Powerful but overworked Little President Rodriguez

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Executive Secretary-designate Vic Rodriguez is being blamed for Malacañang snafus. Congress, the Opposition and media accord new President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. the traditional 100-day honeymoon to adjust to the rigors of office. But not the so-called Little President.

No one else but Rodriguez must take the fall for conflicted appointees, contradictory announcements and controversial actions. Humbly accepting fault to preserve the President’s “infallibility” are among the many unofficial job descriptions of the ES.

From murmurs in Malacañang, Rodriguez had it coming. Supposedly he re-centralized to his office functions formerly dispersed to other units. That made him powerful, if overloaded.

No longer convening is the screening committee that includes longtime presidential buddy Anton Lagdameo and Zenaida Angping. They have eased into their respective posts as Special Assistant to the President and Presidential Management Staff head. Assistant screeners, including a former Cabinet technocrat of President Cory Aquino, have disbanded.

Rodriguez is left to vet 8,000 presidential appointees by himself. Those must be fielded fast to dozens of agencies and commissions under the Office of the President. Plus, the various departments, bureaus, boards, councils, authorities and government-owned and -controlled corporations.

On their first afternoon in office, June 30, Rodriguez got Marcos Jr. to knock down two Malacañang units. Executive Order No. 1 abolished the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission. The PACC’s duties were returned to the Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs.

Erstwhile PACC chief Greco Belgica was askance. Former president Rody Duterte had spun off the PACC precisely because DESLA was undermanned, with only 11 plantilla positions. Already buried in legal work, it became burdened with investigating crooked presidential appointees among the 8,000. Belgica commented: “Ang masasabi ko lang diyan, kapag natambakan [uli] ng kaso ang DESLA, hindi nare-resolve ang kaso, hindi alam ng tao ang nangyayari, lalong lalala ang korapsyon kasi walang napaparusahan.”

Also scrapped was the Office of the Cabinet Secretary. The OCS used to schedule Cabinet meetings, set agendas, line up attendees and assign reports. Now its staff has reverted to PMS, and its functions to the ES, primus inter pares among Cabinet members.

President Fidel Ramos, 1992-1998, used to annotate policy papers and project studies presented to him with the letters “CSW” in red ink. Meaning, he wanted complete staff work on all aspects of the proposal. Broadcast commentators, newspaper columnists and social media influencers criticize Rodriguez for a series of incomplete staff work.

Four appointees to a transport agency have been exposed for conflict of interest as shipping businessmen, one of them owing the government P132 million. The recommendation for Marcos Jr. to veto tax incentives to the rising New Manila International Airport was seen as a damper to high-tech aviation investors. The floating of an election loser’s name as secretary of Environment and Natural Resources has been cured with Marcos Jr. naming a scientist. But that of Secretary of Energy, initially eyed for two unfit congressmen, remains unresolved. Malacañang last Monday said it has finally tapped former Energy chief Raphael Lotilla to return, then took it back two hours later for imagined conflict of interest.

At least Rodriguez’s workload is lightened by Marcos Jr.’s retention of a SAP. Duterte first created the position to accommodate his 30-year-long aide and confidant, now Senator Bong Go. Then-ES Salvador Medialdea didn’t mind the turf overlap. Marcos Jr.’s SAP Lagdameo will oversee presidential advisers and consultants, starting with that of police-military affairs.

Hopefully Marcos Jr. will not repeat Duterte’s blunder of appointing as special economic adviser a Chinese carpet-bagger. That alien, Michael Yang, got embroiled in the P12.5-billion pricey pandemic supplies to the government.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).


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