The reality of perception

Almost anything and everything is a matter of perception in this country. You might say that we all seem to indulge too much on perception games. Foreigners sometimes describe the Philippines as "The Land of Chismis." When rumors are spread about personalities or coup attempts, people believe it 90 percent of the time. The old P.T. Barnum maxim – You can fool most of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool people all of the time – seems to be reversed in this country. Here you can fool most of the people all of the time. In fact many years ago, a sociologist planted a rumor as a trial balloon to see how far it can go and evolve. When the rumor got back to him, it was embellished 100 times that he could hardly recognize it came from him. That is a classic story of humor, rumor, and perception.

This is the rather unfortunate predicament of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. No matter which way he goes, people will always put a motive behind what he does, whether good or bad. It’s a question of damned if he does and damned if doesn’t. In Tagalog – "Kaliwa’t Kanan Dedbol." Whether fairly or unfairly, the accusations against him are believed by most people. The best thing for Mike at this point is to clear himself of these jueteng allegations and then just drop out of sight. He did this during the elections and it worked. It is a far better proposition for him because as the old saying goes, "Out of sight, out of mind."

As for GMA – trying to project a persona she is not simply isn’t going to work. Being the daughter of a former President, the perception is she grew up differently from the rest of the natives. No matter how hard she tries, she can never act like a real native. Being the First Daughter at that time and a favorite of her father, she inevitably was perceived to have the temper of a spoiled brat. Being the President, she could now use that temper to her advantage. Instead of assuming different personas in an attempt to please everybody, she should just be herself and focus on what has to be done. If she appears harsh to the lazy, the corrupt, and the incompetent – that’s well and good.

Being in the limelight, you can expect people to scrutinize anything and everything you do including the way you dress. The classic photo of Mike Arroyo in Boracay this summer which came out in the Philippine STAR and some foreign publications just didn’t do him any good. Some people said even if it was an Armani swimsuit, it just didn’t fit. On the other hand, GMA should always look presidential for the aura. What you wear plays a major role in the perception game. Sometimes, how you dress is how people perceive you to be. That’s just the way it is.

In Public Relations, perception is reality. The President shouldn’t expect any PR miracles with all the hullabaloo over PR firms and the media helping her with an image makeover. The people’s perception of her is directly determined by her credibility. She should just be her normal straightforward and tempestuous self because at this point in time people are looking for decisive leadership. Remember the "Isang bala ka lang" persona that GMA was trying to project – if that was the kind of image she wanted – she should have stuck with it all the way. But when she shifted to "Ina ng Bayan" people got confused. Ultimately, this confusion leads to the question - What’s the message of the Strong Republic? For example, if we really want to curb the rising criminality then you commute death sentences, what does that leave us to conclude? A lot of people don’t particularly like George W. Bush but at least he is consistent and decisive. When he was Texas Governor, George W. Bush executed the most number of criminals than all other governors combined. Machiavelli’s advice in The Prince applies to most leaders: "It is better to be feared than to be loved." Seeing how the Borgias benefited from Machiavelli, GMA should heed this Renaissance strategist’s advice. Heck, she is no longer running for reelection anyway.

At the MOPC Defense Night the other night, Defense Sec. Nonong Cruz impressed a lot of people. Consequently, people perceive him as articulate, straightforward, and knows exactly what needs to be done. Listening to his presentation of the 18-year Philippine Defense Reform (PDR) Program, I was struck with his statement that his program will make the AFP ready by 2010 which happens to be a presidential election year. Ready for what? So I asked him if he had plans to run for president. Naturally, he denied it. But that is how they all start. It’s a long way to go so anything can happen. Secretary Cruz seems to have all the ingredients to make him president mainly because he is young, sharp, and focused. He has a bright future ahead of him.

As Biznews’ Tony Lopez pointed out, there have been only two defense secretaries who became president. One was Ramon Magsaysay and the other was Fidel V. Ramos. But as Tony said, "There were other defense secretaries like Juan Ponce Enrile who toppled a president and another one, Fortunato Abat who is still trying to topple a president." As I have always said many times before, the Presidency is really a matter of destiny and Nonong Cruz could be destined for the Presidency. Most people are looking for young people like Nonong as a symbol of an emerging generation of political leaders. For whatever it is worth, Secretary Cruz is well-liked by the Americans. US military officers who have met him were impressed with his grasp and focus on the job.

To thrive and to win in anything, mastering the game of perception is basic. FVR was one such master. To his credit, the country achieved a measure of prosperity. Our booming economy then was able to project itself as a cub that was ready to be a tiger. Thus, people remember his term as a period of economic surge that was tempered by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Toward the end of his term, however, his Cha-Cha initiatives created the perception that he wanted to perpetuate himself in power like his cousin. So whatever gains he netted from economic performance and relative peace and order were somehow diminished by the financial crisis and his dancing the Cha-Cha.

Mike Arroyo has been largely defined in the public’s mind by the Jose Pidal accusation. Somehow this name has stuck to him no matter how much he tries to change his image with his legions of PR boys and all sorts of charity work to counter it. For him, the better part of valor is to be invisible. He will always be a moving target and as far as the Opposition is concerned, he’s the "Bull’s Eye." Perception is indeed 90 percent of the game. What’s worse, in the Philippines - perception is reality.
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E-mail: babeseyeview@hotmail.com

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