The duelling cabinet ministers in Noynoy Aquino’s cabinet are reminiscent of the internecine strife that crippled the administration of his mother, Cory Aquino (1986–1992).
Cory’s weak leadership and inability to control her squabbling cabinet members emboldened coup plotters like Gringo Honasan and led to a puny list of accomplishments at the end of her 6-year term.
Her first defense secretary, Juan Ponce Enrile, was in virtually open rebellion before he was forced to resign in November 1986. Her vice president, Salvador Laurel, sniped at the president and her supporters throughout their terms.
In the first 3 years of the administration, a faction led by NEDA Director-General Winnie Minsod (which argued that the Philippines should not repay debts incurred under the Marcos administration) battled a group led by Finance Minister Vicente R. Jayme and Central Bank Jose B. Fernandez (which believed the country needed to fulfil its international obligations). Monsod lost and resigned in 1989.
When Aquino did come down strongly in support of one side or another in cabinet rows she did not always choose her battles wisely. On one of the most divisive issues of her administration, the US bases agreement, she threw her weight solidly behind the retention of the bases, a position that was out of touch with the mood in the country and in the Congress. The Senate’s rejection of the renewal of the agreement in the last year of her administration was a humiliation for the president who’s pro-US stance on the issue typified her poor political touch.
And let’s not get into the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program …
Like mother, like son
Noynoy appears unable to accept criticism of his cabinet favourites, especially of his shooting range buddy, interior undersecretary Rico “they’re all out to get me” Puno, who claims to be the target of five other “groups” within the administration.
Here is the PCIJ’s description of the president’s reaction to the first report on the Quirino grandstand bus siege:
ON THE day he received the 82-page report of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) about the Rizal Park Hostage-taking Incident – and without even a full reading of its contents – President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III had blurted out: “Napatapang ‘ata masyado ah. Bakit kasama pa sila Puno, Lim, at Verzosa?” [It’s too strongly worded. Why are we implicating Puno, Lim and Verzosa?]
Noynoy’s solution was to send the IIRC report to another panel made up of his legal counsel de Mesa and executive secretary Paquito Ochoa. As a result of this second panel’s watered down report, the president has decided that none of the officials involved in the 23 August bus debacle were criminally liable. Not surprisingly, this has led to intense speculation that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, chair of the committee that wrote the original report, was going to resign (de Lima said yesterday that she is staying).
The government’s response to the failed bus siege is starting to look almost as bungled as the event itself.
Amando Doronila sums up what all this says about Noynoy’s leadership style:
Although no severe penalties emerged from the two investigations—that of the IIRC and the Ochoa panel—the procedures revealed President Aquino’s style of handling crisis and discord in his Cabinet and higher bureaucracy.
He is not prepared to sack Cabinet members found wanting in the discharge of their duties, although at the earlier stage of the inquiry into the hostage crisis, he declared “heads will roll” for the hostage debacle. That he had to create two layers of committees to inquire into the episode suggests indecisiveness to act on delicate and sensitive issues.
In clearing Puno and then Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa, who was directly in charge of police forces, the President said, “All of us are people, none of us is perfect.”
A house divided against itself cannot stand
It’s early days and Noynoy, who has very little management experience to my knowledge, is presumably learning from these bruising battles. Let’s hope so because the country needs the son to be a better team leader than his mother was.
He has to be tougher than her, to squash the squabbling between his associates, and to be ruthless when needed. Unlike Cory, who, in the words of Joel Rocamora, “allowed her brother to sabotage the reform process by recruiting KBL and other unsavory trapo (traditional politician) types" into the ruling party, Noynoy has to end the perceptions of cronyism that the recent headlines about Puno have generated. If not, he will spend the next 6 years looking inward instead of focusing on the many problems and opportunities he was elected to address.