Mar’s Appointment

Mar Roxas accepted the position of DOTC Secretary to the dismay of some of his supporters.

They feel he is headed the wrong way. In less than 24 months Mar has gone from potential President, to losing Vice-President, to Presidential Chief of Staff to-be, to DOTC Secretary and (as an afterthought?) Senior Economic Adviser.

For his humility in stepping down, I prefer to praise Mar, not bury him. He is a trooper, the mark of a true civil servant.

Having said this I believe the President made a mistake in offering him the position and Mar the wrong decision in accepting it.

The President wanted to urgently fill the vacancy occasioned by the “surprise” resignation of Ping de Jesus; with a high profile appointment such as Mar. This is to preempt and dispel speculation of a management run on his Administration similar to the Hyatt 10.

He also wanted to kill talks about the reasons for de Jesus’ departure: Some say it is related to the investigation of LTO chief Victoria Torres, a shooting buddy of the President; or worse.

The President erred in appointing Mar to the DOTC not because the latter is not qualified for the job. He erred because Mar is overqualified for the position.

Mar has the combination of professional knowhow and a political dimension, a rarity in public office. The DOTC post is a technical one that could have been filled by a number of people. As economists would say, Mar’s appointment is not the best use of a scarce resource.

The President, and therefore the nation, would be better served by Mar as his Chief of Staff where he can leverage the latter’s political equity and organizational skills.

Mar arguably made a mistake in accepting the position:

1.The post does not play to his strengths- It is a management intensive job that does not draw on his political capital.

2. Mar will be defenseless- DOTC is a snake pit, the ideal ground for a frame up. Mar will be held morally, professionally and legally responsible for transactions for which he cannot possibly have full knowledge of. Even now, vicious and untruthful talk is being spread (reportedly by P-Noy’s own people) about de Jesus’ failures as DOTC head.
DOTC will not only eat Mar up, it provides him no tools to fight back.

3. Mar is a political target- Unlike the other technocrats in the Cabinet, Mar is a political persona. He will be attacked not only by the syndicates but by his political opponents wanting to permanently tar him. Given the transactional nature of the position, it is easy to set him up for the kill.

4. The post is binary- Mar will have to make decisions that will alienate him with some of his business supporters (e.g. in the PLDT/Digitel/Globe controversy), factions close to the President and, ultimately, the President himself. It took less than a year for de Jesus to find this out.

The President needs a strategic adviser in the Palace who will help define his vision of the presidency, an enforcer who will execute the plan, and an overseer who will manage relationships with his key constituencies- the Cabinet, the Legislature, the Judiciary the private sector. Mar is -or could be- that person.

The President appointed Mar to the DOTC, I suspect, as a gut reaction to what he was told was a pressing PR need, the fear that his Administration would be seen to be unraveling with the exit of de Jesus, a respected member of his Cabinet.

Perhaps the President is unsure about the enthusiasm and loyalty of his team. His falling poll numbers and increasing media skepticism may be reasons for his disquiet.

If the President is feeling antsy, this is all the more reason to shore up his inner office with capable and true public servants rather than sycophants and deadbeats who will tell him only what he wishes to hear.

Appointing Mar to a position where he cannot play to his strengths is a failure of presidential discernment and a victory for continuing mindlessness in the President’s office. One can almost hear the dancing in the halls of Malacanang.

Mar should be commended for being the obedient foot soldier.

However, he also has the responsibility to himself and his supporters not to accept situations below his potential nor be used to mask the failings and malice of others.

When asked to do so he should, I think, respectfully put his foot down and just say no.


About Leo Alejandrino

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