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Opinion

Power of appointment

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

In the final days before the two-month pre-election prohibition on appointments kicked in, President Duterte made a flurry of appointments, for positions that range from those co-terminus with him to those with fixed terms of up to seven years.

Henceforth until the end of his term, Duterte can make only temporary appointments to executive positions, and only if the vacancies, according to the Constitution, “will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.”

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo circumvented this constitutional prohibition on midnight appointments by naming Renato Corona as chief justice after Noynoy Aquino had been declared as the new president by then election chairman Jose Melo. We know what happened to Corona as chief justice.

Duterte has now appointed all the members of the Commission on Elections, nearly all the members of the Supreme Court, the chairs of the Commission on Audit and Civil Service Commission, the ombudsman and several deputies.

Upon appointment, these individuals are sworn to serve the interests of the nation and the public rather than the appointing power; this is why they are called public servants.

Being in the service of the people, they are also sworn to abide by the law, particularly Republic Act 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

At least that’s the idea.

In reality, thanks to an unenlightened (some say twisted) appreciation of the concept of gratitude, appointive officials often end up serving the interest of the appointing power first before the public. This is especially true for those who know, in their heart of hearts, that they are undeserving of the position but still got it, leaping past the truly qualified, due mainly to the right connections.

And in reality, that Code of Conduct is flagrantly violated. Influence peddling is rampant. The detailed provisions governing the giving and acceptance of gifts are completely ignored.

Not all appointees are unqualified. Those who truly have what it takes resent it when they are bypassed in favor of the less qualified but well connected.

Public service inevitably suffers from the incompetence or venality of those who win appointments or promotions as a reward for campaign support, for example, or to please certain vested interests such as the religious mafia.

*      *      *

Duterte’s former spokesman and chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, says he knows highly competent members of the legal profession who admitted to him that they resented having to lobby for appointment or promotion before persons with inferior capabilities, or who are known in their professional circles as underachievers.

Panelo told us on One News’ “The Chiefs” last Monday that since his college days, he has pushed for the de-politicization of the appointment and promotion system in the judiciary.

There is a Judicial and Bar Council chaired by the chief justice that screens applicants for positions in the courts, and then recommends three names for each vacancy to the president. But the JBC includes politicians, and those three nominees can be disregarded by the president.

Panelo, who is now running for the Senate with education and the rights of persons with disabilities as his principal advocacies, says appointments to the judiciary and prosecution service must be based on performance in standardized tests and other set requirements.

The president can still be given a choice on who deserves appointment, but cannot pick anyone who does not meet the standardized requirements.

This merit-based system will eliminate indebtedness to politicians and influence-peddling special interest groups, and help pave the way for the application of truly blind justice and a strong rule of law.

How can magistrates dispense blind justice and exercise independence when they must repay their debt of gratitude or suck up to the appointing power and members of his close circle for career advancement?

Even Supreme Court justices hope for post-retirement appointment to sinecures, such as on the boards of government-owned and controlled corporations. Hoping for such a position can make SC justices tilt their rulings to favor the appointing power, regardless of the merits of a case.

In our country, politicians even brag about endorsing persons to key government posts. Sen. Imee Marcos, for example, just recently said she regretted recommending William Dar as secretary of agriculture.

Senators also reportedly reacted with mere jokes to stories that one of them (not Imee), who was behind the appointment of Aimee Ferolino to the Comelec, had successfully lobbied to make the poll commissioner sit on her ponencia on the disqualification case against Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Such acts, if true, violate Republic Act 6713. In other countries, such allegations would have triggered formal investigations and resignations.

In our country, the reactions are  naughty wink-winks, deadma and the abiding belief that if one brazens it out, this tempest, too, shall pass.

*      *      *

Appointments to government posts have become part of political patronage. This rotten system is one of the biggest reasons for corrupt and incompetent governance.

The palakasan system was one of the factors that led to the creation of RAM or the Reform the Armed Forces Movement in the years leading up to the 1986 people power revolt.

But the palakasan persisted beyond people power along with corruption issues, fueling coup attempts and mutinies all the way to the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

When GMA appointed top lawyer Avelino Cruz as defense secretary, he implemented measures to rid the Armed Forces of the ruinous coup virus. He drastically reduced the steps in military supply procurement to minimize opportunities for corruption.

Nonong Cruz also moved to de-politicize the system of appointment and promotion, imposing standardized metrics for career advancement. But the reforms work only up to a certain level since the Constitution provides that the Commission on Appointments, composed of politicians, must still confirm all military officers from the rank of colonel (or navy captain) up. The Charter also vests in the president the power to appoint the military brass.

Because of the coup history of the AFP, presidents also make an effort to win their loyalty, starting with the ranking officers who presumably have their own followers and can remain influential even upon retirement.

This is one of the reasons for the revolving door policy for military chiefs, and for the appointment of retired officers to civilian posts including the diplomatic service.

For a sector that has one of the most stringent examinations for entry, the country’s diplomatic service is a favorite destination for military retirees and other beneficiaries of political patronage.

In the next administration, we could be in for more of the same rotten system, across all sectors of governance.

PRESIDENT DUTERTE

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