‘Miserable life’ | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

‘Miserable life’

/ 01:59 AM May 09, 2014

Last December, while ex-senator Panfilo Lacson awaited the release of his appointment papers as presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery, he joked around with reporters covering a breakfast forum at the Diamond Hotel. Once the papers are released, he said, that would be the “start of my miserable life.”

Apparently, he wasn’t kidding. In a remarkable press briefing at the Palace on Wednesday, to mark the sixth-month point  since Supertyphoon “Yolanda” ripped through the central Philippines, the former national police chief and former presidential candidate whined about his lack of power and the lack of cooperation from his peers in the Cabinet.

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Saying it would be “ideal” if Memorandum Order 62, which defines his functions, could be revised to give him implementing powers, he whined about the limitations he faced: “I’m really frustrated because if I want to do something, I want to do it right away. But sometimes you can’t do it because it’s not within my authority.”

Taking aim at two allegedly “deadma” Cabinet secretaries he did not name, he whined about their lack of cooperation. “No matter how many times you call their attention, there’s no response, not even a word that it can’t be done or they cannot do it. There’s just nothing. Isn’t that frustrating?”

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Yes, but not only because those unnamed officials, whoever they are, seem to have other priorities. Last December, Lacson was claiming that one of the reasons he was appointed rehabilitation czar was his reputation as a “basagulero”—meaning, in the government context, that he had the reputation of being able to bang heads together if the situation called for it. President Aquino’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, made special mention of Lacson’s “national stature,” a quality which he said allows Lacson to “deal with all the different building blocks.”

But six months after Yolanda, and five months after Lacson’s appointment, there is still no consolidated rehabilitation and recovery plan for the affected areas. As lawyer Karen Jimeno, the director of Lacson’s Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (Oparr), told a joint congressional hearing also last Wednesday, the office was still waiting for the final postdisaster needs assessment of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Only then can the overall plan take shape.

A worried Rep. Ronaldo Zamora responded: “The whole idea that Oparr is an empowered agency, clearly this is not the truth. This is not the case. What’s happening is that people on the ground think that Oparr has this huge array of funds, of powers, of authorities, but clearly they don’t.”

How did we get to this disgraceful pass? Of many possible factors, let us highlight three.

First, the Aquino administration still does not seem to understand the true stakes involved. The overall plan is not Lacson’s, but the President’s. The failure to force concerned agencies to produce the plan, six months after Yolanda, does not only reflect on Lacson and the agencies, but also on Mr. Aquino.

Second, the President’s order as written does not in fact create a rehabilitation and recovery czar, but only a high-profile coordinator. The first of the eight enumerated functions of the new office seems to suggest vast powers: “Act as over-all manager and coordinator of rehabilitation, recovery, and reconstruction efforts of government departments, agencies, and instrumentalities in the affected areas, to the extent allowed by law.” But the second highlights the limits on those powers: “Coordinate with the [NDRRMC] and its member agencies and consult with the concerned local government units (LGUs) in the formulation of plans and programs for the rehabilitation, recovery and development of the affected areas (‘the plans and programs’), including an over-all strategic vision and integrated short-term, medium-term and long-term programs.”

Third, Lacson does not yet seem to have accepted the reason for his appointment in the first place: The basagulero is there to supply what’s missing in the order. At the news briefing, he said he had not yet told the President of the difficulties he was facing. “I don’t want to give him problems. One of these days, I’m going to discuss it with him.” The lack of a sense of urgency is so symptomatic it’s, well, miserable.

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TAGS: Aquino Cabinet, Karen Jimeno, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery, Oparr, panfilo lacson, Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery, Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, supertyphoon ‘yolanda’
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