Of bondage and mercy
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - May 25, 2019 - 12:00am

There was an interesting subplot to the proclamation of Senators at the PICC Wednesday. The lucky 12 were asked to do a fist bump, a lá President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, for the official photo opp. All happily indulged – except Senators Grace Poe and Nancy Binay.

The seemingly inconsequential non-event became a minor media incident (I wouldn’t qualify it as going viral). Netizens and observers commented on their action (or inaction), with a healthy number of views expressed pro and con.

Ooooh ... let’s fist again. FISTGATE is being painted as either a statement of defiance or an assertion of independence. Here in the Philippines, we know the closed fist to be a partisan salute, a badge of solidarity with the party and politics of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Its interesting when you consider that the fist was originally, and still is, a powerful symbol of resistance to entrenched interests. 

What Grace Poe and Nancy Binay did or didn’t do was hailed as striking. But in the scheme of things, it was simply an act of two veteran Senators understanding their role and being true to the nature of their institution. It’s actually not the two who should be explaining their conduct or be lionized for it. It’s really the other ten. At their first official opportunity as Senators to message about the complexion of their contingent, they chose to assure one man over reassuring millions of people. They could have struck a pose for their institution’s sovereignty in its sphere or on their own status as independent pillars. Instead, they decided – wittingly or not – to portray a picture of devotion to the Executive. 

There is nothing wrong with hedging with the President. But shouldn’t a Senator, by default, hedge with the people? It would be a mistake to conflate public interest with the President’s interest, no matter how popular he is. With all of Senate President Tito Sotto’s protestations that the Senate will remain independent, this declaration of ten-dependence becomes food for thought. 

Blind fury. The Supreme Court was also feeling the pressure to stand up and certify. Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin reasserted the Court’s independence last Tuesday at the Joint General Membership Meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines and the Judicial Reform Initiative. With PRRD packing the Court with appointees, businesses were understandably wary of the implications on judicial independence. But CJ Luke reminded us that, as in previous administrations, the Court will find a path away from subservience. 

Indeed, this Court’s recent rulings are res ipsa loquitur: a writ of kalikasan over the West Philippine Sea; a writ of amparo and habeas data pro the National Union of People’s Lawyers; and dismissing as ridiculous the Solicitor General’s invocation of national security in refusing to release government documents on the drug war.

Former US Chief Justice William Rehnquist articulated the wisdom that in the Supreme Court, independence will come with the territory. The Court is “an institution far more dominated by centrifugal forces, pushing toward individuality and independence, than by its centripetal forces pulling for hierarchical ordering and institutional unity”. This independence is reinforced by the tenure until 70 rule; the guaranteed non-diminution of compensation; and the strict qualifications for entry to the Judiciary.

Hopeless. Oh, but the House. Credit the Senate and the Supreme Court for at least attempting to present a visage of independence. As for the House of Representatives, its the reverse. To appear independent is a minus for your aspirations to lead! The story in the House is the Speakership. Its a race to servitude, with conflicting claims on which lucky Representative has secured the President’s blessing. 

Whether its Alan Peter Cayetano, Martin Romualdez, Lord Allan Velasco, Pantaleon Alvarez, Loren Legarda or Aurelio Gonzales, what the President decides will be controlling. Even the Partylist Caucus is just awaiting PRRD’s signal. In olden days, these sort of statements would be heard only in caucus. Today, its in their public pronouncements and even on the social media pages of the aspirants.

As all this is happening, PRRD continues with his hands-off policy. If the great branches fawn upon him, that’s their call. With his consistently elevated approval ratings, he rightly stays above the fray and maintains his detached comportment. We might even have to rely on his mercy to  temper his surfeit of dependence if the departments of government end up remiss in their duties to check.

On Tuesday, May 28, the country will be observing Flag day. June 12 is Independence day. As we contemplate our place in the community of nations, let us also assess where we’re situated in our domestic institutions. Separation of powers begets checks and balances. Absent that, the combination of power shatters equilibrium. 

Tidbits. The Asian Association for Public Administration (AAPA) held its 2019 Annual Conference in Manila this week with De La Salle-College of St. Benilde as venue host and the Philippine Society of Public Administration as co-convenor. The AAPA partnered with University of the Philippines NCPAG, the University of Makati and the Philippine Councilor’s League Legislative Academy. Delegates from Russia, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Timor-Leste, Korea, Japan, US, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Belgium, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Australia, Malaysia, India, Chile, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kenya joined our very own Philippine public administration scholars and practitioners for three days of exchanging ideas and landing theory on Agenda 2030 and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UNDP.

The City of Manila, through city owned Universidad de Manila, welcomed all participants. Among the local speakers were Vice President Leni Robredo, Senators Manny Pacquiao and Rissa Hontiveros, DepEd Secretary Liling Briones, Civil Service Commission Chair Alicia Bala and NEDA Usec. Rosemarie Edillion. Congratulations AAPA President, Dean Alex B. Brillantes for a hugely successful conference.

2019 MIDTERM ELECTIONS PROCLAMATION OF SENATORS
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