The media, particularly TV, discovered ghost writers during the Corazon Aquino administration. It was primarily because her principal ghost writer wouldn’t stop talking about it. That was Congressman Teodoro Locsin Jr., who on numerous occasions would mention that he wrote this speech or that for Mrs. Aquino. Mr. Locsin seems to have also ghost-written for Fidel Ramos, and lately for Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Not only does he not deny it; he even seems to glory in it.
On the other hand, the late Adrian Cristobal never admitted in public that he ever wrote anything for Ferdinand Marcos, whose spokesman he once was. In one forum introduced as “the President’s (Marcos’) ghost writer,” Cristobal declared that “that is not true; the President writes his own speeches.” But Cristobal was not only in the Marcos stable of speech writers. He also wrote “his” books, among them the regime bible Today’s Revolution: Democracy, and the equally wily The Filipino Ideology.
Written during the waning days of the Marcos period, The Filipino Ideology not only argued that there was such a thing (an ideology is a class rather than a national attribute), but also that the desire for social, economic and political change is inherently Filipino, a claim too tough to either prove or disprove.
Cristobal, in any case, believed that speech writing for the powerful was just another writing job. Having been commissioned to do it, the ghost writer had no claim on the result once it left his typewriter (then) or laptop (today). The speech or book henceforth belonged to the person in whose name it was delivered or issued. Which is why Cristobal never claimed that he ever wrote for Marcos — although the distinct possibility that Marcos would not have liked it if he did might have been an equally compelling reason.
In contrast, Cristobal’s successors have made a virtue out of claiming authorship for this or that president’s speech. They even appear on TV to say so — as Locsin did right before Mrs. Arroyo delivered her eighth State of the Nation Address last Monday.
Who wrote which speech for whom makes for an interesting footnote to recent events as well as history. But the even more interesting question is how much of the ideas in a policy-maker’s speech was his (or hers) and how much was the ghost’s.
The answer is that it depends on whether the principal is fairly clear about what he or she wants to say, or is as clueless about governance as an actor turned congressman. In both cases, however, it’s inevitable that some of the ghost’s thoughts, especially if he or she is reasonably well-informed and has his or her policy preferences, should end up in the speech. The principal can’t possibly anticipate everything, and it’s up to the ghost to amplify, embellish or pursue to their conclusions even those thoughts that might have been originally the former’s.
Ghost-writing is the professional writer’s occupational hazard, especially when he or she’s new in the game. I must admit that I stopped doing it in my forties except when it was completely unavoidable, after having ghost-written for, among other worthies, two senators and two university presidents. In all those cases, the main ideas were those of the principals. They were after all senators when senators were not actors, and presidents of the country’s leading university.
Writing being what it is, however, the particular way in which one presents those ideas could and probably did influence how they were received. Having been a long-time admirer of William Butler Yeats, for example, I once prefaced a description of the state of the country during the martial law period with the first stanza of “The Second Coming,” which among other widely quoted lines declares that:
“Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/ The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.”
A man of letters and no mean writer himself, the principal liked that touch, which of course he had not suggested for inclusion. That particular speech was delivered in Honolulu, Hawaii by a University of the Philippines president whom Marcos later removed from his post for, among other reasons, making that speech.
Which should lead us to ask, not whether the ghost writer was partly to blame for that event, but the more crucial question of how much public policy is being made by ghost- writers endowed with the power to put words that turn into state programs in the mouths of decision-makers.
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, how much of the national crisis we can blame on ghosts rather than on the flesh and blood monsters who regularly mouth platitudes from the public podiums of this sorry land?