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Mareng Winnie Monsod divides Noynoy’s critics into the “Friendlies” and the “Unfriendlies". As someone who wanted Noynoy to win (to this extent, I guiltily withheld my information about Hacienda Luisita lest it be used by the Villar camp), I’d like to think I belong to the former. So let me offer some friendly criticism. By now it’s obvious to many people that the president has made some pretty bad appointments. The president has appointed incompetent and, potentially corrupt friends to government posts. Amando Doronila has previously alluded to these friends as an “old boys club” in Malacañang. Personally, I call them Kabarkada Inc. – a group which has been causing our president problems since day one. (If you recall, Noynoy's mother, President Cory, was known unfairly or not for her "Kamaganak Inc.") When I heard earlier this year that then President-elect Aquino was planning to appoint an unknown Quezon City administrator named Jojo Ochoa to the position of Executive Secretary (“the little president”), my immediate reaction was like many others': “Jojo who?” Aquino’s justification for this crucial appointment - a spiel about how close he was to Ochoa and how long they’d known each other – was inadequate to say the least. PNoy should recall that his mother appointed an eminently qualified Executive Secretary. Though he is routinely derided today, Joker Arroyo was an iconic and brilliant human rights lawyer in 1986. Civil society groups universally hailed his appointment as “little president.” It wouldn’t take the public long to discover that Jojo was no Joker circa 1986. On his first day in office, Ochoa issued the bungled Memorandum Circular 1, which caused widespread disarray in many government offices. More recently, Newsbreak spotted him drunk in the Manila Pen, oozing machismo and having a grand time with lady friends as the rest of the country grieved over the Luneta tragedy. In many ways, though, Pareng Jojo is just a PR liability. Pareng Rico is another story. As the de Lima report shows, Puno proved inept during the hostage crisis. This isn’t surprising. Apart from being Noynoy’s gun-touting buddy, what gives him the right to run the PNP? The guy himself admits to not knowing how to handle hostage situations. To top things off, based on Bishop Oscar Cruz’s allegations, Puno is also possibly receiving payola from jueteng lords. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. He could be innocent. Even if this were the case, he should be held accountable for hiding information from the president. By his own admission, jueteng lords have attempted to approach the DILG undersecretary. Why didn’t he tell his boss? And why doesn’t he name names in public? We deserve to know. Ironically, the person who can save the DILG from the likes of Puno is not secure in his position. Jesse Robredo – the multi-awarded mayor with a squeaky clean reputation – is sadly only an acting secretary because of “differences” between his working style and the president’s. Having personal differences, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. Friends of a leader can easily become yes-men, rarely providing annoying dissenting views. In contrast, an independent official with integrity can serve as a check and balance to groupthink and sycophancy. Barack Obama might not be the best example given his current unpopularity, but we should recall how much praise he received for appointing independent personalities to top government posts. In making Hillary Clinton the US’s top diplomat, he proved that even one of his sharpest critics had a place in government (remember the extent of mudslinging during the Democratic primaries). This may be slightly reductive, but I believe the battle lines within the Aquino administration are becoming more evident as events unfold. The much-touted Samar-Balay rivalry seems to me to be one between close friends and party mates, between Kabarkada Inc. and the Liberal Party. To me, the choice is clear: Noynoy should stick with the LP. There are a number of reasons for this. First, as in the case of Robredo, LP politicians are usually more qualified. This is because many of them are in positions of prominence by virtue of political track record and not because they grew up with the president. Second, as Manuel Buancamino notes in his Business Mirror column, making a friend work under you can ruin your friendship (not that I care if Noynoy and Puno ever speak again). Third, and I think most importantly, the president needs to send a message that political parties matter. One of the reasons why personality politics is so prevalent in the Philippines is because of our weak political party structure. Voters identify with people because, more often than not, political parties have no real identities apart from being assemblages created to forward the careers of individual politicians. Among the big traditional parties, only the Liberal Party has a sense of ideological coherence (unless, of course, you consider Gloria and Lakas-Kampi’s “trapoism” a valid ideology). I may be critical of the big political parties, but even I have to admit that the LP, though diverse, is characterized by a liberal reformism. This means that, while its members may not want to overhaul our broken political system, they want to make it more efficient and, at times, even more equitable. We saw this, for example, in the LP senatorial ticket, which had candidates fighting to reform specific areas like health and education. In many ways, our president is part of this tradition. And it is this tradition that he should draw from if he wants to genuinely change things. Also, if Noynoy strengthens his party, they can continue his policies and projects even after he leaves office. Kabarkada Inc. cannot do this. When Noynoy is no longer president, they’ll head off either to the Pen or the shooting range. There is no doubt that President Aquino has the support of two very loyal groups. Unfortunately, this is government and not a college fraternity. Love and macho loyalty are not enough. Qualifications and experience matter just as much. Save Jesse Robredo. Protect the Liberal Party.