Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

P-Noy’s first 100 days

 This Friday, Oct. 8, Hope rides high in the form of a grand ball. It’s the Gawad Kalinga Hope Ball at the Peninsula Hotel Ballroom. Members of Manila’s 400 are expected to come together that night in this most glittering affair of the season that, Hope-fully, would be the first of the annual GK Hope Ball---all in support of GK’s “Holistic Development Program in Mindanao.” The GK Hope Ball will feature various events this Friday, such as an exciting arts and crafts auction, top-billed singers, a great dinner and fun---all geared toward raising funds to build holistic communities in Sulu.
But the organizers, led by GK founder Tony Meloto, social worker (and wife of the Peninsula GM) Beliz Balkir-Crook and my daughter Christine Cunanan, publisher and editor-in-chief of Travelife Magazine, are careful to emphasize that the GK Hope Ball is not just another fund-raising activity. As Beliz stressed, it aims to bring together the elite of society on a journey toward nation-building. She sees it as “part of a very big healing process for the country,” reinforcing the “new culture of caring and sharing that will further build relationships and long-lasting peace” in that part of the Philippines. 

As a proud mother, I’d like to point out that Christine had the audacity three years ago, when the economy was not too good, to put up a beautiful glossy travel magazine that’s all-Filipino but very much up to international standards. Now the leading publication in the travel and lifestyle categories, Travelife, as she put it, “is happy to merge GK philosophies with the magazine’s core principle, which is, to help enrich one’s quality of life through travel and involvement in communities near and far.”
Cheers to GK, Travelife, the Peninsula Hotel, Rustan’s and all other groups and individuals who have worked so hard to make this Friday’s GK Hope Ball a success. 

P-Noy's First 100 Days

This Friday is also President Noynoy’s big day as he celebrates his 100th day in office. Everyone and his uncle is grading his performance---kung pasado, or bagsak or pasang-awa lang---and offering all kinds of commentary and advice. The SWS came out with a high acceptance and trust rating from the citizenry of 60 percent---which, to P-Noy’s critics, is rather surprising. But the more popular rating is a passing grade with the tendency to give him allowance for learning the ropes---despite the series of blunders and fiascos that attended his first 100 days. To be sure, the public and the media gave him no honeymoon, but space has been given to him to better his performance. History offers us an explanation for this phenomenon.

High trust ratings

Sen. Joker Arroyo, who served as one of Ninoy Aquino’s lawyers and President Cory’s first Executive Secretary, lauded P-Noy’s high trust rating, even as he noted how the President has survived the “shortcomings” of his “”underperforming” and “unimpressive” advisers and their interminable and well-publicized squabbles. But Joker also warned that the first 100 days were “not designed as a dry-run or on-the-job training period for the President.” We can read Joker’s advice to mean that P-Noy has to show more performance in the job or suffer the consequence in subsequent dismal ratings.

An OJT President

My own take on Arroyo’s observation is that the citizens who voted for him all knew that candidate Noynoy was going to be an OJT-president, as he had very little experience in the legislature to show. Sure he spent nine years in the House and four years in the Senate, but media covering those two chambers know that we barely heard Noynoy’s voice on issues. He won not on his own merits, but on the strength of the beloved memory of his parents.

A sizable chunk of the population chose him last May 10 in the belief that he was going to be different from his predecessor, the way his mother gave the impression that she was going to be a sharp contrast to the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Last May 10 many voters were not looking for experience---they were looking for hope, for contrast.  Thus, if they reject P-Noy now despite the squabbles in the Cabinet, the Black Monday fiasco, the tangles with the Supreme Court, and controversies such as Hacienda Luisita and unabated jueteng, then they have to accept that they made a mistake. And they are not ready to do that---not yet. They are still willing to give him allowance for learning the ropes of governance.

Plucked by destiny

In this regard P-Noy is lucky, like his mother. Cory Aquino was plucked by destiny from her housewife’s nook and thrust into the political arena, to lead the Filipinos in the fight to regain their democracy. It was sheer euphoria at EDSA and in the years immediately after, but in later years her administration wrestled with corruption, 12-hour brownouts and seemingly endless coup attempts that destroyed hopes of full-scale economic recovery. At the end of six years, the people were relieved to return her to the pedestal and welcome Fidel Ramos and his team, who were perceived as competent technocrats. But the people never stopped loving Cory Aquino despite her fumblings, because to them she was and will forever be the symbol of EDSA.

On the strength of that memory, stirred anew by her illness and death last year, her son rode to the crest of power and still does, with 60 percent acceptance rating. But I doubt if they will give him that much more allowance for fumblings. Recall that he had a 77 percent trust rating in July. He has to pull his Cabinet into shape and perhaps fire one or two controversial officials. And no more fiascos like Black Monday, or else the consequence would be obvious.

Vital issues for P-Noy 

Two issues could cloud P-Noy’s horizon in the coming months. One is the RH bill where a head-on confrontation with the Church would be most impolitic, especially since his mother was so close to the Church and so much of her support---to the end---came from it. Continuing dialogue would be the most sensible recourse for him and he cannot lose in this way. The Church is upset that he seems to have given in to the US after his visit there last month, where he received $434 million from the US-funded Millenium Challenge Corporation. Some anti-RH sectors are beginning to liken that grant to the biblical 30 pieces of silver for which Christ was sold.

Deadlock at Hacienda Luisita

The second issue will be Hacienda Luisita, the country’s biggest feudal estate, which is caught in a deadlock between management and several farmers groups. The farmers are ardently petitioning the Supreme Court to break it and emancipate them. It’s good for P-Noy to remember that the SC may not be on his side in this issue. He also cannot be perceived as siding with his relatives, as he cannot afford to have a repeat of the deadly massacres at its gates in November 2004, which left 14 farmers dead and scores wounded.

What aggravates the Luisita issue for P-Noy is that certain farmers’ advocates were close to his mother, and now they are against him. Lawyer Christian Monsod served as Cory’s Comelec chair in the late ‘80s, while his wife Winnie was her NEDA director-general, but today the Monsods remain the staunchest and most credible defenders of the farmers.
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