When President Aquino gave Secretary Panfilo Lacson the grand title of “rehabilitation czar,” I immediately looked around for an Aquino official with an equally high-sounding title or position in the administration. After a brief search, my staff came up with the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO), headed by strategic planning Secretary Ricky Carandang.
Carandang’s title sounded highfaluting, because the other Cabinet posts sounded “low-faluting.” No one in this and previous administrations ever sported the word “strategic” in their titles and designations.
Significantly, at the same time that Lacson’s appointment was being reviewed and prepared, Carandang told a Times reporter (Catherine Valente) that he would be leaving the government by the end of the year, to go to the private sector (possibly Meralco, said one source of the story).
From all my years of observing Presidents tackle the challenge of governing, I have developed a healthy distrust of pompously titled posts in government. The bigger the titles and names, the more likely that they won’t accomplish much. I was particularly skeptical of compound titles like secretary general and director-general, whose officeholders are neither secretary nor general, neither director nor general.
Carandang’s strategic planning office reminded me of Michael Porter of Harvard, who is the leading authority on competitive strategy and international competitiveness. I also thought of defense and military strategy, the concern of generals and defense officials.
Carandang’s office had nothing to do with either economics or national defense. It was mainly concerned with propaganda and communications, especially moderating social media and countering the rising independent press.
According to its website, “the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office [PCDSPO] is an attached agency of the Office of the President, created by Executive Order No. 4, which was signed by the President on July 30, 2010.
“The Office is mandated to provide strategic communication leadership and support to the Executive Branch, all agencies and instrumentalities of government, and to lead the strategic communication of government through the formulation and enforcement of a National Communications Policy to ensure coherence of messages, as well as open and extended channels of communication between government and the people.”
Lacson’s post was born out of the administration’s panic and confusion in the aftermath of supertyphoon Yolanda/Haiyan, and as a reaction to international concern over the government’s slow response to the disaster and concern that billions of pesos of international assistance might be frittered away or lost to corruption.
To meet the challenge of rehabilitation and reconstruction in East Visayas, President Aquino created a Cabinet Task Force and Energy secretary Jericho Petilla, former governor of Leyte was trapped to head it. Before he could assume the post, the president suddenly announced that former senator Lacson would be appointed as “rehabilitation czar.” This sound bite fathered another sound bite, that Lacson could become the Administration’s bet in the 2016 presidential election, replacing the ineffective and unpopular local government secretary Mar Roxas.
Lacson’s appointment turned out to be more show than substance.
According to my colleague Kit Tatad, in his Manila Standard column, Memorandum Order No. 62, dated Dec. 6, 2012, which covered the position and the appointment, shows that Lacson is not a czar but a mere “presidential assistant.”
The MO authorizes the presidential assistant to “act as overall manager and coordinator of rehabilitation, recovery, and reconstruction efforts of government departments, agencies, and instrumentalities in the affected areas, to the extent allowed by law.” But it does not say whether the appointment carries a salary, office quarters and staff or access to any kind of funds for basic operations, etc.
Lacson is now lodged between a rock and a hard place. He can’t really move forward on the rehabilitation and reconstruction of East Visayas because there’s no plan or program for reconstruction and there’s no law for the same being pushed in Congress.
He has nothing to administer or coordinate at this point. He has only the relentless questioning of the media and East Visayans who want to know what’s happening or forthcoming.
Observers are now wondering about how much longer Lacson will stay in the Cabinet.
Some think that Ricky Carandang could soon be joined by Lacson in the sidelines and the private sector. Grandiose posts do this to their occupants.
Dynasties and political entrepreneurship
Anent my column last Thursday (Politicians better called “entrepreneurs” than “public servants”, 9 January 2014), I should have devoted a section to the ubiquity of family dynasties in Philippine politics.
Dynasties are prima facie evidence that Filipino politicians are more entrepreneurs than public servants.
There are innumerable examples of politicians who treat politics as a family business. When the 1987 Constitution decreed term limits in Congress and local government positions, the politicians not only squeezed every minute in office allowed them by law, they found a way to keep positions within the family, by putting up their spouses and children in every election from which they are barred.
There is still no enabling law to implement their vision set by the Constitution, because Congress will not legislate against its members’ selfish interest.
Now, entrepreneurial brazenness has reached the point where immediate relatives occupy positions simultaneously. Siblings Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano are serving in the Senate of the 16th Congress at the same time – this at a time when Alan’s wife is serving as mayor of Taguig-Pateros, and a brother is also the city’s congressman. The same is the case with siblings Jinggoy Estrada and JV Ejercito. This follows the precedence set when Jinggoy and his mother Loi Estrada served as senators in the same congress. In Davao City, father and daughter of the Duterte clan tested the viability of serving as mayor and vice-mayor to each other.
In the province of Leyte, Leyteños have come up with a revision of the sign of the cross, as follows: “in the name of the father, the mother, the son and the other son” – to denote how the governorship has been passed from one Petilla to another. Leyteños can’t remember anymore when the governorship was not occupied by a Petilla, and they worry that they won’t see any change in their lifetime because every Petilla successor serves three full terms (nine years in all).
As in an honest-to-goodness business, political entrepreneurs invest time and money in developing and growing their political enterprises. They fully secure monetary returns for their investments, especially from pork barrel funds and pole position in business ventures. They plan ahead as far as the third generation. Political clout is treated as a family legacy.
“Incorrigible” more apt than “incorruptible”
In my lighter moments, I sometimes daydream that the Philippines would have been better off had Aquino’s propagandists and supporters not been carried away and refrained from describing him as “incorruptible.” In his book Integrity, Stephen Carter says that “uncorrupted virtue” should be taken with a grain of salt, because “nobody is that perfect, although we seem to want everybody to claim to be.”
One Massachusetts minister preached two hundred years ago that if “integrity meant “sinless rectitude”, it could apply to no man living.”
Incorruptible means “morally strong enough not to be persuaded into doing something wrong.”
Increasingly, we are now realizing that “incorrigible” is the better adjective to describe President Aquino. This man, who never held a job in his life and waltzed through 10 years in the House and Senate, is showing no aptitude whatever for governing.
“Incorrigible” means “impossible to change or improve”.