Lito Monico Lorenzana

Lito Monico Lorenzana

Thursday, 09 February 2017 09:06

Deegong’s controversial alter egos

Part 3

CULTURE in the political management context, is the personality of the collective. The Deegong is very clear on this promise of “pagbabago,” or change. All incoming administrations have their slogans related to this much-prostituted word. But the Deegong has a proven track record encompassing two decades of local governance backing up this slogan. His administration is perceived to have one of the lowest incidences of corruption in government and he intends to introduce this culture of anti-corruption applying the same methods in the national level for the desired outcome.

The alter egos’ task is to help him shape this culture, from one where the practice of corruption is pervasive, legitimized and a matter of course; to one where corruption is perceived to be a perversion of positive values and ethically unacceptable. These Cabinet men and women must internalize the task to do what the Deegong did at the outset in his city—to overhaul their own respective departments also. They can’t go for cosmetic changes in techniques and tactics but must go all out to stamp out this sordid practice. Initiating management controls, reeducation and training are just some of the facets of the process. The more important aspects are the firing of corrupt personnel and instituting other sanctions, including cases in court. There is now a critical need to change this culture within the departments yet the pace of change will depend upon the political management skills of the principals—the Cabinet heads. And all these changes and initiatives need to be communicated to the public, clearly and unequivocally. And this is not simply a job for the presidential spokespersons – this requires the all-out efforts of PRRD’s alter egos, the Cabinet members. They need to be the “talking heads” of their own departments.

To understand better the political culture of the Deegong regime, we look back at where he comes from. A city mayor who ran his city successfully, boasting a good steady economic growth over two decades and imposing “law and order” on a city that was perceived to be the CPP/NPA laboratory during the martial law regime. Except for one term as a congressman, the mayor was really—as he himself admitted—“…just a local city mayor who did good by his constituency”. His no-nonsense approach to political governance was effective locally and he is applying the formula on a large scale for the whole country. This is perhaps where his critics may have some argument, on the type of people the President chooses.

Those within the periphery of power (not necessarily Cabinet posts) are from his intimate circle of friends and local boys and girls; some from his alma mater. The profile of his Cabinet are basically local personalities who made good in executive capacities as Cabinet members in past administrations (Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, heads the list with Secretaries Bello, Dureza and Diokno); some have extensive experience as local government executives (Secretaries Piñol and Sueño); and some have international exposure (Yasay of Foreign Affairs and Lorenzana of Defense).

Some chosen personally by the Deegong are those recommended by his allies in Congress, those he relied upon during the presidential campaign and the coalition he hammered to catapult him to the presidency. No doubt these choices are qualified and may have the complete trust of the President. We don’t exactly know who these people are but we do understand their entitlements in relation to the realities of this new government, the dictates of the coalition that support it and the decisions dominated by political imperatives. The President must now pay the price for the coalition’s support, by allocating as evenly as possible, appointive positions at all levels of government to the coalition members. This is of course a logical offshoot of the politics of patronage and spoils system practiced over several generations.

To date PRRD has reportedly over 3,000 positions in the bureaucracy and government corporations still left unfilled with the holdovers of the old regime still in place. This is understandable as the PDP-Laban, the nominal party of the President, does not have enough qualified people to take over the sinecures. The old office-holders may also be protected by the large influx of the Liberal Party members into the PDP-Laban who now practically dominate Congress.

But now, these people must perform their jobs based on their discernment of the new set of values which the PRRD has brought with him. And in turn those with specific Cabinet positions will have to reshape the missions and goals of their departmental turf. To do this, each Cabinet head and his own team must remold the organization and re-inject the concepts of ethics and creating public value. Those key persons in the “old organization” who are unable to give way and submerge their personal values to the collective (new political culture) must be done away with.

The job of these appointed presidential alter egos are not really cut out for them. But they need to follow the lead of their principal, the President. And here is where it becomes complicated. PRRD is a self-directed public manager always setting his own goals, pushing the boundaries of discretion. He is a proven political organizer and coalition builder. It was instinctive for PRRD to build consensus for whatever endeavor he is occupied with at the moment; but the Deegong is perceived also to be cavalier in anchoring his actions on the rule of law – and even seemingly has shown contempt for it.

Which puts the alter egos in a quandary as to how their own personal values and those of the President are analogous. A case in point is the concession given by PRRD to the CPP-NDF where three Cabinet posts were assigned to the openly avowed leftists. In the light of the failure of the peace talks between the government and the CPP/NPA/NDF, and the indictment by PRRD of these groups as terrorists; how will these alter egos now align their beliefs with that of their principal?

Another consideration for the managers recruited to populate the bureaucracy is a common belief that it is easy to transition from the private sector, where many of the Cabinet members and heads of GOCCs were recruited from. This is not exactly correct. Central to their careers as public entrepreneurs are their non-aversion to risk taking. While in the private sector, the gauge of the success or failure of entrepreneurship is in the pesos earned or lost, the bottom line for alter egos is the public good and value they create. Success of the alter egos’ work in government is reflected therefore in the eventual emancipation of the Filipino from the shackles of poverty and injustice – even perhaps at a great personal risk. This is the essence of public service.

Part 2

PRESIDENT Deegong’s breakout from an image of a small-time but effective local city mayor to a national candidate of prominence and onto the presidency was single-handedly defined by the force of his personality. Looking back these past two years from his debut on the national stage, his image as a no-nonsense mayor was projected at first by the local media and captured by the national press but, as claimed by some locals, was distorted to some extent, such that at one point, the Deegong refused any further “press-cons”.

The original talking head, Secretary Pete Lavina, who was competent enough speaking for the Deegong locally was out of his element on the national stage. His demeanor and attempt at the “English language” was perceived to be a disaster; and he was unjustly disparaged for it. Blame too could be attributed to the Deegong who may not have understood the difficult role of his spokesperson. One cannot cage a whirlwind out to proclaim his message to the four corners.

Atty. Panelo’s stint was even more short-lived as the Deegong’s message was deflected by the flamboyant persona of the talking head himself; redirecting instead people’s attention to his sartorial tastes, a garish multi-hued combination and his forced attempt at explaining the presidency, also in colorful language uniquely the President’s. He was better off using his excellent legal mind in the service of the President away from the public glare.

The two that followed, Secretary Martin Andanar, the communications director, and Secretary Ernie Abella, the presidential spokesperson, have been recruited to do almost impossible jobs. Which brings us to the issue at hand.

These two Cabinet members who handle the Deegong’s image and disseminate his messages are his alter egos too, and aside from being his political heat shields and lightning rods, must understand the more specialized roles assigned to them. The current problem of “vigilantism and extra-judicial killing” has entered the lexicon of the political conversation. This issue needs to be expounded in a different light projecting a different image. Changing the face of the issue is one such tool in political management. The issue must emphasize the inevitable slow but deadly slide towards narco-political abyss. Why not capture a big fat drug lord and make an example of him? A Lim Seng of the Marcos regime but going through the justice system–-and doing it fast. Surely, the political capital of the Deegong can guarantee fast justice.

Or project real investigations of rogue policemen and generals whom the Deegong have already shamed, but not in the TV camera-centered congressional hearings that go nowhere. Why only poor dead addicts, why not dead rogue policemen and rich corrupt politicians? Why not sample congressmen in the presidential blue list (refer to the Manila Times, “Conversations with the Deegong” Dec 15, 22, 29 2016…

And this cannot be the job only of the “talking heads”. Make it an executive department-wide concern and expand the context by bringing it to the national consciousness. Field articulate Cabinet members to several national TV and radio networks where they can defend the government action on illegal drugs as a legitimate response to a threat, menace and danger. There are countless literature and horror stories in Columbia, Mexico and some other South American countries of drug cartels and narco-politicians capturing political and economic power and sipping the life-blood of the country dry. Bring these out as illustrations of weak states! This massive government response could succeed in changing the character of the debate from one focused on human rights violations to that of the legitimate right of the people with the help of government to defend themselves and their homes from the evils of illegal drugs. But this can’t be left alone for the President to champion. This requires a well-oiled team in the highest echelons of government. But do we have that team? (This will be discussed in the last part of this 3-part article).

Relating with external environment (Excerpts from the above-mentioned paper “A critical appreciation of a job of high officials in public service is the importance of relating with key elements of their external environment: interest groups and lobbyists who tend to see their issues as having preeminence over others (anti- and pro-capital punishment etc.); a majority of those who supported the winner’s candidacy may call upon the administration to extract their pound of political flesh for their perceived entitlements; the practitioners in the media who consider themselves the “fourth estate” and sometimes final arbiter of conflicts, and are prone to reporting controversial events and nothing else. The power of social media and the internet was also shown during the presidential campaign, which helped catapult the Deegong to the presidency, freeing him from dependence on the editorial boards. The political and legislative overseers who have a handle on the Cabinet departments’ resources (threat of budget cuts, tightening funds flow, restrictive laws and regulations); and the more important authorizing environment, Congress and more particularly the President, who, in the course of the transition from the PNoy regime also brought with him a new change in a set of dominant values

“It is in relation to the realities of this new seven-month old government, the dictates of the coalition of political parties that support it and the decisions dominated by political imperatives that will have to reshape the missions and goals of each department and of each Cabinet secretary. They who are themselves the President’s personal choices should be ready to accept Usecs and Asecs whose qualifications are offshoots of the politics of patronage and spoils system—not necessarily congruent with the demands and skills needed for the jobs.”

(Part 3 will appear on Feb 9.)

Thursday, 26 January 2017 09:40

Digong’s controversial alter egos

Part One

IN the light of recent events in the country that have merited glaring headlines, this column, A View from the Center, will attempt at elucidation using as a backdrop the author’s paper on political management while working on a postgraduate course at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in the 1980s (access

This will draw heavily too from personal experience as both an observer and a participant in political dynamics in the two decades serving under four administrations in various capacities from Presidents Cory, to FVR to Erap and with GMA. I was not in any way involved with PNoy’s regime. I too am not currently involved with the Dee-gong administration in any capacity. My observations on his presidency however will form a substantial part of this three-part article.

I don’t claim any intimacy with these past Presidents as most people privileged to work along the periphery of the high and mighty are wont to insinuate. I will not fall into the temptation of bloating my minor role, but will present my views as a student and practitioner of “political technocracy”.

The past few weeks’ headlines screamed for the heads of Trade Secretary Art Tugade and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre. Both Cabinet members are victims of expectations—very high expectations—mainly the public’s. We are not privy to the presidential expectations but can only assume that their appointments were for the most part the result of PRRD’s assessment of their capabilities, experiences and competencies; and as classmates or alumni from the President’s university–-a not-so-light qualification given the Filipino culture of patronage.

The latter is critical as they have been designated as the President’s alter egos, and as such have the complete trust of the President and are expected to speak for and in his behalf in their areas of expertise. Such responsibility is a privileged one and both must understand the nature of the relationship.

For one, this bond is no longer a personal one, as in classmates, schoolmates or “tsokaran”. It has transcended the familiar and morphed into one containing the majesty of the office of the presidency. By this precept, both are custodians of presidential prerogatives, prestige and power; and adding their own to it to enable the President and them to do their task well. The sum of all these is the vaunted fragile political capital of the President with a sustainability dependent largely on a fickle citizenry.

All Cabinet members are by inference the President’s alter egos and must understand their roles perfectly well.

Cabinet members are heat shields and political lightning rods of the presidency. As such, part of their job is to deflect serious criticism from their respective publics and clientele of the presidency as a result of their official functions. As an efficient conductor of political heat, these honorable secretaries must prevent damage or serious erosion to the political capital of the presidency.

The high expectations of the riding public to solve the oppressive traffic situation in Metro Manila, which includes the unsafe and unreliable train system, has eaten into the perception of incompetence of the department head, hence the call for his dismissal.

Paradoxically by the above measures, the good Secretary Tugade has done well deflecting the harm to his principal, considering the enormity of the problems inherited from the immediate past regime and having occupied his office for only half a year.

The same is true with the Justice Secretary who acted to deflect from the presidency the failings of the justice system (the drug proliferation in the prisons); and more particularly the perceived anomalies perpetrated by the two alumni of their law school who very early in this administration had begun to put their dirty little fingers in the Office of Immigration.

Both Cabinet members did their job as political heat shield, but still have to prove their mettle by serving the public by doing the job they were meant to do; but the long-suffering public has understandably short patience.

The third case is the curious actuations of the head of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on the alleged murder of a Korean national within the confines of his office. He claimed that a massive manhunt had been ordered personally by him to apprehend the perpetrators, only to find out from the media that the main suspect has been assigned all along at an office a stone’s throw from his. His claim once that a police rub-out suspect was freed upon the instructions of someone “higher in authority” was so inane and tragically comical as, in his job description, there is no person higher in authority than the President himself.

This series of incidents reflect his mis-appreciation of a job that catapulted him from a local provincial sinecure to the head of a critical agency in the national government. The general was utterly clueless reinforcing an elementary rule in political management that is the first duty of a presidential appointee: discovering what one’s job is. Job description at most higher levels, and in this case the top police general, is neither defined for you exactly nor “announced in the newspapers”. It is more or less the ability to “grab” authority and responsibility and incorporating the same into your own little rectangle (in the organization chart).

Calls for the resignation of these three presidential subalterns could be premature considering the short time spent at their jobs; they simply need to be on top of the learning curve. But along with the perks accorded top presidential appointees should be their readiness to prevent damage to the presidency and the country even at the risk of their own.

Such is the essence of their function as presidential alter ego; a duty to give all in the service of the President and the Filipino—and to discern well the sequence of that duty.

The phrase that they hold office upon the “pleasure of the President” is an absurd one reflecting indecisiveness. This puts the onus on the President and a wasteful withdrawal from his political capital.

(Part 2 next Thursday)

* * *



THIS recent audience with the President is discussed in a three-part series in this column that started on December 15 and continuing on for the two succeeding Thursdays. This last encounter, the evening of December 5, was considerably different from the ones in the past. PRRD was more subdued and perhaps more reflective. I would venture to describe the engagement almost with panache on his part even with a modicum of elegance, except for a few expletives interspersed here and there that perhaps added emphasis and color to the conversation.


Part 1

Part 2

THAT evening of December 5 when I had this conversation with the PRRD, he looked haggard and exhausted. He explained that he had to leave the Cabinet meeting twice that day, first to light up the Christmas tree at the Malacañang grounds and the second to meet with a special group of Chinese mainland visitors earlier, headed by Mr. Huang Rulun who gave P1.4 billion for the rehabilitation of the illegal drug surrenderees. Mr. Rulun had started his business here in Binondo Chinatown way back in 1986 and claims to have an emotional attachment to the Philippines. The President praised this philanthropist for his gesture and appreciated the fact that he asked nothing in return.


LAST Monday December 5, I had the privilege of meeting with President Duterte in Malacañang at 10 p.m., a “not so ungodly hour” considering that the last time I had this privilege was at 2:30a.m. in Davao’s Malacañang of the South. But this time, the President had directed his presidential kitchen to provide a simple dinner at around 9:00 p.m. – very timely indeed as hunger pangs overtook me as I had to rush to Malacañang from the airport at 7 p.m. for this appointment.

(Delivered at the Kusog Mindanaw Conference 2016 on 29 November 2016 at the Waterfront Insular Hotel by Lito Lorenzana, Centrist Democratic Party)

Federalism is a subject matter that has occupied its Philippine advocates over the last three or four decades but has only gained traction through the candidate Duterte. A lot of us are somewhat familiar with the concept, but allow me to examine Federalism thru the prism of the people of the South – particularly people from Mindanao – where the concept is much more understood.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016 17:00


I want to extend a very warm welcome to all of you here who have joined the 7th National Congress. I am very pleased to be surrounded by our newly elected officers, our members and fellows and our guests.
Thursday, 24 November 2016 11:12



THIS is a sequel to last Thursday’s article on Trump winning. But instead of exploring the implications of what happened to Hillary and its consequences on Philippine politics (Nothing! Nada!), I will proceed to assess the US elections–from a purely subjective point of view.


MY close friends tell me that at my age, I am proverbially in the “pre-departure area,” as many of them–postwar babies–have actually departed, some surreptitiously in the night, the others with fanfare. My children think differently. They believe, I have now the time to enjoy my grandkids (three boys, two girls and counting) with “many years” ahead of me. My grandkids think Lolo will live forever in that “big house up thehill.” I think otherwise. I intend to attend the weddings of my two granddaughters, Sylvie and Claudia, ages two and one, respectively, and see them produce me my great-grandchildren. I suppose I have approximately 40 more years before my grand exit.

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