The controversial return of the ‘Blue Chicken’
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-07-15
Former Ateneo Blue Eagle Romy Neri (of “moderate their greed” fame), who has since transformed as the ‘Blue Chicken’ during the NBN-ZTE Senate Hearings, is back in the Cabinet.

Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) has appointed Romy Neri to replace Cora de la Paz as SSS Administrator and gave him concurrent powers as head of a super body that will manage the funding of all her social welfare projects. Neri was also given Cabinet rank to ensure his access to executive privilege.

A Blue Eagle will follow the example of Sir Thomas More, as taught by the Jesuits in Ateneo. Thomas More was executed after he opted to follow a higher moral law over a self-serving law King Henry VIII created. The ‘Blue Chicken’ did the opposite and hid behind executive privilege.

Naturally, many sectors are alarmed and feel that the return of the ‘Blue Chicken’ to the Cabinet is a case of adding insult to injury, a clear manifestation of how GMA looks down and treats Filipinos with scorn. I do not fault GMA for that. How can Filipinos not be looked down upon and treated with scorn after showing such spineless inaction to the acts of impunity of this regime?

Still, others miss the point when they differentiate private sector money (as in the case of non-government employees’ pension fund) from government funds. There is no difference. Government money is taxpayers’ money; ergo, it also belongs to the people. Stealing SSS money is no different from stealing GSIS money or money belonging to any other government agency.

Others call the appointment a gift, a reward for practicing Omerta — the Italian Mafia’s Code of Silence that has protected the crime organization from being exterminated. The more cynical ones are even saying that the presence of the ‘Blue Chicken’ in the SSS could well be the preparations to misuse and abuse the pension funds for political purposes.

They fear a sinister plan to misuse SSS funds to finance GMA’s political agenda. Regardless if GMA is maneuvering to stay in power beyond 2010 (as Prime Minister in a Parliament) or to install a surrogate president who will protect her and her family — billions will be needed to buy political loyalties. In fact, promoting a surrogate president is what will prompt GMA to prefer to use other people’s money. Do you see her spending her own money for someone else?

Sen. Mar Roxas did raise valid issues by citing Neri’s lack of experience in managing investment funds, the big question on Neri’s integrity and the case of a conflict of interest.

As SSS Administrator, Neri serves the employees of the private sector. They are his bosses. However, he is known to serve only the interest of GMA. And so Mar asked: “Who will Romy Neri serve?”

SSS stakeholders also cannot afford to have a “learn on the job” Administrator. Neri has no previous background in managing investment of pension funds. Fund management expertise is required even under normal market conditions. All the more we need a ‘Wall Street-smart’ investment fund manager under the current post sub-prime bearish market conditions.

As SSS Administrator, Neri is supposed to generate maximum returns for those pension funds. But if Neri is also heading the management of GMA’s social welfare projects — there will be the temptation to siphon SSS funds to those counterproductive dole-outs even the Catholic Church had denounced.

What about the regime drive to grab Meralco from the Lopezes? We cannot discount the possibility that Neri was also sent to the SSS in order to expand government ownership of Meralco shares. Jun Lozada did reveal during the Meralco takeover attempt that Neri conceived an EO that was designed to weaken the Lopez hold on Meralco.

Dr. Carol Basilio, SSS Labor Union President, zeroed in on Neri’s integrity in questioning his appointment. Dr. Basilio pointed out that Neri’s questionable integrity, more than questions about his qualifications, is what agitates against his appointment.

Dr. Basilio has a point. Our tragic history is marked by Philippine interests being pimped to foreigners by leaders who can be considered the “best and the brightest.”

Who can question the qualifications of Ferdinand E. Marcos? But look at where Marcos brought us! GMA has impressive credentials as an economist but look at where she brought our economy.

Romy Neri asked his critics to consider his track record. But it is precisely his track record that is causing all the negative reactions against his SSS appointment. Neri has to be reminded just how mistrusted GMA is, as reflected in SWS and Pulse Asia surveys, and how he is perceived as a protector of GMA.

Neri failed to realize that SSS stakeholders expect a good Administrator to ensure above board transactions and not to simply moderate the greed of plunderers. To moderate the greed of plunderers is to facilitate plunder, albeit in a lesser scale. It is sinful plunder just the same.

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