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What doesn’t kill you

/ 09:08 PM December 29, 2013

“Refuting the naysayers who have been trying to promote the impression that there is general dissatisfaction over the President,” said Sonny Coloma, “the survey shows that an overwhelming majority in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao are solidly behind him.”

Coloma was referring to the latest SWS survey, conducted on Dec. 11-16, which showed that 69 percent of Filipinos were satisfied with his boss’ performance. The survey took place after the howling winds of criticism had swirled around Malacañang in the wake of pork and “Yolanda.” Detractors had been gleefully depicting P-Noy’s’ fall from grace with the public, predicting a plunge of epic proportions in surveys to come. One blogger said that in a still undisclosed survey P-Noy had already gotten a -6 rating—as desperate a wish fulfillment as any.

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I myself am not surprised by SWS’ results. I suspect Pulse Asia will show roughly the same results over the next week or so.

I can think of several reasons for it. Not the least is that the Christmas season, which starts in December or probably even earlier, lends itself to kinder judgments. The past weeks have seen a tapering off of harsh, or vicious, remarks in social media, which have been home to them over the last few months. It’s not just the rebels that declare a truce during the season; critics do, too. Or at least the reasonable ones. The unreasonable ones, who are the paid and/or the partisan, will remain undeterred.

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More to the point are two things.

One is the reaction to the reaction, or the backlash from the very harshness, or viciousness, of the things that were being said in social media in particular. I caught a whiff of it shortly before Yolanda struck. Several people, who had soured on the government because of its position on the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, told me they had stopped reading the comments in social media and at the end of reports and editorials in mainstream media because of what these had become. The comments had ceased to have a semblance of serious disputation, and had become brainless and venomous rant. There are limits to how far you can tolerate rant.

The notion that P-Noy is the worst president this country has ever had, worse even than Gloria, someone told me, sobra  naman  yan. She welcomed fair judgment, however harsh, but she didn’t welcome stupidity. For every action, a reaction; for every reaction, still another reaction.

Two is that the break or respite or ceasefire in December gave the public the space with which to recover some sense of proportion, some sense of perspective. What had laid P-Noy low from the high of the State of the Nation Address was a misreading of the public mood on pork in particular and corruption in general. The “Million People March” should already have shown the depths of the public disgust over it. The administration did not heed it. Instead, it hedged on the PDAF first before dropping it and P-Noy himself went out of his way to defend the DAP. Swiftly, the administration was seen not just as powerless to stop pork but as an active campaigner for pork.

The DAP itself did not necessarily entail corruption, but it entailed too much fiscal discretion—or fiscal dictatorship, as Ping Lacson called it—and potential sources of corruption in this country never remained potential for long. While the majority of the public trusted P-Noy to not abuse the discretion, it did not trust his people to do so. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. By the time Mar Roxas came around in Tacloban to show the world what to expect when you give someone too much discretion or unbridled power, P-Noy himself had lost a great deal of his Teflon coating.

That he has survived his biggest test of credibility is a testament to his personal trustworthiness. December has restored the perspective that though he has stumbled along the way, though he may not be the unassailable Good against Gloria’s Evil, he is still worlds better. At least this is a president that has brought record rates of growth, if not record rates of reducing poverty. At least this is a president we can get to change policies. At least this is a president who is personally honest and wants to stop corruption however his methods and his choice of fellow travellers in the  daang  matuwid  leave much to be desired. Where before we just had crookedness and even a stolen presidency. That is no mean difference.

Will P-Noy’s last ratings hold? Will they get better next year? Will they go back to the record highs he enjoyed before?

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I imagine that will depend on a lot of things. Chief among them, one, his willingness to drop the PDAF and DAP completely and look for a mechanism or set of mechanisms that will make the budgeting process honest and flexible. I know that’s not easy, things that allow a fast track do not normally leave clean tracks, but the alternative is worse. Two, his willingness to drop the baggage in his Cabinet: He won’t be able to lift them up, they will only drag him down. While at this, while he himself has managed to check his plunge from the cliff, clinging on to an overhanging branch, I don’t know that the people closest to him, notably Roxas and Butch Abad, have done so as well.

Three is that we are not a rich country pretending to be poor, we are a poor country pretending to be rich: Going from assuring more growth to assuring less poverty should greatly help, not just him but every one of us.

I wish P-Noy well; he’s a decent guy who’s trying to do the right thing, however others disagree with his tack. I’m happy that the SWS survey shows those others to be small. He considers the options above and he won’t just get back to where he was, he’ll soar higher.

Nietzsche said it best: What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

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TAGS: column, Conrado de Quiros, Opinion surveys, President Aquino, public trust, Social Weather Stations
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