Thursday, July 21, 2005

A view on Manila from Hong Kong

From today's SCMP....have posted the whole article for those in Manila who do not subscribe to the SCMP

Once more, from the heart


Do you know any exceptional public-relations consultants? Refer them at once to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She desperately needs the help. Her credibility is in tatters, her popularity ratings have crashed through the floor and an increasing number of people think she should resign.
Desperate advisers have had the president running through a gamut of poses, from silence to meekness and defiance. Their latest stratagem portrays the president as a gentle, motherly soul who likes nothing better than to stroll along the bay in a frothy cloud of goodwill. To those who know that Mrs Arroyo is a testy woman who shouts and throws things at aides, the sight is unnerving - like Margaret Thatcher performing in The Sound of Music. At the palace, her aides affect a cheerful air of "business as usual" - their delivery punctuated by the loud banging of doors as yet another disgusted member of the cabinet walks out.

What the public wants is not a president acting like Julie Andrews, but one who directly addresses the charge that she cheated in last year's elections and has been covering it up. Plus there is the matter of her husband, son and brother-in-law being linked to graft.

One sticking point is Mrs Arroyo's personality. Her steely stubbornness and brassy, domineering voice might be suited to the role of a no-nonsense chief executive, but when that executive is suspected of serious crimes, the lack of charisma becomes a huge negative. The Filipino word for it is mayabang - arrogant. "I can't stand her voice," a cab driver told me. "She sounds like she's so superior to all of us. When I hear her talking, I turn off the TV or radio."

Three weeks ago, Mrs Arroyo appeared on television supposedly to beg forgiveness. Her handlers admit she had to rehearse her contrition four times. Even then, her performance reminded me of American humorist Dave Barry's description of Richard Nixon on TV: "as though a large and disorganised committee of aliens had taken over his body and were just learning how to operate it".

Mrs Arroyo's cold, flat eyes radiated such insincerity that the next time she went on TV, she did not show her face. In this personality-based culture, that was a mistake.

Out of pity, the national public-relations association has offered its services for free. But a person who tries to be nice only when she is in dire trouble doesn't get much respect here. Corazon Aquino had a drab, monotonous voice but was widely admired for her sincerity. If Mrs Arroyo wants to regain respect, she should deliver straight from the heart. Perhaps she can convince that alien creature to let go of it.

Loved the line about The Iron Lady in The Sound of Music! the PR consultancy idea was actually portrayed in the editorial cartoon of The Manila Bulletin (I think) yesterday.


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