MANILA, Philippines—Like the previous chief executives who promised to end poverty, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. committed to make life better for all, too, but there is something new in the government’s bid to address the problem that has been persistent for decades—a presidential adviser on poverty alleviation.
The Philippines, home to over 110 million people, has been confronted with poverty over the years, with poverty incidence rising to 18.1 percent in 2021, way higher than 16.7 percent in 2018. As the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said, there were 3.50 million poor households in the second year of the COVID-19 crisis.
But according to Social Weather Stations data, the 3.50 million does not present the full picture of poverty in the Philippines, especially since 14 million households considered themselves poor in the first quarter of 2023, an increase of 1.1 million from 12.9 million in the last quarter of 2022.
As pointed out by the Presidential Communications Office (PCO), the appointment of a presidential adviser, who will give Marcos advice on strategies to fight poverty, “reflects the government’s commitment to address one of the most pressing challenges faced by our nation.”
Who is the presidential adviser, though?
Larry Gadon, a controversial Marcos loyalist who lost in his 2016, 2019 and 2022 Senate bids, was appointed by the President on Monday (June 26), 36 hours before the Supreme Court (SC) announced that it disbarred him for “misogynistic, sexist, abusive and repeated intemperate language.”
The disbarment, which is an extreme penalty that takes away a lawyer’s right to practice law, has made the already controversial appointment of Gadon a year after his failed election bid even more complicated.
However, Malacañang stood by him, saying that he will continue with his role as presidential adviser, a Cabinet-level position.
As stressed by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, Malacañang is aware that Gadon, who now has the rank of a secretary, has cases filed against him at the SC, “but the President felt that his work as a presidential adviser will not get affected by his status as a lawyer.”
RELATED STORY: Gadon’s anti-poverty czarship questioned: Any plans or programs?
The PCO said Gadon will have a “pivotal role” as he is “set to work closely with government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders to create and implement comprehensive programs to address the root causes of poverty” in the Philippines.
Gadon himself said over radio station dzBB that he is a “well-experienced, well-seasoned corporate executive,” stressing that he has a lot of management and executive skills, which is “the thing needed to implement the programs that the President wants to get done.” As presidential adviser, however, his role is technically limited to policy recommendations, not enforcement.
According to data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), a presidential adviser is an “equivalent rank,” so Gadon, like members of the Senate and House of Representatives, will be assigned Salary Grade 31, or a base salary of P278,434 every month.
The PCO stressed that “his wealth of experience as a corporate executive and legal counsel in diverse sectors, including manufacturing, information technology, realty development, health care, resorts and hotels, construction, and trading, will contribute to the formulation of innovative and sustainable poverty alleviation strategies.”
However, Liza Masa, a former representative of Gabriela partylist and lead convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), said the new presidential adviser’s office is a “superfluous position and a waste of government funds” as there is already the NAPC, which is tasked with advising the president on strategies to fight poverty.
Against gov’t rightsizing
Last year, the bid to rightsize the government emerged as Marcos issued Executive Order (EO) No. 1, which abolished the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission and Office of the Cabinet Secretary “to achieve simplicity, economy and efficiency […] without effecting disruptions in internal management and general governance.”
As stated in the EO, which was issued by Marcos on June 30, 2022, the government shall “streamline official processes and procedures by reorganizing the Office of the President proper and the various attached agencies and offices, and by abolishing duplicated and overlapping official functions.”
Maria Ela Atienza, a professor of political science at the University of the Philippines Diliman, told INQUIRER.net via FB Messenger on Wednesday (June 28) that the appointment of Gadon goes against the message of rightsizing. “There is already NAPC,” she said.
Based on a DBM document, the NAPC was created through Republic Act No. 8425, or the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act, which was signed on June 30, 1998, as the “coordinating and advisory body in the implementation of the Social Reform Agenda.”
It “exercises oversight functions in the incorporation of anti-poverty strategies and programs in national, regional, sub-regional, and local development plans” to “institutionalize basic sector participation in the formulation, planning, implementation, and monitoring of anti-poverty policies, strategies, and programs.”
Marcos ‘needs Gadon’
Gadon, when asked why there is a need for him when there is already the NAPC, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), said “there is a need to synchronize all the government programs when it comes to poverty alleviation and no one is doing it right now.”
Gadon told ANC that Marcos, who will mark his first year as president on Friday (June 30), is “already burdened with a lot of things in his responsibilities [as the chief executive]” so “he would need a presidential adviser on this, at least to plan out, supervise and monitor the programs that he want to implement.”
However, lawyer Edwin Lacierda, who was Malacañang spokesperson when the late Benigno Aquino III was president from 2010 to 2016, pointed out on Twitter that the said government offices—NAPC, DSWD and Neda—“discuss poverty alleviation on a regular basis.”
He said if Gadon is supposed to synchronize government programs on poverty alleviation, “why is he advocating another program for school children,” which is the “BBM Movement” or Batang Busog, Malusog, a program that Gadon is expecting to launch this July.
READ: Gadon’s first project as anti-poverty czar? ‘BBM: Batang Busog, Malusog’
As Gadon explained, he will also reach out to big businesses to encourage them to take part in the program.
“I will link with them and urge them to adopt this program as part of their corporate social responsibility. I will encourage them to adopt a public school in their area so they can help Filipinos.”
Looking back, Gadon’s appointment was met with intense criticism, with some pointing out to the controversies he was swimming in over the past few years, including complaints filed against him for words and actions that were even hit by government agencies, like the Department of Health and Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
Atienza said in making appointments, “prudence dictates not appointing anyone with ongoing cases,” stressing that the designation of Gadon “shows lack of prudence and deep consideration.”
His appointment is a case “where we see that the criteria for appointees and consultants are very shallow,” she said.
According to data from the SC, there are six administrative cases pending at the Office of the Bar Confidant against Gadon, and four at the Commission on Bar Discipline of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
Atienza pointed out that the appointment is only “payback” for the support expressed by Gadon and not based on whether the appointee was qualified or can bring something substantial to the Office of the President.
RELATED STORY: Larry Gadon says his appointment isn’t political accommodation: I have talent, skill
The creation of presidential adviser positions is the prerogative of the President, though.
Gadon already stated over dzBB that his expletives last year, which prompted the SC to disbar him, were his way “to stop people from spreading lies” against Marcos, who won the presidential race with over 31 million votes, a commanding lead of 11 million votes against his closest rival, then Vice President Leni Robredo.
“I have no regrets,” he told ANC.
READ: Larry Gadon shrugs off disbarment: ‘I have no regrets’
Gadon, over a day after being appointed, was disbarred by the SC with a unanimous vote of 15-0 for the viral video clip where he repeatedly cursed and shouted unprintable remarks against journalist Raisa Robles in 2022.
READ: SC disbars Gadon for profane remarks
The SC had motu proprio, or on its own, taken cognizance of the video clip and issued an earlier order of preventive suspension from the practice of law against Gadon, who has been controversial for his penchant for expletives, especially against the opposition, including Aquino, whom he claimed had died of human immunodeficiency virus in 2021.
His remark against the late President, who died of renal disease, prompted the radio station dwIZ, where Gadon was interviewed, to say sorry to the Aquino family. The CHR also reprimanded Gadon for his statement that also prompted some individuals to file a complaint against him.
As to his video, where he shouted profanities against Robles, the SC decided that it was “indisputably scandalous that it discredits the legal profession,” saying that the high court cited Gadon for violating Canon II on Propriety, of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability (CPRA).
The CPRA imposes the standard that “[a] lawyer shall, at all times, act with propriety and maintain the appearance of propriety in personal and professional dealings, observe honesty, respect and courtesy, and uphold the dignity of the legal profession consistent with the highest standards of ethical behavior.”
Needless, bad words
The SC said “the privilege to practice law is bestowed only upon individuals who are competent intellectually, academically and, equally important, morally,” pointing out that “there is no room in this noble profession for misogyny and sexism.” It “will never tolerate abuse, in whatever form, especially when perpetrated by an officer of the court.”
Looking back, Gadon was also criticized for saying in an interview with GMA News in 2016 that he wanted all terrorists, including their children, dead. “We need to erase their race,” he said.
However, he later clarified in 2019 that he was only referring to terrorists on the island of Mindanao.
Back in 2018, he flashed a dirty finger at protesters in Baguio City, who were supporting then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. He shouted “mga bobo, mga bobo” as he cursed, too, at someone who called him stupid. A disbarment case was filed against him a week after the incident.
He stressed over dzBB, though, that he will not say sorry to the people he cussed. “They are the ones at fault because they were spreading lies. They should be thankful that I did not have them killed, at least I only hurled bad words against them,” he said.
As to his disbarment, he said it “is something I have not paid attention to because I have not practiced my profession as a lawyer since 2015.”
READ: ‘Secretary’ sounds sweeter than ‘attorney’ – Gadon on his disbarment
“And I got involved in business and politics that I hardly felt that I am practicing my profession as a lawyer,” Gadon stressed. “So I am not affected by this kind of decision.”
He said he would file a motion for reconsideration of his disbarment.
RELATED STORY: Gadon faces second disbarment complaint
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