Prince Terence II
The Inquirer.net Editor, true to form, sheds rose-coloured light on the token frugality President-Elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III applies to the conduct of his inauguration at the end of June. This “virtue” is made stark by using the “evil” extravagance of out-going President Gloria Arroyo as a backdrop to heighten the contrast.
This is the overall theme of today’s (22nd June) Op-Ed of the Aquino family’s publicist and references to Noynoy’s goodness and Gloria’s badness peppers the piece. Nothing new there, but this passage is particularly revealing:
"We hope, again in contrast to his predecessor who made 77 trips abroad in nine years (the masa have a word for this—nagsamantala), that the new President will limit his foreign travels only to the most important ones. The country has enough Cabinet members and ambassadors who can attend to its diplomatic and trade relations."
It echoes Noynoy’s emphasis on his lack of inclination to travel abroad to meet with his peers, opting to delegate that schmoozing to his henchmen instead. That’s his family publicist hard at work putting a positive spin on what’s been observed to be a likely case of the separation anxiety he has so far exhibited.
The more important point to be made here is that a reluctance to travel in a President does not necessarily translate to an absolute reduction in travel for the administration overall.
Firstly, Noynoy plans to “delegate” foreign travel to his Cabinet members and ambassadors. In effect, travel that was meant for him will simply be taken up by someone else.
Second, the number of meetings abroad requiring high-level government delegations is not likely to defer to any plans of “frugality” to be instigated by any Philippine government. Whether the President himself attends these or not does not subtract or add to the demand for foreign travel of state dignitaries.
Third, where Aquino grandstands his plan to “delegate” the schmoozing with his global peers to his minions as a “virtue” that will mark his administration, one can argue that delegating running of day-to-day activities to his staff and stepping up to the task of top-level overseas diplomacy is also a worthwhile approach. Indeed, if we recall, Noynoy also grandstands about sharing power with election loser Mar Roxas to the extent of crowning Roxas as his “alter-ego“. Contradiction alert! Contradiction alert!
The funny thing about Noynoy and the spin his henchmen in the Philippine Media dish out is that they poo-pooh meetings with foreign officials and heads of state and the overseas travel that these often entail as unimportant. This plays on the reality that foreign travel and foreign affairs are things that are quite far off from the day-to-day awareness of the Average Pinoy Schmoe.
But are high-level meetings abroad really unimportant? So unimportant, as we are led to believe, that they may simply be “delegated” to underlings?
The answers to the above question lies in a flawed regard for two key notions at work within the small minds of the Yellow Army:
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(1) The importance of schmoozing with foreign officials
Consider how dependent the Philippines is on the global community for even just survival. It possesses (if at all) an utterly flaccid capacity to create, stimulate, and sustain economic activity and value domestically — the kinds of stuff needed to generate employment. As a matter of fact, our sad nation lives off scraps thrown to us by the International Community — jobs overseas no one else wants to take, labour-added value operations like chip manufacturing, tourists holidaying (and getting their teeth done) on the cheap, and foreign aid. Even the country’s chief staple is grown in farms and shipped from granaries halfway around the world. Unimportant? That depends on the sort of leader our new “President” is.
(2) The very notion of “delegating” something
There is a thin line that separates real delegation and the sort of “delegation” done by mediocre managers and leaders. Mediocre managers delegate activities that they consider — or pitch to the public — to be of “less priority” to their personal agendas. Real managers, on the other hand, delegate things on the basis of consideration over a broader scheme of things. Perhaps it is this lack of a deep appreciation of the subtleties of delegation that resulted in Noynoy painting himself into the contradictory corner of him wanting to be a “hands-on” president by “delegating” foreign travel to his underlings while, at the same time, grandstanding about wanting to “share” power with his “alter ego” Mar Roxas, the poor sod who ended up grasping pathetically at the sorry short end of the stick as a result of Noynoy’s two-bit candidacy in this year’s elections.
* * *
Indeed, there is an intractable Law of Conservation of Foreign Travel in full force here. Noynoy simply attempts to disassociate himself with what he makes out to be an unsavory activity so effectively stigmatised by being arbitrarily associated with the “evil” regime of out-going President Gloria Arroyo.
Noynoy looks good — in an emo sort of way — for zero results.
To digress a bit, it is similar to the following moronism from a member of his growing army of brown-nosers (my boldface for emphasis):
"It’s a trust in governance. It is not Noynoy you are voting for but what you feel what will happen to the country if he is president. I expect investment to shoot up to about 8% of GDP, or about P632 million so that’s 632 million jobs being created without him doing anything but just be president."
The irony there is that the above idea — moronic as it may be — could be used to argue that Noynoy’s value to the country lies more in his representing us overseas than on being a hands-on administrator on the ground.
Thanks for that brief digression albeit one where I make an interesting point. Returning to the main topic, again, from where I sit, the issue is not the volume of travel per se, but what is actually done and achieved during said travels. Perhaps Arroyo had not delivered much as far as the doing and achieving part as far as her “77 trips” go, so much so that it was easy to make something of her “extravagant” dinners and large delegations. But as what is self-evident there, the amount of travel isn’t the issue.
The cost of travel is, of course a consideration. But it is not a stand-alone factor to consider — which is what Noynoy and his minions do in highlighting “frugality” as the be-all-end-all of Noynoy’s travel plans over his term as President. In a society focused on form rather than substance, “77 trips” is easy to pitch as a disgraceful track record by simply divorcing it from its proper context.
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