A millstone hung around a DILG Secretary's neck
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2010-09-23
The often used term “A millstone hung around his neck” originated from Matthew 18:6 of the New Testament. In the 1984 International Version of the New Testament, it quoted Jesus Christ as saying: “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

These days, when a person is said to have a millstone hung around his neck, that means that the person referred to is bearing a tremendous handicap, a handicap that is going to ensure that person’s failure. A millstone hung around his neck could be an overly extravagant wife, a sickly offspring which causes a family’s financial drain or a very corrupt First Spouse of the country’s Chief Executive.

When former AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Chief of Staff Angie Reyes was appointed Secretary of the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) during the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration, businessman John Kaw organized a briefing session for the new DILG Secretary which was held in the office of your Chair Wrecker. Having served as Local Government Assistant Secretary in 1987 under the late Jimmy N. Ferrer, John Kaw felt that we can provide Angie Reyes valuable insights that will ensure his success.

On an earlier occasion, John had commissioned my sister Carol to train Angie on how to face the media. Angie used to have problems with the media and much of this problem was rooted to his long stint in the army. Angie used to address the media as if he was still a drill sergeant barking orders to fresh recruits.

One of the things that I had warned Angie Reyes of was the handling of the PNP (Philippine National Police). I told Angie that the PNP was like a millstone hung around the neck of a DILG Secretary. I remember advising Angie to establish a different point man under him who will run the PNP and thus serve to isolate him from the many controversies that the PNP is associated with.

I explained to Angie that the DILG is a fantastic development agency of the government and it is in the development aspect of the job where the DILG Secretary should focus his attention. However, this is prevented by the many problems and controversies that the PNP tends to generate. In a country like ours with a big poverty index, criminality will tend to rise with the poverty index — the poorer people get, the more crime incidences are registered.

Not only that — the PNP organization itself tends to generate a lot of controversies. A foreigner once shared this observation with me after having watched some our television newscasts — the policemen here tend to be part of the criminality problem. It’s true. Almost daily, we do see cops featured on the TV newscasts as being the source of community bullying, protectors of drug dealing syndicates and bank robbery gangs and so forth. There are cops who also figure as hired assassins, rapists and extortionists. In some communities, the policeman is more feared than the neighborhood thug.

The recent Manila Hostage Crisis is perhaps the best demonstration of how problematic the PNP could be to any DILG Secretary. DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo’s natural tendency would be to resent, albeit quietly, the assignment of Undersecretary Rico E. Puno as chief PNP liaison in the DILG. In our status conscious culture, Sec. Robredo would understandably take that as an act which lessened the authority of the DILG Secretary.

However, as Sec. Robredo may have now realized after the Manila Hostage Crisis, that setup is an ideal one. Puno unwittingly serves as a buffer between the DILG Secretary and the controversial PNP. If Puno was not placed by President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) as chief PNP liaison, Robredo would have been under greater pressure to account for the bungling of the hostage rescue.  

Sec. Robredo has several followers who see in him a potential president. They have good reasons to want to see Jesse Robredo become president. His track record as Naga Mayor is well appreciated and he has been the recipient of the coveted Ramon Magsaysay Award. If Jesse Robredo can focus on the development aspect of the DILG, he can achieve something which could capture the public imagination and catapult him to the presidency.

The capability building aspect of the DILG can be likened to building blocks which can be used as material for constructing the Jesse Robredo presidential image. Not only that, the support of local governments is the best political machinery for a presidential campaign. Vice President Jojo Binay proved during the last elections how valuable the support of local government executives was in his victory.

What will stand in the way of Jesse Robredo and the presidency — if indeed he fancies it — is the PNP and its tendency to become very controversial. The PNP assignment of a DILG Secretary is no different from that of a fireman. You’ll be too engrossed trying to put out big fires. Eventually, you too will be seared by the fire.

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