and this isn’t even about the fact of those tweets from the celebrity guests at what apparently was a christmas party in Malacanang on Sunday, December 18 — which cannot be denied, such is the curse of tweeting, such is the power of screen grabs / captures, and no those women weren’t irresponsible, they were being themselves.
what is irresponsible is the fact that there’s talk at all of a party happening at this point in the most powerful halls of nation, when we are in fact at a time that should be about mourning. this is what’s at the core of this backlash about news of a Malacanang party; it’s not whether or not the PSG can party, not about whether PNoy just passed by or stayed at that party. what’s at its core is a question about PNoy, as president, as leader, and what it is he has done.
or has yet to do. which is to make his presence felt. and no, not via twitter, not through his communications team(s), not through Abigail Valte and Manolo Quezon, not through press releases announcing how much money he’s allocated for relief operations, not through DSWD and Dinky Soliman.
you of course will ask: what good will it do to hear PNoy at this point? what good would a public statement do? what good will it do for him to fly out to the grief stricken areas right now? what good would it have done had we heard from him on Saturday, when we realized the magnitude of the tragedy?
in fact plenty. in an almost how-to book on being leader in extreme situations, in extremis leadership, leading as if your life depended on it (2007) by Thomas A. Kolditz, puts common sense into words:
People are remarkably consistent in their needs and reactions around tragedy. Death is a great equalizer, and grief comes to the rich and famous, and the poor and insignificant, in exactly the same way. Leading is about people, and death presents both an obligation and an opportunity to lead. The obligation and opportunity are fleeting, though, so leaders must be ready to step up without hesitation. Both organizational practices and the leader’s intent have to be in place continuously, or the event passes unrecognized. (158)
in times like this one, PNoy’s voice is important because we need to recognize this event for what it is: a tragedy. we need to hear PNoy say this, we need for him to say that we are a nation in mourning, a nation in grief, because those words will become a way of dealing with the pain that is in front of us. i am certain that Malacanang knows of the value of proper communication, and so they must know too, that there is value in hearing PNoy say this, in seeing him on television, addressing the nation, telling us how to deal. because yes actions may speak louder than words, and PNoy might have delegated the task of action to the right people, but words are valuable too at a time like this.
<…> one important benefit of effective leadership in such crisis situations is to help reestablish a sense of control, predictability, and hope in the midst of confusion, chaos, and fear. (Kolditz, 155)
this requires that PNoy address the nation and be the symbolic center of what is a time for national unity and action. this can only happen if PNoy addresses the nation, if the image that we have of him is that of someone who has dropped everything because the task at hand is urgent, and because we need to see him on top of the situation, as a leader — as a president — should be.
in times of crisis, a president is supposed to comfort nation, he is supposed to “strike a precise balance of resolve and sympathy,” and yes, he does this through words, as he is also tasked to “make sense of the senseless, in the wake of national tragedy.” that we do not get this from PNoy is at the core of why the news that there was a party in Malacanang, that he was even at that party, is just difficult to let go of: it’s bad enough that we cannot count on him as symbolic anchor, that we do not hear him speak, that he puts off the visit to grief-stricken areas for four days. but to even hear of this talk about a party? it’s the last image of a leader we need in our heads.
but of course Malacanang will spin this, PNoy will brush all this talk off, and say it doesn’t matter, they know what it is that they’re actually doing. PNoy after all takes pride in delegating work that needs to be done to the people he trusts, which would mean that he’s doing so much more than if he were the one knee deep in the mud in CDO, or updating the nation in breaking news.
but the question is: why can’t he do both? why can’t he micromanage while he fulfills the presidential expectation that is to be a presence in our consciousness as we watch painful footage of this tragedy? why can’t PNoy be the soundbite that tells us to unite as nation, to come together, to help out, because we are all in grief and we can turn that grief into action?
the fact that this nation rises to the occasion, the fact that the middle and upper classes who have the time and wherewithal can unite without the voice of a president is a wonderful thing for sure. but this shouldn’t be taken to mean that PNoy can be irresponsible in the face of tragedy. and this isn’t so much about being at a party, as it is about proving himself our president, who will be hope and anchor, who will speak! in these, the most dire of circumstances. that is his role, too. and it isn’t asking for much really.
we don’t need a hero. we just need (to have the sense that we have) a president.