Presidential messages can, sometimes, be confusing.
Take the case of Ernesto Diokno. He was the head of the Bureau of Corrections (and, more to the point, a comrade-in-arms of the President) who resigned over the flap involving convicted ex-Governor Tony Leviste.
Tony apparently spent more time out of Bilibid Prison than inside giving new meaning to the term ‘gated community’.
When confronted, Diokno claimed his job was to deal with the big picture and not with minor details like ensuring that convicts are actually kept where they are supposed to be, behind bars. Nice try but nobody was buying.
President Aquino said that with Diokno’s resignation he can now institute reforms in the prison system. This is a rather strange thing to say of someone he had appointed to, presumably, do just that.
In the same breath, however, Aquino thanked Diokno for resigning, citing his ‘sense of delicadeza’ (which apparently goes a long way with him). The President mentioned he might consider Diokno for another position in Government.
What are we to make of these mixed messages? Here are some possibilities:
1. It is fine to be inept in Government as long as you have ‘a sense of delicadeza’.
2. It is acceptable to be incompetent (and even corrupt) as long as you resign when discovered.
3. One may be incompetent in one position but not necessarily in another.
4. Reforms can finally be instituted if all shooting buddies of the President resign from the positions he appointed them to.
The Diokno case is the second instance of an undesirable official being formally commended by the Palace for stepping down. The first was Ombudsman Gutierrez who was hailed by Presidential Spokesperson Lacierda for voluntarily resigning just as she was about to be impeached by the Senate, publicly humiliated, and otherwise run out of office.
All it needs now is for the Administration to bury ex-President Marcos with full military honors to complete the message that in this country it is possible to be thanked if not rewarded for wrongdoing.
The public is unsure what to make of a Government that speaks, if not with a forked tongue, with an epileptic one.
The Presidential Communications and Special Operations Group (I hope I did not miss a designation) was established, with three Cabinet positions no less, to precisely avoid this confusion. It clearly is not working.
Part of the problem is the President is often torn between loyalty to his friends and the oath to his office. Lately he has come down on the right side of his personal struggle although not without some visible pain.
There is another factor that has led to the mixed signals from the President.
P-Noy, I suspect, has a mischievous trait that enjoys teasing media. He seems to relish feeding reporters with morsels that he knows will lead to a feeding frenzy.
He cannot, perhaps, quite believe the press always takes him seriously, leaning on his utterances as oracles from Delphi when some are designed, simply, to create a buzz.
One instance of this was when, on arrival from Bangkok, he announced that one of the Cabinet officials there to greet him was soon to be no longer. There was no purpose to this statement other than to titillate the media and create anxiety among his people.
Whether in anticipation of this or not, DOTC Sec. Ping de Jesus has since resigned; to the President’s surprise (“Hey, Ping, I was just kidding”).
The presidential playfulness makes for good copy for a media starved for entertainment.
Unfortunately, while it possibly endears him and adds to his lightness of being, it detracts from the image of seriousness and purpose that one looks for in a leader.
The President could keep to a unified message if he had a fixed compass on how to run the country. The appointment of Mar as Chief of Staff was designed to do this but this is now in limbo with, in what would be another example of flip-flopping, the speculation that P-Noy now wants Roxas at the DOTC, a demotion in responsibility.
Presidential imagemakers are struggling with what to do with their man.They would like to position him as a visionary statesman, a Lee Kwan Yew, when what P-Noy would seemingly much prefer is to be the cool dude, a lesser Silvio Berlusconi if you wish.
I symphatize with them: The former portrayal is what we need even though the latter persona, over a glass of beer, is more fun.
I suspect the nation feels likewise.