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Smartmatic chairman: Cory’s close-in media adviser

A bit of information that was not mentioned in the bio-data of Smartmatic Chairman Mark Malloch Brown, as posted on the company’s website, was that he was the close media adviser and speech writer of the late Corazon Aquino. He was then disguised as a foreign correspondent in the “snap” elections that led to the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines.

He may even have played a very crucial role in Cory Aquino’s ascent to power in 1986, according to an authoritative book on that episode.

Sources among Aquino’s subsequent Cabinet claimed that Malloch Brown had developed a close relationship with Cory and his family, including his brothers-in-law.

A company spokesman denied that Malloch Brown paid a courtesy call to President Aquino 3rd in July this year. The spokesman, though, did not disclose whom Malloch Brown met with in his trip.

At the end of that month, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista announced that Smartmatic, with its local affiliate Total Information Management (TIM) Corp., was awarded the P1.7-billion contract for the supply of 23,000 new precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines for use in the 2016 elections. Last Thursday, the firm was also awarded a P558 million contract to provide Comelec with election results transmission services.

The transmission contract was a negotiated one as the Comelec declared the past two biddings as failed ones, claiming the losing bidders had submitted incomplete eligibility requirements.

Book that narrates how US firm “handled” Cory’s campaign that led to EDSA I. Right, it’s main operative, Malloch Brown, now Smartmatic chairman.
Book that narrates how US firm “handled” Cory’s campaign that led to EDSA I. Right, it’s main operative, Malloch Brown, now Smartmatic chairman.

Benigno S. Aquino 3rd is the first President of the Republic whose votes were counted through an automated system, invented, manufactured, and undertaken by Smartmatic. There have been persistent claims by computer experts, principally by Philippine information technology pioneer Gus Lagman that the system has been and will be subject to manipulation.

Malloch Brown carries the title “Lord” as he was appointed to the House of Lords in 2007. Among the high posts he had occupied were UN deputy secretary general and chief of staff under Kofi Anan, UN Development Program administrator and minister of state in the British Foreign Office under former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

He started his career nearly at the bottom of the rung, though, as political correspondent of The Economist from 1977 to 1979. His bio-data (which he obviously drafted), posted on a Yale University website when he was a professor there read:

“Before joining the World Bank, he was the lead international partner from 1986 to 1994 at a strategic communications management firm, the Sawyer-Miller Group, where he worked with corporations, governments and political candidates. He ultimately became co-owner of this fast-growing firm with three other partners. He advised Corazon Aquino of the Philippines when she successfully ran against Ferdinand Marcos.”

The Washington-based Sawyer-Miller was the lead PR group hired by Cory Aquino’s camp when she ran against Marcos in 1985. A book by James Harding, “Alpha Dogs: The Americans Who Turned Political Spin into a Global Business” narrated in detail how much of Cory’s media campaign and propaganda were handled by that PR group.

A facsimile of Sawyer Miller’s registration under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act.
A facsimile of Sawyer Miller’s registration under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act.

A source at that time claimed that Sawyer Miller was picked as the lead PR agency for its timely recommendation that the opposition group adopt the “Yellow Ribbon” and a popular Western song about the homecoming of a convict released from prison “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree” for its campaign branding.

Among the book’s narratives on Malloch Brown and his role in Cory’s campaign:

“Back in 1985, Malloch Brown was still an unkempt reporter with next to no experience on the campaign trail. He had worked for the United Nations and was now working for The Economist, having established a small offshoot of the magazine that focused on poverty.”

“(Hacienda Luisita golf course designer Trent) Jones introduced the man from Sawyer Miller; (Corazon) Aquino politely reminded him that she would have no Americans on her campaign. “That’s why I’ve brought you a Brit,” Jones, said smiling. Cory and her supporters wanted a campaign by the people for the people, not one stage-managed by US professionals. Malloch Brown’s credentials allowed them, more or less, to maintain that truth. (With a worldly smile, Malloch Brown looked back years later and said, “I was probably a little guilty of not [offering] complete clarity.)”

“Malloch Brown first went to work on redressing the damage Cory Aquino inflicted upon herself in her interview with The New York Times (and convinced her to reverse her statements that she would negotiate with the communists and that she would work for the removal of the US bases.)”

The book described Malloch Brown’s propaganda strategy that Cory adopted, the demonization of Marcos, a tactic her son, Benigno 3rd, continues to use three decades later:

“Malloch Brown was living on the fringes of the press corps, picking up the scuttlebutt. He came to see the campaign in binary terms, knocking Marcos down and building Cory up… Twenty years later, Malloch Brown sat in his office on the thirty-eighth floor of the United Nations building and said that Cory had to be pushed to go negative, but that the decision to get more aggressive, dirtier, had been quite deliberate: ‘We set out to make it about Marcos. It was very negative campaign.’ ”

“At the family’s business headquarters in downtown Manila and at the old family estate Hacienda Luisita, Malloch Brown would coach Aquino, he, the badgering interviewer; she, sticking doggedly to a simple script. As with all Sawyer Miller campaigns, the message was distilled into something with bumper-sticker simplicity: This is a fight for democracy. It’s time for change.”

“The next step was encouraging a reluctant Mrs. Aquino to attack Marcos personally. She was, after all, a convent girl. Her family, the Cojuangcos, were part of the same elite political class as the Marcos family. She was not naturally inclined toward character assassination. (Later, though, Aquino did) go negative.

“Malloch Brown and Teddy Boy Locsin, a young Filipino man who had been an aide to Ninoy Aquino and who had a long political future before him, were the factory wordsmiths. The effect was that it was an ambidextrous campaign, dirty on the one hand, holy on the other.”

The 1986 elections
We all believe that Cory won the elections, right? The Sawyer Miller book discloses how Malloch Brown made us believe that:

“On that afternoon on Election Day, Aquino and Malloch Brown decided to start work on Cory’s victory speech. ‘We knew Marcos was going to claim victory,’ Malloch Brown explained. ‘We were going to preempt him.’ She said she wanted to go out for some sushi and tempura. When she got back, she hoped her victory statement would be written. It was. She recorded it at home, just as the polls were closing. And it was released before midnight.”

“The fact is, the counting of the Filipino ballot was expected to continue for three days. Malloch Brown says: ‘We were jumping the gun very deliberately on midnight that night. Marcos, according to his aides, had gone to bed when Aquino declared victory. His plan had been to wait for a day or two before announcing that he had won, in order to give his victory greater credibility. Now the palace scrambled to get Marcos team to hold a press conference, countering Aquino’s announcement. By the time Marcos declared who won the election, it was three in the morning. Too late for the Filipino deadlines.’”

“Malloch Brown had provided the statistics for the presumptive victory statement in addition to writing it. He had put together a rudimentary exit poll, which he still insists offered an accurate snap assessment of the Filipino vote. (Respected media personality) Peter Jennings was always unconvinced of Malloch Brown’s exit polls, claiming they were ‘a little ahead of the science on this.’”

(The official Batasan Pambansa count had a Marcos winning 10.8 million to Cory’s 9.3 million. Namfrel had Cory with 7.8 million to Marcos’ 7.8 million, until it stopped its count.)

The book claimed:
“To this day, the Aquino camp generally belittles the role of Sawyer Miller. The good reason for this is that Filipinos are proud of the 1986 revolution, and understandably, resentful of suggestions that Marcos was swept from power by anything other than the undiluted will of the Filipino people.”

The book’s revelations made me wonder how we could have better understood the Marcos era, to draw from it useful lessons for nation-building, and not just totally reject everything the strongman did as bad, had there been no such PR man as Malloch Brown who convinced Cory to demonize Marcos, and is here with us again as Smartmatic chairman.

On Wednesday: ‘”Smartmatic is a riddle,” a confidential cable of a Western embassy in Venezuela concluded.