Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Monday, September 20, 2010

P-Noy government could learn from Gillard’s move

For those watching closely the fate of 33 Chilean miners still trapped in the bowels of the earth, the birth of a baby girl to a miner and his wife, aptly named “Esperanza,” seems to have brought even more HOPE to them. A third drill, far bigger and more powerful than the first two drills being used to bore into the earth, has been added to the rescue effort. Because it can pound through 60-90 feet of hard rock a day, experts estimate that it can reach 6,000 feet beneath the surface, much closer to where they are trapped. The new hole being bored into the rocks, through which the men will be pulled up one by one, will be bigger and reinforced with iron tubing to prevent the surroundings’ collapse.

The hopeful news is that the experts now estimate that barring unexpected developments, the miners could be rescued far earlier---the timetable of Oct. 18 is now being cautiously mentioned. Praise God.


The world has keenly followed the miners’ plight since they were found alive two weeks after their tunnel collapsed, and all kinds of support have poured into the tiny Chilean town where they are trapped. Another instance of such stirring concern and support for them is that, as California-based writer Isabel Allende narrated to the miners via video communication late last week, 33 people were scheduled to swim from Alcatraz, the near-impregnable island-prison in San Francisco Bay, to shore, each of them bearing the name of a Chilean miner on his chest. Allende comfortingly assured them: “If those guys can manage to ‘escape’ from Alcatraz , you are also going to get out from where you are.” To date, only one man is on record as having escaped from Alcatraz but no one knows if he ever survived the shark-infested waters surrounding it. In this episode that Allende narrated, the swimmers would be defying the odds, all in the name of oneness with the miners---a toast to the greatness of human nature.


An observer remarked that it has been over 100 days since President Aquino was proclaimed by Congress and yet over 4,000 positions remain unfilled up to now. Could it be, said this observer, that P-Noy’s intellect has been undeveloped for the past 50 years and that “We have a puerile President? It seems like it,” he opined.

In a news item about a month President Aquino himself admitted that he’s having difficulty filling up all those positions, from director level up to the top, especially in the GOCCs and GFIs. One reason, he said, is that he has to have the nominees screened rigorously so that they are really qualified and in conformity with his platform of government announced during the campaign (:kung walang kurakot, walang mahirap”) and “not continue the age-old and wrong platforms.”

During the campaign his handlers and strategists promised an Aquino administration so radically different from the previous GMA regime, especially on the corruption issue. It was also obvious that they picked this line of campaigning to captivate voters’ attention away from his lackluster record in the House and the Senate. And it did work: to millions of voters the contrast he presented to GMA was like night and day. The problem is that now, 100 days after his proclamation, positions must be filled to enable government run properly and efficiently, but they remain unfilled. An end result is that P-Noy is coming across as indecisive and weak.


To me there are a number of reasons for this difficulty in filling up positions. For one thing, Sen. Franklin Drilon’s finance committee went on a rampage against the various GOCCs, portraying officials appointed by GMA as largely thieves and robbers who plundered government coffers; compounding the problem was the fact that sensationalist media fed on Drilon’s distorted facts and figures. Whereas the bigger problem was really the lack of clear-cut, judicious policies to govern the relationship between the GOCCs and their officials, such as the proper and reasonable sharing of benefits from private corporations set down by government. The result was that a number of officials saw their hard-earned lifelong reputations helplessly torn to tatters.


If Drilon were just and responsible, he would have reviewed the records of GOCCs from the Cory regime, of which he was very much a part, and would have put today’s “scandals” in the perspective of earlier controversies that began in post-EDSA and continued in subsequent administrations. In other words, the Senate committee could have opted for institutional approach to reform, instead of going into a hate and shaming campaign against GMA appointees.

For instance, the media were already rife mid-way into the Cory years about the plunder of some government-sequestered corporations (I recall the memorable intonation of the late Louie Beltran, impersonating Cardinal Sin during a National Press Club Gridiron Night, about the PCGG: “Lord, may we have more good government and less commissions.”). Toward the late ‘90s, reports went around about how some government-appointed directors attempted to plunder the UCPB, so much so that it nearly went under. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas had to come to its rescue, lest a bank run ruined it.


What Drilon’s committee achieved mainly in over a month of hearings was to sow fear in the hearts of prospective business leaders who would otherwise be only too happy to lend their expertise and prestige to running the GOCCs in this administration. To be sure, there were corrupt officials in GMA’s time as in other previous regimes, but that is not to say that all her officials were corrupt.

The problem with the Aquino administration is that to look pogi, it has to seek to destroy its predecessor regime totally and entirely. Which is a pity, as this administration could effectively work with some of the former officials, who could lend some badly-needed maturity and experience to the current crop. The Palace officials’ inexperience and immaturity became so obvious in the Black Monday crisis. Instead of helping the President who suffers from a very limited exposure to public administration, his officials became a drag---no help at all amid the chaos and confusion of that terrible event. The current landscape appears quite barren and infertile.


In this regard, we can look at the experience of Australia with envy. Prime Minister Julia Gillard, its first woman leader, called general elections just three weeks after taking power last June 24 in what media termed a “sudden and ruthless coup.” What was interesting was that Gillard had ousted her own party-mate in the left-center Labor Party, PM Kevin Rudd, who had held Australia ’s top post since winning in a landslide victory last November 2007. After a series of policy slip-ups and as he began to skid in poll ratings, Gillard moved in against Rudd after a bitterly fought fight in parliament, and she grabbed power.

In the recent general elections, however, she could only muster a minority government--- Australia ’s first in decades---and moved to consolidate forces. During the campaign she had promised to recruit Kevin Rudd if she won, and one of the first things she did when she came into power again was to appoint the 52-year old Mandarin-speaking former diplomat known for his interest in global affairs, as her foreign minister. There was some criticism from the public when Rudd accepted the post from Gillard after such an acrimonious fight before; but he reasoned that ‘the national interest of this country goes beyond over personal interests.”

Rudd’s appointment as Australia ’s top diplomat was greeted with world-wide favor and that country is the better for it. In our country, the P-Noy administration is so busy trying to look so different from the old regime, so that its officials don’t seem to have time to grow up. In the past 100 days this government seemed to have simply lurched from one crisis to another.

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