To head off crises, Marcos needs to get nasty
The Manila Times
NICE guy. That’s how many people, friend or foe, speak of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Tens of millions elected him last May as the candidate allied with and most alike the hugely popular President Rodrigo Duterte. Yet Marcos has shown none of the brash, bruising style of his predecessor. Just nine months in office in April 2017, Duterte castigated and cashiered his long-time supporter, then-Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno, over a dubious fire-engine contract. Marcos has also let go of some Cabinet members, including his first executive secretary Victor Rodriguez, but with no public rancor and with some reluctance. Nor is Marcos the meticulous micro-manager that former president and current Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is reputed to be, grilling officials about issues and directives and upbraiding them for shortcomings. Veteran reporters may still remember Arroyo’s stern calls to her chief of staff and the National Food Authority chief, among other officials. None of that public fingerwagging from Marcos, even with public fiascos like the New Year’s Day Manila airport shutdown, the attempted illegal export of nickel ore authorized by a Palace official, the continued threat of disqualification looming over Filipino seafarers and airport luggage pilferage. Even excesses and inertia at the Department of Agriculture (DA), overseen by Marcos himself, have not elicited presidential opprobrium. The undersecretary suspended over the sugar imports brouhaha last year is back at work. This despite the immense imperative to get DA performing well to curb surging inflation driven by food and fuel. Who’s in charge here? Telling off and tasking officials may sound like micro-managing, but that core trait of strong, pro-active leadership may be what’s needed to raise governance to a high level needed to head off and wind down crises. If the boss does not push for pro-active or urgent action, agencies slack off, and the corrupt and lawless are spurred to exploit perceived lack of government responsiveness and resolve. Then crises happen. In the three-week-old debacle over industrial oil leaking from the MT Princess Empress tanker, which sank off Mindoro the very day President Marcos addressed the Philippine Maritime Industry Summit at Manila Hotel on February 27, the Protect Verde Island Passage coalition has urged him to take charge of the cleanup as oil traces were found near Calapan City about 38 km from the biodiversity sanctuary. Another concern stirring public alarm is the spate of attacks on local government leaders. After four former city or municipal leaders were killed between July and October last year, Aparri Vice Mayor Rommel Alameda was killed in February and Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo this month. Also attacked last month, but survived, were Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Adiong Jr. and Mayor Ohto Mantawal of Datu Montawal, Maguindanao, who was ambushed on Roxas Boulevard. If President Marcos had come out strong early in the oil spill and local government killings, there would certainly be more urgency among agencies and officials addressing these crises. Certain actions like mobilizing overseas assistance might have been accelerated, with the Department of Foreign Affairs quickly spurred to move. And would-be assassins might have been deterred if they saw Malacañang taking action with the first or second attacks, This sense of urgent action from the very top of the national leadership primes officials and agencies to act fast and nip incipient crises in the bud before they bloom. And our people, especially affected communities, are alerted to the gravity of a situation and can more actively and speedily mobilize for preventive and remedial action. The Chief Executive executes When she took over in an uprising in January 2001, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said she aimed to be not so much a great president, but a good one. By that she meant that she would focus on getting things done and problems solved, rather than coming up with great ideas, which may not necessarily get past the drawing board. Still, as president, Arroyo sought to be strategic nonetheless. She pushed through such crucial long-term programs and projects as the 2005 fiscal reforms that set the Philippines on the road to investment-grade credit ratings, the Nautical Highway network of highway-linked rollon, roll-off or RoRo ports linking major islands and increased agriculture and fisheries spending and internal revenue allotments or IRAs, which lifted about 2 million Filipinos out of poverty. President Marcos, for his part, is also strategic, with his advocacies for digitalization, food security and affordability, infrastructure investment through the Maharlika Fund, and, until recently, neutrality in our foreign and defense policy. The challenge, of course, is whether these strategic goals actually happen. Recently, Marcos said his campaign pledge of P20-a-kilo rice may be available in the near future, but the Bantay Bigas farming advocacy group dismissed it as “rhetoric.” That may well be the view of geopolitical watchers about the President’s “friend of all, enemy of none” mantra, now reversed by his decision to grant the United States military access to nine bases under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement stalled under Duterte. As for digitalization, there is yet no major undertaking showcasing how information technology and the internet would be harnessed for business, government and other sectors. For sure, there are development areas advancing strongly, and the highways and bridges program is reporting major strides. Also, huge mega-projects by the private sector are impressive, including new expressways in and around Metro Manila, plus the ambitious Manila Bay span to link Bataan and Cavite. But the infrastructure push is carried over from past years. For his own initiatives, Marcos may need to do more prodding to get his agenda off the ground in tangible undertakings. Thankfully, a legacy of his father — the Presidential Management Staff — should help, once given a chief who is not just a good manager, but also a forceful one who can sometimes be nasty when needed.