Saturday, March 13, 2010

Continuity or perpetuity? Clock ticking for the Arroyo Cabinet

Top News
Written by Mia M. Gonzalez / Reporter
Sunday, 14 March 2010 19:27

Original Story:

In a seaside dinner she hosted for members of the media in Mactan, Cebu, on Thursday, President Arroyo described her newly revamped Cabinet as a “working Cabinet” that would help complete her priority programs and ensure a “smooth transition” to the next leadership.

“It’s a working Cabinet. The policy is the same,” she said, when reporters asked about her Cabinet, which required a reorganization after nine of its members resigned to run for elective office.

Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza, who was moved out of the Department of Transportation and Communications to replace former executive secretary Eduardo Ermita, told the BusinessMirror that the President’s latest appointments show the Chief Executive’s resolve to work on her priority programs and projects until she steps down on June 30.

“If you’ll notice, I think most…of those who were appointed were former undersecretaries. It’s for continuity. They practically know what to do in the President’s Sona [State of the Nation Address] projects because the focus actually of the Cabinet is the accomplishment of the Sona projects,” he said.

He added that the President also wants to ensure “a very smooth transition to the next administration.”

Mendoza said the final configuration of the Arroyo Cabinet should dispel any concerns that the new appointees were chosen for political purposes.

“I think the mere fact that most of those appointed are career [officials], that shows that there are no political undertones in the appointments. The President did not appoint any politicians,” he said.

Press Secretary Crispulo Icban Jr., who was appointed in January this year following the death of former press secretary Cerge Remonde, said the President deliberately chose “insiders” who would pursue current programs and need not be oriented or guided on what they have to do, since there are only a few months left before the current administration relinquishes power to the next leadership.

“There is continuity....Everything is going to be as is. They will complete the projects up to the last day of the term....There is no interruption,” Icban said.

In a radio interview, Trade Secretary Jesli Lapus—who took over from Peter Favila after the latter’s appointment to the Monetary Board—said the President chose former presidential assistant for education Mona Valisno to replace him at the Department of Education because Valisno knows the government’s education program and would ensure that “the ship will sail in the right direction.”

Lapus said he is not a newcomer in the field of trade, having built a successful 20-year career in the sector prior to his public service, and would thus also ensure continuity in his department.

Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano said “the dynamics have not changed” in the Cabinet since his new colleagues are old faces.

These “old faces” also include Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, former government corporate counsel; Agriculture Secretary Bernie Fondevilla and Transportation Secretary Anneli Lontoc, former undersecretaries in their respective departments; Budget Secretary Joaquin Lagonera, former senior deputy executive secretary and head of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office; Chief Presidential Counsel Natividad Dizon, former deputy executive secretary for legal affairs; and Presidential Management Staff head Ma. Elena Bautista, former Maritime Industry Authority administrator.

Press Secretary Icban said that the new Cabinet members give the administration “good reason to be confident that continuity in government operations and service to the people is sustained, if not enhanced, since some of the replacements are career officials with impeccable track records as public servants.”

Political analyst Ramon Casiple said in an interview that while the President had chosen insiders to fill in gaps in her Cabinet, these officials are all political appointees to begin with, since positions with the rank of assistant secretary and undersecretary are appointed by the President.

Casiple observed that in the President’s choice for Cabinet secretaries over the years, loyalty “appears to be her paramount consideration” and that competence is only secondary.

He said that while some Cabinet members “are realy competent in their field, they are handicapped from the start because of political considerations” and “those who are decent among them would rather resign.”

Casiple was apparently referring to, among others, the Hyatt 10—Cabinet officials who left the administration at the height of the “Hello, Garci” controversy in 2005, when Mrs. Arroyo was linked to fraud, in a secretly taped phone conversation with disgraced elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, in the 2004 presidential race.

Casiple also believed that throughout her presidency, Mrs. Arroyo had surrounded herself with “yes men” in the Cabinet who did not provide her true picture of public response to her policies.

“The Cabinet is supposed to be a sounding board of ideas, a channel through which the President would know the true reaction of the people to her policies.

But when you start talking loyalty as a criteria, you are organizing a group of yes people who would just anticipate what you want to hear,” he said.

Deputy Presidential Spokesman Gary Olivar said that the President might have placed greater importance on loyalty as a criterion in Cabinet selection after the Hyatt 10 incident, which threatened her presidency.

“I suspect that the loyalty issue became more important to her during her second term, after the Hyatt 10 [mass resignation]. . . . In her first term, it probably wasn’t a problem for her because she has not experienced that kind of disloyalty,” Olivar said.

He added: “If you don’t have a loyal Cabinet and things like the Hyatt 10 happens, then that’s not good for governance, it’s not good for leadership. It poisoned the whole atmosphere. And if you have a disloyal Cabinet also, the leadership cannot be as decisive and aggressive, and effective.”

Olivar noted that “loyalty by itself is not a bad quality as long as there’s competence” and that the question should be whether the Cabinet officials “are good at their jobs, effective, competent, and meeting their targets.”

He said he would like “to see a politician come along who will consciously reward disloyalty, he will hire his political enemies over his political friends and allies. I’d like to see that happen; that will be the day. If it does happen, you’re going to see a very short-lived tenure of office of that fellow,” he said.

On criticisms that Mrs. Arroyo had treated Cabinet positions as “rewards” to her political allies, Olivar said this such practice “is just the nature of politics.”

Obviously, he said, “you would not hire your enemies; you would hire your allies. The question is whether they are competent.”

Olivar also disagreed with the perception that the President has surrounded herself with “yes men” and cited as proof Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, who continues to pursue her programs even as she comes under fire from the Catholic Church for promoting the use of condoms as protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

“You have people every now and then they speak up and they are not on the same playbook. She doesn’t enforce censorship on her Cabinet,” he said.

Olivar added that Mrs. Arroyo herself goes around the country, and brings in tow her Cabinet officials so that they, too, can have a closer look of the conditions on the ground.

“This is a President who values firsthand information, wide exposure to the facts and transparency. So I find that difficult to reconcile with the claim that she surrounds herself with yes men. We are making a distinction between yes men and basic loyalty. Those are two different issues,” he said.

Original Story:

No comments:

Post a Comment