The tail wagging the dog

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By Mags Z. Maglana

The Point Being

Friday, July 11, 2014

FILM enthusiasts would remember the late 1990s film “Wag the Dog” that starred Dustin Hoffman and Robert de Niro. The movie detailed the machinations of spinmeister de Niro whose objective was to divert public attention away from a sex scandal involving the President of the United States, who was up for reelection, and a minor. De Niro concocts a fictitious war with Albania to distract media and gets Hoffman to direct footages of the conflict. The ploy apparently succeeds as the wayward President gets elected; but Hoffman is killed to protect the secret and his death is passed off as heart failure.

And it was exactly as the idiomatic expression went, the matter of secondary importance (in the case of the film, of no import at all because it was a fake war) took on prominence over the matter of primary importance (the unconscionable behavior of the President) -- the tail wagged the dog.

These days, a few events felt like on a few fronts Filipinos were being wagged.


For one, Malacañang adjudged Nora Aunor as not up to par with National Artist material. The terrorist alert in Davao was another.

The nixing by the President of the recommendation of a panel of experts in culture and arts was a slap on our sensibilities as a people. Particularly because in the end it boiled down to the issue of Nora’s alleged drug use, which turned out to be unsubstantiated because no charges had been filed against her.

Call it sloppy work but the episode exposed the highly subjective and politicized nature of the award. A panel of individuals acknowledged authorities in their fields, labored and sifted through a lot of material to come up with a list of recommendees that they deem most worthy of the award. The nominee who got the most number of votes was sidestepped because of inaccurate information, and the President opted to use a consideration that had nothing to do with the substantive part of the selection criteria – the tail wagged the dog.

The idiomatic expression also suggests stage management to advance a set of interest not necessarily to the advantage of the group being manipulated.

Early July, President Benigno Aquino III himself contacted Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to pass on information about a security threat to Davao, which led to the tightening of security arrangements, and possibly affected turnout for the annual Kadayawan Festival of the city. PNoy later admitted that the information about a possible car bomb attack by the Jema’ah Islamiyah was “raw and unverified”; but was passed on to make sure that the city would be able to prepare.

Arguably one cannot say that public safety is a secondary matter in this case. However, political pundits wondered to what extent the downsizing of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines of the United States Armed Forced was a factor in the security advisory. Established in 2002 to respond to the threats posed by the Abu Sayyaf and the Southeast Asian regional terrorist network Jema’ah Islamiyah, the JSOTF-P was reduced to about 200, nearly half its original capacity, end of June 2014. Threats from international terrorist networks in Mindanao could be cited as strong enough argument for stronger presence and operations of US troops in the country.

If such a threat was merely contrived, then it could be a case of the tail wagging the dog, manipulation on a grand scale that are not new to Filipinos. It might have sounded like conspiracy theory then, but historians had exposed how in the 1950s CIA operative Major General Edward Lansdale exploited Filipino superstitious belief in bloodsucking “aswangs” to flush mostly peasant Hukbalahap elements from their mountain hideouts. So “aswang” then, car bombs now?

One also wonders whether a case of tail-as-secondary concern driving the dog-as-primary concern happened in the case of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leadership already called attention to what is perceived to be a “heavily diluted” draft BBL coming out of the review by Malacañang of the version worked on and submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).

Corridor talk has it that ineffective political leadership within the very halls of Malacañang caused the legalist view to triumph, thus frustrating efforts of the Philippine Government and MILF peace panels to find workable solutions to the historical “unacceptable status quo” in the Bangsamoro.

This is not to say that matters of legal concern, particularly those involving the Constitution, are of secondary importance. But if it was really only a matter of simplistically using the lens of the Philippine Constitution to review and sign off on the law that is supposed to provide the framework for institutionalizing real change in the Bangsamoro, then what was the peace talks all about?

Sana magising na si dog.


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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on July 12, 2014.


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