Tuesday, July 28, 2015

More of the same

My July 28, 2015 column.

President Benigno S. Aquino III’s last State of the Nation Address yesterday featured more of the same griping and blaming that have characterized previous speeches.  He started his speech by once again crucifying his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in the bar of public opinion, blaming her squarely for the problems of the country despite the fact that he had been in power for five years already and that most of the economic gains that the country is experiencing is widely credited to the infrastructures and programs put in place before he rose to power.  He would continue to take potshots and sarcastic asides all throughout his speech, but quite tellingly, spared his friends from his diatribe.
As such, what could have been a high point in his presidency – his valedictory address – was immediately dampened by negativity.  The general sense of anticipation that hovered in the air as evidenced by the fact that he was given sustained and enthusiastic applause by the assembly prior to his speech was shattered;  it would take a cameo appearance of author and inspirational speaker Alex Lacson to get people to start clapping their hands again. 
As expected, the speech was long on statistics but painfully short on anecdotal evidence, validating the inability of government to pursue economic growth that is truly inclusive.  However, what was clearly noteworthy in this year’s SONA was the President’s efforts to highlight the contributions of his cabinet members; unlike in the past when he tended to take sole credit for accomplishments, Aquino allowed some of his cabinet members such as Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz and Brother Armin Luistro to bask in the limelight.
What was also painfully clear yesterday was that Aquino’s smoking is taking a toll on his health.  The Sona was interrupted many times by his coughing and his voice was strained halfway through the speech.
The controversies that rock the Iglesia Ni Cristo are riveting.  Most everyone has been trying to give the religious sect some kind of deferential treatment – there has been marked reduction in the hyperventilation and the sensationalist slant in most of the reportage – but there is no doubt that everyone is keeping a keen eye on whether the INC will be able to contain the scandals and repair the divisions within its ranks or if there will be more dissension, expulsions, and revelations of dirty secrets forthcoming.
The public attention is not actually surprising.  Although the INC membership comprise a small percentage of the Philippine population, no other religious sect in the country has been able to wield as much political power.  This is largely attributed to the fact that the INC can influence the results of elections because of its deeply entrenched bloc voting system.  Many politicians owe their seats to the INC– from the barangay, municipal, city, provincial, regional, all the way to the national levels.  The INC’s influence also extends to the appointment of government officials – in fact, Bureau of Customs commissioner John Sevilla was supposed to have resigned from his post recently as a consequence of INC efforts to intervene in the appointment of senior officers in the bureau.
There have also been rumors of the involvement of certain government officials, particularly police officers, in the alleged disappearance of INC ministers and officials accused of instigating the exposes and revelations that eventually blew up as scandals.  People are understandably concerned about the extent to which government officials are prepared to break laws or look the other way to accommodate the INC.
But there are other reasons why the INC scandals are riveting to many.  First, the scandals have the ingredients that comprise the successful telenovelas – a family feud involving a matriarch and some siblings allied against a powerful family member, allegations of abduction and hostage-taking, and accusations of corruption and high level conspiracy.   Second, regardless of one’s religious persuasions, it cannot be denied that the INC is one of the most cohesive religious organizations in the country, renowned for strict adherence and obedience to its sacred doctrines. 
We expect our religious leaders to practice what they preach.  We expect religious organizations to showcase the highest standards of ethics, good governance, and integrity.  While we it is difficult to make sweeping generalizations on the bases of accusations, there is reason to feel a general sense of disappointment and sadness that even organizations such as the INC are embroiled in practices that hint of entrenched corruption.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


My July 26, 2015 column.
President Benigno S. Aquino III will deliver his last State of the Nation Address tomorrow. Once again, the political, the personal, and showbusiness will collide in a grand spectacle that will be enlightening, exasperating, but definitely entertaining. 
We expect the President to drumbeat the achievements of his Presidency, and it is not farfetched to imagine that it will be a long, long list. He will take credit for a lot of things, including those that were started long before he became President (such as the conditional cash transfer program which is being touted as the reason behind the reduction in the number of those who are hungry) and those that would have turned out well regardless of who was sitting in MalacaƱan Palace. He will be silent on a lot of promises that didn’t get done, and will gloss over the many failures of his administration. The SONA is the President’s version of reality. He is not expected to commit self-flagellation. Thus, everything that is reported in the SONA must really be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.
We expect the Liberal Party to transform the occasion into the equivalent of a miting de avance, a veritable show of force. Given how Senator Grace Poe has spurned the party’s ardent pursuit for her to form an alliance with them and ultimately help catapult Mar Roxas into the presidency, the Liberal Party needs to rally the troops and show the whole world that not only are they the party in power, they are the party to beat in 2016. And the SONA is probably one of the very rare occasions when a political party can legitimately piggyback on an event of national significance.
Because we live in a country where devotion to political personalities—and political families —is actually common, we also expect the yellow brigade to come full force, hang on to every word the President says, break into applause at the slightest provocation, and at the end of it all, rave about the whole performance. There will be people who will count the number of times the speech is interrupted by applause, whether spontaneous or instigated by the peanut gallery.
Of course there will also be a circus outside the House of Representatives. The usual suspects will chant slogans, burn effigies, and deliver what they would claim to be a more factual state-of-the-nation address. They might even be joined by some legislators looking for an opportunity to make a political statement that might just merit mention in the various reportage about the event.
But tomorrow’s event will primarily be remembered not for what the President or anyone else said, but for what people wore to the event.
The annual SONA has become the country’s most spectacular fashion show. It is concrete proof of the merger between politics and showbusiness. But even more telling, it is irrefutable evidence that the people in this country who can afford to splurge on the most expensive clothes are mostly politicians. Getting elected into office must really be lucrative. Most of the legislators will have not just one outfit prepared for tomorrow, they will also be dressing up their whole family, all of whom will be there struggling to stay awake and look interested.
The questions that beg to be answered, though, are: Why are all these people dressed like they are going to the opera or to a ball? Why are the women dressed in elaborate ternos, some with trains that take up a lot of space and make walking difficult? Worse, what drives these people to wear clothing that must be so uncomfortable? The presidential sister who must not be named in this column remarked in public television recently that she was in a very bad mood because the gown she is supposed to wear tomorrow is so stiff and difficult to wear. Given all these aggravations, why do people bother with the frivolity?
I understand that it’s a formal affair and that people dress up as a sign of respect for the President (or at least the chair he is sitting on), but why can they not just dress up in business attires? The various fashion statements are actually distracting and reduce the significance of the event, so that red carpet during the SONA really has to go. It’s time to go back to the basics and reclaim the simple elegance of previous SONAs when the whole focus of the occasion was the President’s report, not the various sideshows and circuses that compete for attention. But then again, maybe that is the reason why these distractions are there to begin with—there’s not much we can expect from the President’s SONA anyway.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pork by any other name

My July 21, 2015 column.
Is there still pork in the national budget? 
The question is pretty straightforward so it is reasonable to expect a similarly straight answer.  Unfortunately, what we’ve been given instead are the convoluted explanations about the difference between “post-enactment” and “pre-enactment interventions” as far as the national budget is concerned.  All the hemming and hawing only serve to reinforce the general suspicion that something is wrong somewhere.
We do get what the administration and its supporters (notably among them Senator Francis Escudero) have been trying to say, which is that lawmakers are no longer given blanket approval to determine where and how their budget allocations would go during the implementation of the budget.  Presumably, legislators must now “make their requests” prior to the approval of the budget and that these “requests” need to be reflected in the respective budgets of the various departments.   In short, legislators can still identify pet projects, advance certain advocacies, and maneuver to deliver benefits or advantages to his or her district - exactly what the pork barrel system was about.  It’s been camouflaged, sanitized, dressed-up, relabelled, and repackaged, but pork is still there.
In the interest of being truthful, I don’t recall that President B. S. Aquino committed to abolish the pork barrel system.  His preference, at least according to Budget Secretary Butch Abad, was to reform the system.  It can be recalled that he did put up a great defense of the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which was widely referred to as the biggest pork of all.  When the Supreme Court rendered the DAP unconstitutional, he went through the equivalent of a public tantrum.  When faced with overwhelming arguments about how the pork barrel system was inevitably linked to corruption and tended to perpetuate political patronage, the President pulled out the card that has worked well every single time he was in a political bind:  He made the issue personal, took the whole issue as an affront on his personal integrity, and accused his critics of trying to sabotage all the good things he has been trying to do for this country.    
Based on the revelations of Senators Panfilo Lacson and Serge Osmena, there is a lot of pork in the current budget and even in the 2016 national budget as well.  What is even more astonishing is that there are now no limits assigned to specific legislators insofar as the amount of projects they can request for.  In the current budget, billions of pesos were allocated for projects endorsed by certain senators.  What we can conclude right off is that the executive branch has now been given absolute decision-making powers over “requests” of legislators.  It’s not far-fetched to imagine a scenario where this power can still be used as leverage to garner a legislator’s support for certain initiatives of the executive branch.  And while the money will no longer go through the office of the senators who endorsed the project, the senators can still claim ownership of the projects and can still make political capital out of government money.  In short, the new system has not really addressed many of the things that people found objectionable with the pork barrel system!
The kickbacks and commissions that legislators derived from the pork barrel system were objectionable.  But these were not the end-all and be-all of the campaign to abolish the pork barrel system.  The fact that Janet Napoles or that Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon Revilla Jr. are in jail is not enough.
We want the pork barrel system abolished because it nurtures political patronage which is the cancer that gnaws at our political system.  The job of legislators is to enact laws.  Senators and congressmen have no business spending public money for purposes other than for the creation of laws designed to nurture an enabling environment for all.  Legislators should be judged - elected, re-elected, or booted out of office - on the basis of their performance as a maker of laws, and never on their capability to deliver benefits and advantages to their constituents.  Otherwise we’ll forever be doomed to the spectacle of watching senators and congressmen make utter fools of themselves as legislators.  If we truly want significant changes in this country, let’s begin by electing the right leaders - and we cannot do so until and unless we abolish the system that feeds political patronage.
The pork barrel system breeds both illegitimate and unethical practices.  There is clearly something wrong in a system where government projects are linked to political personages.  The independence of either branch of government is severely undermined when government projects can be used as leverage in political machinations.  
It must be reiterated:  If we truly want change in our political system, the pork barrel - in all its forms - must be abolished.  Too bad, however, that people seem to be already content with the fact that Napoles and company are already in jail.
Senators Grace Poe and Francis Escudero have so far refrained from confirming their plans for 2016, but it doesn’t take a genius to read their behavior.  Why would they go through all that trouble to meet with the President in Malacanang, and on several occasions at that, if they didn’t have the intention to run in 2016? 
To my mind, a clear indication that Senator Escudero is seriously considering running for any of the top two posts in 2016 is the sudden appearance of anti-Escudero materials in various social networking sites.  He is now a target of political assassination.  I have received in my inbox  at least two versions of a white paper that essentially label Escudero as a traitor, opportunist, and a philandering arrogant boor. Most of the allegations in the white paper are actually dated but the accusations that his ties with Senator Poe is further evidence of his opportunism seems to strike a chord in many.
It is easy to dismiss the allegations as politically-motivated.  However, I do think that allegations of treachery is deadly for any political candidate.  I think that voters in general will prefer a crook to a traitor, anytime.  I have been in a number of occasions where people tended to believe the worst of the senator.  If Escudero really intends to run for either president or vice president in 2016, he needs to do something to counter the wallop that he has been dealt with this early.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Not just about lip-syncing

My July 19, 2015 column.

So we now know that this matter of lip-syncing artists is actually something that is of serious concern because a seemingly off-the-cuff tweet from a 19-year old artist not only became viral, it got quite a number of major personalities in the local entertainment world to emerge from the woodwork to weigh in with their respective take on the issue. 
Singer Rhap Salazar, who is best known for his appearances in the Ellen Degeneres Show, expressed his “hate” for lip-syncing artists in a tweet sent out to the world last week. When another artist made a rejoinder, he shot out another tweet about how these lip-syncing artists even get to have their own recording albums. The seemingly casual exchange of opinions became viral with the likes of international artist Lea Salonga and talent manager and talk show host Boy Abunda, among many, many others, throwing in their own two-cents. Clearly, lip-syncing was just the proverbial tip of the iceberg because other issues ­—supposedly the more substantive ones – soon surfaced.
First off, let me express my disappointment with certain people whose general reaction to the issue was to shoot down the messenger. Quite a number of commentaries focused on Rhap Salazar, the person, rather than the issue he raised. One celebrity even went as far as to infer that envy was behind Salazar’s rant, suggesting that the fact that Salazar has not achieved superstar status despite his immense talent must be gnawing on the young artist’s ego. Why can’t we just focus on the issues at hand?
This matter of lip-syncing artists hits a raw nerve among us because we happen to be a country of singers. Singing is part of our DNA and this is proven by the fact that every occasion and every celebration in this country is incomplete without a sing-along. There’s always a Filipino with a really great voice waiting to be discovered. Our standards are quite high when it comes to singers so much so that most Filipinos actually tune in to shows such as American Idol or The Voice only towards the end of the season when these shows have already winnowed performers down to the ones that are truly talented. Of course there will always be room for exceptions, such as when there are technical problems at hand, but in general the disappointment or dislike for singers who lip-sync is understandable.
When we really come to think about it, lip-syncing is not really the issue at hand but rather the star system that is at work in the local entertainment industry. It’s a system that capitalizes mainly on looks, or at the very least, good packaging. This is supposedly the logic behind the so-called blind auditions of shows like The Voice, where judges pick singers purely on the basis of singing talent. The reality is that it’s just a gimmick because they do dig up the back story behind each artist and eventually play up the human interest angle with each performance. What we have is a system that seems to be grounded on the theory that singing talent alone is not sustainable; singers are eventually asked to do other things: become involved in love teams, appear in escapist movies, and constantly make their lives interesting – their singing soon becomes something that they just happen to be able to do. Heck they can even lip-sync all they want provided their overall act is entertaining. In fact, in the case of young celebrities, the singing is secondary to their ability to make their fans swoon. This formula has been at work even during the heyday of the Vilma Santos and Edgar Mortiz tandem and is still being used today. 
The system also requires that celebrities, even actors and actresses who have already established their acting mettle, to sing or dance every single time they have a movie, a play, or an event coming up. Why they have to be reduced to clowns is perplexing. We are told this is what makes them endearing to the Filipino audience, but I suspect it’s really because of plain lack of creativity or just sheer laziness on the part of handlers. Thus, it is hardly surprising really that people are forced to lip-sync. We have celebrities who are able to sell albums, mount sold-out concerts, and are made to perform regularly in television shows even if they have singing voices that grate on the ears – all because this is what the system nurtures. We are told this is what sells.
Of course there are genuine talents in the midst and there are singers who guard their artistic integrity fiercely. Some of them are very successful and have a huge following, while others are minor stars in the local entertainment galaxy. These people rarely lip-sync and always pour themselves into each performance. If we want change in the system, we just have to keep on supporting these artists. The point is we are not actually powerless. We have the power of choice. We will have less of the lip-syncing if we stop supporting artists who engage in lip-syncing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Duterte Phenomenon

My July 14, 2015 column.
Rodrigo Duterte, the self-professed non-candidate in the 2016 presidential election, appeared in Gandang Gabi Vice, ABS-CBN’s popular Sunday evening show over the weekend.  Duterte denied, yet again, that he is running for president of the Republic next year.  He said he was not fit to become president.  In a separate forum with businessmen last month, he said he had no money to finance a presidential campaign and boldly declared that he was categorically and most definitely not running for president in 2016.  He has echoed and re-echoed the same assertions many times over in various fora and interviews. 
The man’s protestations should have already ended all further discussions on the matter.  The man has already expressed his disinterest and in various ways.  And yet, why does he continue to figure in discussions about the 2016 elections?  Why is he still being considered among the top contenders for the highest post in the land?  
Of course it can always be argued that Duterte’s body language does not seem to be aligned with what he is saying publicly. It has been pointed out by many that for someone who says he is not interested in becoming president, Duterte seems to have so much to say on the matter.  And his appearance in certain fora and television shows, and his various pronouncements, seem to be indicative of a political campaign strategy at work.  Even his appearance in Gandang Gabi Vice last Sunday seemed like a deliberate effort to soften his image.  So yes, it is indeed possible that Duterte’s current attempts to play coy are all part of a major public relations campaign to enhance his public image and to create a groundswell of support.
What cannot be denied is that Duterte is gaining support from a key segment of the Philippine population and if we are to believe what people are saying, the level of acceptability and desirability of a Duterte Presidency is rising with each public appearance.  Duterte’s appearance in Gandang Gabi Vice where he basically clowned around with the country’s most popular transgender should have endeared him to many, including lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders.  Duterte surprisingly expressed his support for same-sex marriages and claimed that he personally does not think sex between people of the same sex is wrong.  It can be recalled that the one thing most people feared about Duterte was his supposed dictatorial tendencies – the general perception about him was that he was not the type who listened to others or accepted dissenting opinions.  If we are to go by the general impression he created last Sunday, Duterte is not only a gentleman. He champions the oppressed and marginalized, and he is not a bigot.  I know many people who are now firmly convinced that Duterte is a much better alternative to, say, Vice President Jejomar Binay.
There is little doubt that Duterte’s background as mayor of the largest and probably the most peaceful city in the country for more than two decades has equipped him with certain critical competencies that would make him better qualified compared to others who are being catapulted into the Presidency on the wings of sheer potential.  In an ideal world, people should be choosing based on manifested competencies.  However, the reality is that most Filipinos choose leaders they can relate with at a very personal level; for many, it is about having a personal connection with a candidate and this means sharing the same set of values and priorities. 
So what can we then make of the emergence of Duterte as a non-candidate whose appeal seems to increase in the run-up to the 2016 elections?
It is very clear that there is an emerging clamor for genuine leadership; people are looking for someone that can lead the way forward.  It is pointless for people to continue harping on the educational and management background of potential candidates; as far as most people are concerned, proven track record in transforming communities and in solving real problems are what really counts. 
It is also apparent that moral integrity takes a backseat to issues that have direct impact on the everyday lives of people such as poverty, oppression, peace and order, drugs, etc.  Many people are apparently willing to gloss over Duterte’s human rights record in exchange for certain desirable results such as having policemen that actually do their work, or strict, fair, and consistent implementation of laws.  It should come as no surprise then that the many allegations of corruption being leveled against Binay has not succeeded yet in changing the minds of his core constituency.
 In short, people are not looking for saints – they want someone who will make their lives better.  And most important of all, it is very clear that political will is something that strikes a major chord among people today.  We want someone with the courage to do what is necessary.
Duterte could just be a representation of what voters want in 2016.  If he is not running, then the challenge seems pretty clear to the other presidential aspirants.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Thoughts on a suicide

My July 12, 2015 column.

My college best friend took her own life about 30 years ago in circumstances that still remain incomprehensible to this day. She was the type of person who was always bursting with energy although she did have moods. Like in most suicide cases, nobody had an inkling that she was suicidal.
She didn’t look like she was depressed or that she was capable of taking her own life. Things were never the same again after she passed away: her family disintegrated; her parents who used to be very social individuals retreated to themselves. I guess we never really recovered from what happened. To this day, I still think about what she could have achieved had she not taken her life.
Suicide leaves a pain that is difficult to erase because it’s one of those tragedies that one cannot achieve closure on. The questions remain unanswered and the guilt stays no matter how hard you try to convince yourself that there was nothing you or anyone else could have done to alter the series of events that led to the tragedy.
Suicide has been in the news lately on account of the death of a young artist, who also happened to be the daughter of two very respected artists. As can be expected, the case has attracted quite a number of reactions. While most of the reactions seemed sincere and appropriate, there were, unfortunately, quite a number of commentaries that were intrusive and tended to be judgmental. Worse, some of the reportage by some media quarters bordered on the sensational.
It is important that any case of suicide be treated with a lot of care, particularly by media, out of respect for the family who must be allowed space to grieve and to deal with the complex issues that are inevitably linked to every case of suicide in the family—guilt, stigma, anger, and the profound sense of loss. It’s cruel to subject families to additional trauma.
And then there’s the very real possibility of copycat suicides. It’s a real phenomenon that has been known to occur among people of a certain age. When a suicide case is highly publicized and when it involves someone with a celebrity status, there is a very high possibility that the case will embolden someone else with a mitigating factor such as depression to copy the act.
I went into counseling as a personal advocacy partly because of what happened to my best friend. In the last two decades I have come across quite a number of counseling cases that were related to suicide. I have learned that, yes, pretty much like how bomb jokes are handled at airport terminals, every hint or indication that someone is suicidal must be taken seriously. In fact, it is advisable to get the person to reveal what his or her plan is—how he or she intends to do it, when, etc.—and to immediately get professional intervention to effectively deal with the situation.
Helping a family deal with the death of a loved one due to suicide requires a lot of emotional intelligence. As can be expected, there is awkwardness as people skate around the issues. What people need to understand is that the circumstances around a suicide are most likely unclear even to the family and being made to talk about their feelings only makes it worse as the confusion becomes more and more evident. This is why most families prefer being left alone to deal with the loss and to grieve in private, and the best thing that others can do to help is to allow them space to do so. However, it is also important to show solidarity – and this can be done simply by making one’s support palpable; one thing people need to realize is that one can share in another person’s grief by just being there, without having to say anything. And perhaps what people should remember is that most families need support after the wake, particularly during important dates such as birthdays, Christmas, and other holidays.
Losing someone you love can be very painful. Losing someone in circumstances that are difficult to understand and accept is a lot more painful. We may not understand but we can always empathize and respect what people are going through.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Exploiting kids

My July 5, 2015 column.

The Movie and Television Review and Classification Board has summoned the people behind the latest reincarnation of the Pinoy Big Brother show on ABS-CBN to a “developmental conference” supposedly to discuss issues related to the protection of the rights of the children featured in the show. I am not sure if the MTRCB officials have what it takes to stand up to a media giant such as ABS-CBN, but after watching just a few episodes of PBB, I am mightily glad it has decided to finally intervene, for various reasons.
We all know that PBB is that kind of show that legitimizes exploitation under the guise of presenting reality supposedly as it is (the fact that everyone else actually lives in the real world seems to be lost on the people behind the show). In the few editions of the show that I caught this and last week, the show’s host talked incessantly about how the show was doing the whole world a great favor by providing opportunities for everyone else to get to know the pains and joys of the younger generation. And to do just that, the show has been putting the current housemates – most of whom happen to be minors – to various physical, mental, emotional, and psychological tests.
As a human resource management professional who also happens to conduct all kinds of learning and development programs for a living, I have many things to say about the way the show conducts its various structured learning activities. Let me just say that no trainer or facilitator worth his name would deliberately put learners in a negative situation just to wring out some life-affirming lessons.
It is very obvious that PBB conducts “learning activities” mainly to generate emotional highlights, or at least what is referred to as “teachable moments.” Thus, there is the general tendency to wring every possible bit of drama that can be squeezed out of every situation. This was less objectionable when the housemates were people who have reached a certain level of emotional maturity. But it’s an entirely different story altogether when the housemates are minors (one is barely 12 years old!). So yes, I am glad that the MTRCB has stepped in.
One of the disturbing things about the current edition of PBB is the way the supposed “bromance” between two male housemates has been played up. The fact that this angle has surfaced immediately after the Supreme Court of the United States made its historic ruling affirming same-sex marriage cannot be merely coincidental. ABS-CBN has taken pains to condemn netizens who supposedly started the malicious rumors about the blooming romance between two male housemates, one of whom happens to be the 12-year old boy. The network is washing its hands of culpability, forgetting that they actually featured the story in the show and, in fact, gave it a cliffhanger treatment, which created more fodder to the rumor mill. They could have quashed the rumors quickly and effectively, but no, they chose to use it as a possible hook for the show. And now that there is a backlash, they want to assign the blame somewhere else. They have already shut down the live streaming of the reality show, but until then, it was the station that broadcast the images that started the intrigues.
PBB also asks viewers to pick favorites and encourages supporters to rally around their chosen housemates. This results in situations where certain housemates suddenly find themselves the recipient of so much hatred from so many people without even knowing why. One of the kids in the current edition has been unfairly judged and is the subject of vilification in social media just because she revealed that she already had a string of boyfriends at such an early age, and despite having an inchoate notion of what love is. Again, this would not be so bad if the housemates were people who have already reached a certain level of maturity, something that the kids who comprise the current crop of housemates, clearly do not have.
I think even shows like PBB can still impart some valuable lessons if the people behind the show learn their own lessons too, particularly about how not to treat people like pawns and puppets who can be manipulated for the sake of ratings.