BY MARLEN V. RONQUILLO
IN 1961, John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier did not exactly name controversial personalities and policy trailblazers to the cabinet, disgruntling the liberals and the left of the Democratic party in the process. Kennedy instead paid a visit to a respected figure of the Establishment, Robert Lovett, Truman’s defense secretary, to seek advice on his cabinet appointments.
Lovett, in turn, directed Kennedy toward the likes of Robert S. McNamara, a management whiz and number-cruncher who was then president of Ford Motors, whose politics may not even be Democratic. Kennedy, heeding Lovett’s advice, promptly recruited McNamara for defense.
C. Douglas Dillon, a banker, was named head of treasury and Dean Rusk, instead of Adlai Stevenson, was named secretary of state. Stevenson, the favorite of Eleanor Roose-velt, was given the UN post, a consuelo de bobo.
The Kennedy cabinet became the topic of the David Halber-stam’s book, “The best and the Brightest” which is about the hubris of brainiacs put in charge of running government—and getting decision-making all wrong in a time of war. But this is another story.
Why am I telling this story about Kennedy’s recruiting bent? What story does it tell? What is its relevance to us—with Noynoy currently forming his cabinet?
For his key appointments, Noynoy Aquino would probably follow the safe route taken by Kennedy. He would name establishment types to his cabinet. The finance secretary would be vetted by the business groups and the Makati Business Club. The defense secretary will likewise be drawn from the establishment. The transportation and communication secretary would be drawn from people with real experience in that field—no total outsider will be named DOTC secretary.
The political followers and the political types, those who stuck with him during the campaign hoping for appointment paybacks, would probably disappointed. But I don’t think that professional politicians (those with politics as sole background as differentiated from politicians who came from NGO work) would get choice, frontline cabinet positions under Noynoy. Or the juicy, sub-cabinet appointments such as customs and BIR.
On thing is sure: Noynoy would not name cabinet members from outside of the safe types. His followers from outside of the beltway would still be recognized but they will be awarded with sub-cabinet of little clout and significance.
Would former bomb-throwers and radicals get the chance at holding cabinet positions? No is still the answer. Leaders of activist groups that joined the Noynoy campaign, Akba-yan leaders for one, would get posts of minor importance should they decide to join the Noynoy administration.
The accommodation that Noynoy would make would be structured like this: establishment types at the top and holding the most sensitive positions, and political campaigners, close friends, LP activists getting the minor and essentially not-too-significant posts, even if these posts are of cabinet rank.
Example, Two of the Hyatt 10 leaders—Deles and Soliman—Noynoy’s first two cabinet choices, will be occupying throwaway cabinet posts, the peace process and social welfare. These are cabinet positions with the least budget. I don’t think the office of the presidential adviser on the peace process has more than 300 plantilla positions.
Should such recruiting bent bother us, the Filipino voters who did big things and small to make Noynoy president? It should not.
We voted for Noynoy because of his pedigree—and life—of integrity, the starving for a honest leader made more intense by the context of unbridled official corruption. His resume was thin but who cared.
What was the economic equation again? An honest president, by just remaining honest, would save for the national treasury at least one half othe P68 billion lost to currupt and fraudulent government deals.
That one half, P34 billion a year, would be enough to meet the classroom shortage, buy all the books the public schools need and hire the best and the brightest teachers for public education.
That is more than enough, at least for most of us who wants the new president to do one big thing, in a big-time way, for public education. The surplus savings will then be devoted next to health care. Then agricultural investments, especially irrigation and research and development.
With an honest president, the cabinet members will be forced to follow the leader. Or, at the very least, rein in the urge to dip dirty hands into the public coffers.
So let us stop the speculation, quibbling and anxiety over his cabinet appointmets. We should give him the freedom of choice.
Right now, an honest president is more than enough.