A turf war among the members of the economic team of President Rody Duterte is unimaginable, but the resignation of former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia raised a lot of eyebrows about his statement regarding dissonance.
The “differences in development philosophy” which Pernia referred to as chief reason for leaving the post he held for nearly four years were peculiarly notable as the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) is close to being restructured into a regular department.
Pernia had hoped that the creation of the Department of Economics and Development Planning (DEDP) would happen this year, which would make it the agency that will guide the post-coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) rebuilding.
NEDA is angling to become a Cabinet-level agency and transformed into the DEDP, which would take a lead role in the development agenda of the country.
The House Economic Affairs Committee last February approved the DEDP bill that seeks to put into the new department the responsibility of crafting and implementation of all of the government’s sectoral plans.
At that time, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, who authored the bill in the House, pointed to reservations made by the DoF that resulted in the measure being watered down.
Salceda then noted the DoF wanted to remain the lead body among economic agencies.
The DEDP under the bill will prescribe the guidelines to the Philippine Development Plan for all sectors.
It will also review all policies which will give it leadership among the economic departments.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, nonetheless, denied allegations that he was among the reasons of Pernia’s resignation.
Pernia, however, gave cryptic remarks about the choice of DoF Undersecretary Karl Chua as his replacement, saying that “it gives me a signal that maybe the head of the economic team has other plans for NEDA.”
Chua, a former World Bank executive, is a protege of Dominguez.
“He’s a very able economist but I hope he will have an independent mind and also not just agree on anything,” Pernia said in sending a message to Chua.
Pernia had said that he had chosen to resign to prevent differences in approaches in the economic team from bogging down the government during a critical period.
Thus, the immediate replacement of Pernia with Chua makes a lot of sense since President Rody Duterte seeks to prevent what Pernia has warned, which is differences within the Cabinet bogging down the plans of government.
The economic team’s difficult task at the moment is raising the money needed to cushion the impact of the coronavirus plague and the enhanced community quarantine period on the people and businesses.
Rody had created a small group that included Pernia to formulate an economic recovery plan after the pandemic, which would need utmost unity to arrive at the best solutions to revive the economy which before the virus outbreak was among the most vibrant in the world.
Friction within government should be reserved until after the unprecedented crisis had passed.