A sense of drift

A series of events seems to have blunted the reform agenda that PNoy promised and sought to deliver in his first months in office.

According to the Asia Sentinel, the Supreme Court dominated as it is by appointees of his predecessor Mrs Gloria Arroyo, seems to be conducting an effective rear guard action thwarting any attempt by PNoy’s administration to invalidate the appointments she made in the dying days of her term. Marites Vitug is quoted as saying

The Arroyo court is going to be an obstacle to Aquino’s anti-corruption program. The Arroyo allies’ strategy is to legally assault Aquino through the Supreme Court, which she still controls. This is baffling to me – because the political winds have changed. But now it looks like the ties that bind her appointees to her are deep. The court may strike down the Truth Commission, uphold GMA’s midnight appointees, and stop the Ombudsman’s impeachment.

Beset by factions within his government and lacking a coherent strategy to map out the steps needed to navigate through the minefield laid by Mrs Arroyo and her allies, Ms Vitug claims that what PNoy needs is a counterpart to Jose Almonte, the chief ideologue and behind the scenes operator of the Ramos presidency.

Cielito Habito chimed in through his regular column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He waxes nostalgic for the days when a meritocratic governance style was wielded that required cabinet to close ranks behind a consensus driven process and implement decisions through intergovernmental coordination: this as a kind of back-handed compliment to Malacanang’s current occupant whom he claims could “learn a thing or two” from the example of his former boss.

The lack of standards in handling the diplomatic faux pas committed by an assistant secretary and speech writer Carmen Mislang via twitterverse at his first official state visit to Vietnam is a continuation of the leniency demonstrated in the wake of the Luneta hostage drama. This is in contrast to the ongoing vacillation over the status of interior and local government Sec Jesse Robredo in his cabinet. Solita Monsod wrote a piece over the weekend appealing to PNoy to consider the merits of keeping him in his confidence given his sterling accomplishments in the area of governance reform.

These criticisms seem to cement the notion that PNoy’s presidency is adrift in a sea of division and chaos. It appears that although Mr Aquino’s personal integrity and character make him unwilling to countenance dishonesty; by the same token, it makes him more tolerant towards incompetence when it is committed by his trusted aides.

During the 2010 campaign, many criticisms were hurled at then candidate Aquino. One of these was his lack of executive experience and leadership qualities. I in fact argued back then that his ability to attract competent and reform-minded advisers to his side allowed him to narrow these competency gaps. It now appears that PNoy’s easy-going style seems to be ill-served by a mixed bag of competent AND trusted but inexperienced and naive appointees.  The latter may have the ascendancy as they often do when the leader remains unclear or ambiguous with his directives since they can always claim to have personal insight into the inner workings of his mind.

That is the crux of the problem moving forward. PNoy needs to consider either making adjustments to his team by allowing for greater meritocracy even if that means working with people that might rub him the wrong way, or making adjustments to his leadership style by being clearer about what he wants delivered to him and the consequences for failure leaving very little wiggle room on the part of his subalterns who claim to “know what the boss wants”.

So, dear reader, as always I leave it to you to assess the merits of this argument. What in your opinion would be the best way forward?

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy (www.thecusponline.org) and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • UP nn grad ,

    Having said two of the good things — Noynoy administration putting extra resources and focus on Maguindanao Massacre case as well as putting extra budget onto typhoons (alerts, flood control and disaster relief), a telling feature of Noynoy personally is his love-hate for Pilipinas Supreme Court. The hate-part, of course, is Noynoy wants “diktat” and does not want Pilipinas Supreme Court to rule on Noynoy executive orders. The love-part is Noynoy wants (for now) how the temporary-restraining-order deails by Pilipinas Supreme Court with regards Hacienda Luisita.

    • UP nn grad ,

      One of the areas that Noynoy Administration seems to be getting good reports on is its focus on the Maguindanao Massacre. This is a good thing!!!!

      Of course, before that is the Noynoy Administration focus on preparations for typhoons and putting government machinery acting on flood control and rapid roads rebuilding after typhoons — also a good thing.

      • Bert ,

        Hehehe, UP n, you naughty boy. You have brought the discussion full circle now. But, don’t bet on it just yet, platform or no platform, we may find our President is his own man yet. Just wait and see, :).

        • UP nn grad ,

          bert alluded to it when he mentioned that maybe it is Peping Cojuangco who is putting pressure on President “Noynoy” to move Robredo out of DILG. So here is the premise — a number of key names (I’ll guess less than a hundred) had the idea to propel Benigno Simeon Aquino into Malacanang (just as a number of people (also less than a hundred) were the movers and shakers to get Gibo Teodoro into Malacanang).

          Question — the movers and shakers that orchestrated getting Benigno Simeon Aquino into Malacanang — what are the “platform-plez” or “personal agenda action-items” they push for now? Pilipinas may not be adrift after all.

          • UP nn grad ,

            The “Yellow Army” should not lose hope because the “Yellow Army” has demonstrated that they can make things happen. What I mean is that by organization by some, wheeling-and-dealing by others, media-blitzes and propaganda-messages, then indeed a group of people can push Pilipinas in one direction (A Noynoy Administration) versus another direction (a Gordon administration).

            Trillanes did the same thing, too (and with much less numbers) — call attention to the wrong-doings of the GMA administration and get himself (Trillanes) in a position where he can then make incremental changes (by authoring bills and getting them enacted into laws).

            There is hope for Pilipinas as long as there are Pinoys-in-Pinas (not in San Francisco or in Sydney or in Singapore) willing to do the propaganda-messages and media-blitzes and wheeling-and-dealing and storming-of-Oakwoods if necessary to make huge leaps in their position in the scheme of things.

            Then, the benign0 question. Once you get there — platform, plez.

            • Doy Santos aka The Cusp ,

              I was thinking more in terms of releasing funds conditional on certain terms being met, but I am not sure whether the executive can still do this under our new budget rules…would anyone have the answer to that?

              On the other hand, while the administration is more concerned at the moment with running after Mrs Arroyo and her ilk who are now in the opposition, they need to be cautious of a counter coup from within their own tent as many former Arroyo supporters are now looking to install Speaker Belmonte as LP president.

              Indeed the revolution could wind up eating its own children as what happened after EDSA I when long-term opposition figures were treated on par with last minute turncoats. In the lead up to the election there was a lot of chatter about redemption and structural “break” dates for defining who was “of the light” and “of the dark”.

              The concern then was to build enough of a bandwagon to get PNoy elected. Now that that objective has been achieved there seems to be a lot of hand wringing on the part of those who thought they would be seeing a transformational change.

              • Cocoy ,


                re: power of the purse

                Yes, but there is no legislation on the table whatsover. No indication that the palace will be flexing its muscles to get laws out the door. Reproductive Health discussion is just in the papers and on blogs. Freedom of Information act is no where to be seen. Of legislation, looks like the General Appropriations Act is the only thing this Congress will pass.

                The palace controls the lower house. the upper chamber while not hostile to the palace, will be open to negotiation i think depending on what legislation is on the table.

                Whether Palace or Batasan, neither side of the fence is in a rush to pass laws. my fear is that the longer Aquino waits to flex his muscles, he may find his political capital will have evaporated. His poll numbers are so high that the only thing that it can really do is go down.

                People are already getting restless. He needs to act more decisively.

                Aquino has done a little bit to stabilize the executive branch. he’s getting his side organized, but people are looking for more. One significant piece of legislation– freedom of information or reproductive health. The former easier i think to pass than the latter. but one important one.

                A reasonable benchmark is a year. It maybe less than that. Reasonable people will give him less than that depending on what happens between now, and the next SONA.

                • UP nn grad ,

                  Noynoy has given me the impression that his “Only Son” position has privileged him so much that he does not like negotiations needed in the wheeling and dealing of politics. He prefers management by diktat.

                  • Bert ,

                    I hope the scuttlebutt is not true that Noynoy’s uncle Peping is involved in jueteng and Robredo is rabidly anti-jueteng and so, it is said, the pressure is on Noynoy to get rid of Robredo at all cost. There is a wide perception among the populace of this rumor and letting go of Robredo can bolster that wide negative perception to be true. Pres. Noynoy has to be very careful with this Robredo issue because this is a very sensitive issue critical to the success of his administration. This is going to be a choice for Noynoy whether who to choose between a friend/uncle and a good man. The better logic in politics is it is better to choose the good man.

                    Pres. Noynoy has a decision to make. I voted for him in the election, still wishing him the best, for the sake of the country. I’m hoping he’ll be making the right and the wisest decision…for his own good, and for the country.

                    • Doy Santos aka The Cusp ,

                      Wouldn’t applying the “power of the purse” denying funding to bring Arroyo’s allies to their knees or at least the bargaining table be an appropriate strategy in this context?

                      • cocoy ,


                        I agree that Aquino needs a Joe Almonte. Aquino needs a Consigliere who will wield the axe. A bad cop to his good cop who gets the job done.

                        The thing with Robredo, the impression that I get is that Aquino agreed to have him in his cabinet as a compromise. It seems they don’t work well together. LIke their personalities are not in sync. In short, Aquino doesn’t trust Robredo. It would be better for both of them to part ways, instead of continuing the status quo. Someone has good as Robredo who can work with Aquino should be there. Unless they can workout their differences.

                        There is an aphorism that is quite apt. A boss should hire people smarter than him, because those people will hire people who are less smart. PNoy does need to hire good and competent people. The presidency is less about being the smartest man, and more about being able to pick the best people, and let them run with the ball.

                        The biggest disappointment that I’ve got for the past few months was how Aquino’s government mishandled the IIRC report. They should have let the cases stand in court instead of the watered down charges. Let the accused clear their name. It was blatantly obvious that Lim, and Puno had significant missteps. Yet’ their charges weren’t severe.

                        At the end of the day, the buck stops with Aquino. He needs to decide to be more decisive. He needs to control his people and be more professional in how he handles his troops.

                        • UP nn grad ,

                          The commentary about the Pilipinas Supreme Court overstepping its bounds is quite something else. When the Pilipinas Supreme Court becomes a hindrance to President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino, either Noynoy gets Congress 😐 on his side to impeach some or all of the Supreme Court justices. OR… “Noynoy” can use the military and/or the police.

                          • UP nn grad ,

                            A ship at sea during very bad weather with strong winds and very high waves is in extreme trouble if its captain has poor leadership, poor skills, and a poor sense of direction.

                            • Bert ,

                              Right on target, Doy.

                              The only way for Pres. Noynoy, if really he’s vent on pursuing his election promises of good government and moving the country forward in a straight path, is to neutralized the effect of an obstructionist Supreme Court by relying on his wide mandate while he’s still popular with the people and confront squarely the obstacle with wise and decisive moves.

                              A sense of drift shown in the few months of his presidency if not corrected right away will erode the people’s confidence on him and will sweep his administration into a swirl of demoralization that will blow him away into oblivion.

                              Kakainin siya ng buhay ng mga kalaban niya.

                              Six years is too short for such a daunting task, the time to move is now.

                              • rego ,

                                I dont know, but I am beginning to feel that maybe Noynoy is what is really by the philippines for now. No new laws for now just implement the existing laws. no grand vision for the country kasi hindi rin naman natutupad. etc Status qou lang muna ang lahat until 6 years. That way siguro makapag pahinga naman ang mga tao at magkaroon talaga ng oras para pag munimunihan kung ano talaga ang gusto nilang mangyayari sa mga buhay nila at sa bansa.