Recycling monumental mediocrity

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MARLEN V. RONQUILLO

FILIPINOS, by and large, respect the presidential prerogatives on executive appointments. In the case of Mr. Duterte, he should, by the operations of law and practice, get the men and women he trusts, the men and women vested—according to his judgment and benchmarks— with probity and competence. And the Commission on Appointments, with almost no exception, confirms the key executive choices of the President.

Ms Lopez, Mr. Mariano and Ms Taguiwalo were all rejected by the bicameral CA because Mr. Duterte did not push hard enough for their confirmation. No president in contemporary history has abandoned key cabinet choices during the crucial stage of CA deliberations. Not one. Still, that was the President’s choice and nobody entered into an argument with the President.

When Mr. Duterte tells an appointee “you’re fired,” the public generally supports such move. In line, again, with the vast presidential prerogative on executive appointments. The men and women serving the President must be men and women viewed in the best light by the President.

When the President says a particular appointee is corrupt, lazy, compromised or incompetent, the public says amen. That public support extends to “resigned” appointees such as the resigned DICT head , who was later accused by Mr. Duterte of “ bias.” Even in the case of Mr. Salalima, who used to be the head lawyer of a telco, no one questioned the decision of Mr. Duterte.


When does the public say “wait a minute”? What presidential decisions arouse public suspicion and non-support?

Recycling former officials who had resigned under very questionable circumstances. Like the case of resigned Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and the assistants Mr. Faeldon named to sensitive posts at the customs bureau. Faeldon has been named deputy administrator III at the Office of Civil Defense, one of the agencies under the Department of National Defense.

What is wrong with that recycling exercise? All of it.

Under Mr. Faeldon’s watch at the Bureau of Customs, a P6.4-billion shabu shipment slipped out of the Port of Manila into a warehouse in the suburbs. The facts surrounding the case said it was not a mere case of bureaucratic failure, the failure of the customs systems to detect a toxic, multi-billion cargo. It was a clear case of a conspiracy to clear a really big shabu shipment valued at P6.4 billion.

The shipment had many red flags. But because it was smuggling done by a syndicate, it went directly to the express lane for clearing with an eagle-eyed customs broker acting as facilitator and fixer. Mark Taguba, the customs broker, later told a tangled story of bribes and political connections at a Senate inquiry, where he also dragged down a so-called Davao Group allegedly involved in large-scale smuggling at the waterfront .

The red flags were ignored, the “fixers” got the shabu shipment out without hassle.

According to Senate sources, that was probably just one of those shabu shipments under the watch of Mr. Faeldon.

It is logical to conflate the P6.4 billion shabu shipment with the centerpiece program of Mr. Duterte and from there magnify the scale and scope of Mr. Faeldon’s failings at the BoC. Mr. Duterte’s centerpiece agenda is the war on drugs. The sustained shipment of shabu from China primarily is the principal reason why shabu proliferates, and it creates all those narco-politicians that Mr. Duterte hate so much.

Shabu is a supply-chain problem and once you kill the main source, the shabu smuggled from China and processed in clandestine labs by Chinese nationals, you can rein in the drug problem and reduce it to a minimum. In effect, the failure of Mr. Faeldon and his men at the BoC, supposedly trained intelligence men, abetted and sustained the drug trade.

It is in this context that Mr. Faeldon’s recycling was totally incomprehensible and out-of-synch with Mr. Duterte centerpiece agenda. Mr. Duterte can pick from a gallery of untainted former military officers who will serve with distinction, probity and integrity. That makes the Faeldon recycling much, much murkier.

Mr. Ridon, the former party-list representative recently fired from his urban poor office, was accused of traveling abroad many times, foreign trips that got approval from the Office of the President. One of the first casualties, Mr. Laviña, the President’s campaign spokesman, was fired from the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) for supposedly questionable acts. Nothing was proven but Mr. Laviña was fired without being given the chance to put out his side of the issue.

The firings were not related to a monumental blunder, one that has put in peril the main program of the president. The failing of Mr. Faeldon was related to, in Mr. Duterte’s own words, the country’s cancer in the form of illegal drugs. Hence, a unforgivable one.

Many Filipinos, even the DU30 diehards, lost respect for Mr. Faeldon when he coddled a subordinate who ridiculed Speaker Alvarez in a social media post. If Mr. Faeldon does not respect the man, he should respect the institution and what he coddled was a violation of constitutional principles.

Speaking of Mr. Alvarez, a dear friend I can’t say no to, Mr. F., emailed a longish piece extolling the leadership of the speaker. I can’t pack the contents in one column but the gist is this: Mr. Alvarez and his chamber can claim to a long list of unprecedented achievements, from passing tax reform laws to fighting terrorism. Simply put, “Mission Accomplished.”

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