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P-Noy’s Musical Chairs Game

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Han Fei Tzu – one of the leading Chinese “Legalist” philosophers in the third century B.C. -- once said, “All countries large and small suffer one defect in common: the surrounding of the ruler with unworthy personnel.  Those who would control rulers, first discover their secret fears and wishes.”  It was true then, it’s still true today.

The outcome of that “defect” is “corruption.”  Some of our former presidents managed to control corruption, some tried with little or no result, and a few – these are the “bad guys” -- propagated it.   One might say that Ramon Magsaysay and Fidel V. Ramos managed to control corruption while Cory Aquino tried but failed to control it.  All three were perceived as honest and incorruptible; however, they were not immune to the “defect” that Han Fei Tzu alluded to. 

As to the “bad guys,” there were two who were perceived as propagators of corruption: Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  “Corruption” was their trademark.  In the final years of Arroyo’s presidency, she was labeled as the “most corrupt president in the history of the Philippines.”  Marcos was a close second. 

The people’s discontent with the corrupt Arroyo administration fueled a popular and massive movement that supported the presidential bid of Cory’s son, Benigno Aquino III, who ran on a campaign to eradicate corruption and poverty.  His campaign slogan of “Walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (No corruption, no poverty) swept him to victory in the presidential election last May 10, 2010.

*“Spoils system”

But “P-Noy” -- as he wanted to be referred to after taking over the presidency -- had to practice “realpolitik” the moment he was declared the “winner” by Congress.  The various groups who supported his candidacy had to be rewarded with appointments to high positions in his administration.  As an old adage says, “To the victor belong the spoils,” P-Noy had to share the spoils with his supporters.  Indeed, like past administrations, P-Noy had to use the “spoils system” to keep his supporters happy… and hopefully, loyal.

P-Noy started filling the top echelon positions with people he trusted, some of whom have served his mother 20 years ago.  He tapped his classmates at Ateneo de Manila as well as long-time friends (“kabarkada”) like Rico E. Puno to important positions; and handed plum Cabinet positions to his political allies.  

*“Free-for-all”

But as soon as P-Noy had appointed his supporters, the infighting began.  It turned into a labo-labo (free-for-all) among the three major factions: The “Balay” faction of former Sen. Mar Roxas -- the defeated vice presidential running mate of P-Noy – and the stalwarts of the Liberal Party; the “Samar” faction of Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr. who supported the tandem of P-Noy and Jejomar “Jojo” Binay; and the “Times Street” faction that consisted of P-Noy’s classmates, kabarkada, and relatives.   Allied with the “Balay” faction was the “Hyatt 10” group that consists of former Arroyo Cabinet members who resigned during the “Hello Garci” election cheating scandal in 2005.  The “Hyatt 10” secured several key Cabinet positions. 

*Musical chairs game

It did not come as a surprise that after three months in office, P-Noy became disgruntled with some of his appointees’ performance.  He mentioned during a media interview that he would replace some them in a year. 

Last Christmas eve, P-Noy announced that he will reshuffle his Cabinet next January, a move that put the fate of 30 Cabinet-ranked appointees hanging by a thread. According to Manila columnist Ernesto M. Maceda, four officials are reportedly on the chopping block:  DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, DILG Undersecretary Rico E. Puno, Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez, and Presidential Legal Counsel Eduardo de Mesa.  

In addition, he identified the following as “lemons” or slow-performing officials:  Executive Secretary Pacquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr., Truth Commission Chairman Hilario Davide Jr., OPAPP Secretary Teresita Deles, DOT Secretary Alberto Lim, Energy Secretary Rene Almendras, and Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz. 

It is unlikely, however, that Puno and Ochoa would be removed or transferred to other positions.  They are very close to P-Noy and are perceived as “untouchables.”  At one time, P-Noy insinuated that he might transfer Puno – his long-time “shooting buddy” – to another position for bungling the August 23 hostage-taking incident and allegations that Puno was receiving jueteng payola.  But Puno, in a media interview, told the newsmen that P-Noy “would think twice before letting him go.”  Consequently, P-Noy decided not to let go of Puno.  He said that the allegation that Puno was receiving protection money from the jueteng lords was a “demolition job” by detractors. 

Recently, Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang was quoted as saying that Executive Secretary Ochoa will lose his post at the end of the one-year ban on the appointment of losing candidates, and that either former Sen. Mar Roxas or Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras would take over his job. The next day, Carandang and presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda denied that Ochoa was on his way out. “Ochoa is firmly the Executive Secretary,” Lacierda said.  It is interesting to note that Carandang and Lacierda belong to the “Balay” faction of Roxas while Ochoa is the leader of the “Samar” faction. 

*Fight against corruption

The impending Cabinet revamp would give P-Noy an opportunity to fine-tune his program of government and jump-start his moribund anti-corruption campaign which suffered a debilitating blow when the Supreme Court nullified the Truth Commission. 

With jueteng operations on the rise again and smuggling at the Bureau of Customs remaining rampant, P-Noy needs to appoint people who are committed to stop corruption.  

Recently, Manila columnist Ramon Tulfo wrote: “A relative of President Noy has allegedly complained of the rampant smuggling of rice and sugar in the ports of Cebu, Davao, Cagayan de Oro and General Santos.  The presidential kin’s sugar-trading business has been losing heavily because of the sugar smuggling.  And yet, this relative’s complaint is not heard because the godfather of the smugglers is a top government official, according to my sources.” 

In my article, “Beyond ‘Wang-wang’ Politics” (PerryScope, September 6, 2010), I wrote: “Corruption is like weed: if you don’t kill it, it will grow and spread rapidly until the entire landscape is full of weed. That’s what happened to Gloria’s presidency when four days after she assumed the office from ousted president Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada, her justice secretary planted the first seed of corruption in her administration which then grew into a dense ‘jungle’ over a span of nine years.”

If Han Fei Tzu were alive today, he would have advised P-Noy to get rid of “unworthy personnel” and start the New Year with a fresh slate of personnel worthy of his trust who could help him implement reforms and put the jueteng lords and smugglers out of business.

By Perry Diaz




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