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Secretary Edwin Lacierda is part of the Malacanang “blue bloods”.
All spokesmen have a special relationship with their principals and his ties to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III are no exception. He has been speaking for Mr. Aquino since the 2010 campaign so to a certain degree he knew what makes his boss tick.
He was in town for a 3-day conference at the World Bank. He invited the Fil-Am press to interview him at the Philippine Embassy. A communication arts graduate of Dela Salle University (who also earned a law degree from Ateneo), it became evident this guy loves to talk.
The meeting over a bento-box dinner turned out to be a pleasant, no-holds-barred discussion of a wide array of issues ranging from the President’s love life to his management style.
The President’s day usually starts at 10, Lacierda revealed, and he likes to work through lunch, holding about 4-5 meetings a day. Ordinarily, his official work day ends at 6 or 7 in the evening (unless he’s on a provincial or foreign sortie, or calls for his Cabinet) although he brings papers home to Bahay Pangarap, an old one-bedroom guesthouse built in the 1930s for visiting dignitaries that has been converted to quarter President Aquino.
Lacierda said they are fully cognizant of criticisms of how President Aquino’s calendar is so lightly-packed. He argued that some of his meetings are sensitive and confidential, and thus are not reflected in his official schedule.
Are those after-hours devoted to, you know, his “love life”? The President is the most eligible bachelor in the Philippines and yet long-term relationships seem to elude him. His latest quest reportedly involves a 28-year-old banker coming from a prominent Filipino family.
He explained that there is an “internal house affairs office” headed by Susan Reyes that usually presides over such matters. “We don’t ask. We have an understanding that I only talk about matters of state, not matters of the heart,” Lacierda declared, extricating himself.
I once ran into him at a modest, deserted snack place in Magallanes (Makati). It was so forgettable, I have trouble even remembering when that happened but I knew his mother, the venerated President Cory Aquino had already left office. He seemed perfectly happy in his quiet corner, enjoying a sandwich and that image of a man who relished anonymity and simplicity has for me, always defined his character.
I asked Lacierda if the President still goes out for these quick snacks. He recounted that soon after he was sworn into office, he tried to sneak out to a Kowloon drive-through near his mother’s Times Street home (presumably for some King Pao or pork siomai) but was stopped by Presidential Guards.
He is a hamburger and hotdog man, Lacierda shared. No salads for this President. And he still smokes.
The President is a tough boss, he said. “(Finance) Secretary (Cesar) Purisima once described going in front President Aquino like defending a thesis. The President always provides a political perspective to a certain plan of action. His number one question is always ‘how do we explain this to the people’ especially when it involves spending the people’s money.”
Lacierda said although the President hoped it, he didn’t expect his Cabinet officials to stay through his 6-year term. Thus, he confirmed that a revamp of the President’s team loomed.
“A number of Cabinet officials came from the private sector and really did a lot of sacrifice” accepting a government post. Lacierda cited Energy Sec. Rene Almendras who the President felt has been “unfairly vilified”.
“Sabi ni Presidente ang hirap maghanap ng tao willing to work for the government tapos binabatikos pa ng husto sa bagay na hindi niya naman kasalanan (The President said it’s so difficult to find people willing to work for the government and they get criticized so much for something that’s not their fault),” Lacierda related.
As Energy secretary, Almendras is often blamed for fuel price increases, Lacierda explained, that are in reality dictated by market forces.
But the Palace spokesman said when the President starts looking for new people it will not be determined by party affiliation. He noted that most Cabinet officials don’t belong to any political faction except for Vice President Jejomar Binay (PDP-Laban) and Local Government Sec. Jessie Robredo, Budget Secretary Butch Abad and Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas who all belong to the President’s Liberal Party.
“If people are going to be revamped, it won’t be because of alignments for next year’s elections. He places a premium on both loyalty and competence,” Lacierda insisted.
He cited the case of Secretary Leila de Lima who the President didn’t know until he interviewed her for the top Justice Department post or Health Secretary Enrique Ona who actually voted for President Aquino’s rival Sen. Manny Villar during the 2010 elections.