December 12, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Disaster risk reduction on Mt. Olympus

Raffy Alunan, my fellow writer of this column, wrote last week that a storm is brewing over Mt. Olympus. The gods, driven by ego, power, and corruption, are fighting among themselves. Raffy knows, having been among the gods of Mt. Olympus during the reigns of Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos, that if nothing is done to pacify the quarreling gods, Zeus, the primary god, could fall from the top and bring the whole mountain down with him.

Raffy hoped that the Lenten season provided a welcome respite for President Duterte to reflect on the past nine months of his presidency and compare what he said in his inaugural address with what has actually transpired since then. It looked though that the President was in a fighting mood himself during this period of reflection. Like the original Zeus, he unleashed his thunderbolt to express his wrath not only on his erring Cabinet members but on lesser beings like Church officials and media people. And then during the most solemn period of the Christian world, he embarked on a journey to the heartland of Islam.

No one knows what his mood will be when he comes back. The hot climate of the Arabian Desert is not conducive to cooling down agitated moods. It would therefore be best for the surviving members of his Cabinet to declare a temporary cease-fire in their internecine fighting while he is on his Arabian tour and reassess their situation and ponder their duties and responsibilities to reduce the risk of that disaster Raffy warns about -- the top of Mt. Olympus crashing down.

Weeks before Donald Trump was inaugurated president, Karl Rove, former senior advisor and deputy chief of staff of President George W. Bush and now a political consultant and policy adviser, asked a dozen former high-ranking White House aides who had served past presidents what advice they would give President Trump’s staff to ensure that their tenure -- and that of the president -- would be successful. He collated the observations he gathered into four categories.

The President’s men and women, especially those who were appointed to Cabinet positions for reasons no other than they are his townmates, former classmates, or fraternity brods, would do well to consider the counsel if they wish to be spared the thunderbolt of Zeus. Here they are, with my comments:

The first advice concerns each aide’s relationship to the President. Always give him your best advice, especially if you think he disagrees.

A Cabinet member might be able to persuade the President to change his stand as our economic managers did with regard to his order to increase the pension of SSS pensioners by P2,000. However, the same economic managers failed to convince him to authorize the importation of rice.

The President has the final say and the Cabinet member must submit to his final decision, even if the latter believes the President is wrong. He was elected by the people to make decisions for them. Cabinet members were not. Agriculture Undersecretary Maia Valdez authorized the importation of rice when she did not have the authority. The President sacked her, as he should have.

The second advice has to do with decision making. Always give the President a broad range of policy choices. Sharpen differences among the choices. And always make certain the strongest arguments against your position are made.

The issue of the importation of rice is a case in point. The President heard the economic managers and the secretary of Agriculture separately. The economic managers batted for importation as domestic production has never been sufficient. The secretary of Agriculture argued that there would be a glut of rice if we import, bringing down the price of rice, to the detriment of the local farmers. The President being populist decided in favor of the farmers.

The third is related to dealing with colleagues. Each member of the Cabinet is part of a team. Each of you was chosen because the President has confidence in all of you. You should, too. You won’t be right all the time, so keep an open mind to other views. Change your opinion if given a good reason, instead of staying invested in a wrong approach. Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial proposed the distribution of condoms in public schools to prevent the spread of HIV and teenage pregnancies. However, Education Secretary Leonor Briones announced she will not support Dr. Ubial’s program because public school students are minors. To combat the spread of HIV and prevent teenage pregnancies Secretary Briones will launch instead a sexuality education program.

To each her own, or to each department its own program. Can they not get together and work out a fusion of their programs?

The fourth is about personal matters. Act with integrity at all times. Treat everyone with respect, including those who operate in the background. Reach out to experts outside the President’s official family for advice, expertise, and fresh insights. Talk to the people who will be affected by the administration’s decisions.

Save time for family, social circle, religion, and health. Create a life apart from your official work. Always bear in mind that your party affiliation matters less and your responsibility to your country counts even more.

In the eyes of the President, Messrs. Peter Laviña and Ismael Sueno had not acted with integrity that is why he axed them. Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre’s meeting with Chinese gambling tycoon Jack Lam in a hotel raised questions not only from the watchful media but from the members of the Senate. Civil society looks askance at him as it did not find his answers satisfactory.

DENR Secretary Gina Lopez was bashed in both mainstream and social media for calling one of this paper’s reporter a mere “f_ _ _ _ _ g” employee. So was a supposedly soon-to-be Cabinet appointee bashed for her condescending treatment of airport employees. Netizens are gearing for a vigorous campaign to put her down in the event she is actually given a Cabinet position.

As for reaching out to experts outside the sphere of government, the order to end endo and contractualization makes a good case study.

When Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello moved to make good Mr. Duterte’s campaign promise, the captains of Philippine industry balked. They said ending endo and contractualization would have tremendous negative impact on the economy. Besides existing laws allowed contractualization, they pointed out.

Finally, when your loyalty to the President and your duty and responsibility to the country conflict, decide in favor of the latter. Then only the president and his loyalists will be exposed to the thunderbolt of the ensuing thunderstorm. That is what happened in 1986 and in 2001. It nearly happened in 2005.

Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.