“The transition period provides a window of opportunity that will not occur again. The President’s popular approval is high; Congress is open to new leadership; and tough choices that will alienate some have not yet been made.
Winners of elections consistently tend to exaggerate their mandates from the voters, and overplay the importance of their victories.”
James P. Pfiffner, The Strategic Presidency: Hitting the Ground Running
THIS book by political-science professor James Pfiffner is perhaps the authoritative book on presidential transitions. He underscores the importance of having a strategic approach to planning the takeover of the government.
Pfiffner warns that the transition can be a time of danger and blunders. “Blunders can have lasting effects on a presidency and can keep it from achieving its full potential.”
Institutions more trusted than govt
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte probably does not know this, because neither he nor his staff seem to do much research or thinking before he issues his big pronouncements and scathing putdowns of people and organizations.
Before he can even transition from president-elect to president-in-fact, Mr. Duterte has already unceremoniously maligned two much-trusted institutions in Philippine society—the Church (or established churches in general) and the media.
For his information, these institutions have a higher trust rating among our people than the government, which he will have the privilege and responsibility of leading over the next six years.
This is not my personal opinion, but the consistent finding of five years of opinion research by the Philippine Trust Index, which has been annually researching and comparing the levels of public trust enjoyed by key institutions in society.
Fighting on 2 fronts at once
As if to show that he can fight on two fronts at the same time, the President-elect fomented these major quarrels these past two weeks.
First, on Sunday, May 22, Mr. Duterte called the Catholic Church “the most hypocritical institution,” as he lambasted the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for issuing a pastoral letter a few days before the elections in a bid to dissuade the electorate from voting for him.
Second, on Tuesday, May 31, in Davao City, Duterte told members of the media that slain Filipino journalists were killed for being corrupt, and that journalists “are not exempted from assassination.”
In both tirades, Mr. Duterte exhibited a high-degree of righteousness and moralism, suggesting that the criticism was called for.
The Catholic hierarchy did not directly react to the blast; it was more the Catholic faithful and laymen who were outraged. Duterte’s comments on the killings of journalists stirred up a bigger storm. National and international media reported his statements widely, and condemnations from organizations abroad quickly followed. Everyone recalled that 175 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1986, ranking it among the most dangerous places for journalists to work in. Because most of the killings are unsolved, the country ranks high in the global impunity index maintained by human rights organizations.
As criticism mounted nationally and internationally, members of Duterte’s staff and prospective Cabinet members tried to walk back his comments on media killings. They baldly claimed that he was misquoted.
Duterte’s camp apparently hopes that his comments on the Church and the media will eventually die down like his calling Pope Francis the son of a whore, his joke about a murdered rape victim, and his threat to cut ties with the US and Australia.
Philipppine Trust Index
Duterte is clearly basking in the glow of his electoral triumph. He is deluded, however, if he thinks he can fight the Church and the media at the same time.
The clearest indicator that Duterte is in for a tougher fight here than what he got from his opponents in the election is the story told by the Philippine Trust Index (PTI).
Since its launch in 2011, the PTI has conscientiously and consistently charted public opinion and attitudes toward six key institutions in society, namely: Church, government, academe, business, media, and non-government organizations (NGOs).
Conducted annually by EON Stockholder Relations, the PTI is regarded as one of the most intensive and respected surveys because of the scope of its research (which is undertaken nationwide and in all major population centers), and its utilization of two groups of randomly picked respondents: (1) the general public, represented by respondents from various socioeconomic, educational and demographic backgrounds; and (2) the informed public, consisting of Filipinos who are college-educated and have access to news media more than thrice a week.
The fourth PTI survey, released in Oct. 2015, was notable for the contrast it provided to the work of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia.
While the two survey firms were trumpeting high approval ratings for President Benigno BS Aquino III and his administration, the 2015 PTI reported that government is one of the least trusted institutions in society.
Church enjoyed the highest trust rating in the PTI. The church as an institution (which comprises not just the Catholic Church but other churches as well) attained and maintained the highest position of trust with the public, as it did in the three previous surveys.
Academe (which comprises the country’s institutions of learning) attained and maintained the second-highest trust ranking.
Significantly, media (which comprises all media, and now includes social media) attained and maintained the third-highest trust ranking in the trust index.
In the 2015 Trust Index, the Church received 73 percent trust rating from the general public. It was followed by academe with 51 percent and media with 32 percent.
The government received a trust rating of 12 percent while business and NGOs obtained 9 percent each.
President John F. Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs disaster was seeded when he authorized upon entering office the CIA-backed invasion of Cuba by expatriates. He surmounted the error.
President Aquino disfigured his presidency when he launched starting at his inauguration his campaign to unseat former chief justice Renato Corona. He never rose above his vindictiveness.
We shall see whether Duterte’s choice to quarrel with the church and the media are a similar blunder or obsession.
How he manages their fallout will be a test of his judgment and his readiness to lead the nation.