The President had no idea.
This was his reaction when told that there are more hungry Filipinos now than when he started his term.
Well he would also have learnt that his net approval rating dropped from +64 in November to +51 in March.
And that his Vice-President’s popularity rose from 78% to 84%.
And that crime and corruption are unabated. The latest scam is overassessing multinationals by tax and customs officials looking for the 20% whistleblowers’ reward. Organized crime has gone legal.
The President’s surprise is understandable given all the positives he is told on the economy. Foreign reserves are at a record $66 billion, the economy is growing healthily, real estate prices are skyrocketing, the peso is firm almost to a fault, and companies are reporting the strongest business cycle in memory.
How does one reconcile people’s dissatisfaction with the bullish economic numbers?
The most obvious explanation is that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer.
Secondly, economic statistics do not reflect the general well being of the country. They do not capture, for example, the safety of the streets or the availability of clean water.
The President has to stop listening to the official reports and sweet nothings from sycophants; and stick his ear to the ground to get the real picture.
It also helps to stop branding all bearers of bad tidings as naysayers. Mr. President, do not shoot the messengers: They want you to succeed even more than you do. They have a life that goes beyond 2016.
In this Lenten period of introspection it is appropriate to reflect on where the nation stands eleven months from the day Filipinos went to the polls to express their aspirations for a new beginning.
The answer? Despite the talk here and elsewhere, thanks in some measure to the President, this nation is in a better place today than it was in May. The pie is bigger and the size (if not the number) of some of the corrupt fingers dipping into it is smaller.
It is just that so much more is possible.
In this sense the drop in popularity of the President might not be as much an expression of displeasure as it is one of frustration and disappointment. The good news is that the latter can be reversed. The bad news is it can also deepen into cynicism, a point where many Filipinos already are. This skepticism is dangerous because it is fodder for evil to feed on.
The declining numbers of P-Noy possibly stem not from perceptions of his incompetence but from his seemingly lackadaisical approach to his job. The playthings, the young women and the frat atmosphere in the Palace convey the impression, rightly or wrongly, of men at play.
In contrast VP Binay is seen as serious and hard working. This explains his growing popularity despite, in truth, the absence of major accomplishments relative to the President’s. Jojo is portrayed as trying his darnedest even within his limited mandate.
People see the effort in Binay. They do not see it in the President. Filipinos want P-Noy to, occasionally, break into a sweat.
The nation wants of the President more than what he wants of himself. He was the reluctant candidate. The inertia is apparently still there. There are seemingly more- or equally- important things in his life than leading the country.
He can also be bull headed and being President only reinforces this.
There is an inner group that is happy to keep the President uninvolved. This gives them more power to operate their agenda, to plan for 2016. They trot him out as needed.
How does one fire up the President? How does one get him to recognize the historical moment?
Having Cory alive might have helped.
His sisters are reluctant to interfere. Already they have been shunted aside by his cordon sanitaire.
His declining numbers might be a wake up call.
Ultimately, the only person that can trigger an epiphany in the President is the man himself. Stranger things have happened like to Paul on the road to Damascus.
In fact I sense welcome stirrings in this direction. The President seems more passionate in recent speeches at least as far as RH, impeaching the Ombudsman and going after GMA & Co.’s riches.
If he can apply the same energy to other endeavors like reforming the bureaucracy, spreading the national wealth and rebuilding our shared values, he could well fulfill the promise and hopes of that spring day of May 10, 2010.