The choice: Visible, or invisible

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on April 13, 2011

Commentators enjoyed a field day following the release of the latest Social Weather Stations survey results purporting to gauge the approval of government officials. The survey, conducted March 4-7, saw President Benigno S. Aquino III fall 13 points to a +51 rating from +64 in the fourth quarter last year. Vice President Jejomar Binay emerged as the most popular official in the land, with a +74 rating.

Mr. Aquino even lost ground among his devoted ABC respondents, although they were split on the question of whether the president should be driving around in a luxury Porsche automobile, unlike most other respondents who thought it was a bad idea. By most accounts, the president lives a modest life—or as modest as the scion of a wealthy political clan can.  But less than a year into his six-year term seems an odd time to demonstrate lavish devotion to fast cars.

The president’s ratings fell everywhere around the country except the Visayas. While the Porsche hurt, allowing his ambitious vice president to eclipse presidential visibility by championing the causes of alleged and jailed overseas foreign workers may have hurt much more. While Mr. Aquino was busy with the affairs of state, Mr. Binay was busy beseeching China’s government to spare drug mules, repatriating overstaying illegal workers, and even lobbying for grace periods for distressed OFWs to pay Pag-Ibig Fund dues.

Mr. Aquino claims that his ratings fell while Mr. Binay’s soared because the president’s accomplishments have not been visible. Because he has little else to do as vice president, Mr. Binay has the luxury of devoting an inordinate amount of his and his staff’s time to 10 million OFWs, their families consisting of perhaps another 40-50 million Filipinos, and those who aspire to work overseas. Mr. Binay even got Mr. Aquino to make him an official adviser on OFW affairs.

Mr. Binay is not competing with Mr. Aquino for his one-term job—and it is unlikely that even this 69-year-old will have the stamina to run in six years. The late former U.S. President Ronald Reagan became president at 70. If Mr. Binay were to win election, he would begin his six-year-term at age 75. The fact is the president hasn’t been very visible doing presidential things with the result that voters in every income bracket in most of the country are less happy with him than they were several months ago.

The president still enjoys very high net satisfaction, but the harsh reality is that the sudden drop comes very early. His predecessor, former president and now Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was never anywhere near as popular as Mr. Aquino is—or their collective predecessors were. But Mr. Aquino’s declining popularity echoes that of every other president including his mother, the late Corazon C. Aquino, since democracy was restored in 1986.

Perhaps more telling is the fact that even former President Joseph Estrada—who was literally run out of office—managed to maintain a net satisfaction level close to 70% longer than Mr. Aquino did. The results for Mr. Aquino may signal that while voters elected him on a wave of nostalgia-filled hope for the nation, they are a highly impatient electorate after waiting a quarter century for democracy to bring widespread prosperity to the nation.

Mr. Aquino has reportedly been reluctant to proactively communicate his administration’s accomplishments, but subsequent to the release of the SWS results his deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte announced that the administration will be more aggressive in communicating “good news.” There’s an important principle that the communications group should bear in mind as they undertake this visibility strategy.

We can turn to Mr. Binay for insight. As mayor of Makati City, Mr. Binay provided free or low-cost medical services, free or low-cost educational opportunities, and recognition—birthday cards and “small” cash gifts—to his biggest constituency, highly poor residents. These were tangible and meaningful efforts by Mr. Binay that convincingly—and perhaps shamelessly—demonstrated the former mayor’s empathy with his constituents.

That constituency is still poor for lots of different reasons. But Mr. Binay’s communications efforts produce credible and sustainable visibility results because they are supported by substance people feel. While I think it’s a fine idea for the president to more actively communicate, he must to so purposely. That requires his administration to actually accomplish things that voters and their families can experience and appreciate.

It won’t be easy, and populist politics isn’t the answer. But if Mr. Aquino wants to arrest his slide, it must be done. And done while he’s doing all the other presidential things a president must do for his country.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand. Write him at mahamlin@teamasia.com and follow him on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.). Copyright © 2011 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)

 

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