IN his column in the Star last July 14, my colleague Bobit Avila asked aloud, “Why can’t Malacañang do anything right?” Many will readily agree that it’s a fair question to raise, considering the litany of mishaps and mistakes that has marked all five years of the Aquino presidency.
Some friends believe that bobit shouldn’t have stopped at just this question. He should have wondered also: “Why can’t President Aquino do the right thing?”
In ethics and leadership studies, experts and scholars say that “doing the right thing”, more than “doing things right,” is the essential issue to address in judging the conduct of people in high office, be it in government or the private sector. Indeed, it may be the heart of the matter.
Management and leadership
Warren Bennis, the pioneer of leadership studies at Harvard University and the University of Southern California, has written that given the nature and constancy of change and challenges in the 21st century, nations and societies need a new generation of leaders –leaders, not managers.
He contends that there is a profound difference between management and leadership. In this context, he issued his famous dictum: “A good manager does things right; a leader does the right thing.”
Bennis explains his point as follows: both management and leadership are important. “To manage” means “to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct.” “Leading” is “influencing, guiding in direction, course, action, opinion.”
The distinction is crucial. Leadership may be summarized as activities of vision and judgment—wherein the measure of success is effectiveness. Management in contrast refers to activities of mastering routines or process – where the measure of success is efficiency.
Cases in Aquino’s presidency
To return to Avila’s column, the columnist cited several cases or illustrations to make his point, viz:
The case of Pio Emmanuel Mijares, the Ateneo de Naga student who heckled the President in Naga city, and was charged for public disturbance and assault against a person of authority, and whose case was finally dismissed this July after Malacanang proved a no-show at the hearings.
2. the case of Lt. General Hernando Delfin Carmelo Irriberi, who was recently appointed by the president as the new AFP Chief of staff, and who, it turns out, is facing a graft case filed by the Office of the Ombudsman; and
3. Malacañang sanctioning of a junket by 35 public officials and factotums in connection with the hearing of the nation’s arbitration case vs. china before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Netherlands.
These cases are by no means the most glaring instances of poor judgment by the Aquino government. There are far, far worse.
Aquino’s inability to do the right thing in his handling of the very first budget of his government showed his total ignorance of the budget process, and laid the seeds for the creation of the Disbursement Acceleration program (DAP), by the ever greedy budget secretary Butch Abad.
When Aquino turned his attention obsessively to impeaching chief justice Renato Corona, he embarked on arguably the biggest blunder of his presidency, because this project would lead him to bribe and corrupt the members of both houses of congress. And it could lead to his landing behind bars once he leaves office next year.
Another case of his not doing the right thing is clearly his crazy decision to commit to the creation of a Bangsamoro substate in Mindanao, which involves the dismemberment of national territory.
Strikingly, in refusing to adopt without changes the palace version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Sen. Bongbong Marcos declared that the Senate must do the right thing with such important legislation. They must do what is constitutional and just to all the people of Mindanao.
By the same token, when critics including yours truly criticize the administration’s management of the rescue, relief, recovery and rehabilitation effort in East Visayas in the Yolanda/Haiyan disaster, we submit that the Aquino government went the whole hog – they did not do the right thing there, and they did not do things right. Aquino appointed former Senator Panfilo Lacson as rehabilitation czar, and gave him no authority and nothing to do. Presidential leadership in this the greatest typhoon disaster in history was a total failure, despite massive international assistance.
Again and again through all the five years of Aquino’s presidency, we encounter countless instances of government failing to “do the right thing” and to “do things right.”
President BS Aquino has been effective and efficient only on one part of his agenda— and that is, in exacting revenge and punishment on political enemies and rivals. In everything else, he was a slouch.
The importance of doing the right thing shows in the primacy that philosophers and ethicists assign to such conduct.
The writer C.S. lewis wrote: “integrity is doing the right thing, even when nobody is looking.”
Another thinker wrote: “Character is doing the right thing. There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught.”
Finally, one ethicist says, “The moral path is doing the right thing.”
Tactical and Strategic thinking
Interestingly, the digital entrepreneur John Tabita uses the same concepts to distinguish between strategic and tactical thinking.
He writes: “Tactical thinking is “doing things right,” while Strategic thinking is “doing the right things.” Strategic thinking is typically leadership: creating the vision. Whereas Tactical thinking is management: implementing the vision.”
Difficulties arise when one or the other, rather than both, is used to tackle a problem.
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat,” according to Sun Tzu.
On Monday, July 27, in his final SONA, we shall know how BS Aquino views his five-year record in a totally different light.