From BusinessWorld 8 November 2011 By Benjamin Diokno
Criticism keeps leaders on their toes, prods them to do better, and hopefully improves actual performance. In the end, the best answer to criticism is good and solid performance in the delivery of public services. It was thus surprising when President Aquino replied that his “Christmas wish” would be for a stop to what he referred to as “criticizing anything and everything” by his critics in media as well as political dissenters.
His reply revealed his irritation with criticisms. He said: “More than anything, we really have to shift, to those of us still left [from] the criticize-anything-and-everything phase to transforming ourselves into how we can assist our neighbor, our sister, our brother or whoever, somebody we don’t even know…rather than concentrate on envy or concentrate on our ability to criticize daily ad infinitum that leads to nowhere.”
But his Christmas wish runs counter to the views of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, on criticism: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.”
Criticism has a role to play in running a modern state. In the words of the President’s father, the late Senator Ninoy Aquino: “Without criticism no government can survive, and without dissent no government can effectively govern!”
Right to know, right to criticize
The Filipino people have a right to know why not enough jobs are being created. Why poverty persists. Why hunger has remained elevated. We all know that these are long-term problems, but the government of the day has the responsibility to provide answers to these questions.
The Filipino people have a right to know why, in the midst of destructive floods and misery, their President (their agent) have remained in the shadow for days before he visited them.
The Filipino people have a right to question Mr. Aquino’s inability to move programs and projects already authorized by Congress. Does it really take more than nine months to review projects prior to implementation? Doesn’t the delay run counter to the zero-based-budgeting (ZBB) that the Aquino government proudly announced in its budget message (in July 2010). ZBB means every single item in the president’s budget has passed the test of desirability and correct project costs. If so, what’s the need for the lengthy review of programs and projects.
The Filipino people have a right to know why the government is giving away public funds to Muslim rebels and ABB renegades. Aren’t these funds better used for the benefits of victims of atrocities or for reducing poverty or hunger?
The men in uniform have the right to know why their Commander-in-Chief has been too timid and slow in ordering hot pursuit of the members of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front who massacred 19 members of the Army’s Special Forces in Basilan. They have the right to know why he ordered an “all-out-justice” instead of “all-out-war.”
And so on and so forth.
Take responsibility; don’t pass the buck
Mr. Aquino should have a healthy attitude toward criticism. Otherwise, he should heed Harry Truman’s advice: ‘If you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
In a recent forum, someone suggested that we should give Mr. Aquino more time. But Mr. Aquino has been in power for about 500 days; he has used up practically one-fourth of his six-year term. Muddling through has to stop. There has to be some sense of urgency. After nearly 10 years of lost opportunities under the previous regime, the Philippines can’t afford to lag even further behind its ASEAN-5 neighboring countries.
In the same forum, I was asked: Who should you blame for the poor performance of the Aquino administration to date — the President or his men? That’s a no-brainer. The President, of course. The contract of the Filipino people (the principal) is with the President (the agent) alone and nobody else. Who Mr. Aquino picks as his Cabinet and key officials is his responsibility.
What Mr. Aquino does or fails to do — to date and into the future — is his responsibility. Moving forward, he should take seriously the other famous words attributed to Mr. Truman: “the buck stops here.”