Critical friends | Inquirer Opinion
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Critical friends

During a recent lunch, Mae Paner, who is better known as “Juana Change,” a character she created at the height of the anti-Gloria Macapagal Arroyo protests, was teased about her supposedly breaking ties with P-Noy’s (President Benigno Aquino III) whom she had supported—loudly and visibly—during last year’s campaign.

The “break-up,” if break-up it was, was supposedly triggered by a video starring Juana Change making fun of P-Noy’s purchase of a second-hand Porsche. The video, a collaborative effort among Paner and creative friends, not just poked fun at the President but likewise protested the incongruity between P-Noy’s promise of walking down the “daang matuwid” or the straight and narrow path of governance, and his roaring down the highway of affluence in an expensive sports car. The video, which went viral on YouTube, supposedly earned the ire of Malacañang, with head of messaging Ricky Carandang dismissing the potshots from a supposed friend by telling the Palace media that no, he hadn’t seen the video yet and that he “didn’t care.”

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Asked why she, a prominent supporter, was moved to release the video, Paner said she was genuinely scandalized by the car purchase especially since it seemed so out of character. President Noynoy, after all, makes much of the fact that he is a man of modest means and aspirations. Except, that is, for two avocations that afflict most Filipino men: flashy cars and guns. (And we all know how these two are often wielded as magnets for a third aspiration: women.)

“I thought that if I, who is a known supporter, was so scandalized by the Porsche that I was moved to make a video about it, then P-Noy should have realized that by this one act he had scandalized so many among his constituents,” Paner told media folk at a gathering.

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ALMOST a year after his election, President Aquino must be wondering who (and where) his friends are.

Voted by a clear and unmistakable landslide, P-Noy certainly enjoyed goodwill and good wishes from a sizeable slice of the population as he entered Malacañang. And yet just about a year later, he is seeing many friends abandoning him, and not just metaphorically. Transportation Secretary Jose de Jesus signaled the start of what could be an internal rift in Malacañang when he suddenly resigned from his post, taking along with him three undersecretaries.

Talk is that De Jesus, a man of proven integrity and organizational acumen who served P-Noy’s mother in many capacities, felt frustrated by his lack of access to the President. Then too there are the many speculations about P-Noy’s favoring a shooting buddy of his—the controversial head of the Land Transportation Office Virginia Torres—over De Jesus, who had wanted Torres dismissed from office after the justice department ordered her suspension after she got embroiled in a corporate dispute.

It seems as clear a signal of disfavor as any if your superior ignores your wishes and instead stands by your subordinate, especially one whom you had no hand in installing. Unfortunately, for P-Noy and his Cabinet members, there are far too many instances of this, with the President directly appointing undersecretaries and assistant secretaries and agency heads without the prior screening or approval of the Cabinet secretary.

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IF P-Noy is now doing a headcount of his loyal friends, so are the people counting the number of “Kaibigan Inc.” now holding posts in government. We never knew Noynoy had so many shooting buddies, law school classmates and friends in the military.

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Early during his term, I had written that criticisms about the President’s penchant for appointing former classmates and friends were unfair, since one, the President had the right to appoint anybody he wished; and two, he had the right, even the need, to surround himself with people he knew, with whom he felt comfortable, and whom he trusted.

But while the need to build a cocoon of comfort was understandable during the first months of office, the cocoon seems to be expanding even as the President should have been growing in confidence and leadership. His “requirement” that he appoint people he had known for a long time necessarily leaves out individuals who may not have a history with him but who are capable, reputable and may be best suited for the post. At this stage of his presidency, P-Noy should be searching further afield for able candidates and allies, not circling the wagons.

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IF EVEN friends like Juana Change see disturbing signs in his manner of governance, then P-Noy should be asking himself what his enemies are up to. And all the more he should be listening to what his critical friends are telling him, for they are at least motivated by friendship and concern.

Every leader at some point in the game is tempted to surround himself or herself with a circle of amiable folk, who have only good news to share and put a positive spin to developments. But the true leader should realize that such friends and advisers are actually doing a disservice, for they keep the truth hidden or soft-pedaled, preventing the formulation of policies based on reality and hard-nosed analysis.

De Jesus’ departure may just be the first, and not all who follow may be as circumspect or protective of the President. Perhaps it’s time P-Noy asked himself if he had given De Jesus the support and confidence he needed. Maybe it’s time P-Noy reviewed his performance and assessed if his accomplishments match the long list of promises he made just a short year ago. He still has time, and he can still reverse the slippery slide he now finds himself in.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Jose “Ping” de Jesus, Juana Change, Mae Paner, P-Noy, Porsche, resignation
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