Cleaning up the mess Vic Rodriguez left behind

When retired University of the Philippines professor Clarita Carlos was appointed national security adviser (NSA) in June last year, not a few eyebrows were raised, not only because she was a woman but also because the position is traditionally given to former military officers.

Last Jan. 14, Malacañang announced the resignation of Carlos, who later said in a statement that “it is no longer politic to continue as NSA to the President,” and that she had “decided to migrate to another agency where my expertise on foreign, defense and security policy will be of use.”

Carlos, a political scientist, has moved to the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD), a think tank for policy and institutional reforms at the House of Representatives.

A week later, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told reporters who were in his party when he went to Switzerland that Carlos “felt that there were people who were moving against her in government.” But he said, “I kept telling her, I don’t really think so.”

Marcos said it was not surprising that Carlos “did not enjoy her time in government” because “that’s not her natural habitat.” Her new post at the CPBRD, Marcos added, was “perfect” for her.

However, speculations flew thick and fast that Carlos’ removal from the Cabinet was due to her association with Victor Rodriguez, Marcos’ first executive secretary who resigned after 79 days in office following his involvement in the sugar importation fiasco in September.

With Carlos out as national security adviser, Marcos kept the tradition of appointing a retired general, former Armed Forces chief Eduardo Año, to replace her. Año was former president Rodrigo Duterte’s Interior secretary from 2018 to 2022.

The removal two weeks ago of Lt. Gen. Bartolome Vicente Bacarro, Marcos’ first  AFP chief appointee, was also reportedly because of his close affiliation with Rodriguez. Bacarro’s replacement by Gen. Andres Centino, his classmate at the Philippine Military Academy, was said to have triggered the resignation of Defense department Officer in Charge Jose Faustino Jr., who was also reportedly close to Rodriguez.

Some say Centino’s reappointment as AFP chief of staff was meant “to correct” a disruption in his three-year term under Republic Act 11709, enacted by Duterte in April 2022, which aims at further professionalizing the military. Under the law, which provided a fixed three-year term for military officials, Centino should not have been replaced until November 2024, counting from his appointment on Nov. 12, 2021. But Marcos cut short his tenure when he appointed Bacarro on Aug. 8, 2022, barely a month prior to reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56.

Apart from the mess in the military, Rodriguez also left behind troubles in the Department of Agriculture (DA) which Executive Secretary Luis Bersamin recently fixed.

He cleared former DA undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, former Sugar Regulatory Authority (SRA) administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, and SRA board members Roland Beltran and Aurelio Valderrama Jr. of any liability over the allegedly unauthorized signing of a sugar importation order last year.

The three officials were cleared months after the good reputation they had built during their long stint in public service had already been unjustly maligned. At the height of the sugar importation controversy, not just a few credible personalities who knew them had attested to their good public service record, but Rodriguez kept pouncing on them.

The three senior DA officials were charged with grave misconduct, grave dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, following the issuance of the SO 4, which supposedly authorized the importation of 300,000 metric tons of refined sugar last August.

“From the totality of the evidence, this Office finds that the issuance of SO (Sugar Order) 4 was done in good faith absent any showing that the respondents were aware of their lack of authority. Here, respondents thought they were authorized because of miscommunication,” a 10-page decision from the Office of the President stated.

The decision traced the controversy to a memorandum from then executive secretary Rodriguez which was used as a reference for what they thought was inclusive of the “granted authority,” which involves “signing contracts, memorandum of agreements, administrative issuances and instruments, among others.”

“The root miscommunication is the memorandum from the Executive Secretary dated 15 July 2022 with the subject Designation as Undersecretary for Operations of the Department of Agriculture, and Grant of Additional Authorities and Functions,” the OP decision from Bersamin’s office noted.

The ruling said that there was “no clear evidence” that the senior DA officials — who have since been removed or resigned — had committed misconduct and dishonesty. It said, however, that the officials have to be “admonished to be more prudent and circumspect in the performance of their duties.”

I believe that the sugar importation fiasco somehow raised fears among officials, who should have made the decision to import onions as early as August or September last year, that they might suffer the same fate as those in the SRA.

The DA imported onions only this month after prices in the local markets had scandalously risen to as high as P800 per kilogram, from a low of P80 to P90 per kilogram in September. Farmers’ groups say the decision comes too late, noting that the imports will enter the market just as the harvest season begins and is already driving prices down.

In July, Rodriguez drew criticism over his alleged ties to businessman Christopher Pastrana, whose designation as general manager of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) was questioned due to a supposed conflict of interest. Pastrana, the owner of Archipelago Philippine Ferries Corp.-Fastcat, reportedly owes P132 million to the Department of Transportation.

Marcos reappointed lawyer Jay Daniel Santiago in October as PPA general manager, the same position he held under the Duterte presidency from 2016 to 2022. Santiago replaced officer in charge Francisquiel Mancile, who was appointed assistant general manager for operations three months prior.

After Rodriguez resigned as executive secretary in September last year, he announced that he was assuming a new role as presidential chief of staff, an office created through Administrative Order 1 that he had drafted, giving himself awesome powers. Too bad for him because presidential chief legal counsel Juan Ponce Enrile got hold of it and thwarted Rodriguez’s bid.

When Bersamin took over as executive secretary, he said AO 1, which supposedly created the Office of the Presidential Chief of Staff, never existed.

Rodriguez was Marcos’ longtime chief of staff and served as his spokesman during the 2022 presidential elections. He was one of Marcos’ lawyers in his poll protest against former vice president Leni Robredo over the 2016 vice presidential contest.

Since his “complete exit” from the Marcos government in September 2022, it now appears that the former executive secretary had left behind such a mess in the administration. It would have been more disastrous had he been allowed to stay on in the Marcos Cabinet.


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.