Friday, July 25, 2014

Philippines President Aquino’s new title: ‘Thief Executive’

Activists, the serious and real ones, never sleep. And they never run out of ideas.

The youth activist group, Anakbayan (sons and daughters of the people), may have scored another homerun with its latest dig against the powers that be.

After successfully inventing the wildly popular and entertaining neologism and protest tactic called “noynoying” back in 2012, Anakbayan has now come up with a witty and potent follow-up.

They have given President Benigno Aquino 3rd a new title: “Thief executive.”

Just as “noynoying” toyed around with the President’s nickname and work ethic, so this time they have directed their wit and imagination at his official title of “chief executive.”

By deftly substituting the letter T for the letter C, they have come up with a potent indictment of Aquino’s authorship and authorization of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which has illegally taken and probably malversed P150 billion of the people’s money in the national treasury.

How far will the new neologism fly?

I suspect very high and very far. And it could last up to the very last day of the Aquino presidency.

To assess the situation we are facing now, let’s look back a little at the phenomenon called “noynoying.”

Noynoying takes the country by storm
As a piece of social history, “noynoying” was like a craze that took the nation by storm. Although started by the youth, adults and children also took up the varied poses and stances of noynoying, which were helped along by Anakbayan infographics online on how to do the noynoying.

Anywhere you went in the metropolis you were bound to meet or see young people performing the stunt. It was featured all over the media. Social media exploded with photos of people hilariously doing it. Mothers coached their Kids on how to perform it like the original.

The protest tactic went viral when it acquired its own Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia pages, and received airtime on the country’s most watched news channels.

International media also gave noynoying a warm send-up. Giants like The Wall Street Journal, France 24, BBC World Service, Los Angeles Times, and Al Jazeera—all provided coverage and notoriety.

 “Noynoying” was breathtakingly simple to do. Protestors would sit around and stare into space, stifling yawns, in a mock impersonation of President Aquino, whom critics accused of doing nothing productive as the country’s leader.

Noynoying was the unique Filipino adaptation of planking, the American lying down game, which consisted of lying face down in an unusual or incongruous location.

When Filipino youth activists took hold of it, it became a something fun to behold—a cross for the president to bear.

The first documented use of noynoying dates back to October 2011,when the Manila Standard used it in one column. The origins of noynoying as a protest device have been associated with young members of the Filipino Left, particularly Anakbayan. Vencer Crisostomo of Anakbayan provided a definition of noynoying: “It is doing nothing when you have something (a task) to do.”

When the tactic went viral, Malacanang propagandists tried to counter by releasing a series of photos showing the president sorting papers, carrying folders, chairing meetings and meeting dignitaries.

Led by messaging secretary Ricky Carandang and his trolls, Palace communications tried to sweep social media of traces and images of noynoying.

But they could not stop the Internet meme and social craze from spreading. From Manila to New York to Saudi Arabia, any place with a sizable Filipino community, people were pictured “noynoying” with abandon.

“Noynoying” showed what going viral in the digital age means.

Mercifully for the president and the nation, the fever passed, as many tried to look more busy.

I think that time in our lives provided us with one enduring lesson. A fever like noynoying will pass, but a tragedy like the Manila hostage crisis does not heal as quickly. Leaders have to do more and better.

‘Thief executive’ as hands-on leadership
If noynoying sent the Palace into panic mode, “thief executive” has the potential to drive it to catatonia.

While “noynoying” was essentially an attack on what was perceived to be a hands-off and do-nothing presidency,

The line of attack of “thief executive” is that President Aquino is 100 percent hands-on and responsible in the P150-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program. He authored and authorized the entire sordid swindle.

According to budget officials, the President’s signature can be found in every resolution, every order and every fund release in the program.

Of course, accusations are not proof, and indictments are not convictions Officials, like ordinary citizens, are innocent until proven guilty.

But somebody has to account for the P150 billion of people’s money that have probably been stolen or wasted.

The public, the independent media, and social media will not rest until Aquino, Abad and other administration officials answer questions in an official inquiry or trial.

This is why the impeachment complaints in the House are so important. They will require an official inquiry. If Speaker Belmonte declares again that the House will strangle the complaints, and that impeachment is just a numbers game, he is close to being declared an enemy of the people.

This is why the sham inquiry into the DAP conducted by the Senate last Thursday was so enraging.

There we had Budget Secretary Florencio Abad finally answering questions about the DAP in the Senate, and all our senators did was throw softballs at him. Senate President Franklin Drilon was beyond appalling; his purported questioning was a shameless endorsement of the DAP – a thank you for the P500-700 million of DAP money committed to his projects.

Answering questions about the DAP, President Aquino will be in a bind. If he denies authorship of the DAP, and points to Abad as the author and fires him (as his close relatives and key members of his cabinet are advising), Abad will sing like a canary-soprano. All the secrets will come out.

If Aquino settles only on admitting to having authorized the program – and to signing every paper regarding the DAP – he remains fully responsible for the program.

Even if he is not impeachable now for the DAP, he will surely be liable for the illegal and unconstitutional acts, when his term ends in 2016.

Aquino and congressional leaders are determined to strangle the complaints in Congress. But saying cynically that impeachment is just “a numbers game” is absolutely the wrong strategy for them to take. It fails to take into account the degree of public anger against the DAP scandal. It stokes the fury of disobedience and rebellion.

Writing on the Richard Nixon Administration at the height of the Watergate scandal, Barbara Tuchman wrote these telling words of why no president can escape responsibility in his administration: “The administration, like any other, is an entity, a whole for which the president is responsible and from which he is indivisible. Its personnel were selected and appointed by him, its conduct determined by him, its principles or lack of them – derived from him.”

In short, the President is accountable. And if there is indeed thievery, as seems evident from the disclosures so far on the DAP program, Aquino can be fairly called “thief executive.”

The crime is also contempt for government
The biggest sin of Speaker Belmonte and Senate President Drilon is that, by their actions, they seek to stop further and thorough inquiry into the facts and the truth about the DAP. They seek to cover up mistakes of the president and the administration; they are deathly afraid of the complicity of their houses in the wholesale robbery of the people.

They want to shovel under the rug the problems that have long infected our public life. They do not want our people to know the truth.

Another brainy woman, Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School, provides penetrating insight on how standards and competence falls apart in government.

Most people extol private companies for being better run and having stricter standards than the government. But in fact, she says, we must meet a higher standard for public service.

She warns of the deep cynicism of the public about the work of government, and of the contempt of national leaders for the functions of government. She wrote:

“Contempt starts at the top, when bosses believe their organizations are mere instruments of their own desires, to be exploited for themselves and their buddies. Cynicism spreads, reducing morale, depressing performance, and repelling the best people.”

“Contempt means feeling free to subvert the instruments of government to one’s own ends…

`“Contempt means not having to reach high standards…

“Contempt for government leads to crony appointments…

“Contempt in words and deeds makes it hard to attract the best people to public service, and demoralizes talented professionals already there.

“When leaders put their own interests over the institution and distort facts to get what they want, their cynicism infects the public servants below them.”

Professor Kanter could just as well be talking of President Aquino and his handling of the DAP.

It will be fun to watch how the saga of the “thief executive” plays in the coming impeachment hearings in the House.

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