by Solita Collas-Monsod
from Philippine Daily Inquirer
ALL RIGHT, let’s face it. P-Noy’s administration has fumbled and bumbled and stumbled since Day 1: issuing orders that had to be revoked and or amended almost immediately (the one which would have crippled the bureaucracy, and which, alas, has still not been properly corrected); making the wrong conclusions about the government’s budget and cash situation; unreservedly touting “private-public partnerships” as the solution to the government’s resource scarcity problems; appointing people whose integrity and/or competence are questionable; doing a Gloria (the Cito Lorenzo-JocJoc Bolante case is almost identical to the Robredo-Puno situation in that the undersecretary was appointed before the secretary, and effectively shoved down the latter’s throat); and of course the latest series of blunders with regard to the hostage crisis.
For all these, P-Noy has met with a barrage of criticisms (mine included). Hardly any “honeymoon” with the media and the public was observed (no time for one).
The critics, it should be noted, belong to two distinct groups: The Unfriendlies, including the political opposition, who point out the shortcomings (some very much imagined) with malicious glee in an attempt to prove that he was the wrong choice and to position themselves for the next elections. And the Friendlies, well-wishers and supporters who either have taken to heart his invitation for them to participate (they are his bosses), or who are anxious for him (and the country) to do well, and cannot count on getting through his cordon sanitaire who they feel are part of the problem rather than the solution.
Unfortunately, it is not easy for the general public to distinguish between the two groups, so they tend to regard criticism as an indication that the President does not have what it takes—in the vernacular, he is “palpak.”
One hopes that they don’t get carried away. We should all consider that new administration’s perceived mistakes are actually par for the course. They are part of its learning curve, which, as most learning curves are, is J-shaped. This describes a situation where things tend to get worse before they get better—the curve falls before it rises to much higher than its starting point (thus the J).
It is not only in the learning process that a J curve is observed. One sees it in various fields such as economics, demography, finance, medicine and political science. In finance, for example, private equity funds have been noted to deliver negative returns in the early years (due to management fees, investment costs, investment write-downs—can you see the analogy, reader?), with investment gains in the later years as portfolios mature. In economics, the trade balance of a country after a depreciation or a devaluation tends to show bigger deficits or smaller surpluses (imports cost more, exports bring less), before import volumes decrease and export volumes increase, decreasing the deficit and/or increasing the surplus.
Taken in this context, the Friendlies’ behavior is because of their desire to get the falling part of the J curve to be as shallow (things shouldn’t be allowed to get that much worse) and as narrow (get the gains start to kick in more quickly) as possible, and the spine as steep as possible (the benefits increase at a faster rate). The Unfriendlies would want nothing better than for that curve to decrease very steeply and to rise very gently if at all.
The Friendlies want P-Noy to succeed, and wring their hands in dismay when he stumbles; the Unfriendlies want him to fail, and rub their hands in glee at the same spectacle. Where one criticizes to help, the other criticizes to hurt.
I hope the President can discern between the two groups, and act accordingly. The circle-the-wagons-mentality is not an option, and if his reaction is that with these kind of friends, he doesn’t need any enemies, he is sadly mistaken. Who else will tell him what he needs to hear if those around him are busy licking ass, or covering theirs, or stabbing each other in the back? When do they have time to think about the country? Perhaps the President would achieve his goals earlier and better if he depended less on his partisans and more on objective outsiders to headhunt for him. But of course, this is predicated on the assumption that he will heed their recommendations. His predecessor had a Search Committee, used for decoration only.
But while we are holding the President to his word—that he wants to hear from us and that he considers we, the people, to be his bosses—it is certainly time we looked to what our own responsibilities are. One recalls that one of the most moving moments of P-Noy’s inauguration was when representatives of civil society, led by Sister Mary John Mananzan, pledged to do their part in pushing the Philippines forward. Time for self-examination now: Are we monitoring ourselves? Are we doing our part? If not, what are we going to do about it? Are we going to be part of the problem, or part of the solution? And where do the media come in? We are supposed to be objective observers, holding everyone at arm’s length, calling a spade a spade, as it were. And yet, let us face it again, an uncomfortably large proportion within our ranks act more like mercenaries.
We’re all in this together, folks. And we can’t afford for the Philippines to continue floundering. She deserves better.