Just as “Sorry” does not exist in President Aquino’s vocabulary, “resignation” is a word that gives him the creeps.
The Aquino administration does not know how to handle the resignation of officials with poise and good sense.
Before the public could confirm the resignation by text of Customs Commissioner Rossano Biazon, the Palace allowed the resignee to spin the rumor that the President had rejected it.
Before Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla could make good on his pledge that he would resign if electricity was not restored in the Yolanda-ravaged areas by Christmas Eve, the Palace was already orating that President Aquino would reject the resignation.
In the end, the Biazon charade came to nothing. He had to leave his post anyway—only to land in the middle of a corruption charge in another office.
Eventually, the Petilla drama could also be a washout, if the man shirks the challenge of providing cheaper electricity to the whole country, and of forcing power producers and power distributors to serve the public interest.
Electricity as first sign of hope
Oddly, Petilla made his pledge to resign to the media, not to his employer or the people he serves. He said it during an interview with the media in his hometown of Palo, Leyte, on November 18, saying, “Do you want my position if I don’t make it by December 24? You will have it . . . I’ll submit my resignation if that is what you want.” He qualified his pledge by saying that December 24 is a “very, very tight” target, but he’s betting his position on it so typhoon survivors won’t have a “dark Christmas.
“The first sign of hope is always electricity. We will persevere to give them that,” he said.
It was a good sound bite, but one with a deadline. As Christmas Eve inexorably neared, the media predictably came calling for a reckoning.
Interviewed on December 24, Petilla disclosed that all typhoon-affected areas have been “100 percent” energized. But this mutated into “I have three towns still without power.”
He followed up with this text message to media: “I will have no word of honor if I stay on and in public service, word of honor is extremely important.”
Then, from out of the blue, Presidential spokesman Edwn Lacierda weighed in that Secretary Petilla will quit to “keep his word that he will resign if all the towns [in Yolanda-hit areas]are not energized.
“Whether or not President Aquino will accept is another matter,” he added.
On December 27, Petilla went to Malacañang to submit his resignation. As anticipated, the President asked him to stay as energy secretary.
At a time when his hometown, home province, and home region were all reeling from the catastrophe wrought by Typhoon Yolanda, and at a time when Filipinos are loathe to trust the word of politicians and public officials, Petilla dared to make the pledge that he would resign his office if he and his department failed to restore electricity to all typhoon-ravaged areas by Christmas Eve, December 24.
Well, Christmas Eve did come, and it appears that by then there were still some areas in Leyte and east Visayas left in the dark.
Before this stark reality, Petilla acknowledged that he had fallen short. So he submitted his resignation. Because of this gesture of steadfastness there is now some hand-wringing about whether the President should accept his resignation
In the event, Aquino asked him to stay on, rationalizing that the program of electricity restoration was supposed to take six months after all. He glossed over the point that a public official ought to be more careful about his promises and should keep his word.
The hope of some is that he might become an effective energy secretary for the experience.
He could finally get confirmed by the Commission on Appointments.
Being from East Visayas, he could be of greater service to the region by remaining in the Cabinet. He could command a voice in the administration that will be more readily listened to.
Those who say that he should pay for making that careless pledge should also remember that he made the pledge to preserve the morale of the typhoon victims, and to keep hope alive for a better day.
By setting a deadline for the restoration of electric power, he set a clear goal for himself and all his coworkers at the Department of Energy.
By staying on as energy secretary, he could accomplish more now, because there could be more support for him from key sectors, such as:
1. President Aquino, who this time could commit to an intensive program to produce and supply cheap electricity to the entire country.
2. Support from congress to provide support legislation and funding for more power-generation plants owned and operated by the government.
3. Support from local government units and local communities, so there are no parochial roadblocks to energy development.
4. Support from the business community and foreign investors, who will be elated by the prospect of affordable electricity.
This can be for Petilla a defining moment for his public life and career.
A reluctant leader and a dynasty
At this point, I should interject the point that for much of his public life, he has been a hesitant, even a reluctant leader, shoehorned into roles, instead of seeking and embracing the opportunity to lead and serve.
His role in the post-Yolanda disaster is most striking.
When President Aquino first formed the Task force for the rehabilitation of East Visayas. Petilla was named to head the task force.
Yet, instead of taking the bull by the horns, he appears to have hesitated in taking on the challenge. And before anyone knew it, and to the consternation of East Visayans, the President named former senator Panfilo Lacson as rehabilitation czar.
Warays and Cebuanos from the region cannot help thinking that a major opportunity for East Visayas has been missed.
Petilla was shoehorned into politics by the demands of his political clan—he agreed to run for governor of Leyte three times to keep in the family the governorship, which his father and mother had taken turns in occupying. Now, a brother has taken over the post.
Leyteños are having a big laugh that in the celebrated tiff between Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, Roxas has wound up in the frying pan.
Mar became the surrogate of the Petillas, particularly matriarch Palo Mayor Remedios Petilla, who has a long-running feud with Mayor Romualdez over the staging of folk festivals in Tacloban during the annual fiesta in June.
With no knowledge of the lie of the land and the politics, poor Mar waded into the arena like an innocent and was gored.
As the Negro spiritual puts it, “you have to bear the cross to wear the crown.”