How to reduce or escalate disaster damage
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-07-01
Many feared that fishes from the disaster area in Romblon may have been feeding on dead bodies. The truth is – the politicians and other similar predators in the country were the ones who went on a feeding frenzy.

Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) and her coterie of junketing public officials feared public scorn for being away during the calamity. GMA immediately embarked on her trademark histrionics, berating the Coast Guard for not preventing the ferry from sailing. She then conducted a series of teleconferences to project total control.

Speaker Prospero C. Nograles chimed in, saying licenses of shipping lines, which are considered as recidivists in terms of sea disaster records should be cancelled and negligent public officials sacked.

Senate Majority Leader and Independent senator Kiko Pangilinan assailed Sulpicio Lines for being callous and interested only in securing information about their expensive vessel.

Greenpeace even hastily inserted itself into the picture, blaming Bayer for manufacturing the crop pesticide Endosulfan which was loaded on the ship. It turns out that Bayer had stopped manufacturing the chemical decades ago.

Thanks to the miserable lack of maritime transportation in this country and the wrong sense of priority of this government, people are forced to take Sulpicio Lines and other sub-standard sea craft.

When all the anger and cries of the families of victims subside, expect things to be forgotten. Somehow, Sulpicio must have realized that it is only a ‘money’ thing and all will be back to normal.

Something tells me that corruption economics will somehow win in the end. The Sulpicio Lines management line of thinking must have gone this way:

1. Sulpicio Lines will spend more if it tried to bribe the judge.

2. If the victims sued, lawyers will surely end up pocketing most of the money.

3. So, maybe, the victims will be happy with P200,000.

After all, if poor people queue up in the hot sun just to get cheaper rice, if low electricity users don’t mind lining up for the P500 one-time subsidy, then most likely they will accept P200,000! What else can they do?

Some PR advisers may have suggested that presenting a sympathetic-looking spokesperson or going through the motions of showing grief would make the difference. From experience we know that despite GMA’s attempts to project herself as kind, sympathetic, penitent and upright — her popularity rating kept plummeting. This ploy just won’t work if one is not credible.

And credibility is what Sulpicio Lines doesn’t have. Credibility is not bought, it is earned. You become credible only when people believe you are sincere and when you have endeared yourself through goodwill points over time. It is important to build a good reputation now than to end up trying to repair a bad one later.

We have seen this principle working in the case of the Glorietta bombing. Ayala Land’s Fernando Zobel visited the injured in hospitals and gave his personal condolences to families of the victims, sans fanfare and PR spins. The families of the victims were given more than what the law required — cash assistance of P1 million plus assurances of rental income from a donated residential property. All of them got the same amount, regardless of income profile.

The GMA regime may continue to insist on their theories surrounding the Glorietta bombing — blaming mall administrators for negligence and insisting on methane gas as the cause of the explosion. But Ayala Land will survive all that because it is an entity that has endeared itself even to those adversely affected.

Despite corruption economics, which assures continuity even for the unconscionably inept, it would still be good to take note of these crisis management and crisis communications principles which I sourced from long-time Business writer and editor, now PR practitioner, Carol E. Espiritu:

Communicate at once and with regularity. The first few hours is critical in shaping perceptions and encourage more accurate media coverage. It tells people you are open and transparent. Provide frequent updates — this will prevent media from filling the vacuum with other sources of information. Welcome media to a designated place in your office.

Be ahead and announce the bad news first. Anticipate anything, including possible allegations and prepare backgrounders and fact sheets. Announce the bad news first and do not wait for others to do so. Be the source of verifiable information.

Get all the bad news out all at once. If Sulpicio knew about the Endosulfan cargo, it should have gone forward to include this among the other bad news. This will somehow show that the company does not wish to hide anything, can be trusted and therefore believed.

Clean up after the mess. Without doing a witch-hunt, do a post-mortem to find out what happened and apply these lessons next time. It is this last principle where Sulpicio erred fatally. After a string of similar sea disasters involving its vessels, it should by now have evolved better ways of running things.

People always have a choice whether to reduce or escalate the damage they will suffer during a disaster.

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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