For all intents and purposes of the benefit of the doubt, Noynoy Aquino is probably a hard worker. He is probably a diligent man. Maybe all these references to him being a lazybones are probably unfair: none of us have been President, so we’re probably judging this whole “Noynoying” thing on the probable idea that this Administration does not want its work being judged in public or made aware by matters of press releases and TV appearances dealing with the working day of the President. Note the word, though: probably.
Now before we call it “rabble-rousing” – as Billy Esposo puts it – let’s look at the whole thing in terms of its merits. Since our politics is characterized by some level of “personal relationship” – i.e., we vote for the President directly – we need to see the President personally when necessary, and we need his personality to be out front and upfront.
Erap Estrada, for example, was a populist through and through: here was a guy who would not hesitate to get down and dirty with the masses to be in touch with them, which made him so loved and somehow reviled. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, at that, wasn’t exactly the good ol’ boy that Erap was, but she knew the necessity of kissing babies and photo-ops whenever she was giving away relief goods to old women in disaster areas.
Erap was accused of everything from being a philanderer to a gladhanding politico in the business of handing out favors to everyone, but not for being a man so detached from the people. Gloria was accused of everything from being corrupt to being a manipulator, but not accused of being lazy. The thing is that you cannot accuse Aquino of corruption or graft, but yet he stands accused of the things that his successors cannot be accused of.
So Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda answered back: “The President continues to do working [sic] in spite of whatever is happening in the social media.” Sure he does: the President doesn’t have to pander to the Twitterati or to have an open house for bloggers in Malacanang Palace to see the President at work. Noynoying is not about social media: it’s about people taking to social media to express their displeasure about a President who’s not there when disaster strikes, or when calamity is afoot, or when his reassuring presence is necessary for people to see that he is a working President. Photographing the President signing papers at the wake of a “Noynoying” trend doesn’t cut it, either.
It may not be something we all agree with, but the physical presence of a high official in a time where he is needed has great value in boosting the public morale. Not that we expect him, for example, to negotiate for the freedom of hostages or that he’s excellent at packing relief goods that him being in a Red Cross headquarters would double the packing output.
But this isn’t just about PR or photo ops, but about having that stern, authoritative stand that comes with knowing the public pulse, and making decisions from that pulse. It’s not about propaganda or anything, but the effective communication the achievements and the progress of the President’s administration leaves a lot to be desired. From a motherhood construct it’s for the President to be there, be the reassuring presence. From the nitty-gritty it’s about the staff crunching numbers, setting the logistics, or communicating – in plain language and situations that everyone can relate to – what “having a stable currency” means, or why such an action for oil price hikes is warranted and necessary. Put simply, if it means taking action the President must come to the most prudent, necessary action. He doesn’t have to pander, he doesn’t have to coddle, but he has to act, and communicate that action. Again, it should be an action that comes from the public pulse.
Maybe we can’t escape the fact that every now and then we have to be one with the people, that we need to be reassuring presences for them, that we need to talk their language. As much as we decry its ill effects or consider it “posturing,” that physical, tangible reassurance forms a crucial part of that necessary social capital that Aquino needs to have in order to secure the trust and confidence of the people. Surely the President doesn’t have to accede to the demands of every lobby group or political element in the spectrum, and surely he doesn’t have to coddle the people, but his presence – his reassuring presence that he is working – needs to be there. Somehow, if we’re going to accuse him of anything wrong with the nation today, it should be of anything but indolence.
Politics is, in many ways, an exercise in perception. And managing perceptions is part of that package. For a President who won on the basis of perceptions… well, the dots are out there somewhere.