Taking the bull by the horns


THE idiomatic expression “taking the bull by the horns” means to grasp the problem head-on and struggle through it. “To confront your problem instead of avoiding them.” The saying stems from the practice of bull-leaping that was practiced on the isle of Crete. It means to take control of the situation.

In the Wild Wild West fashion, cowboys gain control over and overpower a bull, to take it from standing or a threat stance to make it lie on its side. So the idiom means to “grasp the problem head-on, to overpower and overcome, and reduce the problem to something more manageable. That means that you face up squarely and bravely to something troubling.”

Mr. President, the time has come.

When the Board of Inquiry submitted its report and the Senate, signed by 20 senators, made public their executive summary, more questions are now being asked at the operational and decision making levels. Some of those questions have been verbalized by others, some are discussed in hushed tones so as not to further weaken some institutions. Three things stand out: the role of the US, which both reports delve into; why the Additional SAF reinforcements never rescued their colleagues and who ordered a stand down?

Definitely there is something wrong when an alter ego texts you to report the tragic massacre and dead air accompanies your “thank you.” There is something wrong when members of the SAF are being mowed down and your security cluster is not convened. There is something wrong when members of the Cabinet, PNP and AFP freeze awaiting your orders and the orders were never made. It is utterly wrong when Cabinet officials wilt and can’t even confront you so decisions are made for immediate rescue. Something terribly snapped on 25 January and you need to address these.

What happens to your administration after Mamasapano is a burden you solely carry. As has been pointed time and time again, the presidency is different from the president. The presidency is the institution while the president is the persona. The president has seven generic roles: chief of state, chief executive, chief diplomat, commander-in-chief, chief legislator, chief of party and chief guardian of the economy. All the president’s actuations, utterances and day-to-day decision making form part and parcel of the institution of the presidency. The president ends his term after 6 years but the presidency continues. The institution is supposed to be strengthened after every term so the next president can stand on it firmly, rooted in tradition and experience.

There is a problem on Mamasapano after the BOI and the Senate reports came out. Accountability and trust problems and we saw the fall in the surveys and it will continue to erode a once mighty political capital you had in June 2010. Leaders admit faults and lapses and rise from it. But do not be like your friend Purisima, when he tried submitting his position paper after the Senate hearing for which it was rejected. And here you are submitting your texts to the Senate committees, after the submission of the report. You snubbed the BOI and now you call the head to give a piece of your mind when the report has been made public. Why? Accountability suffers with afterthought. Your trust is eroded with quibbling and pandering. A prayer rally that was supposed to be such became a bashing session? Why? A PMA graduation rites with impressionable and future military leaders was used to lambast critics with words like “sasagasaan ko…” Why?

Don’t make Makati another Mamasapano, Mr. President. Both Binay and Roxas are part of your official family and Makati remains the financial district. Call them, settle their issues before it erupts to something you again will be blamed for. Take the bull by the horns.

By taking the bull by the horns, you reframe the debate and get the hard policies enacted before the end of your administration. Pass the FOI bill. It has passed the Senate a long time ago and the House is ready for plenary debate, certify it. Better, if Congress freezes the ball here, use your presidential powers by crafting an Executive Order on FOI.

Your administration has not passed any political reform despite claiming to be reformist. The politics that made you win, allowed you to govern and is now shifting sands are still the same. Nothing has changed in our politics. In the remaining days of your term, pass the anti-dynasty bill and the political party reform measure. Reform the party list. Further cement a level playing field by passing the competition bill.

Wrestle with the shadows, grab the bull by the horns and make those hard decisions now. Yes, you did not volunteer for the job but you certainly cannot blame those who egged you to take it. In the end, you just have yourself to blame. Truly, “being president is a lonely job … you cannot lead from the crowd.”


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  1. jesus nazario on

    Insightfully good article Ms Tiquia ! Bottomline, can we then say that the President is in effect “taking the horns by the bull ?” That is why the horns are hitting him left and right ?

    Seriously, the President is confronting the two horns of a dilemma (no attribution to the SoJ), a Scylla and Charybdis, the whirlpool and the rock in the straits of Messina which sailors dread, the devil and the deep blue sea, a damn-if-you-do-damn-if you-don’t situation, etc. Dilemmas are twin perils which you steer between taking care of not being gored by either horns.

    There are 7 steps to reconciling dilemmas strategically: eliciting through humor, mapping, processing, framing/contextualizing, sequencing, waving/cycling and finally synergizing. In step one beware of being: a mottled quadruped with a pronounced squint; The Impasse or the bigger cousin of the dilemma quadruped; The Strategic Thinker or a reptile of amazing craft and subtlety who calculates on the run; the Consensus or a sloth-like beast of mythical properties; Qualms or small timid creatures which emit a cheeping sound ; The Gathering Momentum which is difficult to stop once started, The Fudge or the cousin of the Policy Statement (TnD?) ressembling a paste-up of many different species; The Random Grope who feeds on targets of opportunities using its 8 (or 10 ?) tentacles; The Arch-Rival who occupies a high position barring its enemies from going up; The Collusion or an inhabitant of smoke-filled rooms; The Cold Appraisal or the fussy eater who eats only standard fare; The Mixed Message who is easily made nervous and runs; The Disciplinarian or a beast with a fetish for using an armory of management tools just for the heck of it; The Compromising Position who is a relative of the Mounting Crisis; and The Organization Chameleon who is impossible to describe due to its variegated hues; and finally The Double Loop who adapt themselves to their habitat or vice versa.

  2. Very well understood column.
    BRAVO Ms Tiquia. What a column.
    Mabuhay ka
    Mabuhay ang Manila Times for having you
    in their papers.

  3. He was prone to blunders from the start of his administration. His first EO was deemed unconstitutional by the Corona court. He did nothing at the height of the Luneta hostage taking massacre. He was slow to react to all the typhoon disasters. His proponents like Winnie Monsod agreed that his record as a lawmaker was mediocre but they proceeded to support him. As the late Lee Kuan Yew said, good intentions are not enough. A leader has to have vision and work hard to achieve it.

  4. Sivenar Pineda on

    This is the best opinion i’ve ever read since the Mamasapano incident,full of relevant questions to be answerd, very intersesting. More Power to your colum.