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.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

All Presidents have to deal with bad news. The thing is, what's P-Noy doing about it?

The President’s comment that there are three Cabinet members constantly giving him bad news hit the headlines in recent days and the favorite guessing game now is, who are those three?  

His remark can be interpreted several ways.  One is that he just has an aversion to “bad news” and always wants a rosy picture given to him, so he doesn’t get “headaches.” If this is the case, then I’m sorry to say, but he’ll continue to get bad news, for as his business allies and key political supporters are now telling him, not everything’s coming up roses in this neck of the woods.  In fact, these Cabinet members are duty-bound to tell P-Noy the truth about the state of affairs in this country, never mind if he gets irritated and shows signs of wanting to avoid them.

It’s another thing, however, if these Cabinet harbingers of bad news offer no solution at all to the problems they bring---which is the second interpretation of P-Noy’s displeasure remark.  Then he should, as Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles opined, get rid of them for “performing ‘out of tune’ “ and get new Cabinet officials who can find the proper solution and help lighten his load.


Every President has to contend with bad news. During the US presidential campaign in 2008, Democratic nomination contender Hillary Clinton twitted her rival, legislative neophyte Barack Obama, about his doubtful preparedness for that proverbial 3 am. phone call.
 I recall close aides of former President Fidel Ramos recounting how they’d try to find the nearest exit whenever FVR would start shifting his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other over bad news. In President Erap’s time aides would recall that he didn’t have to contend with bad news too much, as he would just pass it on to Prod Laquian or Ronnie Zamora and cheerfully change scenery for instant relief. In President Macapagal  Arroyo’s time there was lots of talk of cell phones flying around as evidence of the famous presidential wrath over poor performance of some staffer.


Now comes P-Noy saying he just forces himself to see the bad-news bearers and treats them as part of his “penitensya sa mundong ito.” That’s too simplistic an approach and unacceptable---he hired them, he should fire them and get others who can truly help him run the government. The fact is that the emergency button is now being pushed even by those who had supported his candidacy, such as Deputy Majority Leader Lorenzo “Erin” Tanada III, the Makati Business Club and the People Management Association of the Philippines.

His allies’ drift is that P-Noy’s administration lacks focus and direction and that he has to now roll up his sleeves and get to work to arrest the decline of his survey ratings. As Sen. Nene Pimentel put it, “Trabaho ka na, P-Noy.” 
But more than the ratings (anyway he’s not in the running again), he has to move the economy and produce jobs, then his ratings will improve. Unemployment last January was 7.4 %, up from 7.1% in October last year and this midyear it has conceivably risen even more with the influx of new graduates. He also has to make the country more competitive for investments.


Talking of MBC and PMAP, these professional groups were in near uniformity of support for candidate NoyNoy Aquino, despite his obvious lack of qualifications and preparedness for the job, especially in management skills. Now they’re complaining when what they should be doing is to help him get this country moving.  It’s their moral obligation to do so.


I braved the storm last Thursday night and showed up at the 15th anniversary of the Philippine Export Zone Authority (PEZA) as I have been a firm supporter of that agency and its laudable director-general, Lilia de Lima, the first female manager to bag PMAP’s “Management Man of the Year” award. More on Lilia’s achievements in future blogs, but suffice it to say here that despite her efforts and those of the guest of honor, former President FVR (whose tremendous foresight resulted in the law creating PEZA), to credit the P-Noy administration for some of PEZA’s achievements, there was limp reception from the crowd that night. If it was cold outside the Aliw Theater, I thought it was colder inside.


I surmised that one good reason for the chilly air was that a number of the foreign guests were sympathetic to the protestation of the European Chamber of Commerce, as expressed by president Hubert D’Aboville, on the cancellation of existing government contracts with predominantly European companies by P-Noy’s administration; what’s worse is their perception that the cancellations are being done whimsically, because the contracts were concluded in the former administration (pls see my earlier blog write-ups about these cancellations).

In fact, I saw former Foreign Secretary and former Ambassador to Berlin Delia Domingo-Albert at the PEZA reception and she wanted to me to chat with the foreign envoys, but I declined half in jest, saying, “Pabayaan kaya muna nating lumipas ang galit nila.”  Delia, now senior adviser to SGV chair Washington Sycip, often  finds herself at the receiving end of queries about these contract cancellations, despite her having retired from government service.


Not everything is gloomy on the economic and finance front, to be sure. Two international credit rating agencies gave the Philippines improved outlooks: Fitch Ratings rendered a BB+ rating from its previous BB, just a notch lower than “investment grade,” while earlier Moodys raised it  to two notches below investment grade. An effusive Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said the Fitch upgrade is “the 4th positive ratings action in the eleven months of the Aquino administration and is unprecedented in Philippine history.”

 Perhaps so, but what’s sad is that despite these financial improvements, this country continues to give the impression to foreign investors of instability and prone-ness to whimsical decisions, owing to the recent cancellation of existing foreign contracts that have previously been reviewed by various government agencies. The latest under threat is StradCom, the firm providing  computerized registration of vehicles and drivers’ licenses, whose contract has three years to go; there’s talk now of cancelling it. Ano ba ito?



* P-Noy decided to forego an overnight stay in Boracay last Saturday, after a brief visit there to inaugurate the renovated Caticlan Airport;  instead he choppered out of the island and proceeded to inspect several disaster areas in Metro Manila and Central Luzon. But some people find it quite odd that he had actually never been to Boracay at all, until last Saturday.  I find that odd too, given its pre-eminence among our tourist spots. 

In the same vein, some European ambassadors also find it odd that P-Noy has never been to Europe at all, when his mother, President Cory, was given such a rousing welcome in Paris in her State Visit to France early into her administration, complete with stunning white horses in the esplanade fronting the Hotel des Invalides, Emperor Napoleon’s burial place.  Cory was met like a new Joan of Arc, but where has Noynoy been all this time vis-a-vis Europe?

It's apparent that he isn't a great believer in the saying that travel widens one's perspective in life.

* A few weeks back, UPSCAns of all sizes and eras met at the Delaney Hall behind the UP Catholic Chapel to celebrate with former UP President and later Cory’s National Security Adviser Emmanuel “Noel” Soriano and his wife, the former Angelica “Angge” Alday, their 50th wedding anniversary. It was loads of fun, but most touching was how Angge Soriano and the children have given such unconditional love to Noel after he was devastated by a stroke that reduced him to a near-vegetable  two decades ago. With the magic of love, prayers and Art as therapy (e.g., painting his favorite scene, the UP Chapel, at various times of the day, much like what French impressionist Claude Monet did with the gothic Cathedral at Rouen in Northern France), Noel has greatly recovered, thanks to his super-devoted family. Enjoy your years ahead, you two, and lots of love. 

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