The boss speaks
Close your eyes, and you could swear it was still Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo speaking.
Confronted earlier this week about the results of the Social Weather Stations’ nationwide Second Quarter report, which showed his net satisfaction rating dropping yet again, this time from plus-51 in March to plus-46 in June, President Aquino reacted with lines that sounded eerily familiar. “I’m really not concerned with popularity,” he said. “It will go up and down. What’s important for us at the end of the day is if we can face anybody and say we’re working instead of just trying to look good.”
Surely, that retort deserves to be mothballed now, banished even, from the Palace’s tatty political spin manual. Especially coming from someone who, to be frank about it, got his job not so much by way of years of substantive policy work or solid political acumen, as by the sudden wave of sympathetic popularity that accrued to his person after the death of his beloved mother. Then, when he needed it, he basked in that very public embrace. Now, it has merely become – to judge by the tone of his words – a rude, unwelcome reminder of the gulf between the promises with which he romanced the throng, and what he has failed to deliver to them so far.
Mr. Aquino is right, of course – governance is more than mere populist acclamation. But how striking to see his presidency gird itself so soon with the air of defensive nonchalance its detested predecessor had so often employed when it came to reckoning with the public mood. Just two years ago, GMA spokesperson Gary Olivar dismissed his boss’ dismal rating in the polls by saying, “These surveys are opinion-based and we don’t think (they represent) a significant number of Filipinos. The President has been focused on just delivering basic social services for the poorest of the poor. That’s more important for the President than her popularity.”
Well, perhaps if they paid more attention to the pulse of the people, they’d know what all their so-called hard work was for?
Take a look at the latest survey. Mr. Aquino’s satisfaction rating posted steep declines among the poorer classes – Class D at 7 percent, in the rural areas by 8 percent. But his rating actually jumped by 9 percent among members of Class ABC. Which should tell you one thing: His signature policies such as anti-corruption and economic recovery (the Philippines’ improved international credit rating indicates encouraging confidence in his stewardship) resonate with the upper classes. But they remain hollow, for now, to the millions of poor Filipinos who have to wrestle with more gut-level issues.
There may, indeed, be a failure of communication here, as Malacañang has reasoned out. Corruption does contribute to and worsen poverty. It robs people of what’s owed them by way of better roads, schools, hospitals, courts of law, public services. But, as Inquirer columnist Amando Doronila pointed out just last month, in the wake of SWS’ first quarter report already showing Mr. Aquino suffering a plunge of 18 points in his net public satisfaction rating, “Mr. Aquino has to do more than put his presidency on the line on the single issue of fighting corruption… Examined more closely, this slogan is a simplistic reductionist argument. True corruption has debilitating economic costs, but it takes more than slogans to initiate programs that can create jobs, put money in the hands of the poor to help them cope with inflation.”
The problem is, even as Mr. Aquino has yet to show concrete gains in the fight against poverty, even as gas prices, basic goods, transport fare and school tuition have spiked, impacting dearly on the day-to-day subsistence of much of the populace that had pinned their hopes on an Aquino presidency finally turning things around, or at least alleviating the unending collective malaise, the President compounds the situation with seemingly clueless, even callous actions that rub salt on the wounds, as it were.
He buys a Porsche, then expresses bafflement at the outrage it generates. He sticks by his compromised friends, conveniently forgetting he promised a no-nonsense administration after the rampant cronyism of the GMA years. And now, faced with burgeoning public dissatisfaction over all that, he shrugs his shoulders and feigns disinterest.
What’s that he said in his Inaugural Address again? “Kayo ang boss ko,” pointing at the people. Well, his boss is telling him now he needs to shape up and do more to improve his performance. So he protests that he’s working hard. Again – for what? And for whom?
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