PNoy, Walden Bello and Constructive Criticism

When does one complain and when does one raise a constructive criticism? These are two different things.

This week, President Noynoy Aquino hit on Akbayan Representative Walden Bello for the latter's incessant complaining. The President is quoted in media saying:  

“He has a lot of complaints. If he thinks his visions are the right ones, he should try running in 2016. If he becomes president, he will be able to implement those visions."

I understand where the President is coming from. If you are working hard and doing your best to do what you think you need to do, the least thing you want to hear are complaints. You need support, you need to be cheered on, you need to be appreciated. And of course, you want to think that you deserve it.

Public service that is honest, committed and excellent is not appreciated as much as it should be. In fact, it is even disincentivized in the country at present. 

Honest, committed and excellent public servants continue to be lumped with corrupt and incompetent government officials, which is the more popular biased perception of the people (for reasons that are justifiable given the history of abuse of power in the country). While you get to be ostracized inside the government for going against the norm (which remains facilitative or tolerant of corruption), sometimes, you even end up getting framed to be the one who is corrupt and violating the rules.

Yet, such is the reality of public service. It serves a public that also has so many rooms to grow.

Feedback is a Given

In a democracy where public office is a public trust and where power emanates from the people, getting feedback on how government exercises its power from everywhere, anytime is a given. In fact, it is encouraged. Government is expected to respond and its response is expected to make it more efficient and effective. 

Finding out which feedback is valid and useful and which ones are not could be tricky. At the end of the day, decisions and actions will be made by those in government and in a truly democratic setting, ultimately, those in positions of authority will be accountable for the official decisions and actions of the government. Therefore, those in power must discern which feedback can help make their decisions and actions responsive, efficient and effective and which ones will get them into trouble with their supposed "bosses," the people.

Disempowered Feedback

The key difference betwen a complaint and a constructive criticism is where the source of the feedback is coming from. Those who raise complaints are usually those who are likely to be affected and who are pissed off, but have not done or are hardly doing anything about the issue they are complaining about--not even to understand it. They do not provide solutions or if they do, it is a solution that is close to impossible to achieve in the immediate terms. It is a disempowered feedback. 

Usually, complaints are made simply to express a sentiment or to cause tension and instability - the latter being motivated by vested interests, often than not.

Those who raise constructive criticisms are doing something about the issue that they are commenting on; or at least, they are giving their intelligent suggestions and informed recommendation on how the issue will be resolved. 

They raise their feedback from a position of empowerment and with the view of identifying what gaps must be addressed by whom so that the issue can be resolved. They can be as frustrated and disappointed as those who are merely complaining, but they know that their feedback, if responded to, can do resolve the problem at hand. 

In other words, track record and credential (or at the very least, a sound understanding of the issue) makes the difference between a complaint and a constructive criticism. This is also why often than not, constructive criticism is helpful and useful inputs to the decision-makers, while complaints are not. 

Furthermore, constructive cricism usually partakes of the accountability in the exercise of power. The resolution of the issue is a shared responsibility between the duty-bearers and the right-holders. Complaint is leaving all the accountability to the decision-makers, with the complainant being a mere expectator or a politically-motivated detractor.

Walden Bello's Feedback 

Walden Bello's track record and credential will speak for itself. He works hard for the issues he speaks strongly about: sovereignty issues (Visiting Forces Agreement and Philippines-China relations), rights of the OFWs, anti-corruption, agrarian reform, etc. He was, by and large, raising constructive criticisms. 

Calling for the resignation of some Cabinet officials might be a bit off what can be considered constructive criticism, in my humble opinion. I particularly do not agree with his call for the resignation of the the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Butch Abad. Cong. Bello has had good solid work on the other issues, but in my assessment, he has relatively limited track record on budget and financial management reforms. 

It would have been better if more extensive consultations with civil society groups, social movements and reform-oriented government officials involved in budget and financial management reforms, who are within the network of Cong. Bello, have been done before he made such a call for resignation. Nevertheless, though I do not agree with him on that call, I afford him that leeway. He has served this country well and he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Meanwhile, for the President to seemingly lump Cong. Walden Bello among those who are just incessantly raising complaints, but who are either doing nothing or are simply being nuisance is unfair and perhaps unnecessary. It also doesn't serve the President well because it might be misconstrued of not being discerning about which feedback is useful and helpful to him and which are not.

This President is, of course, known for being frank and honest. His supporters love him for that. I do too. No doubt that what he said about Cong. Bello was his honest and frank opinion, a feedback as well. 

Is the feedback of PNoy a mere complaint or a constructive criticism? That is a good question to answer too - perhaps by Cong. Walden Bello and his supporters. The President, after all, has given a very concrete suggestion: for Walden Bello to run for the presidency. By far, it is the closest to a presidential endorsement we heard. As a supporter of Cong. Bello remarked in reaction to the President's comment: "Bello for President? Why not?."