A test of character and competence

Published December 3, 2019, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

GOVERNANCE MATTERS

By FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JEJOMAR C. BINAY

Jejomar C. Binay Former Vice President
Jejomar C. Binay
Former Vice President

Crisis situations bring out the best and the worst in people. It also shows us the true character of national leaders.

The tense and contentious days leading to the opening of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games were nothing short of a crisis situation. It also had the making of an international scandal, as photos of the poor preparations and logistical snafus posted by the visiting athletes themselves were published by their media back home, eliciting outcries from their supporters.

To his credit, the President apologized to the foreign athletes. He told CNN Philippines: “I’m really apologizing
for the country. But then again I said they should know while they are still here that government is not happy with it and that their president, the president of the country where they are playing has ordered for an investigation.”

The complaints from the foreign delegates cannot be treated as a trivial matter, he added: “You cannot just cast away the discomfort, the suffering of the athletes. Sleeping on the floor, waiting for so many hours, getting hungry… this might really be a small matter, but you cannot just flick a finger na ‘ah maliit yan’ (that’s a small matter,)” he added.

Now contrast those statements with that of certain personalities identified with the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Committee (PHISGOC), the private foundation in charge of the sporting event.

After initially brushing aside the complaints of poor logistics and inefficiency as minor matters, they blamed other groups and agencies. They singled out the Senate for allegedly delaying the fund release. This was immediately denied by the senators, who reminded PHISGOC that the delay was caused by last-minute pork barrel insertions by the House. An administration senator even sternly reminded them that the money had already been released and that assurances were given to the President that the organizers were 100 percent ready.

The organizers also lashed out at media, alleging the existence of a “media operation” to spread fake news about the Games. Media outlets were supposedly being bribed to publish or air false reports to embarrass the administration and the country.

This did not sit well with media groups, particularly the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), composed of reporters from the major international wire services and media outlets.

Said FOCAP: “Such sweeping accusations, without a shred of evidence and laced with threats of libel suits, are totally unacceptable and tend to intimidate journalists from reporting irregularities objectively,” By the time this column is published, the SEA Games would be in full swing and the organizers would have hopefully gotten their act together.

Government agencies like the Department of Tourism (DOT) have stepped in to put order in the arrival set-up and hotel accommodations. Private donors have provided buses and other logistical needs. Whether they will be reimbursed by PHISGOC, which controls the funds, is an issue for later. For now, everyone is lending a hand to make sure that the Games succeed. National focus should have shifted by now to the Games and the much-deserved support for our athletes who are in competition.

Sporting events, especially major ones like the SEA Games, have always been opportunities for whipping up national pride. Normally, such things as politics are set aside. Political colors are taken down in favor of the national colors. We are happy to see national fervor on full display, but we do hope the organizers would walk the talk and refrain from making further combative remarks that are out of sync with their call for unity.

When a public official is called out for a shortcoming or a mistake, the professional and mature thing to do is to admit the mistake and correct it. Denying in the face of evidence will not make the problem go away. Neither will shifting the blame or claiming sabotage. Otherwise, it will be an endless cycle of finger pointing that will resolve nothing.

There is a truism that performance is the best politics. It means that if an elected official does the job well, he or she will reap the political rewards. But the job must be foremost, not the politics. This philosophy has its benefits as well as risks. The benefit accrues to the public when the job is done well. It also gives them a chance to see if the public official possesses both the competence and the character to lead. In times of crisis most especially, these traits are indispensable.

The risk, as we already know from media reports, is that taxpayers’ money is wasted and the public suffers
as a result of the politics, notably when the official performs badly and acts immaturely.

It seems that the problem with the SEA Games is that politics, and the optics, took front and center at the expense of getting the job done. Of course, lack of competence and character is a different matter.

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