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SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. - The Philippine Star

The first week of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s administration has been an unqualified box office hit. And it’s not because of Tirso Cruz III, industry titan and new Film Development Council of the Philippines chair.

First, the flurry. In our column last week (Renaissance, July 2, 2022), we awaited the initial executive orders to organize the President’s official family to capacitate government for his intended public sector reform. Streamlining, abolishing offices, these were expected. Simplicity, economy and efficiency are powerful motivations to fuel the transitional changes that accompany incoming administrations.

What wasn’t expected was the free hand. He instructed his department heads to do as they wanted, even in deciding who to hire. Rendering unto Caesar? More like creating little Caesars.

But it was a sublime move. This was eminent proof of his confidence in his men and his courage to do what needs to be done. He could have asserted the prerogative to select and fashion his government in accordance with his own preconceived ideas. It’s not easy to surrender that. After all, the spoils of victory are many and the hundred fathers all seek to exact their pound.

To share power in this case is to consolidate it. This was an act of maturity and leadership.

Second, the fury. Two weeks back (Gorillas in the mist, June 25, 2022), we wrote at length about the coming reckoning on the vape bill. Will he approve it, allow it to lapse into law or veto it? As we dwelt on the demerits of that proposed legislation, we highlighted a legal question that could arise from the inevitable presidential action. We wondered “…whether you can ask an incoming President to approve or veto proposed legislation crafted by a previous Congress. If he vetoes the same, who does he submit it back to? Can the succeeding Congress arguably override?”

This week, the very issue has come to pass. But it didn’t come courtesy of the controversial vape bill. Rather, it arrived via the proposed Bulacan Airport Ecozone bill. One of the maverick first actions of the President was not to approve nor to allow it to lapse into law. Instead, he chose to veto.

Senior Senator Francis Escudero calls the issue “a unique legal quandary.” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo vetoed a bill left unsigned by president Joseph E. Estrada. But it was not the same situation as there was no interregnum following a sine die adjournment. It was, as the Supreme Court coined it, a “constructive resignation.” In their case, the presidents changed but it was the same Congress.

The case of president Rodrigo Duterte from president Noynoy Aquino was a sine die. But (1) PRRD allowed the bills to lapse; and (2) no one complained.

The constitutionality of the actions make for interesting study. For freshly minted justices raring to sharpen their constitutional chops on the always-absorbing checks and balance topic, this is an issue ripe for dissection.

Not a pocket. We noted that, across the oceans, the US Constitution confers upon the president an “absolute negative” in certain circumstances. This is in reference to the pocket veto (a term of Shakespearean origins per Sen. Ted Kennedy). Americans see enrolled bills going back to the drawing board should Congress adjourn sine die before presidential action. With the term of the incumbent Congress having expired, there is no one to return a veto to. This “absolute negative” is by way of exception to the basic tenet that Congress has final say in the legislative process.

There is no counterpart provision in the Philippine Constitution which, instead of a negative, institutionalizes the “default enactment” of a law in the event of presidential non-action.

Whether to approve or veto is a question of policy. The issue, though, is not should he. The issue is could he.

Checkmate? But the same was mooted by PBBM’s decision to veto. His action has also mooted the collateral issue: if the new president can veto (even if he just inherited the enrolled bill), then the new Congress can override (even if they are not the same legislators who passed the bill).

Now, the question has become: will Congress dare override?

As a former senator and congressman, PBBM surely appreciates and respects legislative prerogatives. But this is not reason for him to surrender ascendancy. Strong man rule does not have to mean authoritarian rule. Just understand your role and don’t hesitate to perform it.

The President’s Bulacan Airport Ecozone veto may telegraph his mindset on the vape bill. In his Ecozone veto message, it was clear that he would not want to forego revenue from the bill’s exemptions and incentives. Quote: “…fiscal prudence must be exercised particularly when resources are scarce and needs are abundant.”

This is really the only argument in the vape bill’s favor. Revenues.

The widespread clamor for the vape veto continues. However it plays out, this discussion may leap from academic to actionable as it supplies whoever loses with the added dimension of inviting the Judicial department to play.

Malditas over Matildas.  When you defeat a powerhouse football nation, perennial top 10 in the world, you celebrate it. That’s what our Philippine Women’s National Football Team, the Malditas, did. Racking up another first in history, they stunned the Australian Matildas, 1-0 at the AFF Women’s Championship last July 4.

The Malditas have been impressive in their campaign leading up to their historic FIFA World Cup appearance next year. They followed up the Australia win with a dominant 7-0 trouncing of the Singapore national team.

These athletes represent the country for little more than the price of their love of the game. Philippine women’s football has yet to reach the heights of popularity that women’s volleyball has attained and yet, our Malditas have soared higher on the world stage. Credit for their success should be shared with their team manager, the gallant and patriotic Jeff Cheng whose unstinting support has allowed them to focus on improving their game.

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