One is enough. Two is probably a bad sign, three is definitely a bad precedent and four just leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Fourpeople from a single family—all surnamed Abad—are in key government positions in the new Aquino administration. And by “key,” we mean exactly that, because all four are involved in government finance, both in the executive branch and in Congress.
There’s the dad, Florencio “Butch” Abad, the former manager of the campaign of candidate Noynoy Aquino, now budget secretary-designate. This Abad was also a former Batanes congressman, former agrarian reform and formereducation secretary of the previous Arroyo administration, who joined other officials of that government in the figurative burning of their Cabinet cards that signaled their joining the so-called “Hyatt 10.”
Butch Abad attended high school, college and law school at Ateneo de Manila, the school du jour. He is the son of a five-time Liberal Party congressman from Batanes, the late Jorge Abad, and is president of the party that once counted his father as one of its members.
Butch’s father was also the Arroyo connection, having served as public works, transportation and communications secretary during the term of President Diosdado Macapagal in the early sixties. His mother, Aurora, also served as officer-in-charge governor and representative of Batanes.
Butch is married to the former Henedina Razon, who is currently the congressman of Batanes. Henedina was a former dean of the Ateneo School of Government (that school, again) who worked as a community organizer and NGO advocate; she had also served once before (2004-2007) as Batanes representative.
But Henedina, who defeated the incumbent Batanes congressman by a mere 35 votes in the elections last May, is not going to be just another backbencher in the soon-to-be-convened Congress. She is reportedly also set to become the vice chairman of the powerful House appropriations committee, which scrutinizes, approves or disapproves the national budget that her husband will submit in behalf of the entire executive branch.
Will the Abads’ pillow talk, once Mrs. Abad becomes the second-highest lawmaker on the appropriations panel, include budget matters and the executive’s need for Congress to approve Malacañang’s, the various departments’ and other state agencies’ proposed outlays? No one, except the parties involved, will know for certain.
If that’s not scary enough a situation, let’s move on to the Abads’ first-born, daughter Julia Andrea. Julia has been named, to the raising of many eyebrows, head of the Presidential Management Staff, which carries the rank of Cabinet secretary.
This means that Julia and his dad meet regularly, not over dinner as is the case in most families, but across the wide table with the mircophones where Cabinet meetings are held. The new administration has defended Julia’s appointment, saying she is a trusted and loyal aide, the same one who served for all the three years that Aquino stayed in the Senate.
Prior to that Senate gig, Julia worked at the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Now, as head of PMS, she will get to direct, among other duties, the disbursement of the President’s Social Fund, a stash of cash that has also been called the President’s very own pork barrel.
Will Julia be asking her dad’s advice on PSF disbursements, since he’s the budget secretary and also probably her mentor in public service? And will her mom be inclined to ask Julia about how the fund is disbursed, not only as part of her motherly responsibilities but also as a member of the branch of government that has oversight functions over the executive?
And will Luis Andres, the third child of the Abad couple, call to tell his parents that he will be late for the weekend family gathering because his boss still needs him at work? No matter, they will probably understand that the job of the chief of staff to the finance secretary will be very, very time-consuming.
He can always catch up with dad and sis at the next Cabinet meeting anyway. And as for mom, he will probably be able to squeeze in some quality time with her when the finance secretary presents his program for finding the money to fund the Aquino government’s programs.
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The December 2003 submission of Butch Abad, when he was still serving the Arroyo administration, includes a list of relatives in government. The list shows that two siblings, four cousin and an in-law of the LP head were also serving in the government that year as mayor, district engineer, fiscal and employees of holding various positions in agencies as diverse as the municipal government of Ivana, Batanes, the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Quezon City prosecutor’s office, Congress and the weather bureau.
Working in the government, it seems, is the career of choice for many Abads and their kin, in much the same way that some families are “into” music or journalism. And there is really nothing wrong with that, especially since many families have distinguished themselves by excelling in the field of civil service for generations.
But, as the leftist party-list group Bayan Muna pointed out, it is certainly “uncomfortable” to have four members of one single family in powerful positions that have to do with government finance. “I hope President Aquino broadens his field of candidates because there are other individuals who could do the job as well or even better,’’ said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.
Pere Abad sees nothing wrong with this situation, even if almost everyone else does. And the presidential spokesman dismissed in lawyer-like fashion the concerns about having too many Abads in the Aquino administration as “speculative”—whether he means that their appointments are speculative or the concerns are, we can’t really tell.
The defense used by the President’s spokesman is that the Abads’ competence and qualifications “speak for themselves.” Unfortunately, what President Aquino’s mouthpiece fails to understand is that, despite the loud volume of this family’s achievements, their work hasn’t been asked to speak in this case.
What’s really at issue here is the propriety of having three Abads in sensitive positions involving government finance in the executive department and a fourth in Congress’ appropriations committee, which should oversee the work of the first three. And that has nothing to do with the abilities, competence or even the integrity and honesty of these members of a prominent Batanes family.
Even the President’s absolute faith in the family is not an issue, when one delves into the matter of the propriety of their various appointments. No President can force anyone to serve in his official family, after all, despite his vast powers.
The only people who can really do something to remedy this situation are the Abads themselves, unless they truly find nothing wrong with what is surely an unusual and record-breaking situation. The family certainly knows what to do—unless they think that all four of them in high government office isn’t such a bad idea.