Speak now or be silenced

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

A mid-level official at the DFA asked me early this week what my reading was on the chances of DFA Secretary Enrique Manalo being confirmed by the Commission on Appointments. Given what Manalo and the DFA managed to accomplish during PBBM’s state visits to Indonesia, then to Singapore and finally at the United Nations General Assembly, I confidently forecasted that Sec. Manalo would be confirmed even with the opposition of one or two senators because success is hard to argue against. As it turns out, I read my tea leaves right, as the DFA secretary was confirmed.

Unfortunately, the CA bypassed 12 other Cabinet secretaries and the official reason is that the CA ran out of time and had to deliberate more important or pressing matters. The thinking is that PBBM simply has to “reappoint” or recycle the nomination of the 12 secretaries, which is already one less from the original list after Atty. Vic Rodriguez exited in haste, knowing there was already a prejudgment that “he shall not pass.” Clearly, it is no longer an easy feat to get confirmation from the CA and I suspect that the bypass of the 12 leftovers could result in further difficulties or complications for some of them.

The longer the delay in their confirmation hearings, the more the possibility of reports, complaints, criticisms or what have you reaching members of the CA or the media. Little by little people have been talking about how certain departments have been slow to respond on day-to-day concerns, how malingering problems have not been included in the funding and solutions for certain departments, not to mention comparisons being made between current officials to previous bosses. I would imagine that there could be a pile up of complaints against departments simply because of reports on social media.

Imagine, for instance, the point raised by a congressman who sponsored the budget of the LTO which was denied the needed funds in order to pay off and buy the million-plus plate numbers that remain unissued to vehicle owners that already paid for the plates. Add to that the two recent incidents of “hit and run” where one child was killed and two victims badly hurt. Because of failure to implement the full force of the law in an earlier and very controversial “hit and run” incident. Then we have stories of airport delays, dogs causing the closure of the runway. All these are supposed to be low level bureaucratic responsibility, if the tales of woe pile up and the hearing get delayed, I pity Jimmy Bautista.

The same thing may happen to Manny Bonoan, the nominated secretary for DPWH. You can already bet that members of the CA will be all over him to find out who and what gets priority after so much damage has been done by typhoons, etc. Add to that the deplorable state of roads in Metro Manila as well as so many vested interest groups keen on finding out what infrastructure projects the DPWH will be rolling out in the next 12 months and what regions will get them.

Just yesterday, a Grab driver pointed out to me how a short strip of EDSA in Pasay, in front of the Kabayan Hotel, has been full of holes and broken concrete for years but has never been properly addressed. The 2.5-lane road is the single reason why cars, trucks and vans heading to Pasay and Manila always end up in gridlock for kilometers up to Magallanes every day. Because it has been the situation for years, even before COVID, we have all simply assumed that the traffic was caused by vehicles merging. The problem is and has been due to the 4x4 terrain we call EDSA/Pasay!

Even DTI secretary nominee Alfredo Pascual has to spend more time rolling up his sleeves and picking up where Mon Lopez left off. Like it or not, Pascual is already being compared to Lopez, who was very “hands on” and empowering of qualified career officials at DTI. Some business reps who’ve had a chance to talk to and study the cues from incoming DTI secretary got the impression that Pascual has high and lofty ideas and wants to focus on establishing the department in terms of trade and industry similar to departments and ministries of trade abroad.

Pascual correctly wants to shift the department away from the erroneous image of the “price watch”-palengke office of government, which was never really the DTI’s role. But in order to do that, Pascual needs to take off his academic robe and stand-offish image and gain the trust of the DTI and industries. Lock the professor in the cabinet and let the businessman and coach do the talking. In the words of several friends, he has to stop being professorial and learn to listen and engage. Someone quipped: “Even his collar is starched.” It’s all meant well and to help Sec. Pascual become more effective.

Of course, there is always a silver lining in the situation; the 12 Cabinet secretaries could take advantage of the recess or time out to directly reach out to members of the CA for an “out of court” engagement and the chance to exchange concerns and address issues thoroughly. The time out also gives the pending Cabinet members the chance to make tracks, work up their teams to immediately address issues, complaints that could be thrown at their face before the CA. Asking the previous secretary would be wise.

Last but not the least, now is the perfect opportunity for the 12 Cabinet secretary nominees to go out on speaking-tours, interviews, share their qualifications and accomplishments on every possible media platform. They should pre-empt all the unasked and unanswered questions that will be asked during the hearings of the Commission on Appointments.

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