Pasha pres­i­dency

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - OPINION - MANUEL L. QUE­ZON III

On Tues­day, Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Manny Piñol capped his vic­tory over Sec­re­tary to the Cab­i­net Leon­cio Evasco Jr. by re­leas­ing pho­tos of a Mon­day night Cab­i­net meet­ing in which the me­dia was point­edly in­formed that Evasco did not at­tend. Some re­ports said that in the meet­ing, agen­cies pre­vi­ously un­der the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture—the Na­tional Food Au­thor­ity, Philip­pine Co­conut Au­thor­ity, and the Fer­til­izer and Pes­ti­cide Au­thor­ity—were de­clared re­turned to Agri­cul­ture, af­ter hav­ing been pre­vi­ously placed un­der the purview of Evasco; but other re­ports said the NFA was go­ing to be placed di­rectly un­der the Pres­i­dent. But it seems Evasco may end up hav­ing the last word—a me­moran­dum he sub­mit­ted to Pres­i­dent Duterte on Mon­day, lay­ing out his view that the NFA ad­min­is­tra­tor has some ex­plain­ing to do, is be­ing re­ported on by the me­dia.

The Piñol pho­tos were pe­cu­liar. The Pres­i­dent was perched on an arm­chair flanked by mem­bers of the Cab­i­net ar­ranged on chairs, re­sem­bling a cour­tesy call more than a Cab­i­net meet­ing (you know the drill for those, every­one seated at a long ta­ble, more of­ten than not in the State Din­ing Room, fol­low­ing the prac­tice be­gun dur­ing the Mar­cos ad­min­is­tra­tion; this is per­haps the first time in over 80 years that a Cab­i­net meet­ing has been laid out in this man­ner). But it is per­haps a more truth­ful pic­ture, rep­re­sent­ing, more au­then­ti­cally, the Pres­i­dent’s ex­ec­u­tive style. Aca­demics, in­clud­ing Randy David, have coined a term for this style—sul­tanic rule. As David once put it, the Pres­i­dent’s “ap­proach to the com­plex work of gov­er­nance is founded upon the pre­sumed fu­til­ity of con­ven­tional meth­ods. He has no qualms about short-cir­cuit­ing the re­quire­ments of for­mal in­sti­tu­tions, be­liev­ing these to be, at best, su­per­flu­ous, and, at worst, dys­func­tional… In­stead of fig­ur­ing out for our­selves how to mas­ter the rou­tines of demo­cratic state­craft, we have sought refuge in the decisiveness of sul­tanic rule. No mat­ter how du­bi­ous the premises of these un­ortho­dox so­lu­tions are, we scram­ble to find a war­rant for them, even por­tray­ing them as in­spired and born of na­tive wis­dom and ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Like a pasha on a cush­ion, the Pres­i­dent thus ap­pears in pub­lic to val­i­date the lat­est in­trigue. Here, a whis­per at the right mo­ment is im­mune to thick wads of mem­o­randa: Evasco, like a good bu­reau­crat, has found all the early-term ex­ec­u­tive or­ders and mem­o­randa he’d suc­cess­fully signed made mean­ing­less not just by sub­se­quent is­suances, but sim­ply by means of ver­bal state­ments. In this man­ner, Spe­cial As­sis­tant to the Pres­i­dent Bong Go and Sec­re­tary Piñol have sys­tem­at­i­cally de­mol­ished what Evasco had tried to sys­tem­at­i­cally build up. The pages and pages of talk­ing points and charts—the ide­o­log­i­cal ap­pa­ra­tus of the Crude So­ci­ety—have ended up dis­carded, read only by Evasco and nei­ther stud­ied nor be­lieved in, by any­one else, the Great Ea­gle Fa­ther in­cluded.

It may be that this al­ler­gic re­ac­tion to Evasco and his ways will ac­tu­ally en­sure the regime change pro­gram of the rul­ing coali­tion. If it won’t be so dif­fer­ent, then change can be wel­comed by the pros. It will merely be a new era of merg­ers and ac­qui­si­tions. There will be more to share be­cause two ma­jor groups that pre­vi­ously had to be shared with—na­tion­ally elected se­na­tors with their man­dates ri­val­ing pres­i­dents and their na­tion­wide per­spec­tive, and Supreme Court jus­tices whose in­sti­tu­tional power of re­view is fated to be stripped away—won’t mat­ter as much as they did. May­ors will re­main more pow­er­ful than gover­nors, and con­gress­men may still get the chance to hold Cab­i­net port­fo­lios as they’ve dreamed of do­ing for a gen­er­a­tion, and while pres­i­dents won’t be as lim­ited in their pow­ers as they used to be, fu­ture speak­ers won’t have to play sec­ond fid­dle to the pow­er­less Sen­ate pres­i­dents of the fu­ture.

These are only slight mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the over­all scheme of things—and per­haps ti­dier in the long run. The fate of Bo­ra­cay—its en­tire econ­omy and even the phys­i­cal mo­bil­ity of its res­i­dents and vis­i­tors alike—has been so eas­ily de­creed from on high, so com­pletely de­cided by the pasha’s whims. It turns out Im­pe­rial Manila was only bad so long as it was held by some­one who’d spent their ca­reer in Manila. Give it to some­one from out­side and it’s no prob­lem at all, be­cause now it’s sim­ply known as po­lit­i­cal will.

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