The Philippine National Debate: the cheerleaders among us as a cheerleader President leads us

There is a big difference between being a mere cheerleader and being a true leader. Cheerleaders are able to whip up emotional fervor and lure people into spectacular but short bursts of mindless emotionally-fueled stampedes. Real leaders, on the other hand are able to sustain commitment by providing a solid foundation of substance underlying the initiatives they mount. The trouble with cheerleaders is if they are left in charge of a direction-less mob of willing followers, they can cause a lot of damage.

Former United States President George W. Bush is one such President who applied a cheerleader-style of statesmanship. In fact he actually was a cheerleader. For real! But his being one had tragic consequences for the planet’s mightiest nation. Bush had marshalled his cheerleading skills to gather up the immense but substance-less momentum that saw his country and its powerful allies barreling to and through a practically meaningless war with Iraq over much of the first decade of the 21st Century.

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Granted, of course, this is an extreme case. So despite Filipinos being in the unfortunate situation of being subject to the cheerleader administration of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, they are still fortunate in a way. That is because, unlike America under Bush, Filipinos early in the Second Aquino Administration already see their President’s lack of substance. In his usual brilliant form, columnist Rigoberto Tiglao inadvertently highlights the character of the Philippine President as national cheerleader in his recent article “Is he losing it?” I frame Tiglao’s astute observations with my own three-point categorisation of dysfunctional leadership character…

* * *

Hollow grandstanding of imagined achievements

Plans are great. But most Filipinos (much less this “leader” they remain enamored to thanks to a cult-like legacy he continues to exude) struggle to see the line that separates real plans and mere pompous grandstanding.

Those are just for starters. It gets worse—much worse, in fact, that the speeches make one worry about our President’s mental health, since his statements are so obviously divorced from reality. What else could you conclude when the President says that after 11 months in power, he has eradicated hunger and unemployment so that the Filipinos’ problems now are merely what food to choose, what kind of job to get?

False humility and off-the-hip “statesmanship”

Making prodigous of use of “street lingo” and an off-the-hip demeanour to come across as a man connecting with the common tao — that’s just old hat and, when done once too often, merely comes across as an insult to the already meagre intelligence of the Filipino.

Like a brat boasting, the President again used street lingo: “Mantakin po ninyo: nagawa natin ito, eh ni wala pa tayong isang taon sa puwesto.” The achievement he was referring to was the National Food Authority’s importation of only 800,000 metric tons of rice, compared to his predecessors’ 2.5 million metric tons. It was hardly an achievement to boast of since the 2.5 million MT were imported as an insurance against a rice shortage during an impending world grains shortage.

As if to highlight how such sorts of behaviour is so frequently observable in their society, Filipinos have a short handy phrase to encapsulate it: pa-cool (translated: “wanna-be cool”). Its close cousin (which I go into depth on in below) is false humility’s nexus…

Schoolyard personality attacks

Making fun of an adversary’s name or turning it or a derivative of said name into an integral component of one’s argument itself is a rather amusing amateurish tactic to divert attention from a lack of substance in one’s position.

So beneath the dignity of both the occasion and his office, and in the manner of a grade-school bully, Mr. Aquino makes fun in his Kawit speech of a prosecutor’s surname: “Itong special prosecutor, na minalas naman pong napangalanan pang Sulit, sulit po ba ang ginawang pagsisilbi nang pasukin itong plea bargain agreement?” Nobody laughed.

[Translated: “This special prosecutor who goes by the unfortunate name Sulit (in English: “Worth it”) do you all think her pandering was worth getting herself into this plea bargain agreement?“]

Perhaps a mob of equally juvenile anarchists may laugh — for a while. Anarchists are often surprisingly an intelligent lot and eventually come to get past the humour in such stunts and see the reality of how the joke has been stretched too far out for too long that it encroaches into matters that need to be regarded with a sober, focused, and deliberate mind. When the laughing, hooting, and high-fives die down and all a cheerleader has left is a repertoir of over-used slogans, punchlines, and mantras, guess what: the show is over. Time to go home.

* * *

There are many cheerleaders among us — ordinary people who we continue to irrationally latch on to long after their lack of substance has been revealed and a mere shell of loutish behaviour remains. They derive their influence from the emotional tricks our own minds tend to play on us. The sooner we take the time to open our eyes wide at reality by purging our minds of the legacy of cult that these people continue to use to cloud our better judgment, the sooner we will find the true path to enlightenment and real results.

7 Replies to “The Philippine National Debate: the cheerleaders among us as a cheerleader President leads us”

  1. I agree with you that dignity and substance are important in a President, and mere cheerleading does not properly parse the mustard. But there is also something about a cloud that is substantive, something about a glow that brings light, something about an undefinable aura that makes one sit up. The Philippines is doing better today than a year or two ago, trying to chip the Church hold on values (women’s rights, divorce) and corruption (multiple fronts, creating an “aura” that things are genuinely different). Storm preparation seems better with the goal of “zero fatalities” for each typhoon being a substantive, action-oriented goal, if they take it seriously. Moody’s upgraded the investment rating yesterday.

    If one is inclined to condemn shortcomings, one should also recognized progress. That, too, is a little like being serious and substantive, not to simply boo.

    1. I do believe though that having received some light from said glow, one wonders how Filipinos are inclined to channel such positive, though perhaps un-substantive, energy. Do they use this energy to muster an increased motivation? Or do they use it to rest on their laurels the way a balloon gains altitude from updrafts but, lacking any internal means to propel itself, then simply floats down withdrawing from the potential energy it accumulated until (we “hope”) it comes across the next updraft?

  2. Ben, My old college professor, a brilliant man who looked like an overweight truck driver, said everything is comprised of direction, weight and intensity. The direction, in this case is good. The weight (size of stride) and intensity (quality of effort) are indeed lackluster. Indeed, I think the improvement may have been accidental. But it is refreshing, nonetheless. Especially in a world going the opposite direction.

  3. A Joke is a Joke. If it is said in the right time: you can be either: a smart alleck, or a person suffering from paranoia…We have a President, who is in a state of delusion…He is not shy in blowing his horn, about his non-existent accompliahments…
    THE JOKE IS NOW ON ALL OF US…We have elected such kind of person…

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