Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte and her Crisis Response Strategy during the CoViD-19 Pandemic

Crisis management“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” (Warren Buffett, 2005).

 Mayor Joy Belmonte (Mayor Belmonte) received criticisms from netizens for supposedly being slow to act amid the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine.

The public perceives Mayor Belmonte unsatisfactorily handled the coronavirus disease (CoViD)-19 crisis.

She was the subject of hate, dislike, and hatred on social media during the pandemic.

Critics slammed her every statement as she tried to defeat chatters and to lash out haters on social media networks.

At one point, she lost her cool on social media after drawing flak from her constituents.

Under the fierce spotlight, the camp of Mayor Belmonte had not only to juggle with media relations but also with ample defense to the issues and explanation to the general public.

When a crisis involves reputation, the ability of Mayor Belmonte and her crisis management team to know and foresee the way to act and react to its different stakeholders is vital to maintain the communication levels meet their expectations.

Using Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) by Coombs (2007), this study analyses the case of Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte’s CoViD-19 Crisis and her crisis response strategy to address the situation.

The case study looks at the crisis communication of Quezon City on issues stemming from the CoViD 19 pandemic, mainly, the initial relief distribution and the public demonstration of residents of Sitio San Roque.

The SCCT provides a framework for the organization facing a different complex case of crisis to protect the reputational organization’s assets. The organization’s ability to select the most appropriate and beneficial response helps them deal with an emergency and crisis (Coombs, 2007).

Simultaneously, in this paper, SCCT was used to examine the stakeholder’s perceptions about the organization’s action and response by Mayor Belmonte on the crisis from 15 March 2020 onwards.

This paper concludes Mayor Belmonte did not follow the recommendations of SCCT by combining Deny, such as Attacks the Accuser, Deny and Scapegoat tactics, and Diminish strategies such as Excuse and Justice tactics, to respond to the wide variety of stakeholder’s group.

Mayor Belmonte’s crisis response strategies and tactics do not align with the SCCT. The theory recommends corrective action and response such as Rebuild as well as Bolstering strategies are “considered as the most effective communication of crisis response strategy when an organization perceived a strong attribution of crisis responsibility and results in a severe reputational threat” (Coombs, 2007).

By reviewing the situation that Mayor Belmonte faced, this paper concludes that she was under severe threat.

Mayor Belmonte’s CoViD-19 crisis is the preventable cluster based on the overall stakeholder’s perception of the crisis. It considered her primary, secondary, and additional stakeholders.

It depicted an organizational misdeed with and without injuries, and the appropriate responses to adapt to re-establish the organization’s reputation is a Rebuild strategy because interventions such as Compensation and Apology should work to improve the organization’s reputation.

Conversely, Mayor Belmonte chose to frequently employ Deny strategy (Attacks the Accuser and Scapegoat) and Diminish strategy (Excuse and Justice) to respond to various stakeholders.

Regarding the Apology response tactic, the apologetic expressions by Mayor Belmonte only came on 3 April 2020 through a press conference while crisis started on 15 March 2020 when she posted in her personal Facebook and Twitter accounts her message.

Such social media posts received many adverse reactions and triggered negative remarks from stakeholders.

Other wrong moves and series of blunders described in news outlets and social media sites followed through.

The apology could seem to be a sufficient crisis response strategy as one can predict the crisis. But said apology came after three (3) weeks.

Thus, by making an apology at the right time to all stakeholders’ groups, Mayor Belmonte could have cleared the media speculation and explain in detail the crisis to eliminate the pattern of the status quo.

In addition to the Apology response tactic, Compensation is an effective tactic to use anytime when victims suffer serious harm. Compensation and Apology represent the highly reconciling tactics that Coombs, 2007 suggests during a crisis with a severe threat.  Mayor Belmonte, in one instance, offered Compensation through the official statement released on Facebook on 1 April 2020.

Moreover, in connection with the Apology and Compensation response tactics, Reminder is an effective tactic that should have been used by Mayor Belmonte. The long list of her actions taken on the crisis show that Quezon City under her leadership was the first city in Metro Manila to declare a state of emergency amid the spread of CoViD-19 that allowed the city’s 142 barangays to access their Quick Response Fund.

Mayor Belmonte was also the first to take up the challenge of CoViD-19’s spread when on 29 February 2020, the Quezon City government had started training dozens of village health workers as local first responders in handling contagious illnesses like CoViD-19.

Other actions done were ahead of the ECQ declaration on 14 March 2020 to include the imposition of a 4-day work week, and a policy that prohibits mass gatherings such as sports events, beauty pageants, and fiesta celebrations as quarantine measures vs. CoViD-19 (13 March 2020).

Apart from intensifying contact tracing, the city government also converted empty establishments into isolation rooms on 13 March 2020.

The Reminder tactic is handy to show the good works of Mayor Belmonte and her political and public service history and record to every stakeholder. She won with a wide margin over her closest rival in the 2019 local elections. She was also a three-term Vice Mayor who received awards and recognitions from non-government organizations.

Moreover, additional tactics such as Ingratiation can help her in addressing the crisis.

Frequent praises to Quezon City’s team of officials, employees and volunteers by Mayor Belmonte as part of the Ingratiation tactic to thank her stakeholders with their help, sympathy, trust, and loyalty in her leadership could also bolster and support her crisis response strategies.

Apology and Reminder tactics represent the highly adaptive strategies to be used during the crisis that is under serious threat (Coombs, 2007). But Mayor Belmonte employed the right tactics late and seldom in the disaster.

Vital in managing a crisis is the crisis response strategy that must mirror a more prominent sympathy toward the stakeholders and assume more responsibility to the crisis.

However, Mayor Belmonte used Attacks the Accuser and Scapegoat tactics, which are not in line with the recommendation of SCCT to combining both primary and secondary response strategies to generate effective communication.

Mayor Belmonte focused on the Deny and Diminish strategies as her primary crisis response strategies.

The use of Deny and Diminish strategies were not productive and added salt to injury.

Instead of blaming others, Mayor Belmonte shall project she was also a victim of the crisis.

When there is a limited number of staff and volunteers, and there is an issue on the absorptive capacity of the local health and peace and order system, she and the LGU become the victim on the crisis.  Those statements refer to a situation where the LGU is part of the victim of a crisis, too. But the Victim tactic was seldom used as a response by Mayor Belmonte in this crisis.

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*Alexander T. Rosete, MA, teaches Crisis, Risk and Emergency Communication at the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication Graduate School and Holy Angel University Graduate School-Master in Communication Program.

His contact information is: 
Email: rosete.alex5976@gmail.com
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