FORMER Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia was booted out of his post last week by President Duterte because of the delay in the roll-out of the national ID system that was enacted into law Aug. 19, 2018.
As expected of course, a Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial the other day rushed to make him some kind of hero: “Though couched in politesse, Pernia’s words unmistakably hint at simmering tensions in the Palace over fundamental lapses in leadership and policymaking, made more acute now that the Philippines is being battered by unprecedented disruptions.”
As usual, hogwash.
The President lost confidence in Pernia as he was too slow in rolling out a key Duterte initiative, the national ID system, which presidents since Fidel Ramos had tried to implement, but failed.
Pernia was the Cabinet official in charge of undertaking the so-called Philippine Identification System ID (Philsys), mandated by Republic Act 11055 that Duterte signed into law on Aug. 6, 2018. The law designated as implementing agency the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), which is under the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) headed by Pernia. The law furthermore ordered the creation of the PhilSys Policy and Coordination Council — a body of 14 agencies — to make sure the ID system was implemented smoothly. Pernia was chairman of the council.
“It was clearly Pernia’s ‘tasking,’” a Palace official said. “But sadly, he obviously didn’t have any management experience at all to undertake a huge task.”
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque the other day hinted at the reason why Pernia was fired: “Ano po ang mandato ng Presidente sa bagong pinuno ng NEDA na si Secretary [Karl Kendrick] Chua? Unang una, ipatupad sa lalong mabilis na panahon ang national ID system (What was the President’s mandate to Secretary Chua? First, to fast-track the implementation of the national ID system).”
Pernia had spent most of his working life — the better paying part, that is — as an economist of the Asian Development Bank. Pernia was recommended to his post by former Interior and Local Government secretary Leoncio Evasco, the priest-turned-communist-turned-mayor-turned-Duterte-confidante. Evasco had been Pernia’s fellow seminarian at the Seminario Mayor de San Carlos in Cebu City in the 1960s and the two were reportedly even distant relatives, both being from Bohol.
Pernia had not developed in the past three years Duterte’s confidence in him, a Palace official noted.
“He should have resigned when the President appointed Vince as in charge of his legacy program Build, Build, Build last year,” a NEDA official said.
He was referring to the appointment in September last year of Bases and Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) President and Chief Executive Officer Vivencio Dizon as presidential adviser for flagship programs and projects. It is the NEDA that coordinates — makes sure bottlenecks are cleared — for such programs undertaken by different departments in all past administrations.
“And Dizon even had that job in a concurrent capacity as BCDA head,” the official said.
Duterte’s attention had been drawn to the serious delay in the national ID system implementation, when some of those whom the Department of Social Welfare Development (DSWD) had determined as the first priority for the distribution of the government’s cash relief couldn’t be located. Duterte reportedly asked his officials: “Why don’t you find them through the national ID system?”
When it was explained that the system was still in the pilot stage, he blew his top and when told that it was Pernia who was responsible for it, nodded his head and was silent for a few seconds.
Duterte, in a press conference last April 14 on the government’s response to the coronavirus, said the national ID system would have facilitated the social amelioration program for low-income families during this crisis.
“The head of a poor family would have just gone to the barangay (village) head or DSWD official and showed his ID, and he would have been given the goods or the money,” he explained.
“But we have no ID system until now,” he said in Filipino. “So, we have had delays in distributing government help.” (Duterte, however, blamed the Left for opposing the national ID system at that same press conference.)
The next day, Pernia was told by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to submit his resignation.
Even Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd and Sen. Panfilo Lacson had recently raised their serious concern over the P25-billion national ID system’s delay and had filed Senate Resolution 342 last week asking for a full-blown investigation for its hold-up.
“Pinaghirapan naming ipasa ‘yan at marami ayaw, ang dami pang bumatikos sa amin, e bakit hanggang ngayon wala pa rin,” Sotto said in a television interview.
The Senate resolution read in part:
“From 2018 to 2020 General Appropriations Act, a budget of P2 billion has been allotted for the national ID system every year — totaling to only P6,096,329,000 budget allocation for three years.”
But almost two years from its enactment into law and the approval of its implementing rules and regulation, there seems to be no significant headway in its implementation. It was only on Sept. 2, 2019, a year after the supposed implementation, that the first pilot testing for the national identification program was conducted by the PSA.
Based on the article published by the PSA on Sept. 2, 2019 titled “Philippine ID System on Track for Registering Population by Mid-2020,” it was only on that date that the national ID program commenced its testing covering a small number of individuals from the National Capital Region.
Pernia claims, however, that he wasn’t fired but had resigned. He issued a statement two days after he was given his walking papers: “After reflection during Holy Week and consultations with my family and close colleagues, I have decided to resign from my post as secretary of Socioeconomic Planning. This is due partly to personal reasons and partly to differences in development philosophy with a few of my fellow Cabinet members.”
In an interview with a CNN Philippines reporter, Pernia said he quit because of differences with other government officials involved in designing policy approaches to shoring up the economy amid the raging coronavirus crisis. He said poor orchestration within the government prompted him to resign.
“When the orchestra is not well orchestrated, then you have a little problem. Since I seem to be a dissonant voice among others, I thought I should just quit,” he added.
Pernia even elevated his firing — resignation, according to him — as a matter of economic philosophy: “My training in economics is that in a market economy like ours, the private sector is the engine for economic growth, while the government provides the kind of policy environment that encourages the private sector to thrive.”
Just for embracing the kind of economic philosophy that was dogma in the 1960s, but now widely debunked — buried 6 feet under by the 2007 to 2008 global financial crisis and cursed as useless at this time of the pandemic — Pernia’s appointment as NEDA was one of President Duterte’s worst decisions.