Gadon and Frasco: Has the Palace dropped the sensitivity meter?

Gadon and Frasco: Has the Palace dropped the sensitivity meter? was also published by The Manila Times on 12 July 2023

The fitness of two cabinet officials came into question recently for what is shaping up to be their lack of capacity to meet the high standards of professionalism and integrity. Presidential Adviser on Poverty Alleviation Larry Gadon, recently disbarred by the Supreme Court, and Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia-Frasco, who must take responsibility for a botched campaign to promote the tourism sector of the country, are public disappointments. But President Bongbong Marcos keeps his trust in them. Is he disrespectful of public sentiment, or is the public seeing problems where there is none?

Larry Gadon

Fisherfolk and peasant groups like Pamalakaya and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) slammed his appointment, noting that “it reflects the administration’s ‘insincerity’ in fighting poverty.” Ronnel Arambulo of Pamalakaya further said that “his appointment is equivalent to treating poverty and the suffering sector, including fishermen, as a joke.” KMP’s Danilo Ramos called the appointment “insulting and unacceptable.”

Latest (2021) Philippines Statistics Authority data show that the fisheries sector “registered the highest poverty incidence rate in the country at 30.6%,” which is “significantly higher than the 26.2% in 2018.”

How the rest of the world would see Gadon being the most qualified person to advise the president on poverty alleviation is the question. He obviously has big ambitions. He will need that trait to be able to cope with the challenges associated with a strange role he just accepted. But will it be enough? His foul mouth—which I suspect is an attempt to clone the path to popularity trailblazed by ex-President Rodrigo Duterte—and repugnant overall deportment have offended not a few, eventually earning for himself a disgraceful exit from a club he used to share exclusively with fellow lawyers of the country.

In 2018, several disbarment complaints were filed against him for cursing and flashing his “dirty” finger at protesters in Baguio City where the Supreme Court was hearing the Sereno quo warranto case. A year later, the Supreme Court suspended him “for using ‘offensive’ language towards a doctor in violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility of Lawyers.”

The Supreme Court also suspended him indefinitely last year, on January 4, 2022. Then two days after Malacanang announced his cabinet-level appointment, the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision, 15-0, disbarred him for his “misogynistic, sexist, abusive, and repeated intemperate language.”

His lack of good manners and right conduct indicates his incapacity to follow the norms of conduct for public officials and employees prescribed by law (RA 6713, Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).

But he is a fierce and loyal supporter of the administration, even to the point of maligning those he perceives as enemies of his political patrons. In three occasions that he ran unsuccessfully for Senator, he associated himself with the political party of the president (Kilusang Bagong Lipunan in 2016 and 2019, UniTeam Alliance in 2022). In 2021, he claimed that the late former President Benigno Aquino III died of HIV/AIDS; the latter’s family reported, however, that the cause of Aquino’s death was renal complications brought about by diabetes.

As poverty alleviation adviser, his plate is more than full. He needs to address not only poverty–a problem his predecessors have hardly helped mitigate—but the even more damning curse of income inequality. World Bank data shows that only 14 percent of national income is being shared by the bottom 50 percent of the population; on the other hand, “the top 1 percent of earners capture 17 percent of national income.” The income inequality rate in the Philippines remains one of the highest in Asia.

Christina Garcia-Frasco

What happened over at the Department of Tourism, as Secretary Frasco tried to push a fresh promotion for the country’s tourism sector, is an attempt to cheat. The rebranding hype is bannered by the slogan “Love the Philippines,” with props that include video footages taken not in the Philippines but elsewhere—reportedly in such other countries like Indonesia and Thailand. This is simply untruth in advertising, regardless of how one may look at it. It can hurt the country’s image more painfully than it can edify it.

Christina Garcia-Frasco and President Bongbong Marcos

Christina Garcia-Frasco and President Bongbong Marcos

It is likely she has no direct hand in the mess. But no one else except her office can be blamed for it. She cannot evade accountability.

Unless cheating has become a norm in government, cheaters cannot and should not pass the professional conduct test for public officials. But like Gadon, Frasco wields enormous clout. The constituency of her family in Cebu is too large (a voting population of more than a million) to be antagonized by her firing. Unlike Gadon and most products of political dynasties, she has the experience and qualification for the role. A Civil Service Commission Lingkod Bayan awardee as mayor of Liloan, Cebu, Fresco has a hard-to-match political pedigree. Her grandfather was Cebu Governor from 1995 to 2004; her mother also headed the provincial capitol several times, starting in 2004.

What both Gadon and Fresco bring to the Marcos administration are resources that serve its interests, regardless of how public opinion may value or despise them. Marcos himself may relent and consider firing them, which shows sensitivity to the norm of conduct for public officials. The gesture further positively reinforces the inviolability of the social contract between the people (the sovereign power) and their representative in government, where the latter draw their authority to appoint from the people. But the appointees can make the life of the appointing power easier by simply resigning.

The other worldview—one that recognizes the ruler-governed dynamics—and one that is rooted in practice—is for the appointing power to exercise that power in whatever way it pleases.


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