Lie down with Lions
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - November 9, 2019 - 12:00am

The rule of thumb is that an official gets appointed/designated to a public office because of the trust and confidence of the appointing authority. The power to appoint is essentially discretionary. The legal principle is that it be performed by the officer in which it is vested according to his “best lights”.

Exactly the opposite happened when President Rodrigo Roa Duterte challenged Vice President Leonor Gerona Robredo to stop being a critic. Do a better job against illegal drugs, can you? She is now officially the co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD). This is an appointment with no trust and confidence. It’s a decision fueled by annoyance.

You’re brighter than me? All the appointee need do is to possess the qualification for the position. In VP Leni’s case, the doubt so loudly heard is whether she is actually qualified. “Tingnan natin kung kaya mo” – PRRD; “hindi ito beauty contest” – Senator Bato de la Rosa; “hindi sila matatakot … ibe-baby mo ang mga yan” – Senator Bong Go.

Undergirding every appointment/designation to high public office is the principal-agent relationship. We are not speaking of the agency relation of VP Leni to her electorate: she as agent and the voters as principal. We speak here of her relation as adjunct/assistant to the Executive. She is an agent but her principal is the President who appointed her.

The doctrine of qualified political agency deems her acts, until disapproved, to be the President’s own. VP Leni accepts the offer but on her own terms. She won’t be dictated upon. This is problematic. The Supreme Court has recognized on elemental agency principles that the multiple executive functions of the single Executive are performed through the executive departments. Hence, their acts are “subject to the direction of the President”. The people may be her boss in her capacity as Vice President but the President is clearly her boss in her capacity as co-chair of the ICAD.

By accepting the position, she acknowledges that her committee, headed by its chair, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director-General Aaron Aquino (rank of Undersecretary), is subject to the policy direction of Malacañang. As co-chair, she will have to follow the President’s lead. Criticism has gotten her voice all hoarse but it doesn’t change the power dynamic. The guidance still comes down from above.

No silence for this lamb. However cutely or acutely the Robredo gambit germinated, her decision to accept the dare and to dare to accept shouldn’t be second guessed. With the odds clearly against her, it is heroic that she tries. Even if only for the souls that may be saved by the deterrent effect of her presence in the committee. If any.

The variance with the culture of violence epitomized by the statements of  PRRD and Senators De La Rosa and Go could not be more defined. Ken Follet provides our column title. These Lions tout the 82% approval rating of the drug war plus the absence of public rage to rationalize their “just war” ethics. Kill or be killed. VP Leni, with her more balanced view of the role of the State, may be in their den. But she is there to remind them that, after almost 4 years of their spree, a tremendous 96% of the Filipino people still have faith in due process and believe that drug suspects should be captured alive.

Anthony Stark vs. Travis Bickle. This dream bout almost slipped our notice, what with VP Leni’s hemming and hawing about the new job. The internet erupted when revered film maker Martin Scorcese reignited the debate on the nature of Art. Using cinema as his platform, he promptly reduced the giant entertainment and financial extravaganzas of Disney/Marvel movies to … theme parks. Scorcese and his generation of auteurs gave us a legacy of complex characters, archetypes, stereotypes, tropes that have provoked thought, led us down paths of discovery or revelation, challenged our biases. They changed our lives. For better or worse.

We’re glad that Mr. Scorcese, with the immediate back up of Francis Ford Coppola (how about Luca Brasi vs. the Hulk?) chose to speak up. As far as cinema as an art form goes, it doesn’t get any higher than this team – with Lucas, Spielberg & Co. who all learned from the masters that preceded them. They are the Seven Samurai, the Dirty Dozen, the Goodfellas. Who is to say that even the formation of Marvel’s heroes isn’t owed to the characters from the movies they created?

Their heft gives this episode a lift. And the response, some say backlash has assured a lively, educational exchange of opinions. This is a conversation that the new generation needs to hear. Art vs. Commercialism is a debate that has been around for centuries. A personal favorite, Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac who wouldn’t compromise his art for riches precisely embodies the contemplation of this objective/subjective quandary.

Two to go. Its the second weekend of the Bar. Tomorrow, hopefuls tackle the third and fourth exams of the eight exam, four Sunday marathon. On the menu are Civil Law in the morning (4 hours) and Taxation Law after lunch (3 hours). We wish the best of luck to the 8,245 takers, the highest number of examinees in history. By early morning, they shall have been trimmed down to maybe 7,700. Chairman of the 2019 Bar Exams Committee, the esteemed Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe and her team, led by Bar Confidant Atty. Cristina Layusa, are overseeing yet another successful edition of this annual rite of passage.

Speaking of Lions … The Columbia Alumni Association of the Philippines has elected its new Board for 2020-2021. Congratulations Philip G. Apostol (School of International and Public Affairs ‘94), Gretchen S. Malalad (Graduate School of Journalism ‘14), Joyce Anne C. Wong (Law School ‘18), Ernest K. Cuyegkeng (Business School ‘70) and Amanda L. Tan (School of Engineering and Applied Science ‘11).

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