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.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Up to late last Saturday evening--- a day after Yolanda mercilessly battered Visayas--- there was still no indication that Palace security group’s shooting fest scheduled for that Sunday would be cancelled. Still no sense of urgency in Palace. PAL/SMC Chief Ramon Ang agrees with idea of Reconstruction Czar for Visayas, but argues that setting up such czars for Eastern, Central and Western Visayas would be more effective---as they would compete with one another. What about him as Super-Czar?

Palace supporters are upset about criticisms being generously dished out by citizens and foreign and local commentators on the conduct of government’s relief efforts in the past ten days.  But it should be pointed out that those very criticisms had helped jolt the administration to move, after days of seeming paralysis and its inability to cope with the reality of Nov. 8’s super-typhoon.

One indication is that as per Palace sources, there was a scheduled shooting fest for the security people, to be participated in by the President that Sunday, Nov. 10; interestingly, as of late Saturday night, Nov. 09, there was still no indication that this Sunday fest would be cancelled. That day the President rushed to Tacloban for his visit of a couple of hours, and promptly returned to Manila, presumably to be at that shooting fest. Still no sense of urgency.
It took the administration more than an entire week to try to crank up its disaster relief machinery. Three days after Yolanda walloped the Visayas, it sent out an urgent appeal to the world community for help, and an incredible show of massive succor never before seen on the face of the earth turned up.


The barrage of criticisms from international media, led by veteran CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, helped focus world attention to this disaster of biblical proportions and triggered an unprecedented outpouring of international aid and relief---which now ought to be structured to utmost effectiveness, long-range planning and transparency. If not, God help us all.

International media, unbiased and unafraid, raked up serious criticisms of  PH government’s failure to deliver faster response to save lives; the chaos and disarray, in turn, pushed private organizations and citizens’ groups here to launch their own moves to help devastated Visayas.

But the chaotic government response has extracted high political costs from President Aquino---as it triggered intense scrutiny of his capability and preparedness to effectively lead this country out of seemingly unending disasters.

The respected New York Times picked up the jabbings of CNN’s team at Ground Zero and Christiane Amanpour’s restrained but unmistakable insinuations about P-Noy’s incompetence. NYT asserted that P-Noy is “now facing the biggest challenge of his presidency, and even allies say he appears to have been caught off-guard by the scope of the crisis.”


On the local front Standard columnist Francisco Tatad asserted it was time for an incompetent national leadership to go and yield the reins of government to more capable hands. A number of folks in social media, including this writer, echoed this line, questioning the lack of preparedness of our President for what's now--more clearly than ever--a job demanding only the FITTEST OF THE FIT. 

It was not astonishing that such posts would draw an unprecedented number of reactions.

The question now in many citizens’ minds is, where do we go from here? Talk before the super-storm struck about a “transition council” and a “systems change” being tossed around among thoughtful but disconcerted citizens has received enormous boost in the past 10 days. This idea would doubtless gain traction in coming weeks, despite frantic efforts by the Palace machinery to counter it. 


In my blog of Wednesday, Nov. 13, I wrote---way ahead of other commentators--- that even as we all yearn for immediate assistance and relief for the victims of the super-typhoon, it’s imperative that reconstruction and rehabilitation of devastated Visayas be carefully planned and undertaken. I was thinking, among other things, of so many thousands from there being airlifted to Cebu and Metro Manila in past days as Visayas is unable to cope--- aggravating grave problem for these metropolises that are already bursting at the seams. 

I proposed in that blog that a Reconstruction Czar be appointed by the President to undertake the tortuous mind-boggling task of rehabilitating the disaster areas and lives of people who will need not just housing, hospitals, schools and more infrastructure; more importantly, they would need stable sources of livelihood and income other than from the flattened agriculture and fishing.

The problem with the current evacuations to Manila and Cebu is that many Visayans would not want to return, unless they see a more than even chance of surviving and thriving in their original areas. I proposed a sort of mini Marshall Plan---not unlike that which brought about the reconstruction of Western Europe in the aftermath of World War II---for devastated Visayas.


I called on readers to think about this idea of a Reconstruction Czar and suggest who could fit the job description. I was aghast at the response. Thousands upon thousands accessed the blog and many dozens of entries in FB threw names that have been associated with action and competence---in direct repudiation, obviously, of the failure of Aquino administration officials to show quick response and decisive action.

The names of Richard Gordon, former Marikina Mayor Bayani Fernando, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City, former Defense Chief Gilbert Teodoro and Tony Meloto, the prime mover of Gawad Kalinga, cropped up repeatedly in my informal poll---although many readers begged that Dick Gordon be kept at Red Cross’ helm as he is doing superbly there. Some readers asserted that being an engineer should be the lead qualification, not political connections. 


PAL & SMC President Ramon Ang

I argued that the mind-boggling enormity of the  reconstruction and rehabilitation of devastated Visayas demands an out-of-the-box position separate from any Cabinet post, but invested with tremendous powers and full confidence of the appointing power. He or she should have full access to the various line agencies if he is to be fully effective.

Last Thursday evening I ran into PAL and San Miguel Corporation Chief Ramon Ang at the reception tendered by former Speaker Jose de Venecia and Congresswoman Gina de Venecia for a delegation of civil society and business leaders from Turkey (who represent the large Turkish manufacturing conglomerate called “Elginkan”). I decided to test my idea of a Reconstruction Czar with Ramon Ang.

The aggressive industrialist agreed with the need to place the battered areas of the Visayas under such an emergency office. But Ang opined that reconstruction of this entire region would be too large a job for one person, no matter how much of a superman he or she would be.


Instead, Ang thought this job should be broken up among the various afflicted regions---e.g., one for Eastern Visayas (Leyte and Samar), one for Central Visayas of Cebu and Bohol, and another for Western Visayas of Panay and northern Palawan. This way, he argued, the various czars could be pitted against one another “and you achieve faster results from their competition.”

As one can see, Ang’s philosophy in business---keen competition---he wouldn’t hesitate to apply to rehabilitation. Let’s hope that the President and Congress would see this need for a Rehabilitation Czar---or czars. 

By the way, Ramon Ang also agreed with me that what we sorely need are helicopters that could hop from one isolated town to another with relief goods, doctors and medicines, etc. Toward this end, way before various foreign governments could dispatch their choppers here, he and his friends had put together eight helicopters on the 4th day after Yolanda struck, and they went swinging fast into the devastated regions.

Perhaps Ramon Ang could be Super-Rehabilitation Czar. Just thinking.

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  1. BF could be such a no-non-sense actor fit to the task.

  2. I'd go for Bayani Fernando. He fits the job description down to the hilt.

  3. BF certainly is winning this informal poll on who's fittest to assume role of Reconstruction Czar. It only goes to show how strong our people feel against incumbent government officials who proved indecisive and ineffective in the Yolanda onslaught. Let's hope P-Noy and his clique see this mind-boggling task of reconstructing and rehabilitating devastated Visayas in the right way, and not squander all the billions pouring in from abroad in stupid and meaningless projects. They have to have the total picture about reconstruction, not piecemeal. Many thanks for your inputs, readers Primer and Dennis. Pls. tell your friends about my blog.