OPINION: Parsing Pernia

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Apr 25 2020 12:15 AM

Had Ernie Pernia not given up his boyhood dream of becoming a priest and instead stayed in the Seminary, graduated and took sacerdotal vow, who knows? He may have become the Archbishop of Tagbilaran and even retired as a Cardinal! 

And who can really know the real unburnished, unadulterated reason why he finally gave up his seat in the Duterte Cabinet? But being a man of holy faith that he is, let him keep that reason and sentiment “in pectore.” “In pectore” is Latin for “in the breast or heart” which is a term used by the Catholic Church with reference to an action, a decision or document intended to be a secret.

I wondered how much Secretary Pernia had cringed every time the leader of the country he was directly serving would serially blaspheme God, Jesus, the Church, the Pope and the ecclesiastical stalwarts within whose ranks he once thought he would stand. Imagine yourself in his sandals!

Whichever way you look at it, President Duterte lost a good man. In a Cabinet populated by yes men, yes, Secretary Ernesto Pernia was a moderating and prudent voice. As now we know, he resigned from the Cabinet (National Economic and Development Authority or NEDA) a week ago, April 17. 

There were two instances by which I remember him best. 

One. When “federalization” was, then prominently in the front of Duterte’s political burner, a hot topic generating much noisy acquiescing sycophancy from Duterte’s sidewalk cheering squad as well as from the halls of Congress, Secretary Pernia opposed it. He opined publicly that such a switch in the governance structure and system would “wreak havoc” on the economy. I thought that was courageous of him to so openly disagree with the declared agenda of a President who had already established his “fear and violence-” mongering credentials, as has Rodrigo R. Duterte been enabled to do.

Two. When Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” masterplan was unfurled, it included 75 big ticket projects. Again, Secretary Pernia argued that such was a financial overload and beyond the country’s capabilities. Secretary Pernia caused ‘BBB” to be whittled down by 50%. We really do not know by how much more he would have wanted to temper the grandiosity of Duterte’s infrastructure trajectory but presciently, today ‘BBB’ is in serious turbulence, perhaps just as Pernia’s objections perceived it would be so.

Now, didn’t I just say Ernie Pernia was “a man of holy faith?” Priests or ex-future priests are certainly more deserving of such characterization, over pedestrians like most us, don’t you think so? An ex-seminarian, with a kindly, fatherly visage and soft-spoken, he brought with him into the service of the nation a solid academic and work experience background. He is Dr. Pernia, with a Ph.D, in economics from a California University and served previously as the lead economist of the Asian Development Bank. A University of the Philippines School of Economics ‘professor emeritus,’ too. Inarguably, a ‘good catch!’ He crafted the original economic development platform upon which, among others, Mayor Duterte launched his Presidential candidacy.

Here is his resignation statement: “After reflecting during the Holy Week, and consultations with my family and close friends, I have decided to resign my post as Secretary of Socioeconomic Planning. This is due partly to differences in development philosophy with a few of my fellow Cabinet members.” 

In the very first interview that he gave (CNN – Philippines) he also said: “When the orchestra is not well orchestrated, then you have a little problem.” And added that his resignation was “not directly related to COVID crisis.” 

Could not saying “not directly related” also mean an admission that it is indeed still related but in an indirect manner?”

NEDA’s (and Sec. Pernia’s) turf is of course economic development and that involves finance, right? Might finances and threats/obstacles to economic development, in relation to the rampaging coronavirus pandemic (which is basically a medical problem), be regarded as “not directly related to COVID crisis” except in an indirect manner? 

Another way of parsing: the resignation came in the time of Covid-19, but was not caused by it, hence “not directly related.” Of course, the devout among us regard the Easter/Holy Week as a period of contemplation, and sometimes, remorse, and so the Secretary’s timing was apropos.

Folks, as you might have guessed, I have began to parse the ex-NEDA Secretary’s words, attempting to mine for some unspoken meaning. What really got me to parsing was the remark he gave to CNN Philippines during his very first interview. He said: “When the orchestra is not well orchestrated, then you have a little problem.” 

Aha, so there was a problem! How little, really! Let us parse a little bit more. “Orchestra.” “Orchestrated.” In terms of government management, this could only mean the selection of the right instruments (Cabinet members) and utilizing these instruments to maximum effect. Sec. Pernia was a principal player in the ensemble and he was concerned that it was ‘not well orchestrated.’ Well, guess who orchestrates? 

Might it be possible that his “differences in development philosophy” was not necessarily limited to “a few of my fellow Cabinet members,” actually his fellow instruments in the ensemble? Might that “differences in development philosophy,” in truth, did extend to the leader of the orchestra, the one “who orchestrates?”

If that were truly so, Dr. Pernia’s departure is deliverance! 
Godspeed!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.