Crippling effects of resignations of Ping de Jesus et al. feared
The fall of regimes does not usually come unannounced. Historically, the crash is preceded by symptoms of cracks in the wall.
Little did President Benigno Aquino III suspect that when Transportation Secretary Jose “Ping” de Jesus unexpectedly resigned from the Cabinet last week, three undersecretaries would quickly follow suit.
The three undersecretaries—Glicerio Sicat, Ruben Reinoso and Dante Velasco—were recruited by De Jesus and were part of his team in the department.
The resignations tore a big hole in the Cabinet and came too early in the Aquino presidency, only a year after he took office.
The resignations took place in a department which has been regarded as the most productive in a lackluster Cabinet.
They also came at a time when the administration is undertaking infrastructure projects in the transport and communications sectors and when the government has come under criticism over a slowdown in the economic growth and for not spending enough on infrastructure development to stimulate growth.
What should worry the administration is that it has been hit by major resignations—with possible crippling effects—within its first year in office, while it is still cruising on the wave of euphoria over the President’s large mandate in last year’s election.
Not since Marcos
No administration since the end of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 has ever been hit by a damaging Cabinet resignation early in its term. In previous administrations, resignations came late in their terms or toward the end when they were at the bottom of their popularity.
Two instances easily come to mind:
On July 8, 2005, seven members of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Cabinet and three bureau chiefs resigned and called on her to step down over charges of electoral fraud as revealed by the so-called “Hello Garci” tapes.
The resignations, which became known as the “Hyatt 10” walkout, began a period of recurrent crisis and political instability for a government whose legitimacy was undermined by the 2004 election fraud scandal.
In November 2000, four senior economic advisers of then President Joseph Estrada resigned following accusations that Estrada had received more than P400 million in payoffs from operators of “jueteng,” an illegal numbers racket.
The charges led to Estrada’s impeachment in the House of Representatives and to his trial in the Senate. The resignations led to the irreversible fall of the Estrada administration.
Row over Stradcom
The early resignations in a major Cabinet portfolio raised fears the void left by the hasty exit of De Jesus and his team might have opened the way for resignations in other departments by officials uncertain about support by Mr. Aquino when they clash with other officials with crony ties with the President.
These fears emerged following reports that De Jesus’ resignation was triggered by his frustrations over his efforts to prevent the reinstatement of Land Transportation Office head Virginia Torres, a shooting range buddy of the President, until a deeper investigation had been conducted into controversies involving Stradcom Corp., LTO’s information technology systems provider.
In an initial report, the justice department said Torres sided with a group identified with Bonifacio Sumbilla, which had failed to oust Stradcom chair Cezar Quiambao.
Torres went on a 60-day leave in April to clear the way for an inquiry. The leave lapses on June 19.
The Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) itself initiated an inquiry after Torres went on leave. It asked the presidential legal counsel to assign some lawyers to take part in the inquiry.
Undersecretary Velasco, who resigned with De Jesus, said Malacañang had dragged its feet on the DoTC’s request, suggesting the inaction would allow Torres to return to her post without an inquiry taking place.
In a phone interview on Sunday, De Jesus told me that he had planned to quit as early as three months ago and that he had an understanding with the President he would not stay in the Cabinet for more than a year.
He denied reports that “frustrations” over the apparent protective treatment of Torres had been the “last straw” that made him quit.
There were signs that things were going awry in the Cabinet when De Jesus did not join the Cabinet members who welcomed the President at the airport on his return from a state visit to Bangkok.
De Jesus told me that he did not show up at the airport as he was trying to avoid the news media. He said that when he submitted his resignation to the President, the latter did not make an effort to persuade him to stay.
Most crucial issue
De Jesus said he did not believe his and his team’s resignation created a vacuum in the Cabinet. He said his successor could form his own team to prevent disruption, but he had no idea who would be his successor.
The early resignations forced the hand of the President to start his long-awaited Cabinet revamp to rejuvenate an administration that has been losing momentum and whose public satisfaction ratings in opinion polls have been slipping.
It’s hard to explain why early resignations have hit the Aquino administration, although it has not yet been shaken by any big corruption scandal of the scale that crippled the previous Arroyo and Estrada administrations.
The issues that are hurting the Aquino administration arise from criticisms of his incompetence, his erratic style of management and indecisive policy direction.
These spring from protection of presidential assistants in cases involving petty cronyism—not really those about corruption-ridden crony relationships of the scale and notoriety that marked the Ferdinand Marcos regime.
The most crucial issue facing the Aquino administration is to prevent the early resignations from becoming an avalanche of withdrawals leading to the disintegration of the government.
The mystique of the Edsa mandate cannot help Mr. Aquino overcome the issue of incompetence.
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