At 4:16am last Saturday, my phone received a text message from MMDA EDSA traffic chief Edison “Bong” Nebrija. He was trying to call my attention to a piece authored by one of our writers, the thought-provoking Frank Schuengel. In said article, Frank was basically saying that the agency’s most prominent personality should stop grandstanding on social media and “start delivering solutions.” He was referring to Nebrija’s polarizing Facebook posts that usually showed the latter’s daily “battles” with public-utility vehicle drivers, private motorists and even commuters.
That Nebrija sent me that message at an ungodly hour—and shared what was essentially a three-month-old editorial on his Facebook wall so his supporters could have a go at his German critic—tells me without a shadow of doubt that he was extremely upset by one man’s assessment of his performance. And I can understand him. It can be truly frustrating to give it your all (I think) and still fall short in the eyes of your detractors.
In trying to empathize with Nebrija on that day, I arrived at this question: Why do many people hate his perceived posturing on social media and yet everyone universally loves Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno for doing the same? They both go out there and perform their duties. They both document their day-to-day affairs and share these online. They both just want to be transparent (I suppose). So how come Nebrija is a joke to many, while Moreno is now being hailed as a future president of the republic?
The answer, I believe, lies in the approach and the execution.
Nebrija projects a tough-guy image; Moreno clearly makes an effort to appear sympathetic and approachable. Nebrija quarrels with whoever disagrees with him; Moreno gives the impression that he is constantly appealing to the other party. Nebrija often looks angry and seems to always rant; Moreno consistently sounds courteous, respectful and calm.
I just saw a video of the Manila mayor presenting to the media an arrested thief who had stolen the smartphone of a college student. Other local government officials could have taken the strongman route and punched the culprit for everyone’s entertainment and approval—and he would have gotten away with it (I remember former Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista as I type this). Instead, he simply narrated the facts of the case and even uttered a fatherly petition for all the delinquents in his city.
Of course, another huge factor in the difference in public perception between Nebrija and Moreno is the overall result of each one’s actions. The positive changes in Manila have been swift and nothing short of miraculous. The problems of EDSA, on the other hand, continue to linger (if not actually worsen with each passing day). One could argue in Nebrija’s behalf that the MMDA official is hopelessly attempting to slay a dragon and that his is a thankless job, and I wouldn’t contest that. But then, I am also pretty sure Moreno is dealing with one kaiju after another on a daily basis—a task so monumental he doesn’t have time to bicker with journalists—and he’s winning.
I’m not here to insist which approach is right and which one is wrong. Like I said, as long as we see the results, I don’t mind making social-media superstars out of our government officials. But you lie in the bed you make. Simple as that.