by Dean de la Paz
One down, hundreds more to go. Good news for those who constantly hop over to Hong Kong, and more, for whom the former British protectorate is a source of critical, life-giving livelihood where the local Philippine economy cannot provide any measure of substantive and inclusive economic comfort save for braggadocio and hyperbole. For the moment, as former president and incumbent Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada deserves our applause, at least, this one diplomatic faux pas has now completely passed.
It had taken almost four years before there was any kind of diplomatic closure for two governments where both carried acidic antagonism against the other spawned from the very first crisis inflicted by a bungling neophyte government.
For those who think that we may have finally come to our senses and done the right and decent thing to do, think again. There really is no honor here given the extremely long and deeply venomous interval taken to admit to administrative lapses, swallow shallow undeserved and misplaced pride and admit to fatal failures. On the surface, it took a former president, a lot of humility and substantial monetary compensation to finally end a rather nasty episode between the Philippines and the government of Hong Kong spawned by the infamous 2010 Luneta Massacre of Hong Kong tourists and its bungling by our local authorities.
For as long as we might have to endure the national stigma and shame of our incompetent police forces that led to the massacre of tourists by the whole busload right in front of a park where children play and the grandstand where Benigno Aquino III had his presidency inaugurated, then our tourism cliché “It’s more fun in the Philippines” will remain nothing more than huckster’s wordplay, gimmickry, and a cruel and humorless joke.
Analyzing what had gone before, the travesty our government inflicted was not limited to buffoonery and the bungling of the hostage crisis. Government executives, from the very top to the very bottom, deepened their folly and openly displayed their cacique callousness in the crisis’s aftermath.
They laughed, joked and giggled like giddy girls at the crime scene. They allowed bystanders to tastelessly pose for photographs before the fatal bus. They disregarded the official results of a Justice Department investigation, and later, they simply and cavalierly let both the irresponsible and the criminally complicit off the hook.
For Estrada and the rest of the country who felt that as honorable Filipinos we should have done the right thing then, the true costs actually go beyond humility and multi-million dollars as compensation. The economic and political sanctions imposed on the Philippines, both from actual costs expended from lost labor and tourism, to the opportunity losses from investments foregone are immeasurable. Count also the internationally tainted equity capital where, on the often critical international stage, decent Filipinos had to endure the embarrassment of having not just stupid law enforcers bungling a hostage crisis on live global television but upper-crust Filipino leadership literally and figuratively caught sleeping in, and perhaps, over the cliché noodle house as we often like to say in the vernacular.
In some ways, the Aquino government’s fatal mishandling of its very first major crisis prefaced the constant serial bungling that has characterized Aquino’s crisis management leadership and, in many other instances that we’ve lost count on, the other continuing crises of ineptitude his handpicked team seems to repeatedly make a mess of.
Even his chosen troubleshooter has this uncanny propensity to constantly fall into a rut. For sure, the Aquino government and the presidential alter-ego in the department of the interior in-charge of the local police forces do not seem to have any control over its rogue elements. Hence we have run-away criminality, thievery and violence not just in parks and neighborhoods where our children frolic and play but also in our malls, our streets and wherever we might expect peace and order to reign but does not.
Note the litany of buffoonery quickly lengthening from the major episodes of incompetence such as the avoidable Zamboanga rebellion, to the poor response to the quakes in the Visayas, to the tragedy wrought by Typhoon Yolanda and the botched rescue and relief in the typhoon’s aftermath. Note also minor swatches of stupidity like the recent mishandling of simple concrete road-blocking along EDSA and an even more minor, albeit revealing, episode of ranking executives completely losing it and flying off the handle in golf courses.
It is a management truism that tests of competence often come during a crisis. Crises are the litmus tests of leadership. Aquino’s competence, or the sorry lack of it in this specific area, has not gone un-noticed even where such embarrassing ineptitude seems to be epidemic across the globe and, sadly, insidiously endemic upon his cabinet.
In the recent ferry tragedy involving Korean students, the ship’s personnel had ordered those aboard the quickly capsizing boat to remain in their places. It was a fatally wrong command that led to countless deaths.
In the continuing mystery surrounding the disappearance of a Boeing 777 flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, the authorities in charge of the investigations were perceived by most as seriously inept and were not as forthcoming as the victim’s families would have wanted.
Those crises are however viewed from a distance and the responsible authorities, as seriously wanting as they might appear, are not answerable to us. But Aquino, all the presidents soldiers and all the presidents men are.
The recent Zamboanga crisis was a failure of intelligence first before it had become a failure of crisis management. The rebels telegraphed their intentions long before. Their flotilla island-hopped un-noticed. The firefights had gone on for extended periods that critics started labeling the crisis a wag-the-dog tact to divert attention from Aquino’s pork barrel Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) controversy. Aquino might have won the shooting battles but he lost the war of the minds.
The Typhoon Yolanda fiasco was Aquino’s worst failure when, possibly violative of Section 5 of R.A. 10121, Aquino’s troubleshooters seemed to have assumed control, infected relief and rescue efforts with a deadly political virus by evoking clan and partisan politics, and then proceeded roughshod over honest and hardworking local officials who were just doing their jobs.
Arguing with non-partisan foreign journalists, these officials also quickly debunked the reality of countless cadavers rotting by the roadside, preferring instead slick PowerPoint presentations as opposed to the painful decaying truth. Worse, as gross ineptitude and bungling rose to unprecedented heights in the Yolanda crisis, our highest officials simply went on a public relations campaign and, via global television, in those controversial episodes regarding disputed casualty and fatality figures, and the ones that featured the political blame-game show, they seemed more concerned with covering big, fat and lazy posteriors than providing rescue and relief.
Today, the Yolanda casualty figures thus far are closer to the estimates of a lowly factotum summarily canned for speaking the truth as he saw it than the ridiculously low estimates by an official who had the whole bureaucratic apparatus behind him.
For crisis management to work effectively, it requires more than publicity stunts, especially those spins that merely cater to politics and political ambitions. It requires a profound immersion into the crisis, and an in-depth understanding of immediate and long-term requisites, the necessary processes to achieve sustainable ends, the recognition of the total needs of crisis victims, and most important and basic to all these – true, selfless and honestcura personalis as originally conceptualized within the hallmarks of Ignatian Spirituality for servant-leaders long before it had broadened and had come to be applied to educators.
Ironically, the old Jesuit school had taught these to its students so that they might be servant-leaders. Unfortunately, not everyone was a good student.
Against the lessons and requisites of effective crisis management there are three things that a crisis does not need. The first is a political agenda. The other is an ambitious politician. The third is an inept leader.
Dean dela Paz is an investment banker. He is a consultant in the fields of finance and banking and has packaged some of the most prolific public offerings in the Exchanges. He is a member of the Executive Committee and sits in the Board of one of the oldest financial institutions in the country. He is likewise an energy consultant having served on the Boards of several foreign-owned independent power producers and as CEO of a local energy provider.
He is currently the Program Director for Finance in a UK-based educational institution where he also teaches Finance, Business Policy and Strategic Management. A business columnist for the last fifteen years, he first wrote for BusinessWorld under the late-Raul Locsin and then as a regular columnist for the Business Mirror and GMANews TV. He also co-authored a book and policy paper on energy toolkits for a Washington- based non-government organization. He likewise co-authored and edited a book on management.
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