If you look closely, the incident in Naga City about the student who heckled President Benigno Aquino 3rd during his Independence Day speech—closely parallels and echoes the theme of Hans Christian Anderson’s short tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
First published in 1837, the tale tells of a vain emperor who cares about nothing except wearing and displaying clothes. He hires two weavers, swindlers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or “hopelessly stupid.” The Emperor’s ministers cannot see the clothing themselves, but they pretend that they can for fear of appearing unfit for their positions and the Emperor does the same. When the suit is allegedly finished, they mime dressing the Emperor and the Emperor marches in procession before his subjects. The townsfolk play along with the pretense, not wanting to appear unfit or stupid. Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by the others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but he bravely continues to march in the procession.
In the story from Naga, Aquino was well into his speech, bragging about the reforms under his administration, attacking entertainer-politicians, when Ateneo de Naga student EM Mijares stood up from the crowd and shouted: “Walang pagbabago sa Pilipinas sa rehimeng Aquino” (There’s no change in the Philippines under the Aquino regime).
Aquino is momentarily taken aback and stops delivering his speech, but he continues and finishes the address.
Mijares is taken by members of the president’s security detail, and is hustled off to the city jail. He puts up a bond of P8,000 and is released the following day, after being interrogated.
The tell-tale parallels are many: Aquino is accompanied to Naga by several cabinet members, led by Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, chief sycophant and designated successor. His cloak as a reformist and dynamic president is betrayed as a sham by joblessness, slowing growth, and the breakdown of public services. The audience is a safe and comfortable one for Aquino, because it is composed of his fellow Ateneans (who can be trusted to conform and trust him), local government and civic leaders, who are only too happy to rub elbows with the president.
The selected audience has little interest in the state of the nation, and the effectiveness of Aquino in solving the nation’s problems. They politely applaud his speech. And then Aquino rushes off to Manila, where he must attend the traditional vin de honneur for the diplomatic community in Malacañang Palace, another forum to boast to about the major achievements under his leadership.
Mijares has become an instant hero and celebrity because of his brave display of insolence—and he will soon become a poster boy for protest and criticism of the Aquino administration.
But on a more serious level, the Naga incident is revelatory because of the intense focus and attention it will cast on President Aquino’s completion of four years at the helm on June 30 this year. In another two years, his presidency will be over,
It shows the need for a deeper and thorough evaluation of Aquino’s administration, much deeper and comprehensive than the assessment made by Mijares and his friends from their limited perspective.
Six qualities bearing on presidential performance
Beyond armchair evaluation, based on whether we like Aquino or not, agree with his policies or not, how can we as citizens seriously evaluate his performance on the job? What are the criteria and standards we can use in grading him?
One of the acknowledged authorities on presidential leadership is Fred I. Greenstein of Princeton University, who has undertaken an extensive study of the subject. His research included not only the perusal of documents and reports, but also actual interviews with some of the modern American presidents. He published his findings in a book, entitled The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style From Roosevelt to Clinton
He opens his book with two classic quotes:
1. The President is at liberty, both in law and conscience, to be as big a man as he can be.
— Woodrow Wilson, 1907
2. Nowadays, the President cannot be as small as he might like.
—Richard E. Neustadt, 1960
A president’s effectiveness, Greenstein contends, is a function of more than his political prowess and mental health, and there is much to be learned by considering the full sweep of the twentieth-century modern presidential experience. There is need to focus on the leadership qualities of each president and their significance for the public and the political community.
. From his research and study, Greenstein distilled six “qualities that bear on presidential performance.” While they are subjective measures and open to disagreement, they’re non-ideological, nonpartisan, and they offer a useful way to judge presidents.
In the belief that Greenstein’s six qualities and criteria will be useful in our own evaluation of Aquino’s presidency, I’m passing them on to interested readers.
1. EFFECTIVENESS AS PUBLIC COMMUNICATOR
This is the outer face of leadership. It is the president’s proficiency as a public communicator—his ability to communicate his ideas and policies, and to connect with his people and audiences.
A president’s speeches form a critical part of the presidency and its record. They are the vessel of his ideas and vision for the country. With John F. Kennedy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, speeches were a critical factor in their effectiveness.
2. ORGANIZATIONAL CAPACITY
This refers to his ability to rally his colleagues and structure their activities effectively.
This also covers the inner workings of the presidency, how the cabinet and the presidential staff hang together.
3. POLITICAL CAPACITY
Any politician who wins a presidential election is smart, adept and cunning. But governing also requires a lot of political skill—the ability to negotiate agreements with other leaders and the other branches of government so he can secure the legislation and budgets to carry out his agenda.
Sometimes because of the separation of powers, the government can be gridlocked. Political capacity overcomes polarization and dysfunction
Barack Obama is an example of a president who lacked the political skill to achieve agreement with the opposition. He succeeded in his first two years, enacting Obamacare, a “stimulus,” and a federal takeover of student loans. But any president would have succeeded with majorities in Congress as large as Obama had. Since then, with Republicans controlling the House, he’s fared miserably.
4. VISION OF PUBLIC POLICY
Political capacity must be strongly wedded to a clear vision of public policy, and where the president wishes to take or lead the nation.
Greenstein says vision “has a variety of connotations.” One is the capacity to inspire. Another is a “set of overarching goals” that reach all the sectors and groups of society.
This also includes marketing the vision to a majority of the people to secure political support.
5. COGNITIVE STYLE
This is the ability to collect, analyze, absorb, and process information. The president must have the ability to understand both sides of any issue. He must process the Niagara of advice and information that pours into his desk and his office.
Greenstein thinks President Eisenhower’s cognitive style gave him “the kind of strategic intelligence that cuts to the heart of a problem.”
This is what the German sociologist Max Weber called “the firm taming of the soul.” Emotional intelligence is the president’s ability to manage his emotions and turn them to constructive purposes, rather than being dominated by them and allowing them to diminish his leadership.
Father Jaime Bulatao’s psycho-profile of President Aquino when he was a young man may provide clues to his emotional intelligence. The Jesuit priest and scholar perceived in Aquino a strong tendency of vindictiveness toward perceived political enemies. This may have diminished his effectiveness as president. He may also have insecurities that may be interfering with his handling of his duties and responsibilities.
His lack of empathy for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda is a black mark on his record that will form part of his legacy.
Exposing the fraud and the lies
Mijares’s heckling of President Aquino is one more assist to the public and the media in exposing the hype, the fraud and the lies that underpin the political support for Aquino and the policies of his administration.
Sometimes, the administration looks and sounds like it believes its own propaganda.
Presidential communications needs strategic direction and professionalism to be effective. Rigged surveys and yellow crony media are not enough, and may be doing more harm than good.