[Published Feb. 18, 2016]
THE Aquino administration knows no other way to manage and do things than by patronage and cronyism. Every time there is an appointment to be made, Aquino turns to a crony. Every time there is a government contract to be awarded, he picks a crony. And when there is a dangerous operation to be launched, he picks a crony.
This is the valedictory insight of Reader Hector as he said farewell, before decamping for Singapore after a spell of working and living with us.
Hector, whom readers will remember as the author of “The Philippines is an Onion” said glumly and cheerfully, “I am thankful that I will soon be uplifted by the 1st world standards and values of Singapore, rather than depressed by the 3rd world myopia and self-interest which permeates the Philippines.”
This is a pity, because Hector has been lending his time and knowhow to the critical and constructive analysis of what is really ailing the Philippines and what is stopping us from realizing our potential for dynamism in the global economy.
He says in frustration that from what he has seen, we are “a nation of takers, not creators.” Too many people make too much money without effort, or without making any real contribution, in this country. We are now a nation controlled by oligarchs and dynasts.
In his critique of cronyism under Aquino, Hector says that among its most pernicious results are greater poverty and inequality in our society, because it stunts meritocracy from taking root and condemns national life to mediocrity.
SSS as den of patronage and cronyism
Significantly, he pointed to the Social Security System (SSS) as a den of patronage and cronyism.
He used to be a trustee of a large corporate pension fund, so he is familiar with the kind of expertise required for managing and administering a massive pension system like the SSS. He presumed that SSS must have experts in its executive positions.
When he got hold of a list of the annual salaries and compensation of SSS executives (see chart), his attention was immediately drawn to the name of Eliza Bettina Antonino because she is being paid the most – P6 million pesos a year. And it’s only a part-time job for her.
Although she is just an SSS commissioner, Ms. Antonino’s salary exceeds that of the board chairman Juan Santos and SSS president Emilio de Quiros. It seems gallant of them to take less money than the young lady. But it’s not gallantry at all; they are just bowing to the wishes of the people who placed them in the SSS.
The questions now being raised, within the system and in corporate boardrooms, are: Is Ms. Antonino an expert in actuarial science? Does she have a Wharton MBA, Wharton being famous for the training of finance managers and executives?
Through routinary sleuthing and research, Hector learned that Ms. Antonino is a graduate in HRM (hotel and restaurant management) and was an intern at Four Seasons Hotel. From out of the blue, at the young age of 30, she was appointed as a commissioner of the SSS, and then in short order she landed on the boards of Philex and Union Bank, to represent the pension fund.
How did Ms. Antonino get her SSS appointment? Who recommended her?
This is where the story gets sticky and potentially messy. Before 2010, according to Hector, Ms. Antonino worked as an administrator for Mar Roxas, who now aspires to become the next president of the Philippines.
Ms. Antonino’s good fortune and career is emblematic of the policy of patronage and cronyism of the Aquino presidency, which makes appointments purely on the basis of friendship, kinship, and class association at the Ateneo.
No school has benefited more from the Aquino presidency than the Ateneo. If there are individual cronies, there is now also a crony school. No citizens have been the recipient of more spoils than Aquino’s classmates, as the tracing of connections has stretched all the way to grade school, high school and college. Only kindergarten was excluded, because his classmates there were girls.
A preview of how Roxas will lead?
Ms. Antonino’s appointment to the SSS cannot be laid at Aquino’s door. It is more likely that Mar Roxas was chiefly responsible for her appointment and meteoric rise at the SSS.
Top officials of the SSS are cohorts of Roxas in the Hyatt 10 conspiracy against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The setup was envisioned from the beginning when the group wormed their way into the inner circle of the Aquino presidency, taking all the plum finance positions in the Cabinet like finance and budget, and all the huge government and financial corporations like the SSS, the GSIS, the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and others.
Hyatt 10 was like an octopus, and no one spread its tentacles more widely than Roxas and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
From the beginning, Abad, who fancies himself as a political strategist, and Roxas, who feels entitled to be the successor of Aquino, had a game plan of commandering taxpayers money to finance Roxas’ march to the presidency. The details of the scheme are finally unfolding as the election campaign has gotten under way.
To return to the subject of SSS patronage and cronyism, the connections of Ms. Antonino were so good, she got her mother appointed by President Aquino as chairperson of the Mindanao Development Authority.
Now, we must wonder whether with Ms. Antonino’s story, we are getting a preview of how Mar Roxas will lead, and how power will be exercised to benefit friends and family.