When I heard that President Rodrigo Duterte had fired his interior and local and government secretary, a former governor of South Cotabato and longtime friend of his who was instrumental in convincing him to run last May, my first reaction was: This would never have happened under Noynoy Aquino.
DILG Secretary Ismael “Mike” Sueno was part of the small committee made up of Mindanao politicians, businessmen and civic leaders who ran Duterte’s wildly successful presidential campaign. In terms of actual physical closeness to Duterte, he had about the same rank as Peter Tiu Laviña, the former head of the National Irrigation Administration who was Digong’s campaign spokesman—and who was also recently fired by the President.
Now Sueno has joined Laviña in the ranks of the newly unemployed from government, earning the distinction of being the highest-ranked member of the Duterte administration fired by the President. By Duterte’s own count, he has so far dismissed almost 100 people whom he has appointed, something which should probably make those seeking government positions think twice before accepting a job offer from the President.
This is a president, after all, who will not hesitate to let go of his own people, no matter how close they are to him, especially if they are accused of corruption. If that message did not sink into the heads of his appointees when Duterte fired Laviña, a former close-in staff member who was rewarded only with a mid-level bureaucratic post, it should really get through with the dismissal of Sueno, who had a much more important role in his campaign and who was put in charge of an important Cabinet portfolio.
It wasn’t too long ago, after all, when another president routinely turned a deaf ear to charges of high crimes and gross incompetence by his chosen people that threatened to engulf his entire administration. Aquino never fired anyone whom he had appointed, never mind if all the accusations gave rise to the so-called “KKK,” membership in which insulated any government official from any and all charges and which often led to the spectacle of the president himself protecting his men, instead of them quitting in order to save him from embarrassment.
It got so bad that Aquino even gave the sensitive mission of going after the terrorist bomb-maker Marwan to PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, who had already been suspended for corruption by the Ombudsman—an office which had already developed a reputation for protecting Aquino’s men, as well. And as we now know, Aquino’s over-reliance on Purisima directly led to the infamous Mamasapano Massacre, which killed 44 members of the elite PNP Special Action Force.
Aquino’s absurd loyalty to his people also made him personally post bail for former Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca, who was ordered arrested shortly after he appointed her as commissioner of the Commission on Elections, on the charge of failing to file her statement of assets and liabilities. I am certain that if Aquino could have found a way to hang on to Padaca, he would have, and damn the torpedoes.
Like Duterte, Aquino enjoyed a reputation for personal integrity, deserved or not. Where they differed was in executive experience, which is pretty obvious in Aquino’s near-pathological fear of letting non-performing and corrupt subordinates go, a task that Duterte obviously does not shy away from.
It’s an old theory of mine that because Aquino never held an executive position before he became the Chief Executive, he believed that firing people he had personally chosen would reflect badly on him as the one who hired them. Thus, unlike Duterte, Aquino was deathly afraid of being blamed for taking in the wrong people, so he simply persisted in the belief that the charges against the men and women he surrounded himself with had all been fabricated by his political enemies—never mind if his own allies were also calling for their heads.
And so, Aquino held on to the likes of Florencio Abad, Joseph Emilio Abaya, Mar Roxas, Paquito Ochoa, Leila de Lima, Corazon “Dinky” Soliman, Jose Angel Honrado, Purisima and a host of other incompetents and kleptocrats until the bitter end, long after they had been rendered inutile by the serious charges leveled against them—and long after they had damaged Aquino’s own credibility. Aquino never understood what any executive knows: that you end up choosing the wrong people sometimes and that your response should be to remove them before they cause further damage to you and the institution you head.
* * *
Of course, another key difference between Duterte and Aquino is that Duterte really believes that he should protect the people and the government from the occasional bad eggs who get into the bureaucracy, never mind if they are his friends. Aquino only felt that he had to protect his friends, his classmates and various other cronies over and above the interest of the people who were—in name, at least—his bosses.
The people, after all, voted for Duterte, not for his friends, fraternity brothers or the Mindanaoans whom he rewarded with government jobs. If they don’t perform as promised or if they get involved in corrupt activities, they should go.
That’s really how it should work. It’s just that, for the six years prior to Duterte, the people were somehow convinced that the reverse was actually true.