A matter of trust
Whence come President Aquino’s chart-busting, confidence-boosting, enemy-scuttling ratings?
Not from the economy’s 10-notch jump in the World Economic Forum’s competitive ratings, from 75th place last year to 65th this year, though that is no mean feat by itself. The news of that came a little too late to affect the respondents’ judgments in the latest SWS survey. And in any case, that is the business perspective, not that of the cross-section of the population.
But that is likely to have an impact in the next surveys. At the very least that’s so because it thoroughly demolishes the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo camp’s rehash of Bill Clinton’s Bush-whacking line, “It’s the economy, stupid” to attack its nemesis. The P-Noy camp may now hurl it back, “It is the economy, idiots.”
At the very most it’s so because it reaffirms something Nobel-Prize-winning economists have always known and dumb ones do not, which is that the economy is not just influenced by market forces, it is influenced by psychological factors. Chief of them confidence. It’s not just that progress inspires confidence, it is that confidence inspires progress. It’s a two-way street. That’s the reason the economy fell by the wayside under Arroyo and is bolting like Usain Bolt under P-Noy.
But the reasons P-Noy himself has vaulted in the ratings are more immediate. As I see it, they are:
First, the removal of Renato Corona as chief justice. Until late last year, “’Pag walang corrupt, walang mahirap” was just a slogan. You didn’t know whether it would be backed up by political will, you didn’t know whether it would translate into action. Then, toward the end of the year, government blocked Arroyo’s flight, literally and figuratively, to parts unknown and everything changed. People who had doubted, or underestimated, P-Noy’s resolve to fight corruption turned, if not into instant believers, at least into on-the-road converts.
When P-Noy’s allies impeached Corona, from whom Arroyo derived her sense of security—her camp had been boasting she couldn’t be touched, they owned the Supreme Court—the public perception became a certainty: P-Noy meant to see his campaign through. How popular his move to remove Corona was you saw in survey after survey. A thing that drove Corona to do the unexpected, which was to resort to melodrama; desperate times called for desperate measures. Alas, he succeeded only in driving the final nail on his coffin.
The day the impeachment court found him guilty as charged, there was dancing in the streets, or echoes of it. Quite literally, there was opening of champagne in some Filipino communities in the United States.
No, it’s no surprise at all that P-Noy should jump in the public’s esteem. It’s a matter of trust.
Second was government’s response to the torrential rains. Though not a typhoon but regular monsoon rains made irregular by being dragged along Luzon by a real typhoon headed toward China, the rains wrought more devastation on Metro Manila and neighboring provinces than bona fide tempests. The unrelenting downpour submerged streets in Metro Manila, Bulacan and Pampanga and ruined crops.
P-Noy’s strongest surge in ratings came from Metro Manila, and this might well have something to do with it. As government had done in past storms and floods, it monitored the wind and rain and evacuated residents in danger areas. A contrast with Arroyo’s administration which was caught flat-footed by “Ondoy.” As government had done in past storms and floods, the President himself led the relief effort, braving the floodwaters to assist the ravaged. A contrast with Arroyo herself who could not brave the flood of fury coming her way from the afflicted.
As government had done in past storms and floods, it showed its people they had a friend in it, a pader to lean on when they needed to lean on something. A contrast with the Arroyo administration whose help they spurned, it left them worse off than they were.
No, it’s no surprise that P-Noy should rise higher than floods in the public’s regard. It’s a matter of trust.
And third was the Sona. I don’t think we’ve really sufficiently appreciated it. Its power did not just lie in the fact that it gave us to glimpse the extent of what government had done in such a short time, much of it we did not know. Its power did not just lie in the credibility
P-Noy put behind the facts and figures: People listened to them because they did not naturally see them as lies.
Its power lay in the power of articulation. People often mistake this as the need for PR: You hire a PR group, and by propagating the biggest lie through paid hacks in media, mainstream and social, you can turn it into gospel truth. Not true. As Abraham Lincoln said, you can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Ask Marcos, ask Arroyo.
The power of articulation lies in giving truth a solidity that allows us to grasp it. Reality doesn’t really become real until you put it in words, until you give it shape and sinew by words. That is so particularly where the reality is not about facts and figures but about subtle things like changes of mood, changes in attitude, changes in disposition. That was what
P-Noy’s Sona did, it gave us a sense that something had happened. That slowly, almost imperceptibly, our world had changed. Before we knew it, we had a new culture, we had a new social contract, we had a new way of doing things. Before we knew it, we had hope, we had daring, we had a future.
Spoken particularly in the language the masa understood, that Sona was game-changing. The way people gushed over it afterward, you knew the next surveys would register the power of that power, the truth of that truth.
It’s a matter of trust.
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