A young man, who has just started to discover the importance of politics in our lives, shared this little insight with me. Perhaps, he said, President Aquino does not have “brains” (in the plural form). At best, PNoy has a “brain” in the singular form. “Brains” means intellectual ability and judgment. “Brain” denotes an organ that functions just enough to keep onealive.
I think he has a point that Filipinos would do well to ponder. When we review all the mistakes and disasters of the Aquino presidency, we find this running thread: a basic failure of intelligence and judgment, and an incapacity for empathy that comes to the fore in times of crisis.
The combination is deadly, and it explains why the Mamasapano crisis has brought him to the edge of the abyss.
Nothing in Aquino’s background and experience suggests that he has the resilience and fortitude to survive or surmount the tsunami of outrage that is building up against the administration.
Many are now singing the Paul Anka-Frank Sinatra line: “And now the end is near. . .”
Thinking and judgment
Aquino’s shortcomings in intelligence and judgment were placed on immediate display in his totally mistaken handling of his first crisis: the Luneta hostage-taking that took the lives of eight Hong Kong tourists.
This was when we first saw his tendency to freeze when faced with serious crisis. Despite being gifted with nearly 12 long hours to come up with an availing solution to the hostage-taking, he and his law enforcement advisers could not come up with a solution.
Aquino compounded this mistake by refusing to make amends and apologize to Hong Kong authorities.
This distressing experience would recur in other trials of his presidency – in the Zamboanga stand-off, in the Yolanda crisis, in East Visayas, in the test of wills with the Supreme Court over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
In all these episodes, he has shown dimwittedness and poor judgment.
The historian Barbara Tuchman, author of major history books and accounts of conflicts and crises, says that intelligence and good judgment are essential qualities of the good leader and commander.
She cites C.P. Snow’s definition of judgment as “the ability to think of many matters at once, in their interdependence, their related importance, and their consequences. It combines rationality, intuition and experience to make leadership decisions effective.”
Complementing Tuchman’s point, the philosopher and psychologist Edward de Bono contends that what is essential to effective leadership is sound and creative thinking.
Sadly, he says that “people in positions of power use their intelligence to defend their position and to survive. They use their intelligence to attack, criticize and blame others.”
If that sounds like a description of President Aquino, there we have it. He is an ineffective leader because he specializes in negative thinking and putting down people, with his nasty tongue and vindictiveness
In a book that de Bono wrote to help Brazil achieve transformational change, Handbook for the Positive Revolution, he offers a practical framework for creative thinking and positive change. We can see how effective his ideas are partly in the great successes of Brazil in recent decades.
With Aquino, in contrast, we elected a man who does not know how to lead, who totally lacks an executive sense, who doesn’t know how to run things.
In his peace initiative in Mindanao, he showed in good measure this shallow intelligence and poor judgment. He took at face value all the recommendations of his peace adviser and chief negotiator, and proceeded to write an agreement that totally compromised the interests of the nation.
He failed to see what was evident to everyone.
1. The MILF was not just demanding greater government services and protections for their communities.
2. They were demanding their own flag and country.
This misapprehension led inevitably to the tragedy at Mamasapano, and the unworkable peace agreement and proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Failing the empathy test
As if poor thinking and judgment were not handicaps enough, President Aquino was also gifted by Providence with an appalling lack of empathy for people in need or in distress. This was placed in stark display in the Yolanda disaster and in the Mamasapano massacre.
The other day, he compounded his problems by showing this character flaw to the families of the police commandos slain in Mamasapano. He tried to grieve with them, but wound up scolding them for needling him about justice for their loved ones.
When the families repeatedly asked him how the government will deliver justice for their dead, he hectored them: “Anong gusto ninyo, kunan namin ng fingerprints ang lahat ng MILF? [What do you want us to do, get the fingerprints of all members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front?]”
The remark predictably angered the families who lost no time telling the media about the meeting.
Ironically, Aquino’s lack of empathy is showing at a time when social philosophers are saying that people today are now living in the Age of Empathy.
In the book, The Empathic Civilization, Jeremy Rifkin offers “a new rendering of human history and the meaning of human existence.” He contends that the role that empathy plays in our lives has grown more important. In this time of economic hardship, political instability, and rapid technological change, empathy is the one quality we most need if we’re going to survive and flourish in the 21st century.
Rifkin says that it’s important to keep in mind what empathy is — and how it is different from sympathy, which is passive. “Empathy,” explains Rifkin, “conjures up active engagement — the willingness of an observer to become part of another’s experience, to share the feeling of that experience.”
But empathy is not just about feeling for another’s suffering. As Rifkin points out: “One can also empathize with another’s joy.” Indeed, according to Rifkin, “empathic moments are the most intensely alive experiences we ever have.”
This is something, alas, which President Aquino is unable to share with us.
Palace now in panic
The latest reports show that in Malacañang panic has begun to set in as the crisis brought about by Aquino’s mishandling of the Mamasapano Massacre has festered.
The Palace is in panic mode — so much so that it is now readying several exit plans, according to Palace sources.
“The boat may be sinking,” said one source.
The Gallant SAF44 clearly did not die in vain. For in death, they have enabled their countrymen to realize how bad a leader President Aquino is.
The combined effort of the Palace and Congress to cover up the President’s accountability in Mamasapano has totally failed. The media are more resolute and productive in their investigations. Even the crony media may be waking up.
Things are headed toward a full reckoning next week.
The rally that starts tomorrow could become a rainbow protest action, gathering all sides of the political spectrum and all ethnic and linguistic groups.
President Aquino has not seen anything like this in his five years in Malacañang. He may not survive this coming week to finish his full term in June next year.
Most Filipinos are now tired of waiting.