So early, too many hiccups already

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag - The Freeman

If I remember right, the 31 million plus people who voted for the winning president in the May 9 elections wrote Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. on their ballots, not Victor Rodriguez. A lawyer for Marcos, Rodriguez spoke for him during the campaign. After the election, Marcos rewarded Rodriguez with the powerful post of executive secretary for a job well done.

So powerful indeed is the post that most people would describe its holder as the "little president". But the executive secretary being the little president does not in any way make him the president. The president is still president. Any presidential surrogate or alter ego, whether little, big, or whatever, is not or will ever be. Marcos sits on a pile of public approval 31 million votes high. Rodriguez does not have doodly-squat.

To be sure Rodriguez can say or do things on behalf of the president. That is what his position suggests. But he has to be sure such actions are precisely what the president himself would say or do. It is not enough that words or acts of the executive secretary hew closely to presidential intent or desire. In the business of running a country, high precision is required.

But this early, at least two very public fumbles have already been attributed to the executive secretary, which is very disconcerting indeed, to say the least, considering the huge expectations behind the sails of Marcos. The first one involved the naming of a new general manager of the Philippine Ports Authority, which raised many eyebrows as the appointee reportedly had a lot of baggage to carry.

In fairness to Rodriguez, it was never ascertained whether he himself made the appointment. Perhaps people just did a quick one-plus-one on the assumption that the person was an in-law or something. What cannot be denied is the fact that people saw, rightly or wrongly, the hand of Rodriguez in it. It did not help the perception that the appointment appears to have been quietly withdrawn.

The second fumble, which may not go as quickly and quietly as the first one did, this time involves an attempt to make a huge importation of sugar, 300,000 metric tons to be exact. The authority to cover the import was signed by Agriculture undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, who has since resigned when the flap broke. Sebastian admitted signing the order on behalf of Marcos.

Ironically, it may not even be the fault of Sebastian, who could merely have acted on the basis of the authority given him. It appears that on July 15, Rodriguez issued a memo expanding the functions of Sebastian, including the power to sign on behalf of the Agriculture secretary. This is where Rodriguez may have committed the fumble. He must have forgotten Marcos himself has assumed the post of Agriculture secretary.

If Rodriguez did not forget, then he committed the worse mistake of wrongly second-guessing the president. He failed to appreciate what it meant for Marcos to take on the Agriculture portfolio himself. It meant Marcos did not want to delegate any authority or powers. It meant he wanted his own hands on the department of his choosing. If he had wanted to delegate, he would not have taken on the position himself.

So how could Rodriguez miss that? How could he give away Marcos' powers to sign agriculture-related orders when that is precisely why Marcos wanted to be secretary of Agriculture; to be on top of a department long suspected of shenanigans involving irregular imports so as to put a stop to the rackets. It is time Marcos gets a grip on his presidency, or else he loses it, not his little president.


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