The Sidelines: The stories beyond the frame

(Below is my Albay Journal column for this week.)

A picture paints a thousand words but in most cases, there are more words that a picture cannot hold.

Early this month, the National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB) released the latest official poverty statistics of the Philippines. The highlights include: the increase of poverty incidence in the country from 24.4% in the year 2003 to 26.9% in the year 2006; the slight improvement of the ranking of the Bicol Region from being the second poorest in the year 2000 to the fourth poorest region; and the decrease of poverty incidence of Bicolano families by about 4% in a six year span. Of course, another highlight is the sliding of the province of Masbate from being the poorest province seven years ago with 70.2% poverty incidence to the 8th most poor in 2006 with 59.5%.

With the calamities that struck the region in the past years, the figures are quite a good news. Sitting President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may not be lying after all when she said that the economy is growing better – that is, if we look at the figures using the government’s frame. But if we look outside the frame, or at the sidelines, we may realize that we are not moving after all. Worse, we may even note that instead of moving forward, we are took two steps back. Take for instance the official poverty statistics. While it is said that the percentage of the region’s poor dropped, the absolute count – that is, the real or actual count – showed nothing but an increase. From 407,176 poor families recorded in the year 2000, the number actually hiked to 422,278 in the year 2006. The figures in percentage just bluntly hid the fact that what we are really comparing is, to put it Greenwich Pizza’s terms, “a quarter slice of Solo order and a quarter slice of a Family Sized order”. Both may be a quarter slice but the actual size for the said orders really differ. Which leads me to the concept of presidential elections in Russia and in the United States.

Just last month, Russia has concluded its presidential elections. After I wrote an analysis on said political exercise, a number of critics came forward saying the presidential race in the former Socialist country was undemocratic. First and foremost, the winning of presidential candidate Dmitri Medvedev was already a foregone conclusion as he is a protege of the incumbent president, Vladimir Putin. In short, Medvedev’s winning is just like the winning of Gloria Arroyo in the 2004 Philippine presidential elections – a predictable race as the incumbent will do everything just to win. Thus, critics say, the Russian elections is undemocratic and does not express the real will of the Russian voters.

Using the frame of American political analysts in dissecting the elections, the critics may be right. But going to the sidelines, their arguments hold no ground. The Russians themselves claim that Medvedev’s winning was their own will, and a popular will at that. A clear proof of this is the fact that of the total votes cast, 70.22% were delivered to Medvedev. Second, even if the winning of Medvedev is nothing but a “transfer of power from Putin to Putin” (Note: aside from being a protege of Putin, Medvedev also announced that he will be choosing the former president as his Prime Minister, the most powerful authority in Russia), the majority of the Russians would not mind. What they are after is the fact that Putin had delivered his promises by maintaining Russia as a military superpower and transforming the country into an economic giant. With Medvedev as president, the more they can expect these developments to be sustained. And these reasons, the critics failed to see.

But like the government propagandists and the political analysts mentioned, we often view things based on the frames presented to us. In most cases, we accept these without question. The problem, we tend to forget that there are also some news behind the news, and stories behind the stories. Most of these, though, are buried at the sidelines.

With this column, let us all unearth these news behind the news, and stories behind the stories. After-all, the most helpful information are not always found inside a one common frame.

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