New Cabinet: Nipa hut or ‘barong-barong’? | Inquirer Opinion
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New Cabinet: Nipa hut or ‘barong-barong’?

The incoming Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration has only six years, equivalent in duration to just two years of senior high school and a four-year college course. This is an impossibly short duration for completing some significant stage toward a national development goal unless one works with a superb Cabinet.

A Cabinet is a collegial body. It is not a mere concatenation of individual departmental executives. Moving a nation toward a vision of development through wicked challenges requires top-class teamwork.

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Cabinet teamwork can be developed, but no matter how polished and accomplished the individual team members are, they need to be retrofitted into the team so that the team acquires a collective personality that is different from each of the personalities and predispositions of the members of the team.

Cabinet selection, orientation, and deployment require a relevant and logical framework for choosing the right Cabinet officials. Such a framework would have defined the targets for achievement by the administration.

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Such a framework, if presented to the electorate during the May 2022 elections, would have facilitated the selection of the right Cabinet.

Likewise, if Marcos Jr. and the winners were a programmatic political party offering its services as the government of the day for the next six years, it would have shared an ideology and organization to enable it to perform as it has promised in the elections.

In the absence of a perspective plan, this governance edifice’s shape will depend on the motley engineers, carpenters, plumbers, masons, etc. that have been recruited for this “Unity” project.

Even before the groundbreaking ceremonies, many of the members of this construction crew have already released their individual visions of what the eventual “Unity” edifice will look like. Unfortunately, as it is shaping up, the prospective edifice will have myriad discordant facets.

How this extemporaneous construction project will eventually shape up is anybody’s guess. However, we can anticipate the Marcos Jr. administration being pitted against itself on several issues.

These are: (1) tightening vs loosening COVID -19 restrictions for health vs economic considerations; (2) generating additional taxes vs reducing existing ones like the excise tax on oil products; (3) back-pedaling vs intensifying the anti-terrorist law initiative, including Red-tagging; (4) defending Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea vs avoiding China’s ire; (5) expecting the United States to stand by its defense commitments with vs without granting greater access to critical bases and facilities; (6) promoting authentic citizen political engagement vs continuing with inauthentic social media machinations; (7) intensifying the anti-corruption campaign vs protecting wealth creation activities of “untouchables”; (8) rehabilitating Philippine prestige in international relations vs protecting Rodrigo Duterte from investigation and prosecution by the International Criminal Court; (9) reducing the prices of agricultural and food commodities vs increasing the incomes of farmers and fisherfolk; and (10) sustaining the political alliance formed during the elections vs carving new political formations.

Marcos Jr. will be the battleground for his eclectic mix of department secretaries. A president who does not have philosophical solid, ideological, and accountability foundations would likely be “quartered” by these secretaries who will pull him in various inconsistent directions.

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One way of characterizing the Marcos Jr. Cabinet is to use axes like Technocrat vs Politician, Elitist vs Populist, Intellectual vs Entrepreneurial, Ethno-regional vs Scholastic Connection, etc.

A more resonant characterization of the Cabinet for Filipinos might be two alternative models—the nipa hut vs the “barong-barong.”

The nipa hut, no matter how lowly, is well-constructed with functional substructures and well-chosen materials and put together with well-proven native workmanship.

The barong-barong, on the other hand, is a makeshift shack shaped by the motley salvaged scrap materials—lumber, cartons, tin cans, plastic jugs, and tarpaulin billboards—of various shapes and sizes. What holds the barong-barong together are nails, plastic string, wires, etc. On the roof, there is usually a discarded automobile tire or two to weigh the loose roofing materials down.

I thought the Marcos Cabinet looks more like a barong-barong than a nipa hut. In fact, one can make the case that Juan Ponce Enrile is the tire on the roof, somehow giving the whole structure a nondescript trophy of potential survivability and residual functionality.

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