Public trusts
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - June 1, 2019 - 12:00am

Nope, the House Speakership fracas is not the only pintakasi. The Senate is creating its own noise with its turf wars. 

We started the week soaking in the mugs of the young aspirants to the Speaker’s chair: Alan Peter, Ferdinand Martin and Lord Allan. There was even that famous selfie with President Digong in Japan (caption: what separation of powers?). But we end the week talking about the Senate’s own musical chairs. 

In the Senate, as it once was in the House, tradition and custom holds sway. In the US Congress, they’re referred to as folkways. These are the informal rules that influence legislative behavior. But traditions, no matter how strongly Tevye clings to them, also evolve in response to the changing times. In both Houses, however, where once there were norms like apprenticeship-seniority, courtesy or specialization, today there is a more entrepreneurial environment where you don’t wait around anymore to gain influence. 

You may wish for stability and to reduce conflict by following these norms of behavior. And then again, if you have the numbers then you may rather choose to respect that most basic of norms – majority rules. 

If there is smoke where there is fire, in this context – where there is noise, there is numbers.

Say it ain’t so, Joe. One of the most emotional fragments of idiom comes from apocrypha. One hundred years ago, young boys agonized over their idol, Shoeless Joe Jackson’s involvement in the infamous 1919 Baseball World Series thrown game. The story goes that one supposedly cried out in disillusionment after Shoeless Joe left the Grand Jury investigation, pleading for the great man to “say it ain’t so”. Jackson’s reply to the kid was honest. “I’m afraid it is.”

The same refreshing honesty blurted from the lips of Philippine Ambassador to Japan Jose C. Laurel V who couldn’t fathom the need to bring 21 – no, he said, 20 Cabinet members in the President’s official delegation this latest trip. Even the Secretaries of Local Government and Land Reform says he! “There is no land reform here.” The official number of Secretaries is actually 16. 

It was then that Ambassador Laurel gave his controversial personal take on the balloon contingent: personally, he felt that it was a reward to celebrate the administration’s great victory at the polls. 

How does this weave into the President’s aversion toward junkets and unnecessary travel? The Ambassador seemed to be thinking the same thing – say it ain’t so, PRRD. How many of the President’s men have been sacked for this same reason?

The narrative has since been taken over by Dr. Panelo’s spin. The presence of the bulk of the Cabinet was necessary he says. And if there is anyone to be sacked, it may even turn out to be Ambassador Laurel. Already, the “fellow” has been rebuked. 

It was Laurel’s misfortune to choose to be candid. But no one could possibly miss the elephant in the room. 

Republican Democratic State? For the Nth time, with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea out with the President on this official trip, the burden of the Presidential office falls on Secretary of Justice Menardo Guevarra.  The SOJ is the Nation’s Officer-in-Charge. 

There are grey areas in the Constitution. The designation of an OIC President is most certainly one of them. Temporary succession to the office of the President is an issue that has no clear guidance in law. The 1987 Constitution was forged in a furnace that was barely aware of the position of Vice President. Indeed, for 15 years previously, the Philippines didn’t even have a VP. This unfamiliarity translated to the inadequate framework in the Constitution.

The tension is with the authority exercised by the temp. The designation of an unelected OIC remains to be problematic from the point of view of basic democratic values. If the elected President is physically absent, the most logical and acceptable substitute should be the elected Vice President. 

Of course, this is easy when the President and Vice President are a tandem. But if from separate parties, it becomes difficult. The last administration to have them in a team was President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s who had her running mate, Vice President Noli de Castro act as caretaker or OIC during her absences on official trip. 

The canned response of government to hysterical objections on the chosen caretaker is that the Constitution is silent. True. It’s time that Congress step up to fill the void. We the people should be able to expect that whoever holds the reins is someone we selected. That is the contract we signed up for. Hence, the primacy of the VP among the replacements. But it can as well be whomsoever the President chooses and trusts – even Sal Panelo. If we give our imprimatur through our representatives, by statute, then we temper the doubt.

Tidbits. The Ateneo de Manila Women’s volleyball team returned as champions of the UAAP Season 81. After losing in straight sets to the amazing Sisi Rondina and her UST Lady Tigresses in the series opener, the Lady Eagles clawed back to take the next two matches. It was their first title in four years. The triumph of the women’s team completes the University’s dominance of the top 3 sporting competitions of the league. Ateneo previously captured the Men’s Basketball Championship and the Men’s Football Crown. 

As we go to press, we read about PRRD’s declaration advising against the continued use by the independent Comelec of the contractor Smartmatic for automated elections. He is on record as saying that the Smartmatic machines promote cheating. The Comelec should source a provider that is “free of fraud.” The President’s sentiments on the matter should be seriously considered when the Comelec and Congress begin their probes into the allegations of irregularities in the just concluded national elections.

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