It took a visit to the “world’s capital” for the PNoy presidency to regain control of its agenda. Weeks before, a lone gunman on a bus with a score of tourists threatened to derail it a mere two months into its term. The firestorm of criticism during and after the incident immediately sucked the oxygen out of whatever positive “messaging” his befuddled communications group sought to craft about certain policies that were being rolled out at the time.
As he boarded his plane bound for the UN annual gathering of leaders in New York City, a few loose ends remained unresolved, put off until his return. These included a review of the internal investigation report authored principally by his earnest justice secretary which recommended the filing of charges against senior officials and a separate investigation into allegations of connivance with gambling syndicates within his camp.
PNoy’s management style and personnel selection, in particular the preponderance of Barkada, Inc among his inner circle of advisers and officials, were being called into question. A series of “Miscues and False Starts” was unmasking the shallow depth of experience the “rookie” team had. The shadow lines of authority being assigned to the inexperienced but trusted barkada (an innocuous term for cronies) was beginning to undermine the legitimacy and efficacy of the competent but mistrusted camp of “the professionals”. All this was taking place alongside the foreign relations gaffes with Hong Kong and Beijing.
It seemed that the ship of state rather than charting its own course was being driven by the elements, buffeted and tossed around at will by forces beyond its control–the confidence and goodwill that swelled during his inauguration had all but dissipated.
But within 48 hours of his landing, PNoy was regaining a little step in his stride by delivering his first foreign address before the UN, meeting with Barrack Obama on the sidelines of the 2nd ASEAN-US summit, and receiving the long promised aid worth $434-m from the State Department under Hillary Clinton through the Millenium Challenge Corporation. To top it all off, PNoy decided to walk down 6th Avenue to engage in a little “hotdog stand” diplomacy by treating his entourage and the media in tow to lunch.
In a photo-op fit for a VISA commercial ( as in “the cost of treating the crew to lunch, $54, seeing your former arch-nemesis shrink in shame, ‘priceless'”), PNoy endowed his presidency with newfound legitimacy through his frugal spending on what he regarded to be one of life’s little pleasures (he actually referred to it as an act of indulgence). As if to cast out the ghost of Mrs Arroyo’s Le Cirque days, PNoy signaled to the audience back home what he was all about.
This PR coup achieved something in the eyes of ordinary pinoys that formal addresses and staged events could not. It showed PNoy in his element as a simple, hard-working president. It will be this image, not the one he left back home that will be the new face of his administration.
As this was happening, the Philippine Stock Exchange doffed off any negative impressions created by the latest report of the Asian Corporate Governance Association which scored the country at the bottom of the heap. Not even perceptions of corruption, weak property rights and poor rule of law seem to deter investors under this current administration. Time will tell if this is just market exuberance but the PSE index has already risen by more than a third since the year began. And as he made his way back via the US west coast, the president collected a number of significant foreign investor commitments.
It appears that all it took for PNoy to regain his footing were a couple of days in Manhattan. With momentum restored, his ability to set the agenda should find renewed focus as he touches back down in Manila.
Image credit: Bump’s Guide