Like It Is

Give them the power

As an engineer, I have great reverence for tools—I probably have the largest private collection in the Philippines—and the need to have the right tool for the job. If you want to do a job well, you must have the right tools. Yet we have two organizations today who have been asked to do particularly difficult jobs with, in effect, their hands tied behind their back—denied of the tools they need.

Rehabilitation czar Ping Lacson has been assigned a most difficult task: Put Leyte back on the map. Yet he has almost no budget from the government and no power over agencies to get things done. He must request—and hope they’ll agree.


The chief of the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center, Cosette Canilao, has the same problem. The poor performance of the PPP program to date is not the fault of the PPP Center but of the extraordinarily slow reaction of other government departments, particularly the Department of Transportation and Communications, over which she has no power.

The cost of rehabilitation has been estimated at P106 billion (forget the revised P104.64 billion, they are that accurate in estimating). Yet the report on how to spend it is being referred to the National Economic and Development Authority. I have high respect for the Neda, but what on earth is the role of Lacson? That amount should be assigned to the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery, to be used for that rehabilitation. And that office should be the one to determine how the money will be spent. Other departments should only be involved where their assistance in execution is necessary.


This rehab was assigned to Lacson because of its special-crisis nature. If it’s to follow the usual bureaucratic maze, you can forget it; you don’t deal with crises by following procedures. For instance, if a new bridge is needed, Lacson should ask the Department of Public Works and Highways to build it—and it should forthwith comply. If the private sector is to be involved—PPP—then Lacson should call for bids, choose a winner, and sign an agreement. Or negotiate a deal.

The controls come through the various laws (far too many) controlling government spending, and the Commission on Audit. Lacson should not be forced to beg, hat in hand, for a department to act. This is no way to manage an organization. He’s complaining that some department secretaries are dragging their feet, and the results—or, more correctly, the lack of them to date—would bolster that complaint. The suggestion I raised would remove them from the process, and fit in with how an organization should be structured. You give someone a job, you give them the power, the money, and the tools to do it.

Back in 1992 we were experiencing 8- to 12-hour power blackouts daily in Manila, much as Mindanao is experiencing today. As he did in his campaign, then President Fidel Ramos promised continuous power by Christmas the following year. Despite its sounding like an impossible task within the Philippine bureaucracy, and because of his being an engineer, I believed him.

And he delivered; we did have full-time power. He did it by asking Congress for emergency powers to negotiate for power plants. Today ill-informed people blame him for the high cost of electricity as the plants he bought were expensive, and expensive to run. But he rightly said: “No power is more expensive.” He had no choice; he was handed a situation of daily blackouts that were crippling business, caused by the inaction of the previous administration. Today we face the same situation, albeit less serious: a risk of blackouts because the bureaucracy has been slow to approve new power plants and is unwilling to override objectors who block new plants.

My mind got sidetracked into this, but because it’s important, I’ll leave it. The point I wanted to make is that President Aquino and Congress should follow this example and delegate those emergency powers to Lacson to fast-track reconstruction post-“Yolanda.” Why haven’t they? Progress to date in a disaster where over 6,000 people were killed has been depressingly slow. In fact, if it weren’t for all the international support, it would be a cause for national shame. Philippine bureaucracy can’t handle “fast.” But fast is what the people need.

You can go home tonight to a decent meal after a satisfying day at work that paid for the home, the meal, and all else for your family. The people of Leyte can’t. They have a tent, minimal food and, far too often, no family. Are we going to let them suffer even longer, even more?

Let’s stop all this political nonsense and just get things done. Let’s give back to Leyteños a decent, human life—fast. I’d like to see the President rush this now, do whatever is necessary, get whatever approvals are needed, get emergency powers (if this is not an emergency, what is?) to give Lacson the powers and funds to rebuild fast.


And in a similar manner, give the PPP Center the resources, people and power to force faster action. It should not be hampered by the inaction of others. It should be the one to oversee and control (key word) the preparation of request for proposals (RFPs), evaluation of bids, and awards. Otherwise, close it down because it has tried to do a good job but was not given the tools to do that job.

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TAGS: Commission on Audit, Cosette Canilao, Leyte, National Economic and Development Authority, NEDA, Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery, Ping Lacson, PPP Center, PPP program, Public-private partnership
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