WE count ourselves among those who welcome the fact that the Department of Interior and Local Government will finally have a regular and working department secretary who will sit in the president’s cabinet.
The assumption of the post, however, by former Armed Forces chief Eduardo Año as officer in charge, was a little too perfunctory and routinary for our taste. It did not match the strategic importance of the assignment. From the notes and themes sounded at the turnover ceremony, the occasion fell short of the public’s high expectations of the new DILG chief.
The outgoing acting secretary Catalino Cuy did most of the talking at the turnover, as the talk shifted to the fact that he will now takeover as the new Dangerous Drugs Board chairman. Two underlings spent their time extolling Cuy for his professionalism and quiet leadership.
Poor General Año was relegated to the sidelines. The general himself said very little. He did not deliver a speech that would signal the priorities and thrust of his leadership of the department. Instead, he opted to flatter his predecessor for leaving him “big shoes to fill.”
This is too self-effacing and low-key to take seriously. The nation expects more from the chief of one of the biggest and most influential departments of our executive branch.
The interior department includes under its fold the Philippine National Police (PNP), the National Police Commission (NPC), and the entire panoply of local government administration throughout the country.
The public also remembers the last two full-time interior secretaries—Manuel Roxas 2nd and Ismael Sueno—who both left office with less than laudable records.
Mr. Roxas left the DILG to run for president as the designated successor of former president Benigno Aquino 3rd, and he left behind a questionable record in law enforcement administration, as well as a dismal performance in handling the severe disaster and emergency inflicted by supertyphoon Yolanda in the Eastern Visayas (Region 8).
Mr. Sueno was fired by President Duterte on account of corruption allegations lodged against him by three of his undersecretaries.
Since Sueno’s departure, the DILG has been without a leader and chief executive for over a year.
In the meantime, the government launched its much-discussed war on illegal drugs, with the PNP as chief implementer. Scores of local government officials have been implicated or charged for complicity in the illegal drugs trade.
The government also fought for five months with Islamic jihadists for control of Marawi City, our premier Muslim city in Mindanao. Martial law has been declared in all of Mindanao.
These incidents have been supreme tests of the law enforcement capabilities of the government, as well as of the military’s preparedness to face down rebellion and aggression.
Clearly, the charge of a DILG secretary is a heavy one. A new appointee enters office conscious of the enormity of the challenge and the difficulties of his mission.
To his credit, Secretary Año enters his new office with a creditable record as a top military commander and as the former head of the nation’s armed forces. He is a man seasoned by years of service to the nation.
Mr. Año has by all indications the vision, the discipline and the dedication to perform well at the DILG.
Now, he must add to his credentials the skills and knowhow of a good politician and civil servant.