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Joy Belmonte’s COVID-19 Response: An Exercise in Communication

In this time of Coronavirus, Filipinos in quarantine turn even more to social media, in an increased desire to be connected with each other. Now more than ever, proper communication is paramount, and a local executive learned that the hard way. Enter: Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte’s public relations nightmare. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve surely gotten a glimpse of how Belmonte’s COVID-19 response was the target of both hate and ridicule on social media.

You’ve seen the outrage and the memes. Netizens had a field day with Belmonte. But now, weeks into quarantine, things seem to have eased. A lot of new issues have gone viral since then. Is Mayor Joy finally in the clear? Let’s find out.

Part of the New Normal

Belmonte toying with the bulls-eye of public notoriety is a prime example of the fast-paced nature of social media in this new decade. And in a time of crisis, leaders around the globe are facing the same challenge of communicating effectively. This is part of the “new normal” as well – communicating on platforms where people are, and in the right way.

This article looks not at what Belmonte said wrong (which you probably already know or feel strongly about), but what she said right, and how she delivered it. It’s a brief case study on communicating in the time of COVID-19. Let this be a learning experience, not just for Mayor Joy, but all of us as well.

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The fall of Joy Belmonte

Faced with intense criticism from the onset of relief efforts, Mayor Joy snapped back at her critics with an emotional and ill-advised Facebook post. It include the now infamous words below:

“To those who hate me, you are under no obligation to accept any of my projects – housing, education, healthcare, social benefits. That means there will be more for those who truly have faith in me as their leader.”

Unsurprisingly, this drew the ire of her constituents, even extending to the general public.

The ensuing backlash was not kind to Mayor Joy. Granted that the pandemic caught everyone off-guard, the sheer size of Quezon City magnified her trouble mobilizing and extending relief to all those who needed it.

Take note, Quezon City’s population is bigger than the population of the second and third largest cities in NCR combined. Whatever the reason for the delay, it was more important for her constituents to hear words of support, not snarky comments.

Compounded with photos that circulated showing she branded the city’s health kits with her name, left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths.

Start of her redemption arc

Things started to look up, though. In arguably one of the best moves she’s made given her circumstances, Belmonte released a statement via Quezon City’s Official Facebook Page:

Official Statement from Mayor Joy Belmonte 3 April 2020Dear QC residents:As we end the third week of this enhanced…

Posted by Quezon City Government on Friday, April 3, 2020

“First, I sincerely apologize for losing my composure on social media. You are correct that all the projects implemented by the QC government belong to you, as they are funded by your taxes. When I was elected as Mayor, I was given the honor and privilege to serve all QC residents, regardless of political affiliation. Pero alam kong isang malaking pagkakamali na nakapag-post ako ng mga salitang taliwas dito. Inaamin ko po na nagkamali ako,” said Mayor Joy.

It’s always refreshing when a politician owes up to their mistake, with a promise to do better. She goes on to apologize for the branded health kits, saying that it was “highly insensitive given the circumstance.”

“When I reflect on these actions, I do not recognize the public servant that I aspire to be. The citizens of Quezon City deserve better. I will do better,” she said. She went on to explain some of the targeted fake news against her, setting the record straight.

The power of communication

What happened to Belmonte was a problem of bad communication, solved with better communication. It might be too early to tell, but people may at some point appreciate the intention behind her statements.

As of this writing, there are a total of 30,000+ reactions, 5,400+ comments, and 19,000 shares on the apology post. Most comments are positive. People seem to have accepted her apology, and continue to push her to do better and make good on those words.

It’s also good that the official Quezon City Page has been consistent with their updates. You can clearly see how many more relief efforts and initiatives the local government is doing. This consistency is valuable, because no one can now say that Mayor Joy is not doing anything.

You can argue that it might be because she got called out on social media. Yes, but, that doesn’t matter anymore. The important thing is, she owned up to her mistake. Many residents are now getting the help that they desperately need.

This case illustrates the power of communication in these times that we are living in. It is of course crucial for all of us to improve as communicators, but it’s even more important for our public servants. Now, it’s just a matter of Mayor Joy continuing to make good on her words.

Hopefully, we’ll remember this as a time that a public official finally listened to the words of the people, not just as another politician who gave us more empty promises.

RELATED: Vico Sotto’s COVID-19 Response: Pasig’s Finest

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