SOCIAL media was abuzz over the weekend because of two stories involving President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies: actor turned-Tourism Promotions Board COO Cesar Montano and whistleblower Sandra Cam, who could be stars in their own episodes of “Allies Behaving Badly.”
These two are probably the best examples of why the bureaucracy is always on edge whenever there is a change in the administration or in department and agency leadership; as career bureaucrats, you simply close your eyes and pray that you get the luck of the draw when it comes to getting a good presidential appointee for a boss. If your luck holds, you’ll get a guy like former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who empowered the Foreign Service by recommending their placement in crucial posts and relying on their experience on diplomatic issues. To my recollection, Del Rosario largely depended on career diplomats and brought in very few confidential staff to assist him in his duties as secretary. On the other hand, if Mercury is in retrograde and your luck is a good as a duck’s in a Chinese restaurant, you might encounter these two stars.
Despite Montano’s breakout role in the 1998 Jose Rizal biopic, in recent years he has gained more notoriety for his involvement in various scandals in show business, including his very public and nasty split from his estranged wife Sunshine Cruz. His political career has been unremarkable at best, with his celebrity status failing to clinch him a senate seat last 2007 and a gubernatorial bid in his home province of Bohol.
Concerned employees of the TPB lodged a complaint against Montano with the Presidential Action Center, detailing a number of alleged offenses committed by him. Leading the litany of Montano’s supposed sins is the hiring of friends and family as TPB employees and consultants, including his gardener. (Perhaps the TPB office needs more greenery? Could be good for productivity.) While nepotism and the hiring of family members and friends may not raise eyebrows as high as it should during these times, allegations of Montano charging his and his entourage’s international and local travels (ostensibly official, hmmm) to government funds certainly raised an uproar. Further, Montano is accused of approving contracts worth millions of pesos favoring one or two production outfits to sponsor concerts and shows despite negative recommendations from his own Marketing Department. The complaint itself details more all-around bad behavior involving women, booze and beach getaways, giving the impression that Montano is possibly living out his favorite episode of HBO’s Entourage, albeit on government money.
More than the charges of highly improper behavior and questionable decisions, what is more laughable and alternatively depressing is the narration found in paragraph 17: “It can be observed that during meetings with the TPB Management Committee and Board Meetings, his level of retention and absorption is very low. He has difficulty understanding presentations, flow charts, and figures. Instead, he wants visuals.” So perhaps Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo was correct in expressing her polite disappointment at the announcement of Montano’s appointment, as she had recommended someone else for the post.
The action taken by PACE remains to be seen, but given the fact that PACE does not have any real authority over complaints of this nature beyond endorsing them to another office, I wouldn’t put money on its good prospects.
Another star in the continuing but infuriating saga of Allies Behaving Badly is jueteng bag lady-turned-whistleblower Sandra Cam. An official incident report filed with NAIA management narrates the encounter of a female MIAA employee assigned to the VIP Lounge, who asked Cam to produce identification and pay the 1,200 peso fee for the use of the lounge. Cam, apparently irked at the employee’s temerity to ask someone of her stature to produce something as inconsequential as identification (and gasp, pay the fee!) allegedly went on a verbal rampage against the hapless woman. At one point, Cam allegedly boasted about her impending appointment to the Duterte cabinet, supposedly saying: “You know, hija? I was on the phone. Do you know who I was talking to? I was talking to Bong Go. Do you know me? If you don’t, search me up on Google. I told you already I had no government ID because in three months I would be a member of the Cabinet.”
Despite her tirades, MIAA personnel still assisted her, all the while suffering her invectives and objections to their sub-par treatment of someone of her celebrity and status. Cam called the report a “big, big lie,” but admitted that she mentioned her expected appointment to MIAA staff. “What I said is, ‘You are not supposed to be in this job because you do not know how to handle people. You are so young but you are so rude,’” when she gave her side of the story. She also owned up to refusing to pay the fee, saying that she saw no reason to pay as she only stayed for a little while inside the lounge, and complained of lack of refreshments inside. The President said that the incident will have no effect on Cam’s position and that he would still give her work in government, adding that Cam helped him during the campaign. As to what that position is remains to be seen, as Duterte himself admitted that there is no vacancy in the Cabinet.
Should both Montano and Cam be guilty of the allegations levied against them, then both are well on their way to winning the valedictorian and salutatorian award for Duterte’s Best and the Brightest, Class of 2017.
Issues facing government are not always about two sides. Abigail Valte’s law background and deep dive into government provides insight on its inner workings and what factors go into policy decision making. Her once a week column is an incision on current political and social issues.