• A potential PR nightmare

    Ben D. Kritz

    Ben D. Kritz

    ON Thursday, January 29, Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corp. (MMPC) officially inaugurated its Sta. Rosa, Laguna vehicle assembly plant, a replacement for its 50-year-old factory in Cainta, Rizal, which ended production on December 16.

    The opening of the new plant was a major corporate event with a guest list that featured the President of the Republic of the Philippines, a couple of Cabinet secretaries, the mayor of Sta. Rosa, the governor of Laguna, the Japanese ambassador to the Philippines, and the Chairman of Mitsubishi Motors Corp. from Japan, and a number of other dignitaries.

    It should have been a happy occasion, but there was just one problem: January 29 was the day the somber ceremony of the return of the fallen was held at Villamor Air Base, homecoming day for 42 of the 44 (or more) PNP troopers massacred by Islamic terrorists in Maguindanao a few days earlier. President B.S. Aquino 3rd skipped the rites at the airport because they “were not on his schedule,” according to one of his spokespeople, and instead followed through with his previous engagement at the Mitsubishi plant, causing the nation to erupt in fury at Aquino’s callousness.

    The episode was a complete disaster as far as Mitsubishi is concerned. Even if the president had sent his apologies and gone instead to fulfill his duties as head of state and commander-in-chief of the country’s military and police forces, that best case scenario would have still meant the automaker’s big debut would have been completely overshadowed by current events and likely ignored by the press.

    As things turned out, it did get the volume of attention Mitsubishi’s marketing and corporate communications people were probably hoping for, but for the horribly wrong reason that the guest of honor prior to his arrival in Laguna had, in the words of noted dispenser of justice Darwin the Merciless, “alienated the police force, alienated a number of supporters, caused a PR nightmare, cost the government millions, made [DILG Secretary Mar] Roxas look stupid, derailed his own peace process, and otherwise contributed mightily to the senseless deaths of 44 heroes. It takes a unique talent to be that stupid.”

    Mitsubishi Motors Philippines quite obviously had nothing at all to do with the Mamasapano Massacre, but because of someone else’s execrable behavior found themselves part of a controversy. Any company that unwittingly finds itself caught in a political issue in a foreign market finds itself balancing on the head of a pin. If it becomes too “involved” it risks being accused of meddling in local politics, but if it doesn’t acknowledge the issue, it risks alienating its local market and stakeholders by being perceived as uncaring or worse.

    The safe call is usually to avoid the controversy as much as possible, which is what Mitsubishi has done; in its official press release about the Sta. Rosa plant opening, the company notes the President’s attendance at the event, but does not quote any of his remarks and instead focuses on the features of the new facility. In doing so, however, the company has had to waste the effort to stage the opening ceremonies for the new factory, and sacrifice any publicity dividend it hoped to collect from it.

    Was the safe call the right call? My opinion, which is largely informed by a long association with an auto manufacturer that continues to struggle with a legacy of being a key part of the German military-industrial complex in both world wars, is that it was not in this case. Mitsubishi Motors Philippines, as is any foreign company which has operated in this country for any length of time, is a part of a social fabric; the people who make MMPC what it is are Filipinos, Filipinos who are filled with grief and fury over the tragedy in Maguindanao. Not acknowledging it at all makes the company seem insensitive and detached from the community which makes its successful operations here possible.

    A simple statement of condolence and perhaps a short explanation that the company could not have foreseen the horribly coincidental timing of the plant opening (after all, it is not really possible to withdraw an invitation to the president) and intended no disrespect would not only be courteous, it would eliminate the liability of Mitsubishi’s being mentioned in the same breath as Noynoy Aquino. And it would recover the opportunity to draw some positive public attention to MMPC’s new facility, which was the point of having a grand opening in the first place.



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    1. Excellent article from Ben D. Kritz about PNoy Aquino chosing Mitzubishi Motors over the arrival of the 42 PNP dead policemen at the Villamor Air Force Base.
      “It takes a unique talent to be that stupid”. “It is not on his schedule.”

      It is disappointing because “educated” Filipinos voted for this man whose only qualification is being the son of his parents. As Columnist Carmen Pedrosa wrote in the Philippine Star – PNoy does not know what the Presidency is about.

      Rogelio Peña
      Montebello, California

    2. His people in care of his schedule are to blame mostly. They should be schooled in being able to diplomatically speak to people like Mitsubishi to explain what the situation is and asking if they can either postpone their opening for a few hours or until the next day or excuse the President for his absence if they can’t. They have to anticipate contingencies like this, that sudden emergencies or events can happen, and advise the President accordingly on what is the most prudent course of action, taking into account that his various constituencies may have competing demands. In other words, they have to do some of his thinking for him if, as is obviously the case, he is not adept at thinking on his feet. His failure is in not staffing that section with people who can do this. He also needs to change his mindset, be ready to drop everything, and be there on the ground when his presence is needed. That’s what Presidents are there for. If government could always be done in slow motion then Congress could fill the job.

    3. This abigale valte is truly deserving of her appellation as “Lady Gaga” but again what can she do she just mouths what she is told to say. I pity these people: valte, lacierda and their chief honcho Coloma. They don’t have any say on what to say (pun intended) they just mouth scripts handed to them. Their only contribution is their attempts to look and sound credible and for Coloma to strive to be impeccable in Tagalog. Hirap ano coloma you probably exclaim with a “phew” every time you finish with your statement.

    4. Mitsubishi was also part of the Japanese military-industrial complex. among the things they produced in World War 2 was the Zero fighter plane

    5. “NOt on his schedule”? Who can possibly schedule a return of soldier’s lifeless body? It is not as if they meant to die and purposely cause change in the president’s schedule. Unintelligent answer. Pnoy did not care, Mitsubishi should have cared and been more sensitive

    6. The problem with Noynoy Aquino is he failed to learn from his elementary teachers Good Manner and Right Conduct (GMRC). He does not care the social impact of his actions. He does not understand the Filipino culture perhaps because he is poor in study of sociology. Sometimes I ask, what is his sense of being a Filipino. His concept of pakikiramay. His leadership qualities likewise is being challenged that while he has the command of the entire armed forces, he relied this operation to his buddy and friend, Allan Purisima and guys like Paquito Ochoa. Whatever Ateneo taught him when he was in college, one thing that stand out is his attitude of being an elitist student.

      What is clear to him is his Haciendero mentality perhaps inculcated not by his father Ninoy or hismother but his Uncles.

      Its a sad day for Mitsubishi Motors that they become a victim of Noynoy’s recklessness.

    7. You are right that Mitsubishi’s press coverage turned out to be all about a president not doing the correct thing. Anything they can do to get back some good publicity will help them.

      • That is the ULTIMATE peak of PRESIDENTIAL STUPIDITY. Disgusting just to think about the insensitivity of PNoy.

    8. He doesnt seem to understand how important those dead policemen are to the country, Its not as if its that important thet the car plant has moved site, people dont buy from a production site they buy the cars from show rooms so its a no brainer as to which occasion he should have attended, so by not attending it show what lack of brains he possesses. I wonder how malacanang will spin that. As they will spn it somehow, but will the people buy it i doubt it very much.I wont.

    9. The only reason I can think of why MMPC did not do what you have suggested is because their PR people are not Filipinos.

    10. chthonic monster on

      “were not on his schedule,”
      1) it wasn’t his intention to welcome dead bodies
      2) he doesn’t know what a social obligation means
      3) he couldn’t care less
      4) he’s exhausted after playing so many rounds in the driving simulator, sure beats playing in the PSP!
      5) he’s got better things to do, anyway patay na ‘yung mga ‘yun!

    11. Ruben V. Calip on

      Very very good suggesion, Mr. Ben Kritz.
      Mitsubishi should publish a FULL PAGE apology ad in The Manila Times!