Cerge Remonde. Understanding without media


MANILA - In his outstanding career as Press Secretary to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (of Pampanga), Cerge Remonde (of Cebu) had a year-long headache with credit: He couldn't get any for his boss. For almost 12 months, he did his best; he tried hard work, candor, competence, dedication, integrity, loyalty, professionalism, friendship, intelligence, eloquence, kindness, grace, and humor. He got the credit; GMA didn't.

He died with his boots on.

Sadly, he was mistaken. For GMA, he had been trying to get from the media credit without media understanding. His medium was categorical statements, and media didn't get the message. There was simply too much noise, deadening noise.

He died at 51. He was found slumped in the bathroom midmorning yesterday (as I write this) at his house in Bel Air, Makati, 19 January 2010; he was brought to the Makati Medical Center nearby where doctors valiantly tried to resuscitate him but failed. He was declared dead at 1151 hours that same day.

Was it heart failure? Heartache, I say. Dedicated public servants can only do so much; valiant medical doctors can only do so much.

When I am dead my dearest
Sing no sad songs for me
Plant thou no roses at my bed
Nor shady cypress tree.
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet
And if thou wilt, remember
And if thou wilt, forget.
(Christina Georgina Rossetti)


Do I hear remembrances now? Here's a lovely statement from Senator Loren Legarda on the announcement of Remonde's death:

I grieve over the untimely death of Press Secretary Cerge Remonde. While he had a most difficult job as spokesman of the administration, he had performed his task with flair, eloquence and dedication, providing the public with a clear and concise articulation of the viewpoints, positions and pronouncements of the administration.

He was a loyal and capable spokesman of the government. In a democracy, it is important that the two sides or many sides of any question pertaining to public matters should be presented openly in public. He had done this competently. He also had a clean slate in public service. We will sorely miss him.

I didn't know him from Adam, but I'm going to miss him too now. Now I'm also going to grieve over his death along with Senator Pia Cayetano who had this to say in sadness:

I join our people in mourning the passing of a dear friend, Secretary Cerge Remonde. He was a true gentleman and a dedicated public servant with the heart of a journalist. He was one of Cebu's highly respected media practitioners. Defending the President's action before national media is one of the toughest jobs in the world, but Sec Cerge always performed his job with utmost professionalism, grace and humor.

If some of the enemies of his boss can say nice things about him, what does that make of those enemies? Unfortunately, they didn't recognize a true friend when alive they saw him. Or her.

Remonde had looked healthy when he attended the annual Sinulog Festival in Cebu last Saturday. Press Undersecretary Romeo Junia and he had come from a Malacañang meeting Monday night and he didn't notice any sign of ill-health of his boss either (Genalyn Kabiling, mb.com.ph).

He was a native of Argao, Cebu. He was a working student; he graduated magna cum laude from the University of the Visayas in Cebu with an AB degree. He studied Cooperation and Development Studies at the Afro-Asia Institute in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1986. He was part of an International Visitors Program hosted by the US State Department in Washington DC in 1992.

Danish Marit Stinus, his wife said her husband was a devotee of the Santo Niño (Child Jesus) and had always found time to praise and thank God. His last Facebook entry, posted at 1928 hours on 18 January, read (Jocelyn Montemayor, malaya.com.ph):

Lord, thank you for your infinite love that meets our every need and provides all the beautiful and wonderful things we experience in life. Release our hearts and minds from fear and worry. Fill us with your peace as we learn to fully trust in your providence. Help us to do all that we are capable of and the rest we entrust unto you. Amen

"Help us to do all that we are capable of and the rest we entrust unto you" - a message for all of those who believe in themselves and in God. At least to the Roman Catholics like you and me, from someone who was "a devout Catholic to the very end" (Mark D Merueñas & Johanna Camille Sisante, gmanews.tv). Town fiestas are Roman Catholics to the core.

Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, while saddened over the demise of his good friend, urged his family to accept his passing (Cebu Daily News, inquirer.net):

He was a good person. He will be remembered by everybody. What happened is very sad but we must accept it. The Lord has reasons for that.

Except that, Cardinal, we don't understand those reasons. Or, if we do, it's difficult to accept them.

With Remonde's death, paraphrasing Shakespeare, I ask, "Why do the trials that men go through live after them; the good are oft interred with their bones?"

His wife Marit had noticed last week that "he was not really smiling so much and not so happy" anymore. The doctor said what did him in was cardiac arrest. More like credit arrest, it looks to me - he couldn't get even his friends in the mass media to give credit to whom credit was due as to the achievements of his boss.

"If thou wilt, remember. / If thou wilt, forget." They had already forgotten, or they weren't paying attention at all.

The good fight is over for Cerge Remonde, and yet it isn't over. What exactly did he fight for?

He fought for recognition. Not his, but for the recognition of the achievements of his boss by the mass media. These are the visible achievements, the printable, photographable, aural, visual, newsworthy, and sound accomplishments of his boss in her 9 years as President.

But the mass media were printing, photographing, recording, broadcasting, airing and showing something else. Enamored being SMART with what they consider specific, measurable, appropriate, realistic, time-bound presidential popularity, data easy to transmit by print, telephone, cell phone, flash drive, or email. Suddenly, presidential popularity was the crux of the matter, the renewable fossil fuel that runs the machine of government, the antioxidant food that gives energy to the people, the major lesson that students needed to learn in school wherever they are, public or private. Data already digested you don't have to think to report it.

Popularity, how many crimes are committed in thy name!

His wife Marit, a columnist of the Manila Times, said Remonde was many times exasperated by media reports, where "no matter how much he explains, it gets twisted" (Charissa M Luci, mb.com.ph). I see the mass media in a mess was a daily diet for him, and he must have suffered dysfunction on top of what Dr Anthony Leachon, his cardiologist said he was suffering from: diabetes and hypertension. Who wouldn't suffer high blood pressure from the mass media who are very good at making miracles - for instance, making mountains out of molehills?

In fact, what his friends in the mass media were busy with were popularity contests. Who is ahead in the presidential race? How much negative is GMA's popularity today? How many of the Senators are on the side of whom now? How many of the Congressmen?

In his last column submitted to the Manila Bulletin yesterday before he died ("Just Look Around You," mb.com.ph), he wrote about a favorite story, the one he said "I love to tell people who would ask me about what the solid accomplishments of President (Gloria) Macapagal-Arroyo are that would readily remind us of her when she is no longer the President."

As introduction to the column, he wrote about a visitor to the magnificent St Paul's cathedral in London, who inquired why there was no monument erected in honor of the architect, Sir Christopher Wren. The caretaker showed the visitor inside the cathedral and pointed to an inscription on the wall in Latin that said, "Lector, si monumentum requires, circumspice." Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.

In his time, the mass media were looking for monuments so that they could honor his boss, and nobody found any. This last time, he was telling them: "Just look around you."

What were his friends in the mass media reporting instead? The latest popularity ratings from the Social Weather Stations. It's the fashion these days.

If you seek GMA's monument, Remonde wanted to tell the mass media for the last time, look 360 degrees. "For no leader in our history could compare with her achievements when it comes to the building of infrastructures of growth such as roads and bridges, ports and airports."

What were his friends in the mass media reporting instead? The latest popularity ratings from Pulse Asia. It's the trend these days.

"I bring up the point," he said for the last time, "to illustrate how this administration must endure unfair criticism at every turn." He was talking to his beloved mass media, who were not listening to him.

For the last time, he told them of GMA building more roads than all her 3 predecessors combined: FVR 14,980 km, Cory Aquino 11,699 km, Erap Estrada 7,647 km - a combined total of 34,326 km. GMA has built 47,000 km, or a total difference of 13,474 km.

What were his friends in the mass media reporting instead? The latest popularity ratings from The Issues and Advocacy Center. It's the drift these days.

For the last time, he told them of GMA building more bridges than all her 3 predecessors combined: FVR 165,997 lineal meters, Cory Aquino 41,996 lm, Erap Estrada 66,754 lm - a combined total of 274,747 lm. GMA has so far built 289,944 lm, a total difference of 10,197 lm.

What were his friends in the mass media reporting instead? The latest popularity ratings from the Social Weather Stations. Infrastructure bores; popularity excites.

For the last time, he told them of GMA building 3 new airports, 2 of international standards; improved or upgraded 3 international airports, upgraded 4 airports to international standards; improved or upgraded 67 airports.

What were his friends in the mass media reporting instead? The latest popularity ratings from Pulse Asia. Infrastructure drags; popularity thrills.

For the last time, he told them of GMA having constructed or rehabilitated 164 ports; constructed or improved 373 municipal ports, and completed 47 fishery infrastructure projects.

In this manner, anybody who travels the length and breadth of this beautiful archipelago long after our President will have served her full term, will see the unmistakable imprint of her presidency. All he or she has to do is "look around," as the inscription within the wall of St. Paul's cathedral says.

What were his friends in the mass media reporting instead? The latest popularity ratings from The Issues and Advocacy Center. Infrastructure is dreary numbers; popularity is exciting vital statistics.

Under her watch, the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry has grown from a mere 400 agents to close to 500,000 workers, all getting above-average salaries and benefits. As you very well know, call center agents are mostly college graduates, or college students at the very least.

Thus, the President has also created a job creation program for those who make up the bottom of the economic pyramid. At least a million people in the cities and in the countryside have been given jobs and livelihood opportunities, in the Department of Public Works and Highways and in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Who cares?

In fact, as per the report of the National Statistics Office, as of 2008, more than 8 million jobs had been created since the start of her administration, putting her target of creating 10 million jobs by 2010 well within reach.

Talking to me?

Aside from building the biggest number of roads and bridges in much shorter time compared to previous administrations, this administration has presided over 36 quarters of economic growth, capped by the last quarter of 2009. Thirty-six quarters, if I may stress, span the entire nine-year tenure of this administration.

For the last time, Remonde asked, "Now, did President Arroyo get the thanks she so richly deserves? Not on your life."

Not from friends in the mass media, whom Cerge Remonde had particularly loved, he having risen from the ranks, starting as a radio broadcaster of Station DyLA in Cebu, becoming National Chair of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas, serving 6 unprecedented terms. In January 2001, GMA appointed him Press Undersecretary for Broadcast. In 2004, he was appointed Head of the Government Mass Media Group overseeing government media: NBN 4, RPN 9 and IBC 13; Bureau of Broadcast (Radyo ng Bayan), Bureau of Communication Services, and the Philippine News Agency. On 1 February 2009, he became Press Secretary.

Bayan Muna Rep Satur Ocampo said, "We've had our differences, but we understand that he's just performing a function" (Leila Salaverria, inquirer.net). I say, but it wasn't "trabaho lang" - it wasn't just work; Remonde was doing it for his country.

As a mass media man, Remonde said what he saw, and it was good: The Philippines was "now being recognized as one of the best-performing economies of Asia because of President Arroyo's economic and fiscal policies" (ANN, pinoyherald.org). He cited BusinessWorld as saying that "the peso has outperformed most emerging market currency so far this year and is likely to prove a strong value in 2009 as the Philippine economy is least vulnerable to the factors of hammering markets elsewhere." Who believes BusinessWorld?

On his death, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said GMA was "deeply shocked and saddened" (Jocelyn Montemayor, malaya.com.ph). He said Remonde was "one of this administration's most competent, faithful and loyal stalwarts."

Former Presidential Political Adviser Gabriel Claudio said (Mia M Gonzalez, businessmirror.com.ph):

(He) was a good man and true friend, compassionate, loyal, appreciative of others’ talents and accomplishments, and carried an infectious sense of humor and positive disposition. It’s going to be difficult to realize and understand that he’s gone. I’ll miss him a lot and it’s going to hurt for a long time.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Gary Olivar said (same source):

Secretary Cerge Remonde will … continue to be an inspiration to them and a shining example of a life well-lived in the service of his fellow man and for the greater glory of the Creator above.

Akbayan Rep Risa Hontiveros said (Carmela Fonbuena, abscbnnews.com):

He lived his life according to his principles and remained committed to his duties and obligations even when confronted with harsh criticism and objections. That he stood up for convictions that more often than not clashed with our campaign for progressive reforms, he was a formidable adversary in the court of public opinion.

House Speaker Prospero Nograles said (same source):

He withstood all the pressures and stood his ground even when faced with the most controversial issues during his watch. He was the administration's first line of defense and did his utmost best with dedication, hard work and service to the news and the media profession. He died as a true media man till his last breath.

Last December, Cerge Remonde himself said (Paolo Romero, philstar.com):

I am very sad about the public approval rating of the President despite all the good things she has done and the many sacrifices she has made for our country. Maybe, I have failed as Press Secretary for 10 months now to do my job of effectively communicating the achievements of our very hardworking President.

He from the mass media had failed in his work because they from the mass media had succeeded in theirs.

They're here at the Heritage Memorial Park in Fort Bonifacio Wednesday, or at Malacañang Palace Thursday, or in Cebu City Friday, or in his hometown of Argao Sunday when they lay him down to rest, beneath the green, green grass of home. "If thou wilt, remember / If thou wilt, forget."

Really, they come not to praise Cerge but to bury him.

Now that he is gone, multuhin sana sila ni Cerge! May the ghost of Remonde's past visit them, the ghost of his media labors haunt them, he who labored at understanding media without media understanding.

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