And Just Like That…

By Joel Santiago

I practically exhorted my Mom into writing in fairness to the president. “This is a show of force, a fierce display of political will,” I said. This is how he’ll get things done in Philippines politics — with change happening so fast it’ll make the trapos’ heads spin. And isn’t this how you’d want it? The only possible way it can happen? The only way to dig out of our entrenchment in the status quo? (Yeah, I was on something of a roll.)

And just like that — the party, the defensive sisters, deleted tweets — he shows you why he doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. That, on top of flatfooted government response so sorely in need of leadership and, you know, something that gives the impression of actual conviction — never mind love for countryman.

Sure, partying with the “troops” is just good management. And inviting their families a nice touch. But these guys would have been the first to understand if he couldn’t make it. And if they didn’t, it was his job to make these civil servants understand. That’s just better management.

A large part of my defense of his show of force was that the nay-sayers were mistaken and unfair, short-sighted and clouded by political bias. But there’s no denying the impression this gives, of an uncaring, unfocused president-who-can’t-prioritize, especially to the victims for whom this is no mere impression, but something — someone — they have to live with.


  1. sayang…if only iPhNoy and his twitter-savvy alipores had used it (the first iPhone 4S given out as Globe loyalty reward) to send a timely message in the wake of the tragedy then all these “insensitivities” wouldn’t have been broadcast.

    naunahan pa sila ni valerie (concepcion) sa kanilang pagti-tweet…

    tweet, tweet….(insert the looney tunes closing theme here; “that’s all folks!

    • Last Wednesday, PNoy received from Zobel de Ayala an iPhone 4S as Globe Loyalty reward. PNoy was the first Pinoy to have the locally-distributed latest iPhone model. I don’t know when it took place, but Ma’am Ellen (Tordesillas) mentioned in her blog that the gadget was raffled off in the Malacañang Press Corps Christmas Party.

      Looking back, I believe there was symbolism in these related news items: (a) PNoy being the first Pinoy to get the locally-distributed iPhone 4S, and (b) the Valerie Concepcion’s tweets “tragedy” vis-à-vis the Sendong tragedy.

      iPhone 4S boasts of something new in gadgetry. However, the iPhone (or ‘Droid smartphone or any phone for that matter) also speaks of something old, and that is, COMMUNICATION.

      Twitter is also about COMMUNICATION.

      Sending a timely message in the wake of tragedy is all about COMMUNICATION.

      I am not saying PNoy et al should have tweeted because it may not be appropriate…but what is there to lose if PNoy et al sent a consoling as well as rallying-point-for-hope Presidential message last Saturday???

      Yes, PNoy et al will give way to the rescue and relief operations first before going to the calamity-stricken areas…that’s understandable. But, ahead of the physical is the mental and the emotional or, simply, the morale. Can they just issue words of comfort, words of encouragement and strength, and words of leadership in times of crisis last Saturday???

      Sayang hindi nagamit ang iPhone 4S…and symbolically, the raffling off of the iPhone will mean missing out on the opportunity of sending out a message…squandering the chance of COMMUNICATING to his countrymen he’s so fond of calling his bosses.

      iPhone 4S…remember when Steve Jobs died…iPhone 4S was “iPhone for Steve.”

      In our case, iPhone 4S is “iPhone for Sendong.”

      …for sending a very timely Presidential message not only to the grief-stricken kababayans but to all the governed…

  2. why are impressions important? they are just “impressions”. if you wanna say that pnoy is unfocused and uncaring, then we should come up with real, tangible reasons why.

    for example: if its true pagasa made an Ondoy-level mistake, pnoy should fire someone.

    • @GabbyD

      I am a longtime reader of this blog and I like you. I think you are sharp and your comments are always provocative and insightful.

      But if you have trouble understanding why a president reported to be partying so soon after 650 of his citizens have just died (and with so many families displaced and robbed of their homes) is perceived negatively — why that is seen as uncaring — then I am guessing that no amount of explanation from any of the readers here will likely be sufficient.

      I would hope that we can acknowledge, for the sake of meaningful public discussions, that there are a few things that are self-evident, whether we are among PNoy’s 70 percenters or among the 30 percenters. And just for the record: I voted for him and I am all for Corona’s impeachment.

      • ey greg… yes, i can acknowledge that a few things are self evident. perhaps i can convince you of this, which is self-evident to me.

        i agree that it may be perceived negatively. but my contention that is it ONLY perception.

        there are very meaningful ways a president can be useful in a crisis. not attending a party (apparently for half an hour) is not necessarily useful.

        i submit we judge pnoy for the useful things he does or does not do to help people who are actually suffering.

        i submit that not attending the party is not part of the list of useful things.

        i submit (in response to angela) that a presscon for TV the morning after isnt part of the list of useful things. its nice — but it wont help get food to them or shelter them, or clothe them, etc…

        a statement in 4 days is good, which is what happened i believe.

        now, i agree people will PERCEIVE a non-statment/party as callous.

        but our role, as people who know better, is to tell the people eager to judge on “perception” what the right criterion ought to be. good ideas should push bad ideas out only when people actively push good ideas.

        it doesnt “just happen”.

        to accept “perception” as some kind of inevitability i think is a mistake. of all the problems in the world — “perception” problems should be the easiest to fix.

        if so, we SHOULD fix them.

  3. If the problem is real, no pr spin will fix it. You can’t fool all all the time. The open secrets chismis media works pretty well, even w/o the electronics.

    But there’s also the problem of the hangers-on, of which many are incompetent. Partly it’s the President’s fault. He should fire a whole bunch but he doesn’t. On this, there’s no perception problem, at least as I perceive. Cheers.

  4. Thanks GabbyD for the thoughtful response.

    I have a lot of trouble, unfortunately, keeping a straight face while telling my president’s detractors that “not attending a party is not necessarily useful” and “not attending the party is not part of the list of useful things”. Not quite the same league as “Once more unto the breach, dear friends”. At a time when the president needs as much as support as he can get to fight the good fight, as they say, throwing a double negative (not-not, as in “my president is not completely unthinking”) to my rallying cry is uninspiring; in fact, it it somewhat confusing.

    Unfortunately it is never “just” perception when one is president — one has functional roles, as well as symbolic roles. In fact, more generally, I WANT my president to play a symbolic role, to inspire, and not just put food on CDO residents’ table. (If all we want is a micro-manager, then Gordon should have won the presidency. But I’ll leave that for another conversation.) I also don’t want him wasting precious political capital to explain the partying the following. He needs to keep his political powder dry, in other words–for the battle with Corona, among many other important battles ahead.

    If my president does not know that, if my president is surrounded by people who do not know that, when it seems so obvious to everyone else that perception has real consequences (Corona himself was quick to grant a calamity leave — probably not a very useful move in the grand scheme of things, but it tells me that he has at least one thinking staff member), then that gives me pause.

    Fiddling while the city burns is really a bad idea — whether one fiddles for 30 minutes or for more than 30 minutes (35?), whether or not one fiddles for one’s staff (or their families), and whether or not one has a statement in 4 days or a presscon the following day.

    • ey greg.

      1). yeah i hate double negatives too. but i thought that the issue was the non-attendance of pnoy. i i couched it as a negative. feel free to reverse it.

      2) fiddling while the city burns… if this reference means that he literally wasnt doing anything, or not doing enough, then i agree. lets talk about that! so far, NO ONE is saying anything about the what the office of the president should have done to directly help disaster victims, support the local govt, or why the disaster warning system spectacularly failed.

      if we can shift the ire to that– it would be useful indeed.

      3) finally, the role of president as symbol.

      so this is where we completely disagree. i think we (as a country) should move toward a system where we quit putting politicians on pedestals, and projecting onto them whatever we feel we want.

      i think that character is important (ie. honesty, integrity, etc…), but different from being a symbol.

      why do i think so? there are many reasons — perhaps the most practical reason is that we get bogged down into perception fights that dont do anything. its easy to have battling “symbols” while there are real issues that need addressing.

      the second most practical reason is that if you do that, you will consistently be disappointed by your symbols. they are just people, and giving more stuff to do beyond what is important/real is a recipe for getting your hopes blown.

      the reason why perception has real consequences is that we allow it. thats all. its a totally fabricated “crisis”.

      but i guess people are wedded to president as cheerleader. i think thats a huge problem when you now have to decide on who to vote for based NOT on policy, or character, but on whether or not he/she falls into some kind of narrative.

      i think this has been the problem of personalized/personality based politics that we have been warned about (and ignored apparently!) for decades.

      i voted for pnoy not coz he’s the son of so and so. i voted for him coz of his policies, his character, his plans. i want a president who works hard during the week,gets stuff done (real stuff), and relaxes saturdays/sundays, like the rest of us.

      i think people talk about “symbols”, not just because of a desire to view politicians as such, but also because talking about policy and vision and solutions is legitimately HARD.

      its easier to talk about PR issue — should he attend parties? should he play video games? should he go out on dates? blah blah blah… even when these questions, while titilating (?), serve no real purpose.

      but we have to try to lift the national conversation when we feel its beginning to sink. if we dont, no one will.


      alternatively, you can argue that its too hard to fix perception issues, and its best to just not create them.

      but that creates another problem. by accepting you can do anything about the “realness” of the issue, you do the things baycas advocates — communication control. no tweeting!

      note that doesnt fix anything — it ONLY makes it BIGGER when the inevitable slip up happens.

      • i don’t advocate communication control.

        by accepting you can do anything about the “realness” of the issue, you do the things baycas advocates — communication control. no tweeting!

        gabbyd, kindly explain.

        • i thought that your iphone comment was about communication control.

          the iphone allows its user an easy (100 char or so) way to communicate an idea.

          thus it forces the user to be savy, and if you savy, technology makes it easier for one to be so. so it makes it really easy to express condolences, rally support, etc.

          — OR we should limit/ban communication that involves the president via twitter if it doesnt fit the communication strategy (valerie concepcion tweeting the party/mae mislang tweeting about vietnam).

          if this isnt your opinion: technology and communication control, let us know.

          • aah, the iPhone comment or symbolism above is about PNoy not communicating or issuing a timely Presidential message to his bosses ASAP when disaster struck last Saturday.

            actually, it’s PNoy and his Comm Group that is controlling communication…even when the situation calls for it.


            further on the iPhone symbolism…

            PNoy “shunned” technology and communication when he raffled off his iPhone 4S.

  5. @GabbyD

    Thanks again for the thoughtful response. I appreciate, though I may not agree with it.

    And this may not ring true — there’s only so much one can convey in a comments section anyway — but I completely get you (re: symbols, cheerleader etc.) I found myself making similar arguments a couple of decades ago — criticizing the Inquirer for, in turn, criticizing then-President Cory Aquino for giving a speech that was so-so. Feel free to look it up, circa late 1988, an Inquirer editorial that was entitled, if I remember correctly, precisely that – “speech short on inspiration” or something along those lines. I said then that we didn’t need leader that inspire; we needed leaders who were honest, and got things done, full stop.

    I have reconsidered my views since then, as you can tell.

    Here’s something that maybe hits closer to home, and this is probably my last word on the subject. After this, let’s just agree to disagree. Here it is:

    If a relative of mine were to — God forbid — pass away today (and we can assume for simplicity that he/she died of natural causes, nothing dramatic, etc.), it seems to me I have two choices:

    (a) I can tell my family I’m going to party on tonight, it’s just for 30 minutes, no biggie, and anyway my not-partying won’t bring back the dead, so — party on. I’m also going to say, don’t judge me, this is largely symbolic anyway, the dead don’t care.


    (b) I can decide not to be a jerk.

    I know that the choice — as a family member and as a human being — is clear, what I meant early on as “self-evident”.

    I know that, and I’m not even president.

    • yeah, its cool.thanks too.

      i can’t begrudge/stop anyone from seeing a politician how they want to see them: hero, ama, kapatid, padrino, etc.

      any of those titles color what we expect of people. each voter gets to decide how they want to view other people.

      thats cool, and necessary.

      all i’m saying is: while i get that people tend to do that, want to do that, like doing it — there are also very strong, rational reasons to try to de-personalize politics, and focus on policy, results, accountability, institutions, political philosophy, transparency, etc..

  6. Last note before the Christmas break…btw, Happy Holidays to all

    Coloma defends Aquino being at PSG party
    By Jaymee T. Gamil
    Philippine Daily Inquirer
    3:51 pm, Monday, December 19th, 2011

    “Yes, it’s true the President was there, but let us place it in the proper context. It was a celebration by the PSG, by soldiers whose role is to protect the life of the President 365 days a year…It was to give them a bit of morale and welfare,” Coloma pointed out, in Filipino.

    Coloma made the statement at the Kapihan sa Diamond Hotel media forum on Monday morning.

    Translation: The morale and welfare of the Mindanao calamity-stricken people can wait until Tuesday, December 20, 2011.

  7. Angie and to ALL, Have a Happy Holiday season of Christian Celebration for Love and Peace to our countrymen!

    During a natural disaster where the govt apparatus are functioning according to its roles and responsiblities to deliver the necessary and immediate services, while the Presidency is restricted to protocols of verifying the calamnities , we cannot fault the president if he did not authorize issuance communication advisory and appeasement to affected areas if he is not sure of facts. Secondly, Attending to other Palace functions which are organized and scheduled before the disaster is a part of his protocol in making sure a smooth operations are maintained in this sensitive pillars of power. He is not a robot or superman where is he must immediately respond at press of button.
    He is a thinking human who knows his limits. That is what is self-evident to all of us of who Christian inspired.