The fault in our stars
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - November 23, 2019 - 12:00am

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, Senator Bong Go and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano are the brightest stars in the political firmament. The Constitution, however, indubitably remains our North star.

Shining bright. However the President said it or meant it, the message is clear that Vice President Leonor (which also means shining light) Robredo does not enjoy his trust. Whether or not it was there before, it simply ain’t there no more. Blame the missteps.

Henceforth, the only information she’ll be working with is as much data as the President decides to share. Already just half a chair, PRRD’s declaration against her emasculates her even more. Senator Ping Lacson astutely adjudges her position to be now untenable.

Express Presidential trust is a sine qua non to being in the Cabinet. The Cabinet, though not created by the Constitution, is one of those institutions explicitly recognized by it as a reality. It is that assemblage of heads of the executive departments in whom the Single Executive vests his full trust and confidence. They are individually possessed of power and authority to make decisions which, unless revoked by him, are deemed the President’s own. Collectively, they enjoy the prerogative to advise him on high matters of State with their exchanges protected by executive privilege. This is in deference to their role in the President’s decision-making process.

The Cabinet can decide if the President is unfit to discharge the duties of his office on the ground of incapacity. For the foregoing reasons and more, the Constitution insists on not merely appointment but also confirmation from the Commission on Appointments for this special group. This is the body to which the Vice President may be appointed, as head of her own department. She does not need to be confirmed.

The concession of allowing the Vice President to be appointed to the Cabinet is an exception to the Constitution’s prohibition against our top elected and appointive officials holding dual or concurrent offices.  

Why the Cabinet? There is scarce record to work with. We surmise that this is a nod to the elevated position of the Vice Presidency and the popular vote that accompanies it. It may be grounded on practical considerations, i.e. to keep him/her at close range and abreast of developments, in case suddenly compelled to step in and step up. One view is that since Cabinet members go through the confirmation process, to head a sub Cabinet department or agency would place the Vice President relatively lower on the totem pole.

Now that PRRD has disabused the public mind that VPLGR’s position is not of Cabinet rank, how does this impact on the exception to the Constitution’s bias against dual/concurrent positions? The Constitutional provision inoculates the VP if appointed to the Cabinet. Arguably, her appointment to a sub Cabinet position is inconsistent with the provision, taken by itself. Is this prescription/proscription mandatory or merely directory? What is the significance of waiving the confirmation requirement? These considerations will continue to form part of the public’s questions as we confront, as a nation, this solution to a problem which has become a problem unto itself.

Talk sick. However he said or meant it, the message is clear that e-cigarettes do not enjoy the President’s trust. PRRD has fulminated against e-cigarettes as being toxic and addicting. These vaping features are virtually the same reasons why he has a pathological hatred of illegal drugs. All are acutely aware of how the President acted on that hatred. Hence, the nervous laughter greeting his quip on ordering the extra-judicial killing of the inventor of E-cigarettes.

We’ve written about the dangers posed by these untried devices that found favor with the youth in virulent numbers. In this column space, we shared how EVALI (e-cigarette or vape associated lung injury) started showing up abroad; how US states and other countries have begun to clamp down on vaping with stricter regulatory action, until they have a better grasp of safety concerns; and how these episodes should serve as an eye opener. Yet, the promotional campaign in Metro Manila this year for the latest e-cigarette brand from the US still came on the heels of this development.

The President orders the arrest of “vapers” even without the corresponding legislation or so much as an Executive Order. We’ve seen before how our President is not above ruling by decree. He did this with tambays, China fishing rights, PCSO closure, Boracay closure.

This time, however, it’s accompanied by his warning to the Courts, even directly addressing the Supreme Court, not to issue any restraining orders. Of course, the President is just stressing his distress. As Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Domingo Cayosa immediately reminds us: any citizen who feels aggrieved can go to court. So says the Constitution.

Five stars. The Hong Kong High Court’s ruling that Carrie Lam’s ban on face masks is unconstitutional is another monkey wrench on the Hong Kong Government’s efforts to quell the unrest. The decision may still be elevated to the Court of Final Appeal, the domain of respected Hong Kong Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-Li. Their Basic Law may be a mini-Constitution of sorts and China may have consented to a One China, Two systems model for the governance of Hong Kong and Macau, at least until 2047 (50 years from 1997 Sino-British handover). Ultimately, the endgame will be what Beijing says it is.

The Court decision is a majestic victory for the protesters, a triumph of the rule of law which is precisely the animus behind the slow burn to dissent that erupted into today’s turbulence. The masked men have shown the world how to stand firm on conviction. But it’s the Hong Kong Judges’ daring interpretation of the basic law that stands out as a sublime act of independence and a beacon for all who value freedom, whether in or out of Hong Kong.

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