A cock-eyed commentary
By Raïssa Robles
There was President Benigno Aquino gazing from a bridge and pointing straight at his latest enemy – water hyacinths as far as the eye can see, choking the once mighty Rio Grande, causing it to overflow its banks, flood Cotabato City and make a million lives miserable.
And then it gets worse – on national TV. The camera catches the Chief Executive rambling on the possible long-term solutions to eradicate these advancing monocots. And then the camera cuts to brief segments with Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani and Maguindanao Governor Esmail Mangudadatu. Both make disparaging remarks about how PNoy’s visit accomplished nothing. That he offered no solution to their immediate problem.
Guiani even claimed that the relief goods given away during the President’s visit were not brought by him.
I stared open-mouthed at the TV set upon hearing all these.
PNoy’s bright boys or PNoy himself had probably thought a flying visit to the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao would not hurt. In fact it could boost his numbers. The Social Weather Station had just released its latest survey results showing his popularity had again dipped somewhat.
This incident set me to thinking. The little that I heard the President say on TV was reasonable. Water hyacinths could be used for composting and for biofuel. And he wanted a long term solution to the perennial problem.
But why did the local government executives behave so boorishly toward him? And why did he come out looking inept and helpless?
I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts on the matter.
Mindanao was expecting a “hero” President
Instead, President Aquino expected them to be part of the problem-solving.
Why do I say this?
Pulse Asia recently came out with a poll on “Dr. Jose Rizal” involving 1,200 respondents who were asked to name their “hero”. The poll was conducted May 21 to June 4, 2011.
What is interesting is that to the question “to your knowledge who is the national hero of the Philippines?” – President Aquino came out third in Mindanao after Rizal and boxing Congressman Manny Pacquiao.
Even more revealing are the results to the second question: “Whom do you consider a national hero comparable to Rizal, living or deceased?” In Mindanao, President Aquino came out fourth after his father the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, his mother Corazon Aquino and Pacquiao.
This survey was done from May 21 to June 4 this year. And if I go by this survey I would say that the people of Mindanao expected PNoy to behave like a “hero”. You know, along the lines of Green Lantern or Spiderman.
Instead he behaved like a nerdy technocrat in front of them.
What do I mean by that?
Let me explain through an anecdote. When I was doing a profile of President Fidel Ramos among those I interviewed was his perennial sidekick Jose Almonte. Almonte was Ramos’ Economic Intelligence and Investigation Bureau (EIIB) and national security adviser. But Almonte’s REAL job was to take care of the image of the president and the presidency.
He explained to me that it was important to ensure that both the president and the presidency conveyed a certain image to the public.
Ramos made mistakes, too, but he never looked inept. Wily and slippery, maybe, but never a do-nothing.
PNoy’s predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also had a problem with image. When she ran for vice-president, she was Nora aunor’s look-alike. Remember that famous photo of her that her husband Mike took of her holding a bundle of rice stalks? Then she became Inang Bayan, then Gloria Labandera. Finally, in the end, she could not shake off the image of being plain corrupt.
Joseph Estrada only had one image all throughout – “Pare” or friend of everyone.
What does PNoy want to be to the people who consider him as bigger than life?
Ramos could rely on and expected CSW
Another thing that Ramos was lucky to have were people who could deliver to him correct facts and figures. And suggested solutions. The Ramos presidency was notable for having CSW – Complete Staff Work.
I’ve heard it whispered about that PNoy even has to have facts and figures rechecked. By the time it gets to him, others should have completely vetted those for him. In Reader’s Digest magazine and other major international magazines, they have “fact-checkers” whose only job is to verify the veracity of every line in a story. That’s what PNoy seems to need badly.
People always watch the President like a hawk
I have a feeling it goes against the very grain of PNoy’s being to have all eyes fixed on him everytime he goes outside the Palace. He had long been used to being in the shadow of his parents.
He has not yet mastered the art of managing his public persona. Perhaps he needs a coach here. His predecessor and former teacher Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, had a very good coach in PNoy’s aunt, Lupita Concio-Kashiwahara. Mrs. K even managed to get Mrs. Arroyo to flash a smile in public. Perhaps his own sister Kris could help.
PNoy likes to think aloud a lot. I noticed that in the ambush interview that Dana Batnag and I had with him. And you’ll notice that in his press conferences. The problem is, that was ok when he was a senator and his words did not constitute government policy. But now as president, rambling makes him sound indecisive.
I’m not saying PNoy should become manipulative and “plastic” in his public appearances. All I’m saying is, every public appearance of his is a chance for him to drive home a point; to inspire; and to get things going. Should he not at least learn how to do that more effectively?
In Cotabato, whatever message he had for the residents there and the people of the Philippines sunk under the weight of the water hyacinths.
At times, his message gets lost in the telling
I always grit my teeth whenever I hear him read out a speech in Filipino because his phrasing is awkward and wanting. But I do appreciate the fact that all his major speeches are in Filipino. The deposed president Estrada had excellent phrasing in Filipino and could perhaps teach him a thing or two.
PNoy will have to teach the people step by step about his new ideas on governance
PNoy has definite ideas about governance. He wants institutions to work rather than have the President as the focal point for resolving most problems. He said that in the aftermath of the August 23 bus hostage taking to explain why he did not step into the problem.
The problem is, the institutions don’t work. And local chief executives like Guiani and Mangudadatu have long been used to expecting the national government to solve even such problems as rapidly growing water hyacinths.
Earlier today, I happened to be talking to one of my favorite securities analysts Jonathan Ravelas. We got to talking about PNoy and the water hyacinths. He told me he understood what the President was trying to do and it was understandable, under the circumstances, that PNoy had no ready solution.
Jonathan then said he happened to be reading a book along those lines. It was entitled – Change the Culture, Change the Game: The Breakthrough Strategy for Energizing Your Organization and Creating Accountability for Results. Maybe someone could give this to him as a present if he doesn’t have it yet?