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.