That Vision Thing part 2: Curing dysfunctionalism

Apart from discarding outdated mental models, the president needs to address personality-based factionalism that has led to organizational dysfunction within his team.

In part one of this series, we uncovered the problem of an inadequate framing of the strategic role of government. In this second part, we look at the organizational fault-lines that have skewed the president’s role as chief executive and let him down in his first year.

It was evident even before he assumed office. The president’s team was hampered unduly by factions vying for influence within his government. What is disheartening about these factions is not that they existed, but that they were drawn along the lines of personality and not based on philosophical tensions that could have led to more considered policymaking.

Having belatedly entered the 2010 derby, the president had to cobble together a coalition built on the political aspirations of candidates that had either withdrawn from the race or slid-down to accommodate him at the top spot of the ticket. The fault lines in his team ran along the lines of personalities that had to train their sites on succeeding him in 2016.

Overlaying this stratum of political maneuvering is the presence of the president’s own pals who do not belong to any of the factions. Their appointment was his way of building a power base independent of them. Unfortunately, these pals either became vulnerable to attacks or suffered from the Peter Principle of being promoted to roles they were incompetent to fill.

Baggage and rumors

Complicating matters was the baggage handed down by the Inglorious One who left behind a cabal of her supporters ensconced in corporate boards and constitutional bodies with fixed terms of office that almost run concurrent to that of the president. Exposing their abuses and missteps to shame them into resignation has been a time consuming process. The first year of the administration has almost been absorbed by it.

As the one year ban on appointing losing candidates from the field of 2010 approaches, talks of a reshuffle are inevitable. Rumors are rife that one cabinet official whose managerial style has not agreed with the president is on his way out. The man in question would have been eminently qualified to stay in his present role, had it not been for personality clashes with the benign one. His replacement is meant to be a legislator who came out of hiding as a fugitive from the law after being exonerated.

The current cabinet secretary saw his authority undermined by a presidential bossom buddy who was given exclusive direction over a huge chunk of his agency and given direct reportorial access to the president. Having been stripped of formal authority over half of his portfolio the estranged cabinet official was being made responsible and accountable for its poor performance.

Benign form of Erap?

This dysfunctional organizational style has hampered another president before. Erap Estrada’s cabinet was beset not only by personality-based factions vying for ascendancy but by a coterie of cronies that performed the informal role of a shadow cabinet. The present crop may be less malignant, more benign, than the previous kind they nevertheless have created more problems than solutions for the president.

Estrada showed a distaste for formal cabinet meetings to conduct policy development and took to the more informal ways of wheeling and dealing with associates over several bouts of drinking. The current president similarly sought to limit the frequency of meetings by his full cabinet but rather focused on dividing them to more manageable clusters. Although his particular style was more benign than the former leader’s, it showed if anything a penchant for involving himself in sub-committee discussions where specific detail rather than broad strategy get threshed out.

The role of chief executive

Honing a common vision and strategy means that differences over operational or implementational details can be finessed. The lack of a clear, crisp direction from the top leads to organizational incoherency. Good chief executives are able to stick to “that vision thing” while working with individuals with whom a strong personality clash exists. In fact good ones do not mind subordinates who are stylistically different from them, but who possess unique, critical skill sets for running their organization.

At this point, the president needs to demonstrate that capacity. No amount of cabinet reshuffling will work, unless he re-defines more clearly what his role is and that of his official family. Year two of his presidency needs to learn the lessons of year one where a steep learning curve had to be scaled.

They say that the window for creating change only exists during the first 18 months of the presidency. Beyond that, the wheels of official duty will simply overrun much of the president’s agenda. The benevolent one needs to assemble a team around a common vision and lay personality issues aside if it is to get itself across the line on a number of important issues.

A separate unit within the Office of the President needs to take charge of developing strategy, coordinating and monitoring its implementation. It needs to take on the role that former national security adviser Jose Almonte played under the Ramos administration or that governor Joey Salceda performed under Gloria Arroyo.

<<<go back to part 1: That Vision thing

>>> go to part 3: Credible Commitment

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 ( 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.

  • J_ag8 ,

    Once again the blind leading the blind. We live in an emerging market and also an emerging state called the Philippines. I am amazed that a so called developmental economist does not know the origins of political state.

    The more serious charge vs. GMA was that she weakened severely the institutions of the State. That is represented by the bureaucracy. Her micromanagement of the state even extended to the judiciary where she almost completely transformed it into her transactional model. The Ombudsmans office stands out. In a country already knows for clan ties she singlehandedly pushed the Philippine state behind by a generation.

    Governments come and go but the state is semi-permanent.

    Successful states are all defined by their effective bureaucracies.

    Without an effective state that is in place Pnoy and the succeeding governments will never succeed.

    GMA depeened the dysfunction of the Philippine state and Pnoy wiull have to government with that reality. It does not help that he is not a leader that can get people to move in the right direction or any direction for that matter.

    That effective state is put in place by the selfish elites that are necessary for states to prosper. From tribes to clans to kingdoms to states.

    I strongly recommend the author of this piece read the “Principles of Political Economy” (Unused title) by Adam Smith and Fukuyamas ” The Origins of Political Order”

    Study up on the evolution of the unified federal state that is the U.S. fashioned by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and the Roosevelts that created the massive government that is today the U.S. Federal government.

    “By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.” Adam Smith

    What the heck anyway is the mission and purpose of the State?

    • Doy Santos aka The Cusp ,

      This comment I believe fits more with part 1 where I talk about the re-definition of the role of the state under the post-Washington consensus.

      This part has to do more with the management philosophy in defining what the role of the chief executive should be in that state, but I take your point that self-interest plays a major role in that.

    • Esther Pacheco ,

      Yes, what Doy Santos recommends is definitely the way to go–“A separate unit within the Office of the President needs to take charge of developing strategy, coordinating and monitoring its implementation.”

      Without this center for strategy and implementation, the chief executive we have goes rudderless in running this government.

      Would that the advisers PNoy listens to get their act together and produce such a central office–pronto!

      • manuelbuencamino ,

        “A separate unit within the Office of the President needs to take charge of developing strategy, coordinating and monitoring its implementation. It needs to take on the role that former national security adviser Jose Almonte played under the Ramos administration or that governor Joey Salceda performed under Gloria Arroyo.”

        Doy, ikaw ang kandidato ko but promise not to be like Almonte or Salceda. Alam naman natin kung ano ang nangyari nung panahon ni FVR at GMA.

        • UP nn grad ,

          Akala ko, si Ochoa, hindi ba and point-man Economic Guru visionary-leader-guru ni Noynoy is Ochoa? Or is it Mislang?

          • UP nn grad ,

            o wala… nada… zero… no one. which is what Doy suggests is going on right now in the Malacanang inner-circle of advise-this or advise-that.

          • Doy Santos aka The Cusp ,

            Funny as ever MB!