Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Sula: The President's man


IN THE field of management, especially of people, President Rodrigo Duterte's kicking up instead of kicking out former Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña is called lateral arabasque. It's an extension of the Peter Principle which posits that in the scheme of things, a person tends to rise to the level of incompetence.

Lateral arabasque is to use current business lingo, a solution among others.

Management gurus point out that this is resorted to not to reward the recipient, although it looks that way, but to get him out of the way of achieving the objective. I recall CNN founder ED Turner who said you lead, follow or get out of the way.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson is even more succinct and in-your-face with his own takeaway of the Lapena case. It was a promotion in rank alright, but it was also a demotion in trust and confidence. It’s a riddle: Lapeña rose and sank at the same time. It defies physics. I remember an American pastor’s comment about backhanded compliment.

The ever reliable and savvy court jester Salvador Panelo has disabused the latter notion. It had been planned all along, not a convenient afterthought after Lapena's virtual mea culpa. It wasn’t the patented reflexive reaction to the dicey caviling between PDEA head Aaron Aquino and The Sid. Edgar Hoover had warned that if it’s public, it's propaganda; if private, it's policy.

Newly-minted Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has weighed in: the President knows what he's doing and more than what the public knows. You have to concede the point of a former president. What the public doesn't know is whether Lapena is the President's teddy bear. There is a term of endearment that is not disclosed in the terms of reference for a job, especially for presidential appointees.

But lateral arabesque should be availed of sparingly, or you sow calamity. It poisons the culture, makes people toxic, corrodes sacrosanct values and gives professionalism a bad name. In theory, it's a beauty; in practice, it could a be a sure recipe for disaster.

The logic of politics, however, is shifting sands.

In the case of Lapeña, he was purposely pulled out from the Philippine Drug Agency (PDEA) to be a linchpin in the President's controversial war on drugs. His designation came on the heels of a smuggling incident of drugs worth P6.4 billion during time of his predecessor,Capt. Nicanor Faeldon. Faeldon was also given another job, probably along the lateral line also.

In Lapena's time, the same thing happened, which he vehemently denied af first, apparently with the President convinced he was telling the truth. Subsequent hearings in both Senate and the House compelled/impelled Lapena to the admission that he was wrong the first time. His deputy, however, insinuated that Lapena was more than wrong.

And this is where Lapena's position threatened to become untenable, messy and tricky.

The President, to the surprise of many, both critics and choir boys, moved Lapena to a Cabinet post. It was seen as counterintuitive and counterproductive, too. It is a policy that is tantamount to rewarding incompetence or at the very least, looking the other way.

The Nobel Prize winning author, John Steinbeck, once wrote in awe of the President of the US. It was a job no man can do, a responsibility no man can take and a pressure no can bear, he concluded.

In other words, it's not for humans but Superman. Every president anywhere, including our own or disowned, could be in the same predicament.

The latest survey says that 75 percent of Pinoys believe we're moving in the right direction.

Well, that's how lemmings end up on the beach.


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