Lacson: Weak powers make rehab harder

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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The rehab czar says, 'I keep on wondering how I will handle my own version of coordination, while armed only with a presidential memorandum order'

MORE POWERS? Rehabilitation Czar Panfilo Lacson says his lack of powers in his new job makes the task harder. Photo by Robert Viñas/Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – Six weeks after the President appointed him, Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson said his weak powers “exacerbate” the job of rebuilding nearly 16 million lives after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

Used to giving orders, the former police chief has to make do with being a “voice.”  Lacson’s appointment, after all, has no “legal weight.” It also leaves him powerless over the budget.

He felt this burden especially on New Year’s Day, when he heard in the morning news that at least 1,000 corpses remain unburied in Tacloban City. He considered this his “first test in facilitating and coordinating.”

“I dug into my paper bag of calling cards,” he said, and immediately called officials from the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Department of Health, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Tacloban City administration.

His call prompted a mass burial

“It turned out that what was needed is a voice to call out on the actions needed to be taken,” Lacson said in a forum with scientists in Makati City on Thursday, January 23.

‘Exacerbating’ the job

Lacson said he could’ve done more if he had more powers.

The “biggest challenge,” he explained, is coordination.

Indonesian Senior Minister Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, who led the rebuilding of Aceh after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, in contrast had “near absolute authority.” Lacson said Kuntoro’s powers had been “spelled out in a decree issued by his president to make sure that he succeeded in his gargantuan task.”

Lacson said, “I keep on wondering how I will handle my own version of coordination, while armed only with a presidential memorandum order. This compounds, if not exacerbates, the job of reconstruction.”

Earlier, he contrasted the memorandum order with an executive order, which has “legal weight.” (READ: Lacson as rehab czar: Does he need more powers?)

Kasi ‘pag merong hindi sumunod sa executive order, puwede kang mag-file ng kaso. May batas na nakapaloob. Pero ‘pag memorandum order, it’s more administrative,” he said. (If anyone defies an executive order, you can file a case against that person. There’s law in it. If it’s a memorandum order, it’s more administrative.)

In an interview with reporters after his speech, he said he has “learned to live with that, with all the limitations and constraints of the authority, if you can call it that,” which was given him.

He said this is why “we are concentrating more on engaging the private sector,” which is easier to talk to. (READ: Giant firms to lead Haiyan rehab)

Siyam-siyam‘ in Senate

But if he had more powers such as Kuntoro’s, in the case of the Tacloban burials, Lacson said he could’ve gone beyond “coordination.” “Well, utos na ‘yon.” (Well, that would be an order.)

“If I was given that kind of a power, perhaps we would see more houses and schools rising. We would see more municipal halls. Because if you’re given enough authority, as long as you’re well intentioned and you will not abuse the authority given to you, you can accomplish more,” he explained.

Lacson, however, said a wider range of powers “entails legislation.” “Kapag legislation, eh siyam-siyam naman tayo aabutin diyan,” the former senator said. (If we rely on legislation, we’ll arrive at nowhere.)

Like Lacson, lawmakers have proposed creating a “fully independent” disaster agency

The Senate said it will prioritize this. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email