Thursday, June 21, 2018
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No Free Lunch

Wanted: UST, not UP

When asked to speak on “Dutertenomics,” one of the things I point out as having no place in it is “UP” (that is, uncoordinated policies) when we ought to have UST (meaning, unity, solidarity and teamwork). The latter was the constant reminder former President Fidel V. Ramos made to those of us in his Cabinet, and to all Filipinos in general, during his presidency in the 1990s.

One of the most formidable challenges in government leadership is getting the various instrumentalities of government to work in unison toward a set of shared goals. To its credit, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) has gone into a highly consultative exercise to clearly define the shared vision and goals of the country and its people, summed up in Ambisyon 2040. The challenge now is to rally everyone, especially the various instrumentalities of government, to work as a team in pursuit of Ambisyon 2040.

Ramos did it by creating countless interagency coordinative bodies, to ensure that government moved as one in pursuing its goals. As head of Neda then, we counted 443 of such coordinative interagency bodies that we were part of, half of which Neda chaired. It took much time and effort on our part as government officials then. But with hindsight, I wouldn’t have had it another way.

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It’s very easy for government to fall into a situation where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. It’s not just a problem across government departments and agencies. It’s particularly annoying when you see it within the same department or agency. It’s bad enough not to have proper communication and coordination; we often see instances where the right hand’s actions even directly conflict with those of the left hand.

At Neda, I occasionally found different sector staffs taking conflicting positions on specific policy issues in the respective interagency bodies they sat in, leading to criticisms that we had no clear agency position. Upon seeing the “right-hand-not-knowing-what-the left-hand-is-doing” syndrome in my own turf, I began preaching my “seamless Neda” doctrine intended to foster “UST” in the agency and to overcome the silo mentality that is all too common in government.

It was President Cory Aquino who appointed me to Neda as assistant secretary and later as undersecretary, under my late friend Cayetano “Dondon” Paderanga, who had recruited me to the agency. With all due respect to our beloved former President, the one thing she—and later, her son—had difficulty doing was to prevent Cabinet members from engaging in open conflict and public debates in the media, spurred by policy or personality differences. If there were “Balay” and “Samar” factions engaged in a constant struggle within the previous government, a “Council of Trent” faction was seen to hold sway over key policy directions in the Cory Cabinet. The untimely resignation of feisty Professor Winnie Monsod, then the Neda secretary in the Cory Cabinet, was prompted by open conflict with that Cabinet clique, borne out of fundamental policy differences.

It was bad enough that Congress was constantly blocking the Cory government’s reform initiatives, often leading to gridlock in the government’s policymaking processes. This led Ramos to push Congress to create the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac), which he used to the hilt to achieve productive coordination with Congress. But the press, then and now, hasn’t been of help on achieving “UST.” Reporters have a propensity to provoke such public disagreements in the media, by asking Cabinet officials to comment on public statements made by another Cabinet official even before they get the chance to talk to each other (with questions like “he said/she said…; so what do you think?”). “Pinagsasabong” (inducing a cockfight) is the term used when media reporters deliberately induce government officials to debate each other publicly through such a leading question. And officials are often reckless enough to open their mouths even before getting the chance to talk directly to the concerned colleague—a no-no for us in the Ramos Cabinet then.

This is what UST is all about, and Dutertenomics could certainly use more of it.
cielito.habito@gmail.com

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TAGS: Dutertenomics, fidel v. ramos, government leadership, UP, UST
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