September 22, 2010

"...with a little help from my friends"

With friends like Rico E. Puno, the President doesn't need Edcel Lagman, Danilo Suarez, Len Horn or even Gloria Arroyo. Puno's doing a great job, all by himself, of alienating and isolating the President and making people doubt the President's resolve to stop jueteng once and for all. Indeed, the President doesn't need enemies with friends like Puno.

On Martial Law day 2010, Mr. Puno faced a curiously-composed panel led by Senator TG Guingona (son of a former Vice President and Senator), and Senator Ferdinand R. Marcos II (you know whose son he is) and attended by, among others, Senate President (Palpatine himself) Juan Ponce Enrile and his Padawan Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada (you also know whose son he is), Senator Chiz Escudero and Senator Loren Legarda. The topic was jueteng and the subject was himself, as it turns out.

Because of revelations from retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz that some members of Aquino III's official family were on the take from jueteng lords, the Senate Panel asked Cruz to "name names." Instead of doing so, he simply fished out a document and handed it over. Senator Guingona then read the names, among which was Mr. Puno's.

When asked about it, he categorically denied the charge. That should have been enough. However, because of previous statements that Puno himself made that he had been approached by friends and relatives, a phrase he himself repeated during the Senate hearing, about any interest in being contacted by jueteng lords, the Senators now wanted Puno to "name names."

That is when the puno (tree, in filipino) became pader or literally a wall--a stonewall.

One after the other, Marcos, Guingona, Legarda, Escudero and Ponce Enrile, the Senators attempted to extract the information from Puno as to who these "friends and relatives" were and each time, he declined, refused, and feigned forgetfulness--prompting a Senator to decry his "selective memory." Note that the Senators were not after him, for after all Puno did say that he had turned them down outright (which was commendable), but after those still unidentified "friends and relatives" who attempted to be the bridge between him (and through him, to the President) and the lords of jueteng. Despite this, Puno literally stonewalled.

At some point, in his exasperation, the Senate President even pleaded (his phrase, "I am pleading with you") to Puno to save the President from further embarrassment and to just simply be candid and "name names." Despite that, he refused.

In less than 100 days, Mr. Puno, the President's friend, has shown himself to be not only deadwood (during the IIRC hearings, he admitted that he was ill-equipped to deal with crisis situations such as hostage taking as he was not trained for it; indeed, one wonders what special qualifications or training he has, other than the President's clear and unshaken trust and confidence in him, that would qualify him to oversee the police) but also, in this case, kindling that could cause a major conflagration. The President should see beyond personal friendship and look at the much larger picture of what one like Mr. Puno can do, or is doing, to his fledgling administration.

In his less than 100 days in office, the President has shown that he can be obstinate. His obstinacy can yield good results--his insistence on not recognizing Mr. Bangit as Chief of Staff caused his early retirement; his diatribe against having blaring sirens has lessened the noise pollution. Yet that same obstinacy when it comes to people who are perceived as his "friends" or close confidantes can also yield bad fruit--as in the case of Mr. Puno.

It is a tough call for a man thrust into a lonely job. This President has shown how much he values relationships; and that, by itself, is not a bad thing. The quality of his relationships may be the key to making great decisions and arriving at great insights. But when these relationships become the millstone around his neck, the President must make the tough call to let go.

Mr. Puno should do what every decent civil servant is required: serve the country beyond his own interests. If he is no longer an asset to the President (as the hostage taking and this jueteng investigation have shown), then he should make it easy on the President: leave and not wait to be fired.

No comments: