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Pressure play in government

/ 05:12 AM October 02, 2017

The resignation of Information and Communications Secretary Rodolfo Salalima from the Cabinet did not come to me as a surprise. What surprised me was it took him 14 months to take that action.

According to reports, he resigned because he could not stand the corruption in the bureaucracy and the interference of outside forces in his work. Understandably, Malacañang cited a different reason for his departure. It said he quit out of “delicadeza” and for work-related issues.

Having worked earlier with Salalima in the private sector, I sensed after reading about his appointment to the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) that he would be in for a rough ride in his position.

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Prior to his appointment, he was, for a long time, the legal counsel of Globe Telecoms, a member of the Ayala Group of Companies. In the business community, the Ayala companies are known for their scrupulous adherence to the rules of good corporate governance.

A lawyer from a law office that once handled an ejectment case for an Ayala company told me that when he submitted his bill for legal services for the successful handling of the case, he was asked by the company president if he bribed the judge because the proceedings were completed within a year.

Considering the slow pace of justice in our country, the speedy resolution of the case gave the impression that something fishy must have been done by the lawyer to accomplish the “miracle.” It was only after the lawyer was able to convince the president that everything was above board that his fees were paid.

After cutting his professional teeth in a company that considered corporate rules of conduct as matters of compliance, not suggestion, Salalima must have had a rude awakening about the way things are done in the bureaucracy, especially if a signature on the dotted line could be worth millions of pesos in profits.

The billions of pesos allocated in the national budget for the improvement and upgrading of the country’s information and communications systems are like honey that attracted the bees in Congress who want to have a share of it.

I can imagine the numerous calls and invitations to lunch or dinner that Salalima must have received from lawmakers and people who claim to be close to the powers that be to discuss pending or proposed contracts in his department.

A carrot-and-stick approach is often used by pressure groups to get their way in situations of this nature. It starts with an indirect hint that “there is money for the boys” if the contract is awarded to a favored party, and the goodwill money will be deposited in a foreign bank to avoid the scrutiny of the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

In case that sweetener does not get favorable reaction, the reluctant official is given a veiled threat that he will be the subject of blind items in the media about corruption, or a well-publicized complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman, or a congressional investigation in aid of legislation (ugh!).

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And if the lawmaker happens to be a member of the committee on appropriations, the budgetary allocation of his office may either be reduced or its approval held in abeyance until further advice (read: after giving in).

Unless the subject of the pressure play has a direct line to the President and the latter sends word through the grapevine to lay off, the official concerned may be obliged to give in to the demands or, as in Salalima’s case, simply resign. The latter option is available only to those who have marketable talents or skills, or have well-padded retirement nests to rely on.

Out of courtesy to President Duterte, his former law classmate, it is doubtful if Salalima will come out in the open and disclose the identity of the people who tried to interfere in the performance of his duties.

To date, the President has not yet announced Salalima’s replacement. There will be no dearth of people, competent or otherwise, who will gladly give an arm and a leg to head the DICT.

Hopefully, the President appoints somebody who has hands-on experience in information and communications technology because the job is too important to be treated as a payback for a political debt.

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TAGS: Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Rodolfo Salalima
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