Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Leadership by default

The following appears as an op-ed column at the Manila Standard Today, July 26, 2006.


GREAT performance. Generally well-crafted speech. Delirious cheering and applauding from the gallery. Good cast. Impressive PowerPoint presentation. Good measure of comic relief thrown in to break the ice. It can be argued that she was preaching to the choir. She was cocky at certain points, and awkward in some (was she interrupted by applause, or did she pause for one?). But at the end of it all, I just wanted to do a Cuba Gooding impersonation in that Jerry Maguire movie; I felt like hollering, “show me the money!!!”

The President premised her talking points on the phrase “we now have the money to…” What she seemed to have meant is that with the new tax measures and the intended stringent monitoring of tax collection efforts, we will have the money to fund all those ambitious projects. There is a significant difference between actually having the money and having the means to collect or produce that money. But I guess making that distinction would diminish the impact of the magic show as the President conjured all those wonderful plans and promises.

It is very tempting and a hell lot easier to be cynical and bitter. And the people who have patented the right to be so have, expectedly, already gone to town with their own dire predictions of doom and failure. As a blogger, I am immune to all kinds of diatribe and all manner of nitpicking. But even I was not prepared for the level of vitriol some people were spewing about the State-of-the-Nation Address. I guess too much resentment really does mess up one’s perspective about things so that all one can see is the muck and the grime on everyone else except the ones on themselves.

I do grant that the Sona was ambivalent on some issues and silent on many more. However, I think that the selection of talking points is the prerogative of the one delivering the speech. It is her Sona, for crying out loud.

But then again, this is still a democracy, so it is the right of critics to point out what else needs to be done and how and why. But there is a whole world of difference between nitpicking because you hate the person and therefore there is nothing good that you can see in that person and critique based on objective analysis of facts. There is a whole world of difference between proposing alternatives and simply shooting down ideas at random.

This is where the difference lies, and the sooner the opposition gets it, the better for all. The President, hated she may be as a person, presented a roadmap (both metaphorical and literal) to a future. That roadmap may be a mirage, that roadmap may be infeasible, but it cannot be disputed that roadmap is attractive. Should this government succeed in achieving even just half of those presented, the benefits to this country and its people can be tremendous. In a crisis, people follow leaders who can show them a way out; they do not bother with the moral questions no matter how important they may be.

In my book, an attractive roadmap and a promise to do better is a much better alternative to the whining and the griping and the blaming. It is sad that the opposition still does not get it. Up until Monday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was the only one out there. She is winning by default. We can all ridicule her, file as many impeachment cases against her, mock her, call her all unsavory and derogatory names—the indisputable fact will remain, she is the only one out there right now. And she knows it and that is why she can afford to cackle and be alternately condescending (“to those who want to pick up old fights, we’re game; but what a waste of time”) and magnanimous (“why don’t we join hands?”).

The challenge to the opposition is clear then: present an alternative to the people. Show us what and who you have. Unfortunately, it seems the best they can come up with is still Joseph Estrada.

* * *

And speaking of alternatives, there is an ongoing debate being conducted in media between One Voice and Sigaw ng Bayan. And by the looks of it, it is getting more and more acrimonious by the day.

The debate began when One Voice called for the discontinuance of people’s initiative (which is being championed by Sigaw ng Bayan) because, “not only is it questionable as a genuine people’s initiative,” but is legally flawed and based on fallacious and deceptive reasoning as well.
Sigaw ng Bayan has countered with accusations that One Voice is elitist (it has since then upgraded the description to super-elite) and is advocating bankrupt ideas and cosmetic reforms.

Along the way, Sigaw ng Bayan has dropped allusions to the real source of the funding of One Voice, calling attention to the “slick” television spots that they say costs P252 million.
An exchange of ideas, particularly on such an important and critical issue as Charter Change, should be a good thing because it should hopefully lead to a more enlightened citizenry. However, when the debate becomes personal and is reduced to a heckling contest, it can only spell trouble. And it looks like it has on this one.

One Voice advocates have taken to heckling the people’s initiative camp as “Singaw ng Bayan.” On the other hand, Sigaw ng Bayan has trundled such hackneyed accusations as “oligarchs,” “bankrupt” and “shallow.” In some blogs, the name calling has run the whole gamut of adjectives one cannot repeat in polite company.

I hope both groups stop the senseless trading of barbs and focus on the more important task at hand, which is to convince more and more people about the value of their advocacy.

Both Sigaw ng Bayan and One Voice must remember that the decision is not theirs to make. Both groups are simply making a pitch to the people, and rather than shooting each other down, I think it is better to focus on why their proposal is the better alternative.

Guys, leave the mudslinging to the politicians. We have more than enough of them already.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

You say --

However, I think that the selection of talking points is the prerogative of the one delivering the speech. It is her Sona, for crying out loud.

But then again, this is still a democracy, so it is the right of critics to point out what else needs to be done and how and why.

------

This is wrong. The criticism of the president's speech is not analyzed simply by reconciling the two ideas that "it is her prerogative" but people are free to comment because "this is still a democracy."

To say that the president can do what she would like to do (or say what she would like to say), and to defend it as being her prerogative is wrong. If you, Mr. Austero, decide to meet your important clients in shorts and a T-shirt, that is your prerogative. But if the president decides to meet the president of Malaysia in slippers and shorts, then it is not her prerogative. She is part of the public sphere, arguably the most powerful individual in the country, and the primary source of policies that affect her lives. Many of her actions -- especially those in private -- are in fact her prerogative, but she has very much less leeway in the state of the nation. It is the public expression of her policies and preferences that affect our lives and our country. It is no defense to say that she can say what she would like to say and not be criticized because it is her prerogative.

BongA said...

Anonymous, read it again when you are not agitated and perhaps, just perhaps, what you thought you saw is not there after all.

Mr. Austero

alden said...

Nope, anonymmous, is not wrong!. Im sure you mean you dont agree. What is wrong is when you disagree with somebody and take the moral stand that you are right and he is wrong...

The analogy is also way way off. Common!

How do you want the SONA be delivered ba?

I totally agree with Bong Article.
The biggest questions are:

1. how is the president going to deliver it?
2. how can the people help?
3. how can the opposition help? If they dont want to help gloria. what do they have for the people?
If gloria has "Super Regions", what do they have?

And I am not taking all these reactions about the Presidents SONA negatively. I believe this is really really good. A very good indications that people are being vigilant.



Come to

Anonymous said...

You mistake direct criticism for agitation.

The right of critics to point out what is wrong with the SONA does not stem from democracy -- it stems from the fact that GMA is the president of the country and what she says affects all our lives. Democratic rights are the means by which we express criticism, but the "right" to criticize is separate.

In the same way, if you wear argyle knee high socks with lavander shorts and an orange t-shirt, democratic rights will allow me to say that is a "fashion faux pax" in a newspaper, but your decision to wear it is your prerogative and therefore my criticizing it, while probably holding some entertaintment value, is useless.

BongA said...

anonymous,

Your deductions about what I wrote are your own, they are not necessarily what I intended. I can not help it if you choose to read far too much into what I wrote so that you can call me wrong and mistaken.

But be my guest. intellectualize if you want. cite analogies to your heart's content and appoint a President in Malaysia if you want. at the end of the day, the bottomline is: it is the president's sona - it is her version of the state of the nation, not yours, not mine, not the opposition's. we can call it trash, we can disagree, we can praise it, we can critique it, but it is her sona, not anyone else's. so shoot it if you want and call your act by any name and label it under any category you want, but that still does not deflect from the fact that her actions and her statements are her own - whether as president or wife or private person - it is still hers. in the end, she alone is accountable for them.

Bong Austero

Anonymous said...

OK. So I understood your text in that context and I leave it at that.

So you approve of the roadmap, without even discussing whether a) it is feasible and b) whether it really accomplishes what needs to be done with our country. You just say that it is "attractive" and is better than what the opposition has. I disagree with your criteria, but that's only my opinion.

Finally, you say "in a crisis, people follow leaders who can show them a way out; they do not bother with the moral questions no matter how important they may be."

Really, and who gave you the ability to speak for me and many Filipinos on how we think about crises?

Mita said...

It's just pathetic how some people can be so petty and personal. For decency's sake, I hope those participating in blogs remember any blog content is for public consumption and every pettiness you show reflects on you, your upbringing and those that came before you. Some people out there will make you cringe...parang batang hindi nag-iisip.

Mita said...

anonymous, may I ask you to use a name or tag to identify yourself and give credence to what you're saying...

anthony scalia said...

On One Voice and Sigaw ng Bayan:

At least both agree on one thing - the Constitution must be amended.

Even if it is very expensive, Con-Con should be the means. Con-Ass is a great alternative to Con-Con. However, these two are impossible, considering a very hostile (and inutile) Senate.

Maybe One Voice should focus on getting the Senate to agree on either Con-Con or Con-Ass.

As for Sigaw ng Bayan, I hope it is devoted more to the goal (charter amendments) rather than the means (people's initiative).

Anonymous said...

Whew. it would probably be easier on our brains if we really just try to understand the substance of what GMA said rather than whether it is her prerogative to say it or not. But then I agree with Bong, it is her prerogative to choose her talking points or what to focus on.
The problem is that her critics do not really talk about or offer what else needs to be done and HOW AND WHY. Yes, in a crisis people would just think "sige nga try natin ito." My hubby always says people who criticize but cannot offer even an alternative has very little credibility to him.

Now, with One Voice engaging in an immature catfight with Sigaw ng Bayan, it's hard not to say "I told you so", that's why people are so wary of groups sprouting out of nowhere only to later engage in the same antics that we are so tired of in this country.

And these are why GMA's claims and plans, no matter how fantastic, will keep people interested in her. At least siya nag iisip. Has the opposition not learned anything? Jeezz, dense, dense, dense.
Good day. MommyJo

BongA said...

mita, don't let these people get to you. they probably just need to prove something to themselves.

thanks for dropping by again.

bong

BongA said...

Mommy jo, the opposition's problem is that they know the real score and can't do anything about it. they know that many people do not trust GMA, but distrust the opposition even more. that's exactly my point - it is sad that we have to settle for a roadmap rather than a complete vision. but then, what else is there?

bong

BongA said...

anthony,

you are right; but too bad the current survey results indicate that the winds of change now favor chacha. i can already see how sigaw ng bayan will go to town proclaiming victory.

BOng

BongA said...

anonymous, again, you are reading far too much into every sentence.

what is there to disagree about in terms of comparison between what the president presented and what the opposition is offering? The opposition has not presented any alternative - just criticism and a call for the president to step down. oh, i am sorry, you mean the opposition's sona which was presented by jinggoy estrada!!! if you preferred that sona over the president's, I rest my case.

it is tempting to indulge you in your nitpicking, but - and you can read this any which way you want to and I know you will - what a waste of time.

i apologize that i can not consult and get your concurrence and approval for every sentence I write.


bong austero

Anonymous said...

If you go to a car repair shop because the onboard computer that controls the engine isn't working. The mechanic fixes it and sends it back to you. A couple of days later, the car goes on the blink again. You go back to the mechanic, who again does his fix. A couple of days later, having lost 2 work days, the computer again malfunctions.

You criticize the mechanic. The mechanic says "You have no right to criticize because you don't offer solutions."

When government does not fully address the issues that needs to be address and the problems remain, every citizen -- regardless of whether he has a solution or not -- has a right to criticize. Not because he has the right of free speech, but because government is accountable and criticism is part of accountability. Not all of us know the solutions, but when the outcome is bad, we have a right to criticize.

I do not like the opposition and I do not like where the opposition wants to bring the country. But I also do not like where Arroyo wants to bring the country and does criticizng her mean siding with Jinggoy? You are attempting to taint by association where there is none.

Okay, let's analyze one problem -- Why did GMA not have a population policy pronouncement? Is this not an important issue? Can I not criticize her for not saying anything about this issue? Or do I have to have a solution first before I can say anything about it?

j said...

I can, in a way, understand the oppositions strategy. It's the "trapo" strategy of using people's hardships as a form of "leverage" for them to accomplish their selfish goals. They will go on to enumerate the many problems and difficulties we are experiencing without proposing an actual solution. I find it funny in fact how, Jinggoy seemed to know so well the solution to our problems that If I didn't know any better, I would think he can feed every Filipino and solve every problem we have the next day if he wanted to. We all agree that a lot of Filipino's are hungry and definitely a lot are living in poverty and after many many years of broken promises and hardships, it seems much easier to believe in someone who seems to understand your situation (even if they really don't and have no solution for it) than someone who is proposing a solution. The reality which still elude quite some of us, is that there is no quick solution to all our problems. We did not become impoverished overnight, and we are definitely not going to get out of poverty in a day. Amen to the roadmap! It's the only sensible thing I've heard from a politician in many many years.

chris said...

to the first anonymous ^^:

It is her prerogative because she is the President. As simple as that. No matter what the critics say, they are not the ones accountable to the people. It's her.

Under the law, the President is immune from lawsuits. Because, anonymous, the law gives the President the leeway to implement her policies without fear. She was elected to that office so let her do her job. Let's not heed the critics because the critics don't take the flak when things get tough.

Sorry, but I think its hard for me to get what you mean anonymous.

Taga-Iyam said...

Very good points again, Bong....! She did a good job with her SONA...it gave me hope.....Sana naman ay magkaisa-isa na lang ang mga Pilipino at least sa PAG-ASA na "May Bukas Pa".....

I donot know if I have missed what the oppositions have to offer....all that they aggressively do is to continue to discredit what the administration is doing....

Magtulungan na lang tayo na panatilihin buhay ang PAG-ASA....HOPE will help us be more patient and forgiving. PGMA is not taking advantage of the people.I still believe that she is trying her best to make life better for the Filipinos.

BongA said...

anonymous,

This is what you said: "So you approve of the roadmap, without even discussing whether a) it is feasible and b) whether it really accomplishes what needs to be done with our country. You just say that it is "attractive" and is better than what the opposition has. I disagree with your criteria, but that's only my opinion."

And this was my response: "what is there to disagree about in terms of comparison between what the president presented and what the opposition is offering? The opposition has not presented any alternative - just criticism and a call for the president to step down. oh, i am sorry, you mean the opposition's sona which was presented by jinggoy estrada!!! if you preferred that sona over the president's, I rest my case."

You talked of a criteria to compare two Sonas - you did not dump both.

And now this:

"When government does not fully address the issues that needs to be address and the problems remain, every citizen -- regardless of whether he has a solution or not -- has a right to criticize. Not because he has the right of free speech, but because government is accountable and criticism is part of accountability. Not all of us know the solutions, but when the outcome is bad, we have a right to criticize."

You are splitting hairs about rights - forgetting that in most countries like China the right to criticise is not available to people because they do not have freedom of speech.

But yes, I agree, citizens have the right to demand that the government address problems. Perhaps even criticize.

But this is where we differ: as a matter of personal principle, I believe that people must earn the right to criticize. Being a citizen comes with certain responsibilities.

Bong Austero

BongA said...

j,

I do not necessarily think that that sona was the best, but if those promises are fulfilled, I can live with those.

chris,

exactly!

taga-iyam:

yes, we are all part of the solution. too bad some people do not still get it.

bong

Anonymous said...

chris,

Let us say PGMA appoints Manny Pacquiao, a popular, likeable, good person as her National Security Adviser. This is something totally within her prerogative -- legally -- after all, it doesn't require (as far as I know) any Senate confirmation or the like.

Should I now not criticize her, simply because it is her "prerogative."

What I cannot agree to is people saying "don't criticize, it is her prerogative." When her choices affect our lives, no matter how wide that umbrella of prerogative.

I used as an example population policy -- an important issue but where the president did not explain any clear policy in the SONA.

Should I now stay silent and not say anything -- as a voter, citizen and taxpayer?

And Bong, what do I need to do to earn the right to criticize?

chris said...

so what is your point then? poll the 80+ million Filipinos on what to include on that 40-minuter speech?

chris said...

and, oh, anonymous, if I am the owner of the car, I would have asked the mechanic on my first trip there what happened, what was the trouble so:

1. I'd know my culpability; and therefore,
2. could tinker with it, myself and avoid such thing from happening again, or
3. just so I know if the mechanic did his job right.

We don't always whine just because we have the right to. eh?

BongA said...

anonymous, you are reading far too much into what was written and dragging all kinds of hypothetical situations just to prop up your argument.

bong