Did Lacson climb the wrong wall?


Speaking on the importance of vision and doing the right thing, Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist, lecturer and author (The Hero of a Thousand Faces, The Power of Myth), once observed that lots of people spend their lives climbing a ladder and then they get to the top of the wrong wall. In most losing organizations, their leaders accomplish the wrong things efficiently. They climb the wrong wall.

I gravely fear that this has happened to the much-criticized government response to super typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, at the height of its landfall and in the relief, recovery and rehabilitation effort afterwards. And this may explain the quizzical saga of former senator Panfilo Lacson, who was appointed first as rehabilitation czar and then as presidential adviser.

Chaotic government response
Before Haiyan hit land, President Aquino bragged on national TV about how the government had prepositioned planes, ships and relief supplies to cope with the typhoon. These did not materialize.

Government sent DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to lead in preparing the region for the typhoon. But horror of horrors, they forgot to bring along someone from PAGASA to apprise them on the latest info on the cyclone. Just as bad, they forgot to bring along satellite phones. When the typhoon hit, the pair wound up scampering to save themselves. Gazmin lost his diabetes medications, and had to bail for Cebu to get back to Manila. Roxas was left behind to face the extent of the devastation, and then made history in interacting with the people and leaders of Tacloban and Leyte.

When the time came for dealing with the formidable challenge of coping with the devastation and the humanitarian crisis emerging from the wreckage, President Aquino assigned people who were ill-equipped and ill-prepared to manage and lead the recovery and rehabilitation effort.

First, Dinky Soliman was designated as the chief coordinator of relief and custodian of donations, especially those in kind. She proved to be in over her head. She hoarded relief goods in Manila and Cebu; much of the stuff wound up rotting and looted. She and her group could not account for the massive relief that poured in.

Second, energy secretary Jericho Petilla, being previously a three-term governor of Leyte, was placed in charge of restoring power in Tacloban and the region. Right off the bat, he boasted that electricity would be restored by Christmas eve 2013, or he would resign. He could not meet his self-imposed deadline; consequently he had to tender his resignation. Aquino graciously declined to accept it.

Third, public works and highways secetary Rogelio Singson, for an inexplicable reason, was designated as the man in charge of building bunkhouses for the thousands of typhoon victims and survivors who lost their homes. Singson, who is not a civil engineer, wound up producing bunkhouses that could not meet international specifications.

Fourth and finally, the president named former senator Panfilo Lacson as the person-in-charge of recovery and rehabilitation in the davastated region, at first even giving him the extravagant title of czar. Known for his no-nonsense record as a policeman and senator, Lacson became the man to face down Yolanda/Haiyan head on.
Mismatch between czar and challenge
The row that has ensued between rehab czar Panfilo Lacson and People Surge, and between Lacson and Mayor Romualdezo of Tacloban, I suspect, could be a case of Lacson climbing the wrong wall.

Lacson’s appointment as rehab czar was a mismatch from the beginning. The job called for a builder and developer. Lacson by background is mainly a policeman (as former chief of the National Police) and politician (as a two-term senator).

Upon appointment, Lacson’s first pledge was to ensure that money for relief, recovery and rehabilitation would not be lost to graft. He would guard the money like a Doberman.

This orientation may have proven to be his limitation.

He began his work with a big title, but he had no office, budget and authority to start with. All the authority and money was lodged in the hands of Roxas and cabinet clusters.

In these circumstances, Lacson began the painstaking work of designing the plan and program for East Visayas’ recovery and rehabilitation. As weeks turned into months without a plan and budget being presented and approved, the nation began to worry that Lacson would not be able to get the job done.

When typhoon victims grumbled and began to voice their protest, the policeman in Lacson rose to the fore. He charged that the protesting victims/survivors were being manipulated by communist agitators. Later he would accuse local officials, like Mayor Romualdez, of funding the protest action on the eve of the first anniversary

The comprehensive rehabilitation plan was finally completed in July this year and submitted to the President. But Aquino, on the excuse that there were no timelines for completing projects in the plan, took his time in approving it. He only signed it one week before the anniversary of the disaster.

In the same spirit as controlling the protests, Lacson also promised action in policing the disaster funds, but this has produced mixed results.

President Aquino himself has acknowledged that the government is having difficulty in tracking down and accounting for all the funds donated by foreign countries, organizations and individuals to assist in recovery and rehabilitation. On this Lacson has no report.

Tacloban residents also have a legitimate gripe in saying that Lacson and his plan have not said a word on whether and when the marooned ships in Tacloban (I have counted 7) will be removed so that the rehabilitation of the city can proceed at full speed. When, they are asking, will the dead Taclobanons underneath the ships’ hulls finally see the light of day to receive a proper burial.

I think when Lacson turned his attention to red-baiting as a way to control the protest (and prevent militants from exploiting the situation) and to railing against prospective graft, he climbed the wrong wall, and he was consequently diverted from the more essential tasks before him.

People Surge statement
When Yolanda survivors through People Surge called for Lacson to be declared persona non grata in their region, they made a compelling case. They issued the following statement:

“Was Panfilo Lacson hired as Rehabilitation Czar purely to discredit and vilify our legitimate grievances and demands for genuine people-centered rehabilitation as Yolanda survivors?

“This is certainly the only thing he has been doing during his stint.

“Lacson is continuously spinning a crackpot’s tale that much rehabilitation funds have already been poured into Tacloban, and that the crisis of criminal negligence is a mere isolated case in Tacloban — that it is nothing but an extension of the political clash between Aquino and the Romualdezes. He has gone as far as claiming that our 20,000-strong protest last Nov. 7 to 8 calling for Aquino’s ouster was a mere hakot (paid ) crowd by the Romualdezes from Samar.

“We do not need a rehabilitation czar who knows nothing about the Yolanda survivors’ plight. We especially do not need a rehab czar who has called us bellyachers, paid protesters, and even enemies of the state. Lacson must be banned from ever setting foot in our region: give us a rehabilitation czar instead who actually knows his job!”

Despite Lacson’s embattlement, the Palace has been quick to come to his aid; deputy spokesman Abigail Valte declared that he enjoys the full confidence and trust of President Aquino.

No vision or mission statement
In all the recriminations that have arisen from the contentious anniversary observance, it is apparent that all this is due to the fact that Lacson took up his assignment without a clear idea of his assignment, his authority and his mission.

To do the right thing, Lacson needed to have a clear idea of where he was to go.

To paraphrase Warren Bennis on this point: You have to begin with an encompassing vision for your organization. This is why organizations usually begin work with a vision statement or a mission statement.

Lacson did not prepare one. It was a mission that had nowhere to go. No wonder he climbed the wrong wall.

The bigger problem for us now is whether there is a match between the plan prepared by Secretary Lacson and the real situation in Tacloban and East Visayas.



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  1. Mr. Yen Makabenta’s article is very enlightening and well researched! I am one of the blessed TACLOBANONS that survived ST Yolanda! Thanks and all glory be to God our Heavenly Father! Although 2 of my family, my sister in law and niece died and the former until now has not yet been recovered, I believe Tacloban’s rehabilitation and rebuilding has not officially taken off! Why I said that? President Aquino wrongly, or maybe intentionally, appointed a policeman, who has a murder case records, qualified as a hitman, but never an inch a builder much more a rehabilitator of so huge a natural calamity such as STYolanda/Haiyan! He was able to convince Pres. Aquino to sign the master plan and its budget just few days before the First Anniversary of ST Yolanda in Eastern Visayas specifically in Leyte and Samar. And immediately after the celebration of the First Anniversary, Lacson the so called trusted czar of the president lambasted, finger-pointed, blamed and accused the mayor of Tacloban, Alfred Romualdez, of lying, rally supporting, slow disaster responding, etc. to the point of insulting the Taclobanons for being the only people who protested against the action of the National Government headed by no less the Aquino’s, the arch-enemy of the Marcoses! Then after Mayor Alfred clarified/aired his side in ANC, and called for Lacson to resign his post as rehabilitation czar, the latter requested all concerned to stop politicking instead cooperate in the rehabilitation and rebuilding the Yolanda victims and survivors’ lives, properties and livelihood! For the first place who started what? First it was Mar Roxas, then Soliman and now Lacson, all President Aquino appointed men and woman who instead of truly concentrating in the right directions (matuwid na daan) circumvented the assistance materially and financially to all Yolanda survivors! If I mentioned them here I need a whole book to write. To cut this short, I wish, pray and hope President Aquino replaced the three!

  2. the appointment of Ping Lacson as a Rehabilitation Czar is a misnomer. Ping Lacson was a senator and Chief PNP before. His being a Czar on Yolanda/Haiyan rehabilitation is only a term. that’s the reason why he made a complain that he’s been made as a Superman without power. He realized that he is only been used but there’s nothing he can do as his designation on the job is necessary so he becomes busy. He is appointed as a frontman of the president as a receiver of complaint of the people of Tacloban as it is already in their mind to make the situation difficult for the taclobanons as they consider the place as a political opponents. So Mr. Ping Lacson is only a punching bag, protector and spokeman of the Pinoy administration.

  3. Little gas been done expect public pronouncements and thanks to the donors.. While victims continue to struggle for daily existence our leaders have billions at their disposal wasting the money on overpriced and unnecessary projects. The world sees the indifference and apathy of our leaders. Their incompetence precedes their title.

    • The wealthy and so called business leaders should be more vocal about the plight of the Yolanda victims, the poor , the jobless, and the oppressed . The incompetence and the waste of resources is all around us.. They better be careful because the pot is boiling and thise who have ….have the most to lose.

  4. Eliseo Jr. P.Tenza on

    As Yen Makabenta said, Lacson was not the right person, for the job. His qualification is not for rehabilitation of tacloban.
    The rehabilation of Tacloban should have been treated like a development project, where a Project director, whose qualification should be either an Architect, an Engineer or a property developer, should have been appointed. The Project Director should then build his team of Planners, and engineers. They would then do the Master Planning.
    As usual most of the Cabinet members qualification is different from their assignments.

  5. Kung ang Leyte ay hindi Romualdez balwarte tiyak si Pnoy at mga alipores ay may maayos na diskarte para sa mga mamamayan ng Leyte. Gustohin man ni Lacson na isakatuparan ang ang mandato o hinihingi ng kanyang pagiging Czar, wala naman siyang sapat na kaalamam at kapangyarihan –technical at logistics– na ibinigay si Pnoy. Masasabing ginamit lamang siyang sangkalan ng Malacanan at taga-salu ng sisi na ngayo’y ibinabato ng mga victima ni yolanda.

  6. Yen, perhaps enough have been said about Ping Lacson’s assignment to coordinate, or whatever function he should cover in the project. There was a mention of Gordon and Bayani Fernando. No, sir! PNoy would not, in our wildest dream appoint them to do the job. They’re both “no nonsense” guys who can surely deliver the services needed. PNoy had succumbed to many mistakes and temptations, but would dare not to the idea of letting the two of Dick and Bayani undertake the doable job. He had no desire to let others rob him of his imagined “power”, “excellence”, “foresight”, or what have you. May kasabihan tayo, Yen, “Lintik lang ang walang ganti”. Hindi ko sinisisi ang Dios, o ang kalikasan sa nangyaring salantang dulot ng Yolanda/Haiyan, sapagkat ang dapat managot ay ang inutil na Pamahalaang Aquino na walang ginawa kundi ang humanap ng butas na maisisisi sa kanyang perceived or alleged political enemies – iyan ang totoo:walang labis, walang kulang, period.

  7. Tacloban City was programmed by Pnoy and the Petillas to deteriorate and be destructed so that Palo, Leyte will reign supreme. Haiyan/Yolanda was their convenient excuse and Panfilo was their right person in the disinformation campaign. There was never a desire in Pnoy and his lapdogs, the Petillas, to help Tacloban. As much as possible, they would want to erase Tacloban from the map of the Philippines. Congress, another lapdog, should pass a law integrating Tacloban with Palo, Leyte to form one political entity to be known as Palo City. Barangay na lang ang Tacloban. Dyan magiging maligaya sila. Pinoy and the Petillas will get what they want which primarily is the disappearance of the Romualdez family as a political enemy.

  8. Leodegardo Pruna on

    Well said. Let us look forward to P-Noy and his czars finally use the right ladder to climb the right wall. Touting is not what the survivors need at this time. God bless the Philippines.

  9. marlon alejandro on

    umpisa palang palpak na, ano klasing posisyon walang opisina. ano sya beds spacer? wala talaga sero, naturingang hari pero walang kaharian. sino kayang tao ang magaling maging presidente? parang wala yata. puro porma lang walang will.sayang lang boto ko hmmmp. buti pa kaya vote trillanes for president baka may political will na to.

  10. Lacson was appointed Czar to FAIL so that he will be the escapegoat of Pnoy in failure to rehabilitate Tacloban! His office has no power or authority to direct any agency to perform job it wants to do and have no funds to be used for the rehab. All Lacson has been delegated to do is to plan the strategy of rehab. Lacson is not an expert in crises or disaster management and no engineering talent when, what and how to rebuild a community! Now Lacson serves his purpose of defending Pnoy against the protest and complaints of the local officials and inhabitants of a Tacloban, like the Romualdezes. On the other side, Pnoy who is supposed to lead the rehab of Tacloban has been elusive to be seen and hear the victims complaints. Pnoy is so insensitive and a devil-may-care leader who leaves the victims to his political enemies charge. Pnoy often says”buhay pa naman kayo” so the delay does not affect you victims at all. ” bahala na kayo sa buhay Ninyo” after all your local officials have been helped by the national govt yet they still complain. Pnoy is so inhumane and is the lowest form of human being for not moving fast enough to help the Yolanda typhoon victims!

  11. PNoy upon his tract record made several errors in his apointment of cabinet members. One of this was appointing Lacson Calamity Rehab Czar. Upon his appointment, I made a comment that he is a square peg and cannot effectively function as such since the job needs a unifier, peacemaker and most of all a builder. The job requires an acumen to rebuild not only physical structure but psychological as well. The trauma experienced by the survivors was so big and undendurable which need therefore a caring person. Lacson is noted to destroy human lives, physically and spiritually. Why PNoy appointed him defines his character as president who does not properly discern all aspects of decision-making. That’s a character of a mediocre leader. Now, it has been proven to be right. In an effort to justify PNoy’s wrong judgement, Lacson is riding on the communist gambit and of course, PNoy will publicly support him for all his twisted arguments and imagined accomplishments in a lame effort to buttress and sand-bag his performance. For all of these, the world is watching our chaotic and mismanaged rehabilitation efforts and incidentally displaying our immaturity as a nation.

  12. victor m. hernandez on

    While we are still at it, feeding the people in the Yolanda/Haiyan stricken area must be a continuing task for the government, and donors, local and international. It is a devastation considered to be an International Humanitarian case. All the 11 basic needs of man are gone (food, housing, and clothing. Livelihood, livelihood, work-employment, etc.) Therefore, feeding must continue, while the plan to Build Back Better is done, and the actual rebuilding is actually done.

  13. I also see you & others mention the bible, that also never fails to make me laugh. So i ask you is it god punnishing you for your evil deeds or ways in this country or is it the devil at work or is it just a natural disaster that neither god nor the devil has any control over. I would love to see different answers on that. I know where i clearly stand on that issue.
    If it is god then the people from tacloban must be so bad & probably should be left to suffer until they mend their ways right. Surely thats what god would say. Now im asking not saying.
    But remember you cant have it always.

  14. victor m. hernandez on

    This piece of opinion and commentary is a very good case study for disaster preparedeness and management. That the government failed miserably in addressing the advent of a Yolanda/Haiyan, and the aftermath of the onslaught wind, rain, and deluge of seawater, I strongly agree.
    If the DRRMC (the national disaster management agency) has not done it,or is not doing any training on disaster management, the Red Cross can be a good mentor on how to do it. Red Cross has been doing this for a long long time even before disaster preparedness and management become popular.
    One thing I learned is this: Not knowing how to speak and understand English can be fatal. A survivor was interviewed and said, “hindi ko maintindihan ang ‘storm surge’ “. Well, the flipside of the coin is: PAGASA does not know how to communic ate, and make people understand English, that is, what exactly.is storm surge. Ironically, RP is one upstart in Call Center and BPO industry, and we brag that our workers are English speaking, and educated. Well, Yolanda/Haiyan just blew that myth and buried it in all the wreckage. Not knowing English can be fatal, after all.

  15. Very good item. General Lacson should have accepted a position in the goverment based on his expertise. We don’t want a rehabilitation czar here in Tacloban. What we want is a leader who can deliver the job with no political involvement whatsoever. We the Taclobanon’s are being neglected because our Mayor is a Romualdez and our President is an Aquino. Tamaan sana ng kidlat ang lahat ng may pakana dito…

  16. Dorotea Amante on

    Mabuti po sana ay kagaya ni G. Richard Gordon o ni G. Bayani Fernando ang itinalaga ng Pangulo na mamuno sa pagsasaayos ng sinalanta ng bagyong Yolanda. Higit na may malawak na kakayahan at karanasan ang dalawang ito sa ganitong sitwasyon.

  17. I really would like to know what the plan that was completed actually states. Do you have a copy that can be published or where can I find it? Or is the plan just a list of projects and the money to be spent?

    • @ vg : same sentiments..where can we find a copy of the approved “master plan” for the rehabilitation and recovery of the areas affected by the typhoon? it should be made public so the people will know and help in ensuring the accountability of the national government thru the national agencies and the LGUs..baka drawing pa rin ang plan na yan..kunyari lang, gimik lang..

  18. Lacson was the wrong man for the job. Mr Makabenta is right; the rehab work needed someone with the right experience in project/township/urban development. To be fair, though, Lacson never had the authority needed to be able to discharge his function. He was a coordinator, nothing more. He cannot ask the LGU’s to toe his line because he did not have the funds; he cannot get them to work with him because he did not have the authority. In short, his position was ill conceived and his appointment was a mistake. Now if Aquino had appointed a president of a property company or someone with solid experience in urban development, he would have also turned it down because of the paucity of authority in the role. So, at this point, my guess is that Lacson was a mere front; there was someone more powerful than him calling the shots. Unfortunately he fell into the trap.

  19. He didn’t climb the wall. He is still on the ground waiting for a miracle to help him scale the wall. He’s got no idea how to, ( yabang lang kaya ko yan).

  20. I really dont know why General Ping Lacson, accepted the job (Csar) without define “Mission”. The mission must be very precise with specific goal. In a disaster situation, the Manager must forget politics. First and foremost he/she must give aid and assistance to the typhoon victims. Then rehab the devastated areas.

    Assign somebody who have experience in construction and somebody who care for the victims of the typhoon. Of course “Not a Politician”.

    • Czar and former Senator Lacson did not climb the wrong wall, there are plenty of money on top of the walls, remember what happened to the dollars the Kuratong Baleleng Gang Rob at NAIA? Where is it now? Gone in the Winds, Di Ba Sir?

  21. This article is correct. The basic thought is the PNoy/Lacson tandem has no vision and mission to deal with the Yolanda victims and the structural damages of that typhoon. How can PNoy, who is known to have not enough brain functions to be a competent and good leader, contaminate Pinky Lacson, a PMAyer, ex PNP Chief, ex Senator is very difficult question to answer. Is PNoy’s personality so magnetic that almost if not all of his men and women are also making stupid decisions like PNoy himself? It would be nice if the readers can share his or her thoughts about this matter.

  22. Yen, I do trust your journalistic acumen and the extent of your knowledge of the Bible. Don’t you think what we read narrated in the 13th chapter of the Book of Numbers (the sending of 12 men to spy in the land of Canaan, has some semblance to PNoy’s assigning Lacson to the job of overseeing the rehabilitation of Tacloban? Only a guess; wild, maybe!

    • The 12 men sent to spy in the land of Canaan achieved something for Moses. They had a vision of what Canaan should be, and they fulfilled the mission assigned to them by Moses.