The line is a Yiddish proverb. And I am quoting it today in reply to President B.S. Aquino’s recent series of attacks against his critics in the media, highlighted by his invocation of God’s support on his side.
He launched his campaign during a visit with Bulong-Pulungan, a forum of women journalists. Presented with a Man of Steel award for “showing strength in times of adversity,” he called out his media critics for their “negativism.” “There are some who are very good at criticizing—breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and sometimes midnight snack,” he said. He then revealed that he was praying to God for “the enlightenment of these people who have never said a good thing about him.”
A week later during a visit to Tokyo for the Asean-Japan Summit, Aquino took up the theme again.
“Those critics already have an industry in the Philippines,” he said. “It’s easier for them to write and hit anyone.” Then he invoked God’s wrath on his critics: “Bahala na si Lord sa inyo, busy ako” (Let the Lord take care of you, I’m busy.)
Bringing God into the problem is not strategically sound. (He should have consulted his Strategic Planning Office first before launching his campaign.) If he can file a petition for divine intervention, so can his critics. They could pray for his removal from office by impeachment and other means. Or they might pray for a Savior who will set to right our benighted land. All of which is already happening judging by the comments being written daily by netizens on the Web.
Such a battle of prayers could incense the Almighty. I sometimes think that the reason the Middle East is such a powder keg, is because the great religions were born there. Since time immemorial believers and zealots have been engaged in a battle of prayers for God to take their side. Perhaps in dismay, God decided to let conflict and tragedy rain on that corner of the earth.
In an equally famous quote, the poet Robert Burns wryly observed: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
This is where we should leave the president’s petition to God.
“You cannot fake decency”
This was the gist of my analysis and explanation to friends and colleagues (some supportive of the Aquino administration) who asked me why in spite of the government’s efforts to help typhoon Yolanda’s victims and the ravaged areas, there is so little appreciation for and gratitude to President Aquino, his sidekick Mar Roxas, and other administration officials.
The answer is basic. It’s the fundamental duty and responsibility of government to be the responder—from first to last. Aquino et al fumbled the government’s initial response to the calamity. They said all the wrong things during their first visit to Ground Zero of the disaster, by displaying a lack of compassion and empathy. They made all the wrong moves by not showing urgency in the relief and rescue effort, by refusing aid to the local government units, by playing politics in the relief effort, and looking for someone to blame for the calamity. No one outlined how the government would quickly move to get on top of the situation by breaking down the effort into phases: relief, recovery, and reconstruction.
Television is a very unkind medium. It shows you fat and puffy even when you’re lean or thin. It magnifies everything, including the warts and mistakes. The Aquino and Roxas interviews were very damaging. PNoy and Mar looked more quarrelsome than compassionate. The footage of Aquino handing out water bottles to obviously hungry victims crystallized the inadequacy of the government’s response. The image was vivid and unforgettable.
The administration’s subsequent efforts to catch up and correct mistakes could not recoup lost ground.
In a life-and-death crisis like this, past popularity doesn’t count, because people are fickle and they can change their views overnight.
In an emergency of this magnitude, people must like you and trust you. You cannot fake decency.
It’s a huge challenge showing basic decency and authenticity on live TV. Anderson Cooper and other international journalists can show this amply in their reportage. They are battle-tested and professionals; they know all the moves. Cooper, by daring to forcefully criticize the response of the Philippine government, galvanized a lot of support and earned the everlasting gratitude of our people. Andrew Stevens, by being at the scene while the storm was raging, got high marks.
In contrast, local media could not match the international broadcasters and reporters. While they also risked life and limb and exerted themselves to the utmost to cover the disaster effectively and bring the faces and the plight of the victims up front, their reporting lacked emotional punch and depth, and the images seemed more scary than moving.
In TV news journalism, the role of the anchor is everything; that’s why they’re paid top money. They have proven their effectiveness. And they show high emotional quotient (EQ) on the tube.
Today, I am introducing in this column what I call the Constructive Praise Department. This is my way of acknowledging President Aquino’s criticism of the relentless “negativity” in media’s current coverage of his presidency and our public life.
We cannot live our lives on a total diet of criticism, not even constructive criticism. Saying “No” all the time and to everything is cynical and self-defeating.
We should also publicly say “yes” and express our approval when something salutary happens in our national life, or in the policies and actions of the government.
With the constructive praise department, I will report and discuss developments that are positive and interesting and redound to the public good. It will also send up occasionally the eccentric and the funny. The department will appear as the concluding section of every column.
Bonifacio Park in Cavite
As the first entry in the section, I discuss here the proposed Bonifacio Park in Maragondon, Cavite, which is a project of the town and the National Parks Development Committee of the Department of Tourism.
This project is highly significant and historically important. Besides honoring the memory of Andres Bonifacio, it will help to bring a measure of closure and healing to an important and controversial chapter in Philippine history—Bonifacio’s death at the hands of his fellow revolutionaries. It shows our Caviteño brethren rendering a tribute and salute, however, belated, to his heroism and leadership of our national revolution.
For over a century, President Emilio Aguinaldo himself and Cavite province could not overcome the stigma of blame and suspicion. Our first president suffered in comparison with other heroes; the grandest PR effort could not erase the stigma.
With Bonifacio Park rising in Cavite, maybe the long-needed healing can begin.