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Hontiveros seeks probe into assignment of Cabinet ‘big brothers’ to LGUs

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday, August 17, filed a resolution calling for a legislative investigation of Malacañang's assignment of Cabinet members to monitor the pandemic response of Metro Manila cities and the provinces surrounding the capital region.

Her fellow opposition senators Franklin Drilon and Francis Pangilinan also criticized the move, which assigned “big brothers and big sisters” to the local governments of Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal.

“This is toxic micromanagement. There are even reports that Cabinet members intervene at the barangay level,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

She said the Cabinet members, who comprise the task force leading the national government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, “while arguably experts in their respective fields, are not experts nor do they have any experience in health system performance, critical care capacity, and surveillance, isolation, and treatment protocols.”

“Baka sila pa ang turuan ng mga mayor (They might even end up being schooled by the mayors),” Hontiveros added.

Pangilinan said adding the Cabinet members as another layer of bureaucracy may further slow the government’s overall response to the pandemic, when what’s needed is “prompt, agile, and appropriate action.”

Communities have been helping one another during the health crisis, and many local officials have been able to respond appropriately to their constituents’ needs, he added.

“I don’t see how giving the national government more powers over the local government units will help. It will be another layer in the already highly centralized yet ineffective COVID-19 response,” Pangilinan said.

Hontiveros and Pangilinan noted issues that have put the national government’s pandemic response under question. In particular, Hontiveros mentioned doubts about the credibility of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III – with the Department of Health’s “erroneous COVID-19 data,” and Duque’s “flip-flopping pronouncements on the wave of infections in the country.”

“Why give more powers to those whose performance leaves much to be desired?” Pangilinan said.

Drilon, the Senate minority leader, pointed out how Malacañang’s use of the term “big brother” unwittingly alludes to George Orwell’s novel 1984, which had “Big Brother” as the supreme ruler in a totalitarian society.

“Is the [idea that] ‘Big Brother is watching us’ the new normal?” Drilon said in a statement.

The Constitution only allows the President, whom the Cabinet members represent, the power of supervision over local governments, not control, Drilon added.

“What we want to prevent here is overstepping of authority. There is a thin line that separates supervision and control. It is always a subject of overreach by the national government,” Drilon said.

The 3 lawmakers said the task force should trust local governments and give them “leeway” in implementing national policies on the pandemic. They have, after all, shown themselves capable of doing so over the past 5 months.

“The national government has to ensure that these agencies are performing their mandate. It should be crafting and implementing effective plans so that every peso of people’s money is spent wisely, goes to the benefit of the people, and is accounted for,” Pangilinan said.

Last week, Malacañang announced the following assignments of Cabinet members to monitor local governments:

Metro Manila
  • Quezon City - Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles
  • Pasig City - Education Secretary Leonor Briones and Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat
  • Pateros - Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Danilo Lim
  • Marikina City - Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and Commission on Higher Education Chairman Prospero de Vera III
  • Taguig City - Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Bases Conversion and Development Authority President Vince Dizon
  • Manila - Information and Communications Technology Secretary Gregorio Honasan II and Anti-Red Tape Authority Director-General Jeremiah Belgica
  • Mandaluyong City - Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez
  • Makati City - National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr
  • San Juan City - Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua
  • Muntinlupa City - Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade
  • Parañaque City - Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Carlito Galvez Jr
  • Las Piñas City - Public Works Secretary Mark Villar
  • Pasay City - Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque
  • Caloocan City - Agriculture Secretary William Dar
  • Malabon City - Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and CHED Chairman Prospero de Vera III
  • Navotas City - Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado
  • Valenzuela City - Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato de la Peña
Luzon provinces
  • Bulacan - Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra
  • Cavite - Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana
  • Laguna - Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar
  • Rizal - Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi

The officials are ordered to "strictly monitor" their assigned city or province's health system performance, critical care capacity, and ensure "stringent compliance" with surveillance, isolation, and treatment protocols.

On Thursday, August 13, following criticism of the move, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said these Cabinet members won’t have power over the mayors or governors they are tasked to monitor, but will just be there “to help.” – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.

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