Management by AWOL

By Artchil B. Fernandez


This word accurately captures the two-month-old presidency of BBM. Two incidents/events this week are marked by chaos and disarray, reflecting BBM’s management style.

The first one is the brouhaha in the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) on the planned importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar.  The SRA board passed Sugar Order (SO) No.4 authorizing the importation. Malacañang claimed the order was made behind the back of BBM and declared it illegal. Several SRA board members including the agriculture undersecretary and the SRA administrator resigned from their posts.

Investigation by Congress on the incident revealed some curious and interesting information. When SO No. 4 was disowned by Malacañang, it claimed BBM and his executive secretary were clueless of the SRA action. But the hearings revealed otherwise.

At the center of the controversy is resigned agriculture undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian and Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez.  Sebastian is accused of signing SO No. 4 “without the President’s knowledge and in an unfair and dishonorable way,” Rodriguez informed the legislators.

Sebastian on the other hand insisted that Rodriguez and BBM know about the planned importation. He told the lawmakers that in the August 1 and 4 meetings that included BBM, Rodriguez, resigned SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, and resigned Sugar Board member Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama, they all agreed on the need to import sugar and the drafting of an order to be transmitted to BBM later.

Rodgriguez admitted that on August 7 and 8 he received a text message from Sebastian inquiring about BBM’s action on the planned importation.  He purposely did not answer the inquiries as BBM has yet to decide on the matter. A fish is caught by its mouth. BBM is not actually uninformed of the whole matter Rodriguez acknowledged.

Furthermore, Sebastian asserted that “he had authority to sign the document based on a memorandum that Rodriguez himself issued on July 15 designating Sebastian as ex-officio member of the SRA representing Marcos, who has appointed himself concurrent secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA) that automatically makes him chair of the SRA board.”

Sebastian also maintained that he signed SO No. 4 in good faith. “The urgency of the situation and my interaction with the President during the August 1 meeting… feedback from meeting with SRA administrator Serafica with the President, Executive Secretary, board member Valderrama on August 4 wherein they came out with a sugar importation program transmitted to the President, that gave me the inclination, the feeling that there is urgency in this matter, that we need to act as soon as possible,” Sebastian stated.

Later events proved Sebastian correct. Few days after the SRA officials resigned, BBM authorized the importation of 150,000 metric tons of sugar in a meeting with stakeholders in the sugar industry as shortage hit the market. Soft drinks manufacturers confirmed the shortage and several Coca-Cola plants in the country are now suspending their operations due to limited supply of sugar. Coca-Cola said there’s a shortage of 600,000 MT of refined sugar and the volume BBM authorized to import is not enough.  Shortage of sugar forced its price to jump from 50 to 100 pesos per kilo.

In another chaotic event, tens of thousands of people rushed to Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) offices across the country to get educational cash aid. Drone shots showed a “zombie apocalypse” like scene as thousands of people swarmed the offices.  Chaos ensured as confusion and disorder reigned in the distribution areas.  Many were injured as people pushed and fight their way in several offices. Many people lined up to DSWD offices the night before the distribution.

Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Erwin Tulfo publicly apologized for the chaos and disorder and blamed it on miscommunication. “What happened was a miscommunication. It was a miscommunication down the line.” Some DSWD officials however blamed the distribution mess to lack of planning and preparation. BBM on the other hand was silent on the incident and acted as if the chaos in DSWD did happen. Tulfo is his alter ego whose action reflects BBM’s leadership.

In both the sugar importation mess and the chaos at DSWD distribution BBM was projected as having no knowledge of the incidents. This enabled BBM to extricate himself from the disarray. His handlers are trying to distance BBM from turmoil by shifting the blame to his underlings – SRA officials and Rodriguez in the sugar importation confusion and Tulfo in the DSWD fiasco.

But BBM is the head of office and the buck stops at his feet. As much as tries to evade responsibility from these leadership disasters, he cannot. What happened reflects his leadership. It is clear from the incidents that BMM’s style of handling the national affairs is management by AWOL. Being absent is his way of escaping responsibility.

Where was BBM while the SRA mess unfolds and as chaos and confusion erupt at DSWD offices? He was publicly seen surprising his wife with a birthday party. BBM also sung his heart out in the birthday party of Sen. Angara when inflation hit 6.4 percent. In his diary, Marcos senior was worried about junior’s “lazy and easy-go-lucky” attitude. Now the nation is paying a high price for what senior feared about his junior. The country is facing a myriad of serious problems – from economic crisis to environmental catastrophe, to underdevelopment, and BBM’s answer is management by AWOL.

Will this management style bring the Golden Age to the Philippines?  Goodluck!