Opening salvos

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

We’re seeing impressive activity from the President’s point men in command of the Executive’s primary role in facilitating access to justice.

The imposing figure of Jesus Crispin Remulla has descended upon the Justice Department in Padre Faura. The DOJ, as administrator of the nation’s criminal justice system, is always an unavoidably contentious and controversial place. When Sec. Remulla threw down the gauntlet and announced the indictment of the Bureaus of Immigration and Corrections, and the Land Registration Authority as “problematic and in need of help,” we knew we were in for interesting times.

Sec. Remulla also immediately issued regulations to tighten loopholes in the Department’s review of prosecutors’ findings. This may look like an “internal matter” but it is actually his arms-akimbo declaration that there is a new sheriff in town. Shape up or ship out.

Kingsmen. There is an extraordinary helping and heaping of leadership among the Presidents’ men (and women). Sec. Boying was, alternately, governor of a giant province; the Senior Deputy Majority Leader in the House of Representatives; assistant secretary for Legal Affairs in the Presidential Management Staff and a mighty student leader in UP.

Another alpha is Sec. Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. of the Department of the Interior and Local Government and Ateneo Law. Sec. Abalos, before handling the presidential campaign, was alternately mayor of Mandaluyong City, chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and congressman.

The Local Government Code, with its premise and promise of autonomy, has enfeebled the Secretary’s initiatives in contrast to departments of yore. Prior to the progressive decentralization efforts, the national government had greater participation in local affairs. Even appointments to local positions passed through the Commission on Appointments.

Today, oversight is limited to supervision or seeing that what is done is in accordance with what law allows. The President, thru the SILG, cannot overrule LGU decisions. Even administrative discipline is exercised only over executives of provinces and highly urbanized cities. Hence, strengthening LGU capability in delivery of basic services has become the outer limit of his powers.

Interior. It is in the promotion of peace and order and ensuring public safety that Sec. Abalos is focusing his department’s attention. Already, he has announced intent to pursue the intensive drug war but with the assurance of observance of processes consistent with respect for the rule of law. Central to his plans are the capacity building initiatives for better case build up in combatting the illegal drug trade; also, to enhance cybercrime capabilities.

The DILG is working on this together with the DOJ. The two departments also share an advocacy on the long simmering issue of congestion of prisons. It has been said that a working criminal justice system is the foundation of a free society. There has been a seasonal spike in public interest in the conditions, issues and pressures of the correctional system. The sector “behind the walls” has aptly been termed the forgotten, the invisible.

Until today, that is. We see a spike back to levels of three years ago when the controversy over the application of the Good Conduct Time Allowance in favor of certain prisoners exposed the exploitation of a loophole. Secs. Abalos and Remulla will prioritize prisons reform.

The mammoth.  Speaking of alphas and leadership, we have notably the one at the largest bureaucracy, the Department of Education. Vice President Sara Duterte is equally at ease, like Secs. Remulla and Abalos, giving orders and accepting accountability. For now, she faces the preparatory issues of F2F and blended learning, uniforms. These are front acts for the graver challenge of system-wide overhaul which, with the private sector and stakeholders, will necessitate innovative and targeted reforms.

Professor Magno reminisced how, in president Fidel V. Ramos’s time, the unwritten rule was to frontload the economic agenda. The economic team, Secretaries Diokno, Balisacan, Medalla, Pascual, Laguesma, Pangandaman (together with her long-incubated rightsizing plans), with the President himself at the Agriculture Department, is keeping busy attending to just that.

Pitch perfect. Our women’s national football team, proud winners of the 2022 ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) women’s championship, are deservedly savoring the public adoration. The strange names of Sarina, Tahnnai, Olivia, Hali, et.al. have been hogging limelight on the football field, in traditional and social media. At the Palace, they were honored with an audience with the President. They are the first national team/athletes to pay a courtesy call to share a championship. Let us hope that this is the start of a trend.

The actual triumph of the Malditas has been inspirational. It was not a fluke or lutong macao as we convincingly demolished Thailand and Vietnam, both multiple AFF champions. Myanmar, the only other former AFF champ, ended up third, nipping Vietnam on goal differential.

Despite the COVID-19 threat and notwithstanding the social distancing protocols, there were still over 8,000 in attendance at the Rizal Memorial venue. Shades of the Azkals phenomenon at its height when the David Beckham-led LA Galaxy visited 10 years back. This result firms up our place as a powerhouse in the region, in both men’s and women’s football.

You’re still alive! If tagalized, Queen Elizabeth may as well have been saying Buhay ka pa!? With these gleeful words of brevity and fondness, she warmly welcomed our Pinay frontliner in the UK, May Parsons. We will not forget this Filipina face of courageous Health Care Workers across the globe. It was Parsons who, last 2020, got the vaccination underway worldwide – administering as she did the 1st COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials. She was conferred the George Cross, the highest civilian honor, for “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most courage in circumstances of extreme danger.”

It’s as if the timing was intended to herald the revival of nursing programs on offer by local colleges and universities, approved by the Commission on Higher Education. The pandemic experience was a stark reminder of our critical need to have a reliable and robust health service to tide us over these black swan emergencies.


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