In light of the earthquake that struck the province of Bohol, parts of Cebu, and other neighboring areas last October 15, 2013, President Benigno Simeon (BS) Aquino is reportedly going to visit the crisis sites today, October 16. The word going around is that a big motivator for him to visit the sites so soon is that he is reportedly bugged by the dip in his approval ratings in the latest SWS survey.
In my previous article, I made two major points regarding how BS Aquino’s government has been responding as of late to natural calamities or crisis situations in the Philippines:
1) That he has a habit of, and a reputation for, staying out of the public eye immediately following a natural calamity; and for several days after, and;
2) That it would be nice to hear from the president as soon as possible after the disaster strikes, even just an official statement on media that he and his government are on top of the situation.
Defenders of BS Aquino misconstrued that article as a call for him to micromanage every single disaster management scenario that pops up. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I am against any and all attempts by BS Aquino to micromanage such things. Let me explain in more detail later.
Why does Noynoy Aquino have to be present at every crisis site?
Because the Filipino people, there being an inherent flaw in their psyche, need to see officials as actually doing something out in the field before they consider them as actually being productive. The flaw in this “thinking” lies in the assumption that it is only physical work that is of value; the thinking process, which is what managers and officials, including those in government, are actually paid to do, is not held in as high a regard simply because it is not seen. And yet it is the thinking process that has more impact to the environment in question: the manager or official is supposed to think of ways to make his/her constituents’ lives better, and he/she has to find the best people who can help him/her realize his plans for improvement.
Unfortunately, this inherent flaw works against BS Aquino, all the more so because the legitimacy of his tenure as president is held up by the flimsiest of foundations: popularity. It works against him because in order to maintain the “credibility” of his presidency, he has to stay popular. And to stay popular, one always has to be perceived As If Doing Something. Critics of the Aquino government call this the AIDS syndrome.
BS Aquino ran on a platform of popularity that had little else underneath it other than that he was the son of Ninoy and Cory Aquino. In order to keep this popularity up, his communications group, in cooperation with an all-too-willing media, has been having no other choice to but to prop up even the smallest and/or nonsensical of things as big accomplishments/successes for the Aquino administration. In addition, they have continuously had to find excuses and they have continuously had to spin information in order to make his mistakes and wrong decisions seem palatable to an awestruck public.
What complicates things even further, for BS Aquino, is that the collective trust that Filipinos have in government, and by extension his credibility, has been eroding for years. Aggravated in no small measure by the recent issue with the pork barrel scam, the perception that government officials are collectively seen as lying, stealing, and cheating crooks persists. While this erosion in credibility is not entirely attributable to BS Aquino alone, he hasn’t proven that he can put trust back in government either by, for example, justifying things like the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). What he can be faulted for is that during his campaign, he set for himself a high bar with his anti-corruption slogan, and that he vowed to be everything that his allegedly corrupt predecessor was not. Unfortunately, the results up to this time, his third year in office, have shown that he consistently does not meet the standards he set for himself. Remember the Noynoying fad that ran last year? That image has stuck in the minds of many people ever since.
When evaluating why BS Aquino doesn’t have to be at a crisis site, one answer comes to mind very easily: it poses a great and unnecessary security risk, to him, his entourage, and to the people in the affected area. It poses a great inconvenience to the local populace, plus the fact that it usually ends up looking like a photo opportunity, because, as I mentioned above, he needs to be perceived as having AIDS – As If Doing Something.
A second answer needs a bit more fleshing out. We come to the question: ”What value does Noynoy’s presence bring to the crisis site?”
When it comes to how it makes the people feel, the perceived value is high. The people want to see, hear, and touch their government officials in the flesh. They don’t want to see them merely as names on a board or as characters in a made for TV telenovela; they want to be able to experience their officials with their senses. For majority of the populace, it answers the questions of ”What have you done for me?” and “Why should I support you?”
And yet, it isn’t something a simple message on TV or radio cannot address.
When it comes to delivering results at the crisis site, however, it may be a whole different story. Is BS Aquino merely there to tell local government officials what they should already be doing even without an official memo from the president, mind you? Is BS Aquino there to micromanage the crisis because of some other ulterior motive? Is BS Aquino there because he does not trust the people in charge of the site, for one reason or another? Or is BS Aquino there in order to scare the local officials into doing their job properly?
And what in the world does “President Aquino is closely monitoring the situation” mean, anyway? What exactly does he do with all the information that he gets from “monitoring the situation”?
If the Zamboanga situation had been any indication, it seems that micromanagement by BS Aquino did not speed any resolution up, despite the best efforts by his media machine to tell otherwise. When he does show up at a crisis site, like he did in the 2012 habagat, it reeked of epal and premature campaigning. It makes you wonder if BS Aquino is trying to overcompensate for something, perhaps an underlying, but hidden, lack of any REAL results in his administration.
Let me summarize my point here: BS Aquino does not really need to be at EVERY crisis site that appears, nor does he have to be there for more than is necessary, but it seems he may have no choice. Both his supporters and critics demand to see him as if doing something all the time. To the former group, it keeps his popularity – the basis of his entire presidency – at desirable levels. To the latter, who represent a group BS Aquino would rather pretend does not exist, it would vindicate their assertion that BS Aquino is, and has been totally unfit for president.
Like I said before, nobody should expect BS Aquino to be physically present at every crisis site all the time, but his presence needs to be felt when and where it counts. If he truly is concerned about his bosses’ welfare, then perhaps he should stop doing the popular things and start doing the right ones.
That may be too much to ask for someone who has little but a family name going for him, though…
[Photo courtesy: Anakbayan.org]
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