether criminal activities, and in particular drug criminality, were as prevalent as Duterte’s rhetoric made it to appear, or whether the public’s perception of the drug problem was significantly altered by Duterte’s rhetoric in the first place.

One has to differentiate between four distinct yet inter-related phenomena here:

  1. the prevalence of drug dealing and usage (number of dealers/addicts or amount of substance dealt and drug-related deaths or events),
  2. the media’s coverage of the drug problem,
  3. the public’s perception of the drug problem, and
  4. Duterte’s campaign (and later presidential) rhetoric on the issue.

What drugs?

Concerning the prevalence of drug dealing and usage, one can look at the numbers from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which collects numbers on the amounts of illegal drugs seized by authorities per annum since 1980. I included the amount of Marijuana and Cannabis plants into the graphic for comparison purposes and because Marijuana is, besides shabu, the most used illegal drug in the Philippines. Liquid and solid methamphetamine is aggregated into one single number in kilograms per year. The vertical axis is log-scaled.

[Figure 1]

The amount of seized Cannabis plants and its products seems higher in the 80s and 90s, as it is today. Methamphetamine, locally known as shabu, entered the statistics only after 1999. During the early 2000s, the amount of seized shabu reached an all-time high of 3700 kilogram in 2004. As comparison, the widely discussed P6.4-billion shabu shipment from May 2017 was 600 kilogram alone. A 2008 UNODC household survey estimated the annual prevalence of the use of amphetamines and methamphetamines to be about 2.1% among Filipinos aged between 15 and 64. Around 2010, the amounts of shabu seized in the country were between 150 kg in 2009 and 112 kg in 2012 and reached an all-time low with only 63 kg in 2010. Since then however, numbers are steadily increasing, and I guess the newest numbers could dwarf the former record.

I can’t help myself but to think of Andrew Lim’s grim supposition in “Drug War Deaths Can Fill Up the Big Dome” where China’s flooding of the Philippines with shabu is seen as a foreign policy instrument. Was the shipment of shabu deliberately increased during Noynoy Aquino’s term to prepare the Philippine soil for a post-Aquino strong-man president?

The media

Without further elaborating on the numbers above, I turn now to media coverage, public perception and Duterte’s rhetoric. Earlier studies have shown that media coverage can have a significant effect on people’s perceived importance, or saliency, of an issue. And one has also to address the question how the news media, in their role as “perceptional intermediaries” between politicians and the public, reflect politicians’ rhetoric in their reporting.

A study investigates a puzzling example from the US, where a dramatic increase in law-enforcement efforts to combat criminality during the 1980s and 1990s was not related to any increase of crime during that time. The authors note that drug use declined during that period and suggest that that the public’s distaste for crime and drug use was “mobilized” during a “window of opportunity” by “policy entrepreneurs”. Although the authors do not expound the exact role of the media in this example, they note that “attention shifting” (a result of disproportionate information processing) can explain such less frequent but major changes in otherwise stable systems.

Some argue that the media has the power to increase the saliency of issues, or the ease with which these considerations can be retrieved from memory, if individuals have to make judgments about political actors, but that framing is based on subtle nuances in wording and syntax that are hard to predict and control by journalists. Others argue that strong frames are the ones that are not only able to influence citizen’s opinions, but that they also invoke intense emotional reactions. Frames containing a “predictive appeal” might enhance the strength of a frame because people’s beliefs about the impact of policy change constitute an important ingredient in their opinions.

One could conclude that a political actor using a strong frame, combined with favorable media coverage, has the highest chance to influence a country’s agenda-setting. Duterte and his supporters repeatedly suggested that if the solution he proposed for the Philippine drug problem would not be carried out, the country would end up like Mexico, which is entangled in a major drug war between powerful drug cartels and the government. Duterte’s strong man image also earned him many comparisons with Singapore’s founder Lee Kuan Yew, who, with an iron fist, transformed the country from a poor nation of fishermen to one of the wealthiest states today.

In order to measure framing, issue ownership and attention shifting, I used the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT), which contains and monitors print, broadcast and web media in various countries and languages in almost real time, resulting in a large database of several hundred million records. The time frame I looked at covers the whole presidential campaign of Duterte and the following two years after his inauguration, to also investigate the developments after he became president. To be exact, the analysis starts on February 19 2015 and ends on May 31 2018. All daily numbers are normalized by the total number of media reports in the Philippines, which results in a percentage index for each measure.

Let me put forward some propositions: Duterte, using a strong frame, gained higher media coverage than his opponent politicians (using weaker frames). It is plausible to assume that individuals uttering strong frames are more frequently covered by the media than individuals uttering weaker frames because of the economic benefits for media companies. Public figures using strong frames might attract a bigger audience, which feels either appealed or even appalled by a certain frame. Duterte’s presidential campaign was effective in framing drug criminality as a major problem of the country and therefore the drug problem should display increasing media coverage throughout the campaign.

[Figure 2]

Figure 2 shows the percentage of Philippine media reports that mention drugs, Duterte, and reports that mention either of these subjects without mentioning the other one. In all following graphs, the first vertical dotted line indicates the date November 21, 2015 when Duterte announced to run for president. The second line indicates election day on May 9, 2016. My expectation that, after the announcement of Duterte’s candidacy, the number of drug-related reports might increase is partly true. What’s more interesting however is the increasing “spread” between the blue and the green index, which were almost congruent before November 21.

The increasing spread between the percentage of reports mentioning drugs, and the percentage mentioning drugs without mentioning Duterte implies that the drug problem was increasingly less discussed without bringing Duterte into it. Or to put it differently, the drug problem was increasingly mentioned in combination with Duterte: he increasingly owned the issue. And this tendency is well observable in the campaign period, before he was in power to implement any of the anti-drug policies that led to a soaring percentage (up to 20%) of all news reports mentioning the drug problem in the second half of 2016.

The pink and the brown indices confirm the interpretation described above. In early 2015, Duterte was mentioned in about only one to two percent of all media reports. The pink index, which denotes the percentage of reports where Duterte was mentioned but drugs were not, correlates pretty neatly with the brown index, even though the spread
gets bigger after November 21. This spread however is smaller than the one between the blue and the green index, which suggests the perhaps provocative interpretation that the media was associating the drug problem on a higher degree to Duterte than he was claiming it for his campaign: after a first surge of attention to the drug problem in the
media, Duterte was simply “riding” on the free attention the media gave him, without always thematizing it in his campaign rallies. In this sense, Duterte did not only own the drug issue as a “claimant”, but increasingly so as a “recipient”.

How did the other candidates fare in terms of media coverage?

[Figure 3]

It becomes immediately apparent that Duterte certainly won the media coverage game. In the weeks before election day, reports mentioning him soared to reach more than 20 percent news coverage when he was finally elected. In the pre-campaign season, Binay and then Roxas were the most often mentioned candidates, closely followed by Poe. After his announcement to run for president, Duterte received the most attention from the media.

In the later phase of the campaign season, Poe and Roxas were the most mentioned candidates, but their percentages decline shortly before election day while Duterte’s coverage pulls ahead. Robredo kept a “low profile” during much of the campaign season, to only catch up in terms of media coverage in the last few weeks before election day. After the elections, Robredo and Marcos are the most mentioned ones after Duterte, and their coverage percentages do slightly correlate. This is probably due to Marcos’ accusation that Robredo “stole“ the vice presidency from him.

Since mid-2017, Duterte’s media presence seems to hover around at about 10 percent of media coverage, which is still a remarkable media presence when we think of the other politicians’ percentage. Is it important to understand however, that these percentages say nothing about how the media evaluates a certain politician. Reports mentioning a certain person (or a theme/issue) can be very positive, neutral or negative in their judgment, and these percentages do not take this into account. The numbers reflect the mere media presence of a person but could be interpreted in the sense that “there is no such thing as bad publicity”.

One can assume that issue salience correlates positively with a candidate’s popularity if the candidate “owns” this certain issue. Candidate popularity and issue salience can form a “medial tandem” if the candidate is associated with being able to resolve a certain salient issue. Duterte was associated with strong prosecution skills and was believed by many Filipinos to be able to “solve” the drug problem. Hence, the high saliency of the drug problem in the Philippine public helped Duterte’s popularity.

It would go beyond the scope of this article to test it empirically, but one could guess that an increase in reports on drug-related events might correlate to an increase in Duterte’s poll ratings, which would suggest some kind of “feedback loop” between the public and the media. This would imply that Duterte’s rhetoric had not only a lasting influence on Philippine’s media coverage, but that this coverage in turn helped Duterte to higher poll ratings.

What about other issues?

As prominent as the drug issue became during the campaign season and beyond, one has to ask the question what happened to other issues being discussed at the same time. Every written or spoken piece has a certain limit of words, human attention span is limited and our days have, after all, 24 hours. So something needs to happen to other issues discussed.

This is where the concept of attention-shifting comes in. One could say that the more effective a frame, the higher the potential to shift the public’s attention towards the policy issue contained in this certain frame. Due to people’s limited attentional capacity, the issue being subject to a strong frame can supersede
other issues from the public’s political discourse.

One might observe a “drive out” of non-crime related issues being discussed while crime and especially drug-related issues receive increasing attention by Philippine news media. The graphic below shows the percentage of eight issues (crime, poverty, corruption, federalism, drugs, typhoons, South China Sea, manmade disasters) being mentioned in the media. Note again the log-scale of the vertical axis.

[Figure 4]

Figure 4 does not give us the definite answer I was looking for, although it provides us with some insight on what themes are “trending” and which ones are “evergreens” in Philippine media. Poverty is omnipresent in the media, being mentioned in a steady 50 to 60 percent of all new media reports. The same is true for crime-related reports, although it is a little less frequently mentioned. One can observe a slight increase of the crime percentage during the final presidential campaign season. Corruption seems to have a bigger variation, but its present share seems generally higher as in the early 2015.

The three themes that seem to show some decrease in media presence are manmade disasters (failure of manmade infrastructure such as car crashes, bridge collapses, derailments, plane crashes, etc), issues involving the South-China Sea, and typhoons. Of course, typhoon-related reports show a great variation throughout the annual cycles, but it is still striking to me how much less media coverage the typhoon season 2017 received compared to the two former years. Just out of curiosity,

I looked at the issue of federalism as well, and its increasing media mentioning during May 2016 is remarkable. However, the media presence of federalism is still in the very low 0.1 to 0.5 percentage point region. I will not say more to these graphs, as this article would get too long, but I am very interested in what commenters might add or object to my considerations.

What one can do

So, what can the political opposition in the Philippines do? What can members of the Society of Honor do?

In the sense of the notorious Build Build Build initiative, I suggest an “Educate Educate Educate” initiative. As some scholars put it: “The character, causes, and consequences of any phenomenon become radically different as changes are made in what is prominently displayed, what is repressed and especially in how observations are classified. The social world is a kaleidoscope of potential realities, any of which can be readily evoked by altering the ways in which observations are framed and categorized. Receivers’ responses are clearly affected if they perceive and process information about one interpretation and possess little or incommensurable data about alternatives. This is why exclusion of interpretations by frames is as significant to outcomes as inclusion.“

Create new, powerful “frames”. Don’t argue against something, argue for something. And I would go as far as suggesting to not mention the opposing frames at all, as it can only feed into the opposing party by giving it or its position more attention. As former White House aide Omarosa Manigault just said recently on President Trump; the only thing that can shut down Trump is to ignore him, to deprive him of his oxygen, as he thrives on controversy and attention. Duterte and his enablers are no different. Don’t feed the trolls.

And to all the journalists, reporters and bloggers out there: think twice before you write something. You have power.


61 Responses to “Duterte, Shabu and the Media”
  1. Micha says:

    So why did the criminal from Davao succeeded in framing drugs as a priority problem to be eradicated at all cost?

    Because we allowed him. Because while he was constructing that dangerous frame we stood by and nodded in agreement. There was no push back along the lines of, no, drug use among many of our people is merely the symptom of a deeper socio-economic rot.

    Treating the symptom without treating the disease will be as futile as treating a wound that won’t heal because you have diabetes.

    • distant observer says:

      Agree completely. The treatment of the disease however usually requires much more time and effort than the treatment of a symptom. And people just don’t have the patience for that.

  2. Andres 2018. says:

    “Create new, powerful “frames”. Don’t argue against something…”

    – Best strategy out there.

  3. Francis says:

    @a distant observer

    I’m jealous! Arggghh!

    This is absolutely brilliant analysis. Goddamn.



    “Create new, powerful “frames”. Don’t argue against something, argue for something. And I would go as far as suggesting to not mention the opposing frames at all, as it can only feed into the opposing party by giving it or its position more attention. As former White House aide Omarosa Manigault just said recently on President Trump; the only thing that can shut down Trump is to ignore him, to deprive him of his oxygen, as he thrives on controversy and attention. Duterte and his enablers are no different. Don’t feed the trolls.”

    This is a very strong point.

    • Francis says:


      Don’t click on the “+1000000,” I think WordPress thinks that’s a cellphone number.

      Also—I wish the debate on “new frames” would inspire debate among those critical of the administration as to what should exactly the alternative to Duterte look like. I am absolutely envious at how the American Left (in response to the madness of the Trump administration) has literally exploded in creativity and passion—not just in terms of personalities, but in terms of all these exciting policy ideas on not only the NATIONAL but also LOCAL level.

      I know that those on the right side of the aisle may be less enthused—but the principle applies, I think; there should not only be disgust for the immoral status quo—but hope for a better tomorrow that is substantial in that it is not just an ephemeral feeling, but something manifested and concretely felt through actual policies and actual programs that can change people’s lives for the better.

      • distant observer says:

        Thanks Francis. Yes the left in America exploded in passion. But it’s also merely the left faction of the Democrats, the ones that were really inspired by Bernie Sanders, who show this enthusiasm. The “corporate Democrats” do not seem to show this. They are not really able to present a real alternative to the disillusioned voters whether left, right or independent.

  4. Vicky says:

    There was a bit of push back from most professionals saying the drug addiction is a disease and addicts should be treated as victims . The problem with duterte is he is hardly consulting his cabinet, unlike Pnoy who would first have an issue debated before making final decisions. See what he does now with those opposing him ( Sen Leila, CJ Sereno, etc,)?. His neurosis is to constantly look for an enemy to bully, in order to prove his might esp those who do not talk back , like God, the saint-idols, the priests who are not allowed to curse back, and his followers who cannot talk back. I agree that ignoring his garbage talks will work. When he was in Iloilo, a few months ago, his audience did not react ( no laughter or applause) to his bragging about his number of wives, mistresses and girlfriends). I haven’t heard him repeating the same thing again.

    • distant observer says:

      Not too long ago I talked with a Manileno (and obvious Duterte supporter) about the drug problem. He said that it was really necessary to carry out the brutal anti-drug program that the President ordered, because shabu was such a bad drug that would turn Filipinos into monsters. I told him that I know of countries around the world that aim at treating and rehabilitating crystal meth addicts to become healthy members of society again. He replied that this might work in other countries, but that Filipino shabu addicts would be really something else; plundering, raping, stealing, killing adiks, and that these foreign methods would not work with Filipinos. It almost seemed to me as if he claimed some sort of Filipino exceptionalism. I was not able to convey to him that the reasons and effects of substance abuse is the same everywhere in the world. So it is not only a problem of a president who does not consult professional opinions, it seems to be a problem with a society who considers drug users as “lost”.

      Interesting observation that you mention from Iloilo. Seems to prove that this strategy does indeed work.

  5. edgar lores says:

    1. Interesting. Enlightening. And frightening.

    2. Framing, issue ownership, and attention shifting.

    2.1. Duterte framed the issue, media shifted attention to the issue, and the voters owned the issue.

    3. This goes to show that politics is about perception. And the assumptions are that the media (a) focuses attention and (b) help shapes attention.

    4. The first assumption is well illustrated by all the diagrams. Figure 3, in particular with that Mount Everest peak, highlights the attention paid to Duterte. The second assumption is not validated by the diagrams; it is validated by the election results.

    5. I cannot help but draw a parallel between the “three relevant concepts taken from political communication research” to the three major defects in Filipino thinking detailed in “Thinking Conundrums.

    o Framing is the equivalent of Categorization
    o Attention shifting is the loose equivalent of Scoping
    o Issue ownership is the loose equivalent of Erroneous reasoning

    5.1. Duterte was successful in mis-categorizing shabu as the major issue confronting the nation. Figure 4 disproves that drugs was the main problem. It is fifth below poverty, crime, manmade disasters, and corruption.

    5.2. Media, in shifting attention to drugs, failed to scope the issue properly. It failed to report that drug wars have not succeeded in eliminating the problem in any of the several countries that have tried this solution. Or just even in Davao. Media also failed to cover successful solutions to the drug problem elsewhere.

    5.3. The erroneous reasoning of the citizens was to own Duterte’s solution in the failure of media to properly scope the problem and in their own individual failure to use critical reasoning.

    6. But the entire model of the three relevant concepts is within the realm of public media and public perception. It does not take into account the following:

    o The dominant Judeo-Christian framing of morality
    o The other issues during the campaign – economic matters, the strongman syndrome, Davao death squads, misogyny, bank deposits, continuity of the drive against corruption, decency, etc.

    6.1. It must be noted that Duterte took the “correct” stance on WPS, the NPA problem, and the Muslim insurgency problem. He reneged on WPS from the start and has failed in his détente efforts with the Left. Muslim insurgency is still boiling although the BOC has been signed into law.

    7. I think that if Filipinos framed the issues themselves – as The Society had done during the 2016 campaign – from their religio-philosophical leanings, then the framing by the candidates and the influence of media in shifting attention would not be a problem.

    • edgar lores says:

      Addendum as for the second bullet point under item 6:

      o The illegality of killing as a solution to drugs

    • sonny says:

      re: 1, 2, 6

      It seems that an epistemology of agitprop is necessary no matter what the nobility/ignobility of purpose is chosen in pursuit of the political prize. From our present state of affairs, we know the kind of epistemology prevailed.

    • distant observer says:

      Thank you Edgar. Could expand on your remark that it is frightening?

      2.1. I would not say that the voters owned the issue. It was rather that the voters “bestowed” the issue to Duterte.

      3. Absolutely. Politics is all about perception.

      4. As to assumption (b), one could also, as I mention above, investigate how reports on drug-related events correlate with Duterte’s poll ratings during the campaign season.

      5.2. Yes. The media was simply “bandwagoning” on Duterte’s rhetoric. Debating the drug problem and Duterte’s proposed solution to it generated clicks and website traffic. It was certainly not bad for business.

      5.3. I understand now what you mean. You mean that citizens owned the issue in the sense that they accepted/received Duterte’s proposed solution without questioning it.

      6. You are certainly right about that. I focused on the perceptional aspect on politics here and cultural context is crucial to understand the bigger (societal) picture.

      • edgar lores says:

        1. Frightening in the sense that there are so many hollow men that are so easily swayed by media because they have not developed their own religio-philosophical “framing.” This ties in with no. 7.

        6. Correct me if I am wrong, but the figures are based solely on news media as opposed to social media.

        6.2. If so, this is just one perspective of the enigma that was Election 2016. It does not disprove — or substantiate — the claim that social media was responsible for Duterte’s victory. It does prove that there is a bit of causation — correlation if you like — between media exposure and victory.

        6.3. It would be good if there were similar data about social media, in particular, Facebook and Twitter.

        6.4. Let us not forget the possibility that if media exposure can build a man, so too can it bring down a man. But the public has become so insensate to horrors that I cannot imagine what special horror can do so.

        • distant observer says:

          6. Yes figures are mainly based on news media reports, but the database does not only capture regular media houses such as Inquirer, Phil Star, Rappler, etc, but also several hundred smaller blogs and websites. TSOH for example was also present with 156 reports. So if you count blogs to the social media sphere, this would be the case. BUT…

          6.3. Yes it would be splendid if there were similar data AVAILABLE from Facebook. Twitter makes its data actually pretty easily available to researchers and https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-isis-twitter-census-defining-and-describing-the-population-of-isis-supporters-on-twitter/ is a very interesting example of such a use of Twitter data. But Facebook? No. It just wants to spy on us, but would never reveal any data it gathers to outsiders.

          6.2. So yes the figures capture a pretty comprehensive picture in terms of media discourse, but what’s going on on Facebook and Twitter is somehow elusive here.

    • Edgar, forget Judeo-Christian framing of morality in the Filipino context. What morality?

      I increasingly believe the nonsense that some cult leader was spreading, I think during the time of Martial Law, that Filipinos are descended from one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel.

      And as St. Michael revealed to me yesterday night, they were the tribe that vehemently fought the Levites when the 10 Commandments were brought down. Heareth the TRUTH!

      • distant observer says:

        Haha Irineo you always make me chuckle with your cynical remarks 🙂

      • edgar lores says:

        Irineo, I can see the similarity. Jews have big noses. So do Filipinos. And Duterte’s snoot is his most irredeemable feature.

        Speaking of St. Michael, that’s funny. He and I also met on the nudiustertian night and he revealed that our floccinaucinihilipilification of Duterte is worthwhile.

  6. karlgarcia says:

    The hypothesis of smuggling shabu during Noynoy’s time is very possible if there really is A Davao group who made arrangements with the three kings of Customs, and of course if the Triad is really involved.

    Shabu has been around since the mid-80s or ven earlier, it is unfortunate that international data available was only from 99 onwards.

  7. karlgarcia says:

    Since you presented data from UNODC, here is a study I found about South east Asia for 2009.
    We have no recorders Meth arrests from 2004 to 2008.
    Are our records so confidential?
    Where did Duterte get his records, if we failed to submit to the UN?
    Even now the PNP data is questioned internally ( by the PNP themselves).

    Click to access 2009_Patterns_and_Trends.pdf

  8. karlgarcia says:

    Framing, that is what is happening in buy busts, nanlabans, and even tambays.

  9. chemrock says:

    Great job DO. it’s a jolly good read.

    The arena of politics is a battlefield for ideas. But how does one fight a battle of ideas when majority of people do not care nor understand nor discuss ideas? It would be a dumbass to stand in front of a village crowd and talk about GDP figures. Duterte outgun the other candidates because he avoided ideas, or rather, he was lucky he had no ideas. So he stick to simplistic objectives that the ground understands.

    It could be said that Duterte framed his issues well. That’s giving him undue credit. Maybe a better way to put it is Duterte’s one track mind suited his crowd. Hence his delivery — drugs are bad for the people – I kill them. Imperial Manila is bad — I want Federalism.

    Hence the #1 lesson in framing issues — it has to be angled in the way the audience understands. Eg drugs — you can present statistics and other countries examples, talk about poverty as the cause etc, etc. To those living in Tondo or other drug infested areas, they don’t care about all these. They simply want drugs off the street.

    “……not mention the opposing frames at all, as it can only feed into the opposing party by giving it or its position more attention….”

    In today’s digital world, trending topics are important for the digital crowd. However, far from avoiding opposing frames, they ought to be rebutted at every opportunity. The trick is #2 lesson — by doing a ‘re-framing’ of the issue. Every issue can be discussed in a different light, given the audience on hand. If an issue is smartly reframed, you can then own it. For example the drug problem. I could say to a barangay — if you guys organise your own self-help programmes, identify drug dependent residents, organise rehab one way or another, I will allocate so much funds to help the barangay out — spruce up the area, help find jobs, adult classes, allocate resources to beef up security etc…. In other words, there is something in it for the people of the barangay.

    Media attention — this just can’t be helped. Media goes for anything that gains attention. Duterte is the top dog for them, not because he is a smart guy. But with Duterte one thrives to expect on the unexpected. The guy projects undue excitement — not because he attracts like a well-like celebrity. But with his unpredictability, headlines are a plenty even though it’s of the vulgar and uncouth and degerative kind. It’s the media that built guys like him. And I’m afraid there is nothing much anyone can do about this.

    • sonny says:

      Amen to this too, chempo.

    • “If an issue is smartly reframed, you can then own it. For example the drug problem. I could say to a barangay — if you guys organise your own self-help programmes, identify drug dependent residents, organise rehab one way or another, I will allocate so much funds to help the barangay out — spruce up the area, help find jobs, adult classes, allocate resources to beef up security etc…. In other words, there is something in it for the people of the barangay.” This is the only way that makes sense, especially in the Philippines.

      The country where you either have three to six month “action plans” that are usually just cosmetics or action for its own sake, or plans that look good on paper, possibly are even started but rarely finished, hardly maintained if finished like many of Marcos’ plans. There is a story told by Lee Kuan Yew where he says that a communique was more important to Marcos than results. Marcos and other grandstanders have made the ordinary Filipino skeptical of anything sounding complex, they think bullshit, nothing will happen anyway.

      so you have to work with stakeholders, involve them and show them quick wins, then win them for the next phase. Somewhat like the way Leni Robredo does it. Only her message is lost somewhat in the cacaphony of Philippine politics, it could come across stronger.

      • chemrock says:

        That Lee Kuan Yew insight on Marcos :
        At the Asean summit in Bali1976, Marcos was vocal and seen to be “keen to push for greater economic cooperation in Asean,” which involved lots of joint projects. At the end of the summit a communique was signed. That’s it for Marcos. When it came to following through what was planned in the communique Lee said of Marcos “… that for him, the communiqué was the accomplishment itself, its implementation was secondary, an extra to be discussed at another conference.”

        Marcos was all talk and no show.

        I get the same feeling about Duterte and Federalism.

    • distant observer says:

      Thanks chemrock.
      “In today’s digital world, trending topics are important for the digital crowd. However, far from avoiding opposing frames, they ought to be rebutted at every opportunity. The trick is #2 lesson — by doing a ‘re-framing’ of the issue. Every issue can be discussed in a different light, given the audience on hand. If an issue is smartly reframed, you can then own it.”

      This is exactly right, and one should add this to the description to the “create new, powerful frames” proposal. I think I could have been clearer on that so thanks for the clarification. One should never confuse an issue with its frame(s). It is not that one should avoid to talk about the issue itself, but should create new perceptions to talk about it, as your example brilliantly describes.

      As for media attention, it is true that vulgar and uncouth behavior and rhetoric attracts attention. But one should not leave the attention-grabbing actions to destructive forces alone. Decent ideas and policy proposals can be framed in exciting and provocative ways too, they do not exclude each other. Be creative!

  10. NHerrera says:

    Distant Observer,

    My praise for your fine article seems redundant after having read the others. Your piece would have gotten the same reception, but the associated statistics/ charts give an added oomph to the article.

    On the matter of “framing” I would like to make a tangential take on one of the international news of the week. Specifically on John McCain, who before his death, asked two political rivals — Obama and Bush — to offer eulogies at a funeral ceremony [scheduled on Saturday in the US].

    This is the “frame” I was referring to: framing the lesson McCain wished to impart even on death’s door in this article of Jeff Zeleny, CNN Senior White House Correspondent who followed McCain’s political life.

    Steve Duprey, a longtime friend of McCain’s and a senior adviser in his 2008 campaign, said the senator respected Obama, even if the two were never particularly close and wounds from their race were raw for years.

    “I think it is John McCain imparting a lesson in civility by asking the two men who defeated him to speak, as an example to America that differences in political views and contests shouldn’t be so important that we lose our common bonds and the civility that is, or used to be, a hallmark of American democracy,” Duprey said.

    David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Obama in his campaigns and in the White House, said the clear message McCain is sending is “about our shared heritage, our shared trust of this democracy that transcends party and transcends tribe.”

    “It really does animate his message of national unity,” Axelrod said. “There is a kind of poetry to it that he wanted his two erstwhile opponents to eulogize them.”


    • NHerrera says:

      Of course, McCain’s difference with Trump is so fundamentally different that to “frame” Trump in the same picture would have erased all the good that the former have done and achieved. [Can’t help myself though but say that Trump is the Big Elephant in that frame.]

    • distant observer says:

      Thanks NHerrera. I wanted to dig into some statistics myself because I was curious how the picture would look like. There is so much more one can do with this database, so any ideas are definitively welcomed 😉

      Your example from McCain illustrates well what kind of frames can bring us forward; frames that emphasize unity and mutual respect. Your reference to “Big Elephants” in frames exemplifies a huge challenge to framing that ought to be constructive.

  11. madlanglupa says:

    On Figure 3 graph: his levels are high partly because of his near-daily speeches he conducts, so as to ensure the media constantly gives him attention and more airtime than anyone else.

  12. Framing things correctly is very important.

    1) wrong/malicious framing: Mar Roxas fell from a motorbike. With no other infos, people assume he was a dismal failure who didn’t even get out of Tacloban, a rich kid who can’t ride a motorcycle.

    2) correct framing: Mar Roxas led the pack on a motorbike passing through several towns, a story Joe posted here. Turns out the malicious photo was just a singular moment during that trip.

    If most media inform the public correctly, they will tend to have a “strong frame” = a clear picture of how they think things are and a relatively stable contextualisation of how to interpret them. That of course presupposes critical thinking skills and correct scoping, categorization, reasoning (c) Edgar.

    Though of course brainwashing and gaslighting can also make people have a “strong frame”. Their picture will be clear for them and stable, meaning unchangeable for them. Studies of people who have succumbed to “closed belief systems” show that they make excuses for obvious fallacies.

  13. andrewlim8 says:

    Peter Wallace has a very funny and ironic topic for his column today:


    He wonders, ” why is corruption still alive and well? why doesnt it improve?”

    He has vigorous support for Duterte and he wonders why corruption thrives? ha ha ha

    Who has done a show of firing lower level corrupt officials, only to re-instate them to other positions? Who has done nothing against high level corruption? (Teo, Tulfos, Montano, Calida, etc)
    Who has brought back legitimacy to the Marcoses and Arroyos?


    • edgar lores says:

      “The absurdities of Senator Trillanes?”

      Oh, the absurdities of Peter Wallace. This is one reason corruption continues to flourish — the blindness of the sycophants.

    • Peter Wallace has enriched himself by making deals, I would imagine with commissions, and he opposed everything President Aquino did because it cut off his gravy train. I was correct to run a photo of him upside down in a blog article, and would do it backward if I had one of the back of his head.

  14. Andres 2018. says:

    Give to the people what they want, PDuterte’s framing last election revolve around this thought. It goes like this:

    1. Know what the people wants.
    2. How can he deliver the wants of the people.

    The people wants to eradicate poverty, corruption, crimes, etc. These all pass the number 1 requirement but how about the number 2? Poverty, how to eradicate poverty? One could not address the question of hows in a single sentence, same that also of corruption. But looking at crimes, PDuterte address the hows by using only a few words. “I will kill them.”

    So yeah, the most concise and simple frame is the most effective in gaining attention. Also, he even address the root of crimes “correctly.” Was it poverty? No, rich people commit crimes. Its simply drug addicts. Thanks to media and news, everyday we can hear that this one was murdered, was raped, was robbed by a drug addict. To the point of view of the masses, PDuterte’s hows, whys, and whom are “correct.”

    • Juana Pilipinas says:

      Mentioned you at my post below. It is not meant to offend you. I honestly want to find a way to reach people who believe the DDS trolls who minimize the VP’s accomplishments.

      How would you frame the VP’s poverty alleviation program?

  15. VP Leni is focused on poverty alleviation. You would think that her “frame” would be strong as Figure 4 explicitly demonstrates that poverty is the leading theme of the information and opinion purveyors. There are a lot of people like Andres 2018 who are not just feigning ignorance of what the VP had accomplished in the past two years. They are really clueless about all the successful poverty alleviation projects that the VP had been diligently working on since she took the Office of the Vice President’s (OVP) helm. What they know about the VP are the negative memes and black propaganda that the DDS trolls post on social media i.e. her UN video that supposedly made Duterte look bad, her Holocaust memorial gaffe, and her mythical extravagance.

    Look at what is happening right now. The OVP’s already meager budget was cut 100M for 2019.

    How do we create a powerful “frame” for the VP? How are we going to educate the masses about her and her righteous advocacy?

    • Andres 2018. says:

      Saw my name so… here i am. Peace.

      Poverty alleviation is a difficult frame to market, its general, its complex, people could not grasp it very well. If you can dissect it, maybe it will work.

    • chemrock says:

      This is a world turned upside down. Half the battle has been won by Satan. A scandalous and immoral Mocha Uson FB posting goes out and hits a million likes and shares, and that’s viewed as a success as far as outreach and message delivery is concerned. Never mind it’s the same ignoranmus million over and over again. The digital metrics of google and other browser engines say so. Well written articles such as this in TSOH get page hits of 1,000. What a meagre number of truth seekers.

      And so an image of Duterte kissing the cheek of a dead soldier goes out and warm the hearts of millions. As if the old man has done some kind of wonderful. But the social work done by VP are non-events.

      It’s nothing to do with framing. Andres hides behind the excuse of the difficulties of framing poverty. A general show of dis-interest for sure. Ask him how Duterte can better frame is kill kill kill or build build build and you see professorial dissertation. VP Leni’s work is not a battle of ideas in the heat of election. Her’s is not a battle to win ideas and minds. Her’s is not pre-election bullshit. Her’s is about winning hearts, it’s about post-election delivery of promises. There is nothing to frame. Just deliver and trust the good work transcend political apathy. That people who have received understood the importance of selecting a good leader.

      I do not believe that VP Leni’s advocacy is about building political capital. For if that were so she would have arranged for all sorts of publicity. It is simply an advocacy of compassion to do her best for the most disadvantaged. I don’t think she has billed her advocacy as poverty-lifting for that is an immense task that requires national or LGU initiatives and resources.

      The lack of political mileage for VP Leni is not a matter of better framing, it is simply an utter lack of interest of media. Someone going out of her way into far flung remote villages and dishing out goodies and bringing some hope to some forlorn Filipinos does’nt make for headlines. Another Duterte disclosure of mistresses or misdeeds would. It’s good for the press, good for their advertising clientele.

      How are we going to create the publicity of her good deeds? Simply upload and share every piece of info and pictures coming out of her outdoors visitations. Digital metrics is a numbers game. Just go forth and multiply. One of the reasons the yellows loose to the other side is the lack of enthusiasm and commitment. Duterte/Marcos supporters has the ardent commitment and motivation somewhat akin to communist cadres, the kinds that fought hardships in jungles for decades all for a belief in their ideology.

      • Full ACK especially the last para. There are those like Mary Grace of course who are highly committed and post what they can, but I fear most are waiting for a divine miracle.

        Which will, of course, not happen.

        • How many oppositionists in the Philippines truly care about democracy? The likes of Hilbay, Lustre, Jozy Acosta-Nisperos etc. certainly do. How many just want to keep their privileged status? Still looking for the reasons behind the lack of drive. Why why why?

          • chemrock says:

            Survival instinct vs fighting spirit. Darwinism wins hands down. Survivalist goes by the creed – I’m willing to forego some loss of grounds (less freedom, less choices, etc) so long as my family’s status quo can be maintained. It’s why hundreds of millions of Indians can be ruled by a civilian East India Company and the white Raj for decades.

          • I see people who oppose Duterte who claim adamantly that they are not yellow because they associate yellow with LP and politics and they want to see themselves as not being under the influence of the ‘failed’ Aquino Administration. Failed? Failed? They expect Jesus in the Palace because their own self esteem is so battered by the lack of hope and uplift in this country that they can’t afford to attach to any mistakes and defend them. The damage is a lifetime of millions of people going nowhere and trying desperately to be someone. Unfortunately, it is not possible to teach esteem. It is not possible to get them to understand that, until they defend the imperfect, they will always be looking for some kind of computer game magician. And wondering why they can’t find him.

      • edgar lores says:

        1. Framing has several meanings as a verb. I would consider three, two of which are positive and one negative.

        2. The negative one, which Karl brought up, is “producing false evidence against an innocent person so that they appear guilty.”

        3. The positive ones are:

        3.1. ”to formulate (a concept, plan, or system)
        3.2. ”to place within a frame”

        4. We have been talking here of “framing” in its third meaning. That is, placing “something” within a context, a frame of reference, so that it can be communicated and be understood.

        5. But the third meaning is ambiguous in that the “something” can be good or bad.

        5.1. Duterte’s framing of shabu was bad in several respects.

        o He said it was the nation’s biggest problem — and it wasn’t.
        o He said it was a crime problem – and it wasn’t.
        o He said the solution was killing – and it wasn’t.

        5.2. Distant observer has suggested that new, powerful “frames” should be created. Juana has suggested that we create a powerful “frame” for the VP Robredo. And now here comes Chemrock suggesting Robredo’s programs has nothing to do with framing.

        6. I tend to agree with Chemrock. Although “framing” in the third meaning can be positive if the “something” being framed is a good thing, there is something dishonest in “framing” when it is combined with “attention shifting.” It becomes propaganda – pure and simple.

        6.1. And propaganda of good deeds tarnishes the deed. Because the motives for doing good deeds become suspect.

        7. Again I go back to my early statement that we should frame issues ourselves and not let media do it for us. If we want to know if a politician is worthy, then let us examine her according to our own moral and pragmatic criteria. To a certain extent, we rely on media to provide us the information for our examination, but we should go to other sources as well and, where possible, go directly and hear from the horse’s mouth. And in examining and shifting the info that we get, we use critical reasoning.

        7.1. It shouldn’t matter that the Marcoses have dedicated propaganda cadres because it is so easy to see through their schemes.

        • The frame I suggest is that “truth and kindness are needed for good works, and a whole lot of good works are needed to build a healthy and prosperous Philippines.” The flip side of that is, if you want misery, keep voting for magicians who don’t deliver anything but lies and brutality.

      • I’ll be writing about media tomorrow, citing essentially how even the well-intended (e.g., Rappler) misread that which is important because they are caught up in trivia that titillates. The entire culture is, as James Fallows said, damaged. It is within the psyche even of the educated and supposedly esteemed, that they see VP Robredo as weak and Duterte as ‘good’ because he projects the kind of strength they’d like to have themselves, to get even with all the people who have held them back. They don’t even realize it is they themselves that have held them back all these decades, for failure to understand that truth and kindness are needed for good works.

    • distant observer says:

      Thanks Juana. You raise a very important point that aims at translating this analysis into advocacy, and it would deserve a separate article. If a Filipino politician could “own” the issue of poverty alleviation, she or he would certainly win any election that she/he would run in. The problem is just, as Andres points out, that poverty is such a general problem that has numerous different faces. The “drug problem” is a much more narrow, or in a sense, a sub-theme of poverty.
      Destructive sentiments are manifold and they’re obviously easier to channel for political purposes that constructive ones. But does that really mean that one should leave all the attention-shifting endeavors to destructive forces? I agree with chemrock that Robredo’s efforts for the poor are not part of a political agenda to raise her popularity. I really believe that she genuinely cares about the least-well off. But should one leave all the credit-taking to the likes of Marcos (who was not responsible for building wind-mills for example), while the publicizing of decent work by politicians such as Robredo is being taken over by black propaganda? Are there not ways to rhetorically utilize the good deeds Robredo is doing anyway in a more fruitful manner? Of course a decent hard working politician can tell to her/himself that the things that one does is right, and that ones acts should speak for themselves. But I also think we all agree on the notion that politics is about perception. Should one leave the art of framing and attention shifting to the misanthropic and corrupted minds in politics?
      My inner jury is still out on that.

      And a provocative thought: Maybe the popularity of Duterte’s drug war never stemmed from an inherent desire to really eradicate drug usage and dealing from everyday life, but is/was just an explosion of anger and frustration that victimized a very high number of kababayans.

      • edgar lores says:

        I am sure the OVP staff is keeping track of VP Robredo’s good works.

        From my perspective, this effort is more for transparency and accountability rather than for the “trumpeting” of results.

        Anyone so interested in knowing what VP Robredo is doing simply has to google “Angat Buhay.”

        (Incidentally, I searched for “Office of the Vice President Leni Robredo” and one of the links — the official link? — showed this:

        No information is available for this page.
        Learn why

        I clicked on “Learn why” and got this:

        “The page owner partially blocked this page from Google, so we couldn’t create a good page description. Unfortunately there’s nothing that we can do ourselves. If you know the site owners, tell them they are blocking Google with a robots.txt file, which prevents Google from creating a page snippet.”

        My conclusion: shenanigans!)

        Perhaps this sentence from the “Angat Buhay” website will resolve our dilemma:

        “They say that if there is heart but no art, they will not listen. If there is art but no heart, they will not understand.”

        Yes, there must be art (“framing”) and the heart of they who seek to understand will find it.

        • edgar lores says:

          If you click on the link above — https://ovp.gov.ph — you will get to the website! Scroll down to see up-to-date postings.

          Did I say shenanigans? Sabotage!

          • chemrock says:

            Edgar, there don’t seem to be a problem?


            • edgar lores says:


              1. When I do a Google search, I still get the “No information is available for this page.” error on that particular link. I cannot click on the link itself.

              2. When I click on the link from within this comment section, I am able to enter the site, but I get a garbled page and have to page down to get to the formatted section that you see. Alternatively, when I click on the text “Home” — this appears as text and not a tab — I get to what you are seeing.

              I use Chrome but Edge behaves the same way.

              3. Thanks for the correction.

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