HONESTLY, I’ve become confused as nine months into the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. four crucial departments actually do not have secretaries, but mere OICs.
Prominent among these is the Defense department which only has an “OIC/senior undersecretary.” Quite anomalously, I think, an “OIC/undersecretary” will sign the EDCA documents that puts on the line the lives of 110 million Filipinos — if nuclear war breaks out between the US and China.
The Health department still has no secretary, only another “OIC/undersecretary” Maria Vergeire, even as she performed quite well as Health Secretary Francisco Duque’s deputy as well as being the face of the department in the government’s victory over the Covid-19 epidemic. Marcos himself of course is also officially the Agriculture secretary.
We do have a secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) who I’d bet very few of my readers can name: Maria Antonio Yulo-Loyzaga (the wife of a son of the basketball legend Carlos), who has however been practically invisible these past nine months.
The biggest environmental threat since the 2006 oil spill off Guimaras Island has emerged with the sinking of the MT Princess Empress off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro on February 28, its cargo of industrial fuel spilling and spreading to reach even the Verde Islands Passage, which has been miracle of marine biodiversity which the oil could damage for decades. It is “threatening the biodiversity of 21 nearby marine protected areas and the livelihoods of Filipinos working in the fishing and tourism sectors,” the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada warned in a March 22 article.
Three days after the disaster, the DENR posted a three-minute video of Yulo-Loyzaga mouthing generalities over her department’s response to it.
After that, nothing more was heard from her. It’s as if she’s vanished or taken a vacation during a serious environmental threat.
Even the DENR”s website isn’t alarmed over it, its last update on the disaster posted March 1 — one and a half months ago.
Yulo-Loyzaga should be embarrassed that she wasn’t asked to join President Marcos’ aerial inspection on a helicopter of the areas affected by the oil spill the other day. Only Mindoro Gov. Humerlito Dolor was with Marcos during the flight although the prime official who should be briefing him on the crisis is the Environment secretary.
Can she not take the hint that she is useless to Marcos? She should spare him the emotional stress of kicking out an old friend from the Cabinet by resigning ASAP. The video of the briefing after Marcos’ inspection showed top Cabinet officials: If Yulo-Loyzaga was there, she was in some corner of the table distant from Marcos.
I wrote a column on this topic more than a month ago, entitled “Gov’t helpless, leaderless in Mindoro oil spill.” Yulo-Loyzaga obviously ignored that column, and continued to practically pay no attention to the oil spill — which has caused losses to Filipinos livelihood, now amounting to P1 billion, based on the estimates of a unit of the Agriculture department.
What has Yulo-Loyzaga been doing that she is absent in this crisis that she should be on top of? DENR sources allege that her overriding interest is “climate change,” that she attends every single convention or mere meeting abroad. Her absence was such that this dubious official in the Defense department a week after the oil spill problem broke out, appointed himself as head of a task force in charge of the crisis and ordered the local government and the DENR to report to him.
A senator who had been close at least for a while to Malacañang said: “She’s not just up in the clouds, she’s in the moon and the stars,” alluding to her interest in astronomy, having been the chairman of the international advisory board of the Manila Observatory. While she’s away, DENR sources allege, everything has to be approved by her executive assistant, her son Jose Joaquin Loyzaga.
Yulo-Loyzaga’s incompetence — or focus on things other than pressing DENR concerns — was demonstrated last year when a Filipino company asked the department to stop the operations of a Chinese firm it had given its mining rights to, since the latter totally failed to pay the over P1 billion it should have paid the Filipino firm for the rights. The DENR secretary had not acted on it to the point that one DENR unit, its Regional Office 3, told the Chinese firm to proceed with its operations, with the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau countermanding that order. Because Yulo-Loyzaga was practically an absent secretary, one unit of the DENR was fighting with another unit.
The DENR is actually one of the biggest bureaucracies of government, and one of the most vulnerable to corruption, especially with the proliferation of mining firms secretly owned by unscrupulous Chinese companies which are quick to pay bribes to the department and to local officials so they could mine quickly and move out of the country minerals with a huge global demand. For instance, because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, prices of the minerals, nickel and copper, have risen steeply.
As Marcos nears the completion of his first year in office, he should clean up his Cabinet. He — and we — cannot afford to have the nonperforming Cabinet secretaries in this period fraught with risk, both economically and geopolitically.
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