Buencamino writes political commentary for the NGO Action for Economic Reforms.This article was published in Business Mirror, December 21, 2005 edition, p. A10.

The NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) general manager, Alfonso Cusi, is in serious trouble.  And no, it’s not because he was identified in a Senate investigation as a bagman of Mike Arroyo. Cusi is in hot water because of an incident that happened at the NAIA presidential lounge two weeks prior to the said Senate hearing.

The contretemps occurred while Mrs. Gloria Arroyo was at the presidential lounge of the NAIA Centennial Terminal waiting to board a plane that would take her to the 13th APEC forum in South Korea. According to one newspaper, Mrs. Arroyo “noticed that the airport employees seemed to be ignoring her” so she turned to her airport manager, Cusi, and asked, “Why doesn’t your staff smile at me?”

Cusi was dumbstruck by Mrs. Arroyo’s question, coming as it did two weeks before the Social Weather Stations (SWS) could provide him with a ready answer. Had Mrs.

Arroyo asked the question after SWS published its fourth quarter survey, Cusi could have pointed out to her that NAIA was in Metro Manila where only 19 people out of a hundred feel like flashing her a smile.

Mrs. Arroyo’s nationwide net satisfaction ratings have been plummeting since her March 2004 peak of plus 30. She hit rock-bottom at minus 33 in May 2005.  In August, she bounced up 10 points to minus 23 before falling back to minus 30 in December.

The August bounce may have lifted Malacañang’s spirits, but if they thought it was the beginning of an upturn, they would have been fooling themselves. The August bounce was not a recovery. It was not even an aberration. It was a dead cat bounce, the kind of bounce that comes from a 63-story fall, from plus 30 to minus 33.

Nevertheless, December’s minus 30 is slightly better than May’s minus 33, so Mrs. Arroyo’s spokesman, Toting Bunye, gave it a positive spin. He said, “The economy is on a roll and political stability is firm. We understand that public sentiments may still be
affected by residual political turmoil but we are optimistic that the ratings have no other way to go but up.”

Honestly, every time I hear that kind of pep talk from Bunye, I am reminded of Bob Harris who said, “I think natural selection must have greatly rewarded the ability to reassure oneself in a crisis with complete bullshit.” But Bunye is different. He makes a living serving horse manure to the public, not to himself. So, instead of admitting his cat died from her 63-story fall, he insists it’s the opposition who died from her fall.

Bunye said, “We appeal to the members of the opposition to admit that they have been defeated. They have been given all the chance[s] to substantiate their allegations but they failed miserably in doing so.”

Still, we can’t prevent a truly creepy thought from crossing our mind: What if Bunye and Mrs. Arroyo really believe what they are saying?

That same creeper must have crawled on Cusi when Mrs. Arroyo asked him why NAIA employees were not smiling at her. Why else would he respond to her question with a memo ordering Joji Felix-Velarde, his “consultant for airport beautification,”  to train NAIA employees how to smile?

Cusi might turn out to be an unwitting hero. His practical approach may have preempted the little tyrant of the Pasig from mandating all of us to smile at a dead cat.