Fi­asco

The Philippine Star - - OPINION - ALEX MAGNO

Ak­bayan or­ga­nized the stunt. Pres­i­dent Duterte fell for it with dis­as­trous re­sults. The left­ist group brought in a seven-mem­ber del­e­ga­tion of some­thing called the “Pro­gres­sive Al­liance.” They were trot­ted about as par­lia­men­tar­i­ans from the Euro­pean Union (EU). The group is­sued a strong state­ment con­demn­ing the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bloody war on drugs.

Duterte re­acted with rage, in­ter­pret­ing this as a brazen in­tru­sion into our in­ter­nal af­fairs. He then launched into an ex­ple­tive-laden rant against the EU, or­der­ing his Fi­nance Sec­re­tary not to ac­cept as­sis­tance from the re­gional group­ing and dar­ing the am­bas­sadors to im­me­di­ately leave the coun­try.

The rant, in­co­her­ent as it was an­gry, sent shock­waves in­ter­na­tion­ally. It like­wise sent our re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials into a fran­tic ef­fort to con­tain the dam­age in­flicted by the Pres­i­dent’s words. But the dam­age might not be com­pletely un­done.

Duterte was se­ri­ously mis­in­formed, it turns out. The EU clar­i­fied that the Ak­bayan-hosted del­e­ga­tion was not an of­fi­cial un­der­tak­ing of the re­gional group­ing. That del­e­ga­tion did not rep­re­sent the views of the EU. This was a group of im­pos­tors Ak­bayan used to am­plify its own po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions.

I am not sure how we could walk back this di­plo­matic fi­asco. This is not the first time Duterte em­bar­rassed him­self, and the coun­try, by go­ing on a rant with in­com­plete facts. Sadly, this might not be the last.

Once it was com­mon to liken Duterte to Don­ald Trump. The more pre­cise anal­ogy might be to Hugo Chavez and his clone Ni­co­las Maduro. Both men reg­u­larly per­formed like buf­foons on the in­ter­na­tional stage.

CSW

This re­cent in­ci­dent high­lights the need to make cor­rec­tions in the way the Duterte pres­i­dency is run.

On the part of the Pres­i­dent, he prob­a­bly needs some ex­er­cises to im­prove anger man­age­ment. He needs to avoid mak­ing off-the-cuff re­marks and rely more on pre­pared staff in­puts.

We now know the Of­fice of the Pres­i­dent is largely a one-man show. A co­terie of as­sis­tants timidly fol­lows Duterte as he weaves through his day, im­pro­vis­ing as he goes along. Be­cause the Pres­i­dent dis­dains pre­pared texts and rel­ishes stream-of-con­scious­ness mono­logues, his staff pre­pares noth­ing for him. This is, as we have seen, a dan­ger­ous rou­tine.

Dis­cussing this lat­est fi­asco with a group of busi­ness­men and pub­lic in­tel­lec­tu­als the other night, we ar­rived at the con­clu­sion that Duterte ur­gently needs a chief of staff. This is sim­i­lar to the role played by Gen­eral Kelly in Trump’s White House.

The chief of staff will over­see prepa­ra­tions for the Pres­i­dent’s en­gage­ments, make sure he is on mes­sage and help craft the pol­icy agenda for the leader’s ar­tic­u­la­tion. The chief of staff should have enough grav­i­tas to tell the Pres­i­dent he is wrong when he is.

Those of us who served for­mer pres­i­dent Fidel Ramos dreaded three let­ters most: “CSW” scrib­bled an­grily in red across the text of some badly pre­pared memo handed him. The three let­ters were ini­tials for “com­pleted staff work.” This meant that, at ev­ery in­stance, the Pres­i­dent’s staff must have all the facts and all the op­tions ready on ev­ery is­sue that crops up dur­ing the day.

Duterte must adopt this dis­ci­pline and build the staff sup­port to make it pos­si­ble. He is, af­ter all, Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic. Ev­ery word he ut­ters is pol­icy. Ev­ery threat he makes, such as send­ing EU am­bas­sadors pack­ing “in 24 hours,” is taken with ut­most se­ri­ous­ness.

One mis­spo­ken word and he could send the stock mar­ket crash­ing. A poorly for­mu­lated ut­ter­ance could pre­cip­i­tate a di­plo­matic in­ci­dent. Weak grasp of the facts could make him ap­pear like a buf­foon.

DOTr

The pow­er­ful Com­mis­sion on Ap­point­ments re­jected five of the orig­i­nal ap­pointees to the Duterte Cab­i­net. One, the DICT sec­re­tary, has re­signed for rea­sons still un­clear. All these sug­gest Pres­i­dent Duterte might have put in more sagac­ity in the per­son­nel choices he makes.

Word on the street has it that DOTr Sec­re­tary Art Tu­gade might be next on the chop­ping block – notwith­stand­ing Tu­gade’s long friend­ship with Duterte dat­ing back to their San Beda days.

Tu­gade, ac­cord­ing to re­ports, got the pres­i­dent’s goat when he asked the Pres­i­dent for P76 bil­lion in ad­di­tional fund­ing even as his agency held on to P86 bil­lion in un­spent bud­get al­lo­ca­tions. Be­fore that, del­e­ga­tions of busi­ness­men ar­ranged to meet with the Pres­i­dent to com­plain about the trans­port sec­re­tary.

To be sure, there are a mil­lion prob­lems on Tu­gade’s plate. The agency has so far failed to bring tan­gi­ble re­lief for the front­line woes af­fect­ing mil­lions: timely is­suance of ve­hi­cle li­cense plates and reg­is­tra­tion stick­ers, prompt re­lease of driv­ers’ li­censes and pal­pa­ble al­le­vi­a­tion of street con­ges­tion. Most promi­nently, the agency has yet to ar­rive at a mean­ing­ful res­o­lu­tion of prob­lems plagu­ing our com­muter trains. We have to men­tion too the de­layed ac­tion on bigticket projects such as air­ports and ports.

The DOTr seems to have be­come a pur­ga­tory of in­ac­tion even as the agency is ex­pected to spear­head the mod­ern­iza­tion of the coun­try’s in­fra­struc­ture. Many are now con­vinced the prob­lem lies with the agency head no less.

In ad­di­tion to poor per­for­mance on the job, a num­ber of anom­alies com­mit­ted dur­ing Tu­gade’s ten­ure as chair­man of the Clark De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion have been un­earthed. Among these are: the ap­proval of the P7-bil­lion Capil­lon De­vel­op­ment Project done with­out pub­lic bid­ding and the ar­bi­trary can­cel­la­tion of the $8-mil­lion Hol­ly­wood Park De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion project al­legedly be­cause one of Tu­gade’s close as­so­ciates was in­ter­ested in the par­cel of land to be used for this.

A list of things deroga­tory to Tu­gade has been sub­mit­ted to the Pres­i­dent for his con­sid­er­a­tion. He may choose to act on it.

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