The fallacy of attribution

MISREADINGS | Ted Aldwin E. OngThis newspaper run a story about Iloilo City Hall officials who submitted themselves for a drug test in a private clinic. It was unexpected, according to the city’s chief executive, and declared the effort as an exercise of “leadership by example” having no less than himself subjected to a drug test.

Just a little about a month ago, the Iloilo City Government kicked off in a fighting mood against illegal drugs trade by initiating a (anti) drug summit hailed as “Hublag Kontra Droga.” The local police leadership followed suit by taking a massive campaign against illegal drugs trade and reported an increased in accomplishment counting outcome from raids and surrenders.

Pushing the calendar background to a year ago, there was not much to be pointed out in reference to leadership by example by Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog. It was wanting, to say the least, in the local fight against illegal drugs, against corruption right at its own premises – the city hall involving ghost contractual employees – or the irregular transactions between the city government and its preferred private partners.

Take a look at the problem besetting the water contracting issue involving Holland Water; the construction of the City Mall under the Guimaras-Iloilo Ferry Terminal deal; the clamps; the overpriced traffic lights; city councilors under his team encroaching at enforcement of ordinances; unresolved problem of rotating power interruption, among others. People would ask, where is the city leader?

Leadership by example is a tricky claim especially if its pattern is not knitted together by consistency of position by a leader on an issue or on a range of issues. The fight against illegal drugs is a symbol of the Duterte administration which President Rodrigo Duterte carried out right from his campaign up to implementation. The campaign by the administration is being subjected to many factors measuring consistency, but at least it follows an initial timetable.

Here comes Mayor Mabilog riding with the tide in spite of the fact that the direction where it is heading is not of his determination, but by an elected President. Involving himself in the fight against illegal drugs trade puts him in serious trouble. The anxiety is obviously carved on his face and it can be easily recognized by his adversaries.

First, fighting illegal drugs trade is not a battle of his choice. While I could barely pinpoint what real battles Mayor Mabilog is competent with (with the exception perhaps with beautification) since he became chief executive in 2010 up to the present, fighting illegal drugs is not among those listed in the menu. So it magnifies his incompetence on the issue and his inability as a leader.

Without President Duterte, we will not see any drive, serious or otherwise, against illegal drugs at the local level. There was no real campaign against it from the end of Mayor Mabilog since 2010 or from the nine year administration of Jerry Trenas as former mayor. This problem would not have concretely gained stronghold if Trenas exercised intervention. But both are lazy leaders in fighting against illegal drugs and the next point will illustrate it.

Second, Mayor Mabilog is known to be allied with bigwigs in the illegal drugs trade in Iloilo, a claim he tried so desperately to detach himself. Trenas is lucky enough he is not in the limelight today. But knowing Iloilo City as a small community of friends and traitors, information moves without barriers and it helped reinforce public perception that illegal drugs trade is protected by people who holds political power, as such, the sale is tolerated and trading goes on without restriction from groups who control their respective turfs.

According to some insiders, the illegal drugs situation and the millions of pesos that goes into supporting elections and benefiting politicians demonstrate how narco-politics had become well rooted through the years. However, it did not establish itself under the Mabilog administration alone. Local government inaction and leniency was inherited from the Trenas administration and with a blessing also of another politician who had joined his creator.

This is not to mention the role of local PDEA in all of these and later on linking direct involvement of Mayor Mabilog’s close aide who is being pointed out as doing liaison work between him and the drug lord or lords.

The complexity of narco-politics poses a major challenge to Mayor Mabilog in his bid to ride with the tides under the Duterte administration’s drive against illegal drugs. His attempt to be relevant and be considered as one of the boys that can be relied upon at the local government level seems passing by without getting the needed attention by Malacanang.

Third, leadership by example is not about to start today for Mayor Mabilog. It would have been yesterday, or five years ago, or even beyond; because he served as city councilor and vice-mayor, respectively, before eventually becoming the mayor.

Under the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, fighting illegal drugs did not presented any real challenge for him. In fact, if ever Mar Roxas won the presidency, the dilemma that Mayor Mabilog is confronting today would not have been present and he might have been enjoying the benefits of business-as-usual.

But happy days does not end happy for many politicians, especially for those like Mayor Mabilog, who  can be shaken by real issues that endanger his political career and public image. His failure to separate himself from being a role player and beneficiary of illegal drugs money underpins public perception that his actions are superficial and insincere and that he lacks courage to ride with the tide by waging real battles in his home front and winning them.

Leadership by example is not bringing yourself to the clinic and have yourself tested. It is an attribution error which is distinguishable character of Mayor Mabilog. I pity him because people are not looking at the performer (him), but rather puts rate on the success based on performance.