Lacson hits Romualdez for 'unfair indictment'

MANILA, Philippines – More than a week after Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez chided the Cabinet for incompetence and red tape, Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson shot back at Romualdez for his “unfair indictment” of the national government.

Lacson also defended himself against criticism that he is more focused on the pork barrel scam than Yolanda (Haiyan), the super typhoon that devastated the Philippines more than 6 months ago. (READ: 6 months after Yolanda: 'We are failing')

“If Mayor Romualdez is telling you that there is incompetence in the national government agencies, well I think that's an unfair indictment of the national government agencies,” Lacson said in an interview with Rappler's Chay Hofileña on Tuesday, May 20.

Lacson said these after Romualdez, in another interview with Rappler on May 12, claimed red tape and something worse than politics – “incompetence” – have derailed rehabilitation efforts after Yolanda.

Romualdez, for one, cited figures on damaged houses that seem inaccurate. (READ: Romualdez: Cabinet 'red tape' behind Yolanda delay)

'Things are moving'

On Tuesday, Lacson explained: “It's normal that numbers will vary, that there will be discrepancies. If numbers are very similar, then we should start suspecting that they're just conniving with each other or conspiring with each other just to make numbers in sync with each other. I'll start to be suspicious. But if there are differences in numbers that can be easily justified or explained, then to me, that’s really the normal thing to happen.”

 “Understandably so,” he said, when asked why numbers presented by national government agencies “don't match with numbers at the local level.” He cited the daily increase in the number of constructed classrooms in affected areas. “These are all moving targets,” he said.

(Watch Lacson's full interview with Rappler below)

“Things are moving,” Lacson added, but the government is “being drowned by the propaganda line” of critics. These include activist groups like People Surge, or groups “that would herd people from some parts of Samar not hit by Yolanda” to stage anti-government protests.

Lacson referred to a group of protesters allegedly brought by the Romualdezes to an anti-government rally in February. Romualdez denied he was behind this. (READ: Lacson links Romualdezes to anti-government rally)

In the face of criticism, Lacson said more concrete results will become more visible by mid-June. 

'I didn't lose focus'

Has the pork barrel issue, however, derailed his efforts?

Critics pointed out that Lacson is distracted by the so-called Napolist, a list of officials – including Budget Secretary Butch Abad and Agriculture Secretary Prospero Alcala – who allegedly got hefty kickbacks from their pork barrel. (READ: Napoles or Yolanda? Lacson should choose his priority) Both officials have denied any involvement with Napoles.

Napoles supposedly prepared these lists, one version of which Lacson possesses.

Lacson claimed the "Napolist" hasn't been an obstacle, and hasn't strained ties with implicated Cabinet members.

He added that if he started talking about the Napolist, he did so because Justice Secretary Leila de Lima wanted him to confirm if Napoles indeed gave him a copy.

“I wouldn't lie. 'Yes, I have a copy, and I've already forgotten that I have a copy, but I'll look for it.' That started, what you said, the distraction,” he said.

He added it's the media that is preocuppied with the Napoles list. President Benigno Aquino III said the same thing on Monday, May 19.

“I didn't lose focus,” Lacson said. “I just got distracted a bit.” –