Carmen Mislang

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?