Monday, September 29, 2008

They are not kidding

Just got back from a conference. This was my column last Wednesday, September 24.

It seems Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando is not kidding after all. He is intent on running for the highest post in the land.

To be really honest about it, I really thought that the man was simply trying to be cute. Antics such as his latest foray into entertainment TV via Celebrity Duets is a trademark. In fact, there are times when he comes across as a copycat of Senator Juan Flavier.

I think we can all be forgiven for being skeptical about Fernando’s quest for the presidency. To begin with, he doesn’t have national following. In fact, there are many people who insist that his fan base is limited to Marikina City. Surely, anyone who wants to become President realizes that he or she needs to be voted into office by millions of Filipinos across the country.

Secondly, anyone who wants to be voted into office needs to get on the good side of the voters. Essentially, this means getting their sympathy or at the very least, not doing anything to antagonize or displease them. Last I looked, Fernando continued to stand foursquare behind his projects, many of them quite unpopular. There are the pink fences, the U-turn slots and all the other projects that don’t really work in many areas.

Fernando is known for his legendary stubbornness. In fact, it is widely accepted that the main reason why certain traffic improvement schemes continue to be in place and are still observed despite the fact that they have failed is that Fernando does not like people questioning his supposed brilliant ideas.

It did cross my mind that a national campaign was in the works when I was told that MMDA heavy equipment and personnel were very visible in Kalibo, Aklan in the aftermath of Typhoon Frank. In fact, MMDA personnel, equipment, and vehicles have been seen in various provinces outside of Metro Manila on a more regular basis in the last two months. I am sure that the agency’s officials have a logical explanation. I doubt, however, if Metro Manila mayors and residents appreciate the fact that services that are supposed to be rendered to them are now diverted elsewhere.

Three things have convinced me that Fernando is serious after all in his bid for the presidency of the Republic of the Philippines in 2010.

First, giant tarpaulin boards that show his stern-looking mug are all over the country. When I saw a poster in Davao City a couple of weeks back, I thought it was just a test. But I traveled to Baguio City yesterday and came across more of his tarpaulins. It’s difficult to miss them because they are in that hideous shade of pink that reminds you of plastic flowers and because they feature an unsmiling Fernando, seemingly scolding us for whatever transgressions we’re supposed to have made against this country.

Second, it seems he already has the endorsement of former President Fidel V. Ramos who was quoted over the weekend as saying that the country needs a “bayani” as leader in 2010. Anyone out there who thinks the former president was talking about heroes and heroism in general should listen to what he said next: “Watch out for the Pink Panther.”
I know this sounds frivolous, but is there anyone out there who actually likes that shade of pink?
***

I am not a fan of Senator Ping Lacson. However, I cannot say that the guy is unworthy of his seat in the Senate. He is articulate, he is passionate, and he seems to be a brilliant tactician. He also has a wry sense of humor which unfortunately sometimes comes across as sardonic. So yes, I believe that there is a particular value that he brings to the Senate.

And it is a value that is quite unique and distinctive. Only Ping Lacson has, so far, been able to directly accuse people of the worst possible crimes with 100-percent certainty written on his face. This is a man with very strong convictions. Sometimes I wish I have, at the very least, the ability to demonstrate the kind of conviction that he shows in his face and demeanor for the things I believe in. He doesn’t flinch. He doesn’t mince words. And he seems totally unafraid of anything and anyone. It’s probably his military training; although I’ve also known quite a number of military generals with the backbone of a jellyfish.

Unfortunately, the very thing that sets him apart from the rest of the senators and for which he earns some measure of respect—even if in many cases it is given grudgingly—is also the very thing that makes people wary of him. I don’t know if the man still has ambitions of becoming President of this country. Unlike in the last presidential elections where he cast his hat into the political ring very early on, he seems to be biding his time now. I think however that he lost quite a number of votes last Monday when he delivered that fiery and impassioned privilege speech at the Senate.

I think that was exactly the kind of speech someone who harbors a moist eye on the presidency cannot afford to deliver —he practically challenged the Senate President to a fistfight. He said he was willing, ready, and capable of a bruising fight. For a while there, he looked like some character from a western movie—waving a gun in the air and accosting everyone to a duel. And he wasn’t kidding either.

***

Most human resource management professionals in this country will not be at their desks starting today until Friday. They will be at the Baguio Country Club attending the annual conference of the People Management Association of the Philippines (formerly known as the Personnel Management Association of the Philippines). Conferences, of course, have taken a bad rap for simply being occasions for networking and rest and recreation. But PMAP’s conferences have always been unique and relevant mainly because it’s about people—our only lasting and remaining source of competitive advantage.

Human resources and people managers who are reading this piece and who are still not in Baguio can still catch up. The conference learning sessions will run until Friday afternoon.

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