'Presidential leadership lacking during hostage crisis'

Posted at 09/01/2010 3:24 AM | Updated as of 09/01/2010 3:51 PM

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MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III must exert his leadership in succeeding crisis situations.

This was essentially the advice a former Cabinet member of the first Aquino administration gave President Benigno Aquino III as a postscript to the Manila hostage crisis.

Cesar Sarino, Interior and Local Government Secretary to the late former President Corazon Aquino,  said that as President, Aquino will have to show better leadership in managing people and resources under him.

Sarino was asked what Aquino's handling of the recent Manila hostage crisis says of his leadership.

"It's good he enjoys, has a high trust rating. People believe he has a good heart and the best intentions, he will not let his people down. But as days go by, he has to show his leadership style. May konting learning curve siya. This crisis will make him mature faster," he said.
 
Sarino noted the apparent vacuum in leadership during the height of the crisis, which is the first crisis under the new administration, now being seen as a bellwether for the next 6 years.

The government's handling of the crisis has stoked latent underlying fears and questions about the president's managerial competence, owing to a lackluster executive experience in his career prior to the presidency.

Who is in charge?

Sarino, who served as Government Service Insurance Service (GSIS) chief during the Ramos administration, said it should have been clear at the start of the hostage-taking incident "who is in charge."

"From the time I opened my TV to the time they ended the TV coverage, there was no face I could associate with the crisis. I hear  of [chief negotiator Supt. Orlando] Yebra but he's not senior enough to give the crisis a face. Wala nang nagsasalita on how things will move, and in the 4 hours,  there was no mention at all of the process of negotiations," he said. 

Sarino stopped short of saying the President should have micro-managed the crisis, but maintained his leadership should have been asserted.

"The President shouldn't be exposed but he should be well advised. The  President should be involved in a discreet very diplomatic manner, but not publicly associated. Someone should have taken this role so people know someone is in charge. Even the DILG [Department of Interior and Local Government] secretary, even the communications team should have been well coordinated. Kung meron talagang namamahala diyan, alam niya ang lahat ng facets, lalo na on the information side, importante communicatons in hostage crisis. It was shown [that] obviously, it could have been done in better manner," he said.

At the very least, the Philippine National Police (PNP) chief and one Cabinet official should have been involved, Sarino added.

The problem, said Sarino, is that it seems the President wasn't well advised on how to deal with the crisis.

"I don't think the president was well advised. They never gave it a blueprint of options and alternatives. Sinabi nila, let ground commanders take care of it. It was snapped out of national interest," he said.

Factionalism in Aquino gov't

Independent ABS-CBN News sources, however, said it seems this is where rival factions of Aquino supporters are getting in the way.

Essentially, the President's support base come from 2 rival factions vying for power, influence and positions in government. These are the so-called "Balay" and "Samar" groups.

The former, made up of Liberal Party and Hyatt 10 stalwarts and supporters, is so named because they were based in the Balay Aquino-Roxas campaign headquarters in Cubao, Quezon City.

The latter, on the other hand, is composed of close allies and loyalists of the Aquino and Cojuangco families, who were based at the Samar Street office in Quezon City, of the PNOY lawyers group that was headed by now Executive Secretary, Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa. Ochoa is a long time close friend of the President.

In the case of the Manila hostage crisis, the rivalry became more apparent after Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Secretary Ricky Carandang of the Balay Group confirmed the attempted phone call of Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang to the President at the height of the crisis. It was something that was denied on the same day by Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio "Sonny" Coloma of the Samar group.

Earlier on Tuesday, Carandang confirmed the administration did not have a point man to manage the media coverage of the crisis.

"Yes Ted, may mga pagkukulang talaga kami sa pag manage sa media. ... Nakita naman natin nung nakaraan na hindi malinaw kung sino ang point man pag dating sa pag-harap sa media nung nakaraang crisis, so kailangan naming linawin sa loob kung sino talaga yung magiging point man pag dating sa ganitong klaseng krisis." Carandang told broadcaster Ted Failon on DZMM

Puno vs Robredo

Another case pointed by ABS-CBN sources was the lack of guidance over the PNP. Operationally, in previous presidencies, the PNP was under the supervision of the secretary of Interior and Local Government.

Under this Aquino administration, the PNP was not placed under Jesse Robredo, but under DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno who is said to be a proxy of the President.

Puno was appointed almost a month before Robredo was himself appointed. The PNP, being taken out of Robredo's control, was supposedly a condition for him to make the appointment of Robredo, who is a member of the Liberal Party under the Samar group. This is said to be why Robredo didn't start managing the crisis till much later.

Robredo on Tuesday told ABS-CBN  how he really did not have a role in the crisis management.

"I was not in the loop. Hindi ko alam kung ano ang nangyayari sa mga pag-uusap nila. It was treated like an ordinary police situation," he said.

President Aquino himself confirmed that Robredo really did not have a role in the hostage situation management.

Managing factionalism

But, Sarino said, factionalism is something all offices, whether in the private or public sectors, have to live with. It's just incumbent on the principal, in this case the President, to manage the rivalries to ensure it doesn't adversely affect operations.

"We have to study PNoy's leadership quality. Nakikita ko sa kaniya, he doesn't publicly project yung kaniyang anger and resolution. He does it in private because at this point in time, he must also be one with his Cabinet. He's still forming a family, he cannot afford any disunity. He must show he's an organized group. Now they're respecting each other's turf, you also go through a process of adjustment. That's something they'll have to wrestle with. I doubt whether Cabinet members know each other, and nagpapakiramdaman pa sila nun eh," he said. 

Sarino added: "First thing is, there will always be factions. You can't  have one family of the same mind of one time since Malacañan is where power is.... It's really how you manage the competition. Whether inner circle of power, pagka may  diperensiya in terms of policy, compromises can be made. Minsan magbibigay kayo para walang prublema at mabilis desisyon."

Aquino's managerial competence

Sarino said even the excuse of newness to the job may not be acceptable.

"Ang problema sa government official, you're not trained [for the job], you just have to be ready for it. Kung mistake is not major, okay lang, but in reality, pag may problema, malaki kaagad. And this where not only competency but the sense of dealing with national problems comes into play."

Aquino's managerial competence has come under question because of the controversy. He was but a last minute candidate, propelled to the presidency on the tide of grief over his mother's passing during the campaign last year.

Observers have also seen that Aquino's popularity was riding on the tide of the unpopularity of his predecessor.

However, Aquino came under fire when he tried to blame the bungled hostage crisis management on former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, since the crisis happened 55 days after she left office.

Critics have said this is Aquino's test of leadership.

University of the Philippine Professor Clarita Carlos, however, said Aquino shouldn't be judged yet based on this just one incident.

"It was evident no single command and control was there. It's not fair to make a general statement in regard to one incident. Remember, Noynoy is in his 50s and would have established attributes, he has a way of doing things. There are institutional settings with a life of their own," Carlos said.