More Mice Than Men

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I remember most vividly the Corazon Aquino’s presidency had early problems about Cabinet members hiding behind the president when the going got tough instead of them shielding her from danger. The hostage fiasco triggered this memory recall as it seems that P-Noy has been taking the flak directly without his Cabinet appointees protecting him. More mice than men is an apt description of officials who do not have either the good sense or the guts to take the blows for their president.

It is a good moment for President Noynoy to assess the men and women who comprise his official family. I am sure that they presented themselves top him as aggressive, go-getters and achievers – especially when they were angling for their appointments. There were personalities who kept pushing their faces in front of Noynoy before and after he was sworn in as P-Noy, pushing for their appointment or for the appointment of their proteges. In fact, I keep hearing of regular visits from familiar faces with folders of recommendations visiting P-Noy every chance they get. Yet, they are completely out of sight when it comes to making life easier for P-Noy in a bad time. Opportunists, they used to be called. Cowards may be the more accurate term.

P-Noy went out on a limb to create a new Kamaganak, Inc, not of his blood kin, but kin of blood nonetheless around him. Well, this new Kamaganak, Inc, have been nowhere in sight in the battle field. They would be uncomfortable in an arena where they put themselves in front of their principal to be clobbered; it is easier just watching him take the blows rather than risk their positions. So much for courage and loyalty.

There was a horrible ending to the hostage-taking. It was not the death of some hostages but the way they died that classified the incident as one big blunder. Although a president of the republic is not expected to be the field commander of a crime scene, the length of the drama and the massive coverage by local and international media elevated a simple hostage situation to be more than what it was to the perception of people. P-Noy is even being blamed for not taking a call  he did not know about. The administrator for Hong Kong is not, in the world of protocol or diplomacy, at the same level as the president of the Philippines. P-Noy did not even have to take his call even if he had known. The ARMM governor cannot just call the president of China or the United States and expect to be answered by him instantly and directly.

But the national and international attention focused by media on the hostage drama did create a context where P-Noy or his spokesman was pressured to confront the situation frontally. Bungling by the police was worsened by another fiasco – the public relations kind. I had thought that there was an unusual number of demanding applicants for presidential spokesman, or to be in charge of messaging for the president. Well, as media kept the cameras on the fated bus for several hours, the messagers or explainers disappeared. They were more mice than men, after all.

When his mother took over Marcos in 1986, her detractors said she was not competent enough to govern. It seemed at first that they were right when her men hid behind her skirts when trouble would erupt. But Corazon Aquino proved that integrity would produce courage, and that courage would produce results. She quickly fired some members of her Cabinet and proceeded to finish her term despite a relentless rebellion by some members of her own AFP. In contrast, the macho that the dictator Marcos was, or screen hero Estrada, wilted and collapsed with under people power.

P-Noy will survive the absence or cowardice of many of his appointees. He will survive even after he fires some of them. He has two debacles to address – the hostage negotiations which ended in a tragedy, and a public projection which developed a perception that he was wishy-washy by default, by the absence of appointees who were only recently so eager to script or speak for him. P-Noy should survive because the people elected him and have placed on him their greatest expectations and sincerest hope, and because he would terminate those who are more mice than men.

Those who were pushy enough to work for their appointments, those who were pushy enough to perter P-Noy for the appointment of their people, and even those who were simply appointed, they should form a protective wall around P-Noy in challenging times. It matters little what their job descriptions are; what matters most is the first and common job description they have – members of the official family. And in a family, the patriarch must be fiercely defended and protected. He is symbol and he is authority. If he falls, all fall.

So, to those who are more mice than men, please understand that Malacanang is not primarily for the ambitious, not primarily for the greedy, not primarily for the proud, but first and foremost, for the braveheart. You must find your courage because the presidency of P-Noy will not be a walk in the park. His destiny is about sacrifice, about courage in the face of adversity, about change against the odds. P-Noy has been tempered by the pain of a personal history, Have you?

“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” Albert Camus

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