(Last of Three Parts)
When faced with crisis, what should a leader do most of all:
a) Blame others? b) Investigate? c) Take action on the problem?
Clearly, the last should be first, and the first last. Remedial measures are most important and urgent, followed by inquiries into causes, culpability, and crisis prevention measures. Only after solutions and investigations should leaders apportion blame.
Casting blame and probing culpability split organizational time and attention between addressing the crisis and answering criticism. It also generates conflict where cooperation is needed in solving and preventing problems.
Yet President Aquino, time and again, has done things in reverse, right from his first crisis in a tourist bus taken hostage in Rizal Park in August 2010, to his latest in the country’s biggest disaster when Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan to the world) ravaged the Visayas last November.
After eight Hong Kong tourists died and many others were gravely injured due in large part to a botched assault by Manila’s Special Weapons and Tactics or SWAT police, Malacañang wrongly claimed the past administration of Gloria Arroyo failed to set up a hostage rescue unit with proper training, equipment and arms.
Fast forward to November 2013: Visiting devastated Tacloban days after Yolanda flattened Leyte’s capital, the President found fault with the city government. No matter that just two days before catastrophe, he claimed on nationwide TV that aircraft, vessels, trucks, relief goods, and calamity personnel were in place to swiftly respond. Plainly, both national and local authorities fell short.
This tendency to point fingers at others, especially the past government, is repeated in countless crises and issues. And agencies have then learned to also quickly blame to others, as the Department of Health has done over the current measles surge.
The problem with probes
Also shifting blame away from the President are inquiries he orders into anomalies and problems. As investigator assessing accountability for misgovernance and corruption, the Palace is implicitly not at fault, even though it may well be culpable for faulty or missing executive and policy action.
Take the probes into devastating storms year after year. After Sendong’s killer floods in Northern Mindanao in December 2011, Aquino ordered a probe into poor disaster response and illegal logging. The following year, Pablo lacerated Mindanao and the Visayas — another probe. Then, last November, in Yolanda’s wake came a third investigation into local government disaster preparedness and response.
Invariably, the inquiries cover local officials and bodies, rarely national ones. For instance, after last year’s Metro Manila floods, the Department of Public Works and Highways admitted not relocating informal settlers from hazardous riverbanks, at the behest of mayors keen to get votes in elections last May. Yet no one was investigated for this criminal endangerment of tens of thousands of families.
Going by media reports and official statements, including the past two State of the Nation Addresses, there seem to be no results from the Sendong and Pablo investigations. The same may well happen to the Yolanda probe. In sum, after projecting President Aquino as concerned and faultless during disasters and controversies, investigations die.
No fault, no action
To be sure, most leaders and governments take pains to counter bad publicity. But when they actually believe they have no failings, then, nothing is done to address deficiencies. Case in point: after Sendong, Pablo and Yolanda, not to mention Quiel, Basyang and habagat, it is not clear what major initiatives Aquino has taken to upgrade disaster risk reduction and management in a big way.
Envisioned under the National DRRM Law passed by the previous government, the creation of an amply funded, competently staffed, and properly equipped calamity body like America’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, has yet to happen. The P1-billion People’s Survival Fund, created back in 2011 to fund projects protecting communities from megastorms and other global warming threats, remains unused for lack of implementing rules.
Other stubborn problems have elicited few major state initiatives, if any. No significant new strategies are moving to address poverty, hunger and joblessness, largely unchanged despite high economic growth and over P50 billion in stipends under Aquino for millions of poor families.
Fueled by gun and drug smuggling, and hidden by dubious PNP data, rising crime and killings, including those of press people, have stumped the regime, prompting Palace statements denying the gravity of media murders. Dengue and now measles outbreaks clearly demand better disease prevention. And repeated fatal accidents as well as the car plate shortage point to LTO regression under KKK leadership.
In his latest media tack, President Aquino says he is ignoring critics and focusing on work — as Arroyo did in her latter years. He does express concern and possible initiatives on headline problems, like his tentative musings about curtailing power sector profiteering. He offered similar lines on pork barrel, media killings, poverty and unemployment, rice smuggling, Mindanao blackouts.
Aquino also announced such goals as zero casualties in disasters, rice self-sufficiency, and massive public-private partnership investments. Amid monsoon rains in 2012, flood prevention projects worth P360 billion were floated. These expressions of presidential concern and possible action stir public support, but after the headlines and soundbites, once public furor over problems and issues wane, the President puts in little sustained effort to press for real achievements.
Perhaps with opinion poll ratings staying up somehow, Aquino feels no great need to push hard on fundamental initiatives addressing problems. Hence, there would likely be more of the same woes in coming years, from high poverty and joblessness, to appalling media and calamity deaths.
Raise issues and awareness
So how do we solve the problem of a leader who flouts laws, favors cronies, passes the buck, and tunes out critics, instead of taking resolute, effective action on big issues?
With polls making it seem he’s doing great, and the cowed Congress hardly pressing the President, it’s down to concerned sectors like the Catholic Church, impartial media, and the opposition to keep raising issues and telling people the real score obscured by approving polls and accommodating press.
Then, hopefully, elevated national awareness and agitation would elicit some responses from the administration, as fellow columnist Rigoberto Tiglao’s power rate articles have done. More important, better-informed voters may learn their lesson and come 2016, elect a leader not for his forebears’ good name, but his own proven record of ethical, expert and effective governance. So help us God.
(The first part was published on Monday, the second on Wednesday.)