POSTSCRIPT / December 22, 2013 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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With Mar out, Ping is the man to watch

MAR OUT, PING IN: Former senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, the latest addition to the Aquino Cabinet as the Rehab Czar, is the man to watch.

Depending on how Lacson plays his cards and how his rivals for the Liberal Party presidential nomination play theirs, he could emerge as the LP/administration standard bearer in 2016. Assuming there will be elections then.

Since 2010, DILG Secretary Mar Roxas has been the presumed shoo-in for the nomination, especially with President Noynoy Aquino having to pay the political debt he owes to Roxas after he gave way to Cory Aquino’s son running for and winning the presidency.

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FUMBLE: But Roxas has self-destruct as heir apparent. He has been found wanting in the high-profile jobs given to him – particularly in managing rescue/relief after a monster quake and then a killer typhoon devastated his homeground the Visayas.

More than his being chief of the departments of transportation and communication and now of the interior and local governments, his assignment as disaster action man, with emphasis on “action”, should have been the golden opportunity to prove himself and shine.

The stage was set for the dream performance of his political life. But Roxas’ showing, even with his boss the President beside him, was lackluster, tepid and mostly disastrous.

With the calamity victims and the devastation around him providing the perfect cast and setting, he fumbled, exposing his lack of managerial skill and human empathy.

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MEANT TO FAIL?: Comes now Lacson, the supercop-turned-politico. Was he brought in to deodorize the Aquino administration that is starting to stink? Or for something else?

As Rehab Czar, is he not programmed to also fail? Note that as mere coordinator for the President in post-disaster reconstruction, he was not given the organization, and the vital powers and funds to make things work.

He has to contend with old line departments jealously guarding their turf and budget. Even if Lacson drops the name of the President, he cannot alter the fact that the Cabinet secretaries are not under him.

And then he has to put together first a master rehabilitation and reconstruction plan. By the time he can show the first draft, valuable time would have passed.

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HIGHER PROJECTION: Lacson knows his limitations, even the fact that the cards seem to be stacked up against him.

Why then did he accept the job if he knew it is a virtual mission impossible? As I see it, the 65-year-old Lacson needs a platform to continue projecting himself as possible material for something bigger, like maybe the presidency.

That is a legitimate and logical aspiration considering the reality that Roxas, the main contender in the LP, has stumbled out of the race.

Lacson need not stay as Rehab Czar with one hand tied behind his back. At some juncture, his reconstruction work can be turned over to the regular departments – and he emerges as a hunter of big-time government crooks.

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SHIFTING ROLES: With the unstable popularity of the President, such an anti-corruption spurt could make Lacson the darling of the street and internet crowd crying for the heads of the well-connected thieves in high places.

More than Rehab Czar, the role of Anti-Corruption Cop is one that Lacson can play with competence and dramatic effect.

He need not look like he is subverting the President. An anti-corruption Lacson line can be sold as a continuation of the Aquino campaign slogan whose impact is enhanced when people see big heads rolling.

The shifting of roles for Lacson can be seamless – if the President wants it so. At that point, Mr. Aquino should be ready to jettison corrupt members of his inner circle to help salvage his name and the rest of his term.

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FINAL SWEEP: This discussion is sheer speculation. We resort to it to explain the President’s tapping Lacson for a job not cut out for him, and why the latter accepted the daunting task for the moment.

The plot in my mind will not be in conflict with the Aquino anti-corruption agenda — on the assumption that the President himself will remain clean until his last minute in Malacañang.

In other words, Aquino can use Lacson for the final sweep against high-level crooks in government – cracking down on friend and foe alike. At the right time, Mr. Aquino can open the doors fully to Lacson as an anti-corruption Terminator.

Now that there is nobody else who can help President Aquino do the final sweep – and continue the reforms beyond 2016 — I think it is opportune that Lacson has moved in.

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U.S. PRESENCE: Back to the issue of US military presence, I reiterate that I am for having our American friends around – under certain conditions that officials of both our countries can discuss with emphasis on fairness, equity and mutual respect.

Picking up from where a reader (whom we identified by his initial MH) left off, another correspondent, Ted Blackington, said:

“Regret MH stepped on your toes re your experience, (but) his comments regarding the problems facing American soldiers stationed here are right on. I am a long-term expat living here, and I question how a country that cannot provide justice to its own population can safeguard the rights of foreigners.

“Added to this is the hostility of the locals towards the military, at least the ‘lefties’ which seem to abound here. The only solution to the military question is to restrict all soldiers to their bases, no leave into local territory. Or (and I support this measure) bring all US military home, and stop trying to assist the RP.

“Past efforts have proven worthless anyhow — witness how a terrorist army of 4,000 can completely confound a military force of 40,000.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 22, 2013)

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