Leadership in a crisis

As the whole of the national capital region and neighboring provinces struggled to stay afloat on Tuesday (Aug. 20), the second day of the great deluge, I began seeing questions on Facebook and Twitter about the whereabouts of President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III.

From morning till evening, television networks broadcast footages of wide areas under water and rescue operations being undertaken by volunteers groups, the military and the police. On Monday, several towns and cities in Cavite, Pampanga and Bulacan were inundated, and it was basically each to its own for the LGUs in coping for the crisis.

The entire nation was shocked at the images that assaulted them on media, including the Internet, showing the magnitude of the floods. It was a scene never before seen in the country. In a word, “waterworld” became the common term to describe what had become of the affected areas. There was hardly any place which remained dry, as in not hit by floods. Even the business district, Makati City, submerged.

In the face of this calamity, the absence of the President on national television became more palpable. And this is what triggered a long thread of discussion on Twitter between Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte and several tweeps on the issue. One of those who tweeted quizzically was ABS-CBN reporter RG Cruz (@1RGCruz).

Valte tried to deflect the criticism on the President’s absence with her tweets. She said the President’s absence was not necessary because the agencies involved were doing his job. She got help from several tweeps. For two days, as the floods engulfed the national capital, the people didn’t catch a glimpse of the President, nor did they reassuring words from him

I insisted that a leader must be highly visible during a crisis. I got support from fellow blogger, Pastor Eyriche Cortez (@pastor_ey). But the defenders of P-Noy said the President would be criticized for being epal had he gone out on national media to assure the nation. Pastor Eyriche and I replied: that should have been the least of his worries.

Indeed, why is it that we want to see leaders at the forefront in times of crisis?

John Maxwell said: “A leader’s visible presence during times of crisis inspires confidence and gives others a sense of security.” It might be all about appearances, but in a crisis, that is all that matters. When two aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, New York city mayor Rudy Giuliani set the tone for how to deal with crisis by being on the ground immediately. He took command of the situation, and for the next several days, directed the crisis management team and taking time to console the families of the victims.

The bottom line is that leaders cannot afford to go ‘below radar’ when there is a crisis. He is the rallying point for rescue workers and victims alike. A 5-minute appearance on national television could have gone a long way to assuage the fears of the people. In his case, P-Noy showed up on the third day, and his report on the state of the calamity wasn’t even new. The time for comforting and consoling had long passed.

I watched TV Patrol interview the flood victims, and one of them remarked that the few minutes she had seen the President bolstered her hopes that things would be okay. It validated this view that leaders need to be visible in times of crisis. The President might not be able to stop the floods, but at least he can show the people he is doing all he could.

There was a quote attributed to the President on why he made himself scarce during those two days. He didn’t want, he said, to be blamed if things went wrong. “Kung pumalpak kasi, ako ang sisihin,” he said. What kind of a leadership statement is that? In a crisis, a wrong decision is better than no decision at all. That statement is a give-away on the lack of leadership on his part.

Time and again, it’s been said that it takes a crisis to reveal the character of a leader. P-Noy was tested by this crisis. Unfortunately, he miserably failed.Image

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

12 Responses to Leadership in a crisis

  1. I agree. Leaders are not born but revealed in crisis.


  2. R. B. RAMOS says:

    P-Noy has NO Leadership! Period! Did the same when there a Big Typhoon last year!


  3. Manny Gonzalez says:

    My questions is, are we really his Boss? Are we his priority? Time and time again, he has not been seen during Calamities. What would it take for him to show his support for us as many of our countrymen are suffering. Sometimes I wonder if we have to be a part of his Cabinet men for him to show some emotion. Remember when DILG Sec. Robredo’s plane crashed, he was right there overseeing the Search and Rescue up to the Retrieval operations the whole time, even spending overnight in the area just to on top of the situation. Fast forward to this week’s flooding, he was again ABSENT! Why El Presidente! You say you don’t want to be blamed if something goes wrong. That’s a lame excuse for the millions of people who voted for you. SHAME ON YOU MR. PRESIDENT!


    • Perhaps the President was afraid he would appear he is not in control. In the SAR for the late Secretary Robredo, and the Serena blast, the President knew he had a platform to project that image of a person in command. But against nature, he must suddenly have felt he was not up to the task and hid from public view. His own words betrayed the true character of the man. He was afraid of being blamed.
      The truth is people would not have faulted him for what happened. It was the fury of nature that our nation faced, and no President is mighty enough to tame it. What we wanted to see is a truly caring President who would seek to comfort the victims. Look at what happened. He’s now on the second day of visiting evacuation sites. Feeling guilty? The need for his visibility has really passed.


  4. rexsorza says:

    It is indeed a wonder why the President was not seen or even just heard while his people were being battered by nature. I, too, asked where was he because when the Serendra Blast happened, he was there in the blast site in just a couple of hours. Leaders must take control in times of crisis. To achieve this, he must be visible. The POTUS was immediately seen/heard when a catastrophe struck or was about to strike the Americans like in the case of hurricane Sandy. He was seen when it was imminent that violence might erupt after the Trayvon Martin verdict was announced, and he successfully rallied the people to respect the rule of law. His absence was another fumble by the team which I thought was already done with internship.


  5. Chuck says:

    Actually, I did not miss him. He is and was never our “leader” in the correct sense of the word. He is just a person who luckily won an election on the basis of name-recall.


  6. Did you watch President Aquino’s televised address on the pork barrel? Here’s a chief executive scrambling to appease an angry people. And he still thinks he can fool the people on the issue.


  7. Mags says:

    Giuliani was the Mayor of NY at the time of terrorist attack at the World Trade Center. Bush showed up on the 14th. Three days after the attack. Needless to say, the local Gov’t should have the initial presence and visibility in times of crisis and calamity followed by the President.
    You lambasted Pinoy in a gross attempt to distort the truth.


    • You’re right. It was New York City. But Pres. George Bush was quick to address the nation as soon as it was deemed safe for Air Force One to land. The floods didn’t just hit Manila or even Metro Manila. It’s devastation covered central and southern Luzon. Clearly it was a national disaster and Filipinos wondered where the President was during those moments.


      • Mags says:

        True, but don’t forget that Pres. Bush was grossly criticized as well for not excusing himself from a reading session with 2nd graders in Sarasota, FL after being told by one of his Secret Service of what just happened. This is a direct hit perpetrated by another human being, a terrorist attack that killed thousands, that should have render immediate action from him from that point on, but no he remained in the class and remained in the school to deliver a Speech. I have lived almost half o f my life in the Philippines, and every time there’s typhoon, storm, heavy rainfall that causes sever flooding, it was our Mayor or Governor (Local Government) and all his rescue team that were always there, honestly we don’t even try to find out or wonder what the hell the President was doing because we’re too busy trying to evacuate and was following directions from our Local Government. We would see and hear the “President” or his spokesperson on tv and radio urging Filipinos to be strong and magkapit bisig and pray and that was enough for us. I’d say no matter what, people will criticize, you can’t please everyone. And for those who voted for him, well..what else can you do but suck it up and hope to make a better choice of candidate next time.


      • Thank you for refreshing my memory. You’re right. President Bush was severely criticized for “freezing” during those crucial moments immediately after he was informed about the attacks. That’s the reason that instead of President Bush, it became Rudy Giuliano who became the symbol of leadership and hope in the face of the terrorist attacks against America. That’s what I mean about appearances being more important than anything else in a crisis. For two days as millions of Filipinos struggled to stay dry and endure hunger, the President of the Republic was nowhere to be seen or heard. It left the people wondering whether things were going to be okay.
        I did not castigate the President. I pointed out where he had fallen short. And I think the President’s actions after this issue came out illustrates he, too, agrees with the point I’m making. He tried to make up for it for two days in a row, and even bringing along his celebrity sister to cheer the people up.


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