The Philippines – Rehabilitating presidential confidence following a crisis

The mounting criticisms of President “Noynoy” Aquino’s handling of the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan underscore the impact of natural disaster management on assessments of governmental performance, particularly presidential performance. Public administration and policy studies offer a wealth of lessons to governments on what to do or not do in these instances of crisis-management, and this essay will not tread the grounds so well-articulated by these experts.[1]

Instead, this essay deals with an issue integral to performance following a crisis: how does the President rehabilitate public confidence following this fallout? It is often difficult to isolate the effects of public disapproval of specific incidents: for instance, how much did Katrina affect public approval of President G. W. Bush, given the other “missteps” that followed in the heels of Katrina?[2] Nevertheless, precipitous declines in public disapproval reduce legislative support for a president’s initiatives.[3] What may the President do to rehabilitate public confidence, particularly in a democratizing country where slowed or stalled reforms are hazardous to political, social, and economic developments?

Adapting from studies of credible apologies,[4] two processes are integral to this effort: (a) review and assessment by committees comprising non-government citizens; (b) reparations to the affected. The review and assessment makes clear that the President and his administration have a commitment towards transparency, accountability, and capacity-building, and the composition of these committees by non-government personnel is directly relevant to the government’s credibility. Reparations underscore the President’s vested, empathetic response that acknowledges the impact and devastation on lives and livelihood; this ability to relate often distinguishes good leaders from the rest.

The massive humanitarian aid to this disaster emphasizes the national and international efforts that have rallied to help with the tremendous tasks of recovery and rebuilding. In the face of such work, rebuilding of public confidence may be relegated as a natural offshoot of work to be accomplished or scuttled to the sidelines for at a later date. Hopefully, it is clear that purposeful rebuilding of the country and public confidence concurrently is more effective for short- and long-term stability and success.

5 thoughts on “The Philippines – Rehabilitating presidential confidence following a crisis

  1. Brian Cabana Ventura

    Perhaps another aspect that can be explored is how the government and the overall response to the devastation of the typhoon is shaped by the shadow of the 2016 presidential election. It became a venue for positioning and attributing blame to many actors, further complicating the relief efforts.

    Reply
    1. Fiona Yap Post author

      Yes, pending elections tend to exacerbate already difficult rehabilitation efforts of a crisis. A good question is: if crisis-rehabilitation is or becomes a venue for blame, do credible apologies increase or reduce the blame game?

      Reply
      1. Brian Cabana Ventura

        As far as I can recall, I may be wrong here, but there is no or very limited case of a disaster where there was an apology from the executive after admitting the failure to respond adequately. In other case where apology was expected by some groups, Aquino did not apologize either. The hostage crisis that resulted to the death of Hong Kong tourists is one case, and the maritime incident that resulted to the death of a Taiwanese fishermen is another case. Though I sense that once it occurs, it may have a dissipating effect. I can think of Arroyo’s apology for “lapse in judgement” when it was revealed in a taped conversation that she called an election officer concerning her votes. That apology seems to have given her the upper hand in defining the issue or at least how it was seen in the media.

        Reply
        1. Fiona Yap Post author

          To be clear, the concept of “credible apologies” builds on two processes: (a) review and assessment by committees comprising non-government citizens; (b) reparations to the affected. As a result of these processes, credible apologies are not usually transient: these credible apologies are captured in actual behavior, not just statements.

          Reply

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