Miscues and False Starts

Barely a month in office and already the administration of PNoy has appeared to have taken a series of miscues and false starts on a number of fronts. Are these the signs of a novice adjusting to his new post or is it a trend that will mark his presidency?

In organizing and staffing the cabinet and bureaucracy, the administration has committed a number of “rookie” mistakes, beginning with its poorly constructed memorandum order on day one (a bad omen really) seeking to declare all political appointments vacant, followed by the somewhat puzzling and inappropriate handling of the media by some cabinet officials, the appearance of nepotism (in the case of the Abads), political bias (in the case of Hilario Davide in the Truth Commission) and incestuous (business-to-government) relationships (in the appointment of captains of industry in regulatory agencies), and finally the inability to fill about 5,000 political appointments in a timely fashion.

A few rash pronouncements on PNoy’s part with regard to public safety and national security issues followed. There was a meaningless and unhelpful rant over inaccurate/untimely forecasts by the weather bureau, meaningless since the predictable response from the bureau was a request for adequate resources and equipment, unhelpful because there seemed to be no direction from him on how to correct the problem.

There was the disavowal of the policy of forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings following a command conference with the AFP which reinforced popular belief that elements within the military were largely to blame for these acts. The continuing incidence of activist and journalist killings (3 in 10 days) is an affront to the president’s authority and credibility as commander in chief in terms of bringing “rogue” elements within the security apparatus to heel while maintaining morale and loyalty from within the hierarchy and chain of command. Will he be like his mother who failed to control the culture of impunity during her term as president? These are still early days, but PNoy has a steep hill to climb in this regard.

Lastly, there is the “ill-advised” review ordered by the president of the case against Senator Trillanes incarcerated over the Oakwood Mutiny which is reportedly tied to the bid by PNoy’s allies to gain control of the Senate. Although denied by the administration to be in any way connected to senate intra-murals, the appearance of meddling in judicial processes hurts and undermines his law and order/good governance credentials.  As Solita Monsod states in her column,

One thing sure: A finding by the Justice Department (after a “thorough review”) that somehow Trillanes was the victim of injustice and that there was no coup attempt, will be as contemptible and as logically challenged as the finding of the Supreme Court that Gloria Arroyo could make a midnight appointment of the current chief justice. The culture of impunity at its most brazen.

To be fair to PNoy, a number of his early moves have been encouraging. Saying no to the use of sirens or wang-wang as they are referred to in the vernacular although largely symbolic set the tone and immediately sent a signal to law enforcement agencies. The revival of RATE (run against tax evaders) netted its first “big fish” and promises to deliver more quick hits over the coming days. The ceding of control over “presidential pork” to his staff is again largely symbolic, but strikes the right chord and moves along the same theme.

These “early runs on the board” help in restoring trust and confidence in government which is why PNoy’s trust ratings are at an astronomical 88%. The challenge of course will be maintaining that. It is evident that despite the criticisms for these early mistakes, PNoy enjoys a honeymoon with the public. Fair enough, but some of these missteps threaten to undermine future confidence in his ability to lead and remain true to his slogan of bringing about rule of law and good governance.

As the “employer” and “boss” of the president, we the people are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt at this early stage. Some of these decisions after all can be attributed to poor advice or poor staff work on the part of his subordinates who are learning the ropes themselves. There will come a point though, hopefully not in the near future, when the blame for such errors, if they persist, will have to be shouldered by him and him alone. After this probationary period of his first 100 days, the public will be expecting more from him. If he doesn’t lift his game quickly, he just might find the public’s patience with him wearing thin.

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy (www.thecusponline.org) and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.