The Mar Mandate

There is a lot of buzz on Mar these days.

That is good news for him. It shows he remains relevant.

First, there was the Brillantes thing: Some over-rated pundits ascribed sinister motives to Mar’s having a conversation with Brillantes, the prospective COMELEC chair.

That is so silly.

If anybody should have a dialogue with the COMELEC head it precisely should be Mar as leader of the country’s largest political party. Just as Manny Pacquiao must ensure the referee in his fights is impartial, so a political leader must know the COMELEC chair is unbiased. He owes that to his constituents.

Then there were the bishops who wanted Noy to define Mar’s “limits of power”. Funny, the same might better be said of the prelates. What makes them eminently qualified to speak on matters of state?

The public is curious with the where and how of Mar’s comeback.

The President has indicated he wants Mar to be his trouble-shooter, a Secretary without portfolio, in American football a free-safety.

The problem with trouble shooting is that it is authority without responsibility.

What the Administration really needs at this point is a Chief Operating Officer (COO) rather than a troubleshooter.

The COO’s mandate would be to run the daily economic affairs of government. He would harmonize the  line agencies, hold department heads responsible for targets, and generally operationalize the National Plan.

There is no Cabinet position that currently fit this description. The closest would be the NEDA.

The NEDA is the body constitutionally mandated to oversee the nation’s economic program. In the past it has been relegated to that of think tank with no line function. The department should be redefined to fulfill its original mandate.

NEDA would be divided into two parts: One part would be economic planning possibly headed by the current NEDA head, Paderanga, under a new designation.

The second part, NEDA’s real function, would be to oversee the country’s development in its universal sense.  The NEDA head would supervise the “economic” agencies (Finance, Budget, Trade, DPWH, DOT, Housing, DENR and DOTC). Foreign affairs and the political, social and security units (Education, DOJ, DILG , DSW, DND); would continue to report directly to the President.

As reformulated NEDA would define not only the economic vision and the roadmap but also monitor its implementation at the ground level.

In this reorganization, Mar would be appointed NEDA Secretary with the President as Chairman.

What is in it for Mar to be effectively the country COO?

If Mar has aspirations for the highest office, he needs a platform where he can prove governance. The Senate did not allow him to do this. In May 10 Binay had Makati, Mar had nothing to show he could deliver tangible results.

The COO position is a high wire act: While it can prove Mar can govern it can also prove he cannot. He will be accountable.

Mar dislikes taking risks which arguably has constrained his political life. He needs to go beyond his comfort zone, to up his game if he wants to move to the next level. Assuming the COO position would be such a move.

However, he should set conditions before assuming the post. One, he should be assured of the full confidence of the President. Otherwise he will be eaten up by the factionalism and the politics.

Two, he should have the power to hire and fire. He needs to have his own team if he is to be held responsible.

Why should P-Noy delegate operating responsibility to Mar?

The main reason would be to relieve him of the management task of governance, a job he clearly does not relish nor has the aptitude for.

On paper, Mar is the best suited for the role. He is honest, has the experience and the political dimension for the job. Fourteen million people did vote for him. He only needs the mindset.

The President will be criticized for delegating so much power to an unelected official. He will be accused of paving the way for Mar’s presidential run, of politicizing the process of governance. He will be told the Government is not broken, no need to fix it.

That is the test: Will the President succumb to the politics or will he go for what seems best, a unified and more directed governing machine?

The President needs to make that call.

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About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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