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Losing trust

We all want to be trusted by the people in our lives. Equally important, we want to be able to trust those same people that are around us. Having said that, we also expect to be given the benefit of the doubt, sort of like “presumed innocent until proven guilty”.

But we also are fully aware of something American humorist and famous newspaper columnist Will Rogers wrote in 1930: “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute”. The same is true of trust.

The reality is that the closer and longer the relationship, the consequences of losing someone’s trust can be flexible. An employee who has been with the company for a long time is usually not fired simply on the suspicion of wrongdoing. A marriage can withstand repeated failures of trust as long as those failures are not substantial or frequent.

Political leaders face the same situation in their relationship with the people. No person can be elected to public office by a plurality of the voters without being trusted. The people expect their trust to be respected and are always watching. But they always give their leaders the benefit of the doubt…up to a point.

Looking back, there is almost always a turning point when trust begins to deteriorate. The presidency of George W. Bush was never the same when it was finally concluded that there were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq. Hillary Clinton’s trust rating peaked in December 2012 but continued a downtrend to the lowest in her public life, primarily as a result of loss of confidence in her handling of the 2012 attack and killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi, Libya. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s trust rating never recovered to a net positive after the revelations in the “Hello Garci” scandal.

President Duterte has had the majority of the people at his back since the beginning of his war against illegal drugs. Even while sometimes expressing great apprehension at the methods used and, more specifically, the conduct of the police, strong support has been reasonably consistent during the past year.

The shooting to death by the police of Kian Loyd Delos Santos may be the turning point in the people’s trust of Duterte and his policies.

Malacañang better realize very quickly that a failure of trust about the war on drugs will negatively affect the public’s view about all of the president’s initiatives, from foreign policy to local transportation. A lack of trust in a person is not confined to the immediate matter at hand. If a company cannot trust an executive about a small expense account item, can it trust that same person not to reveal trade secrets?

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto C. Abella, describing the killing as an “isolated” incident, is, perhaps, the weakest possible answer to this potential crisis of trust and confidence. The next few days and weeks, as the investigation into the killing continues, may well determine what the next five years of the relationship between the President and the people will be and whether his presidency will be a success.

The President and his advisors are at a crossroads. Any indication of a lack of transparency in the investigation or attempts to diminish the seriousness of this potential crime will be met with increasing outrage. Someone once said, “Trust is like a vase. Once it is broken, though you can fix it, the vase will never be the same again”.

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