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

Who hasn’t indulged lately in the guilty pleasure of monitoring the organization of both House and Senate? The Speakership and Senate Presidency were decided long before but the choice of officers (majority and minority leadership) and the ongoing assignment of committee chairmanships have continued to engage our curiosity. Who gets what and how the hell did that happen?

We also pay attention to the composition of the constitutional bodies: the House and Senate Electoral Tribunals and the Commission on Appointments (CA). Unlike Senate CA membership, which more than half their population will enjoy (12 Senators plus the Senate President as ex-officio Chair), a CA membership in the 316-member House is valued more than most chairmanships. For a congressman, it’s not only the privilege of participating in the appointment process – whether concurring or demurring – that is the prize. As member of the CA, the weight of your vote is equivalent to the weight of a senator’s vote. This is the larger appeal.

Hence, just as we’ve been held in suspense by the President’s selections, we are equally spellbound waiting for the incremental announcements of the House’s 12 and the Senate’s 12. This week, the House has already partially announced its contingent: Representatives Rodante Marcoleta, Johnny Ty Pimentel, Jurdin Jesus Romualdo, Jose Padiernos, Manuel Sagarbarria, Greg Gasataya, Ramon Guico, Luis Raymond Villafuerte and Albert Garcia. We are anticipating 3 more names from the minority group. Senators Christopher Go and Francis Escudero, so far, have been confirmed for the Senate in news reports.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri heads the Commission as ex-officio Chair. It is easy to dismiss the Commission as a mere adjunct of Senate, and its Chair a mere tie-breaker or figurehead. But it’s not that way at all.

Commission members are not actually legislating but performing their high constitutional duty in the exercise of the confirmation power. This delicate mechanism of checks and balance has been likened to a “veto power” over executive appointments by former CA Chair Manuel A. Roxas, to be “discharged with impartiality ... with only one impelling motive, and that is the harmonious and efficient functioning of the government. x x x All doubts should be resolved in favor of confirmation ... the Executive, before making an appointment, has considered carefully the qualifications and character of the appointee, with the same high motives as those which should inspire the Members of this Commission in the discharge of their duties under the Constitution.”

Blow by blow. In the CA itself, the actual screening of candidates can be theater for worthwhile or worthless viewing. The highest profile face-off this past decade was the nomination of the late Gina Lopez as Environment and Natural Resources Secretary of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. In the pre-Martial Law CA, the nomination of the late Claudio Teehankee as Secretary of Justice of President Ferdinand E. Marcos was famously blocked (unsuccessfully) on citizenship grounds.

But it is in the battles for actual membership that the CA has provided us with educational interpretations of our fundamental law. The constitutional language of CA membership is that they be “elected by each House on the basis of proportional representation from the political parties and parties or organizations registered under the party-list system represented therein.” This proportional representation desideratum has traditionally been the hurdle for most Congresses. Post Martial Law, alone, we’ve had at least three confrontations reaching the Supreme Court. From the House: Coseteng v. Mitra and Daza v. Singson and from the Senate: Guingona v. Gonzales. These decisions clarified the implications of the proportionality requirement.

As early as 1962, in the case of Cunanan v. Tan, the Supreme Court took a position against temporary alliances in the CA and their effect on the party proportion standard. In the aftermath of the coup against Nacionalista Party Speaker Daniel Romualdez by Liberal minority leader Cornelio Villareal allying his party with disgruntled Nacionalistas, a different line-up of House CA members was submitted to replace the original list. First, however, they had to find a way around the Chair and Senate President Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez also known as Mr. Nacionalista. They ended up forming a rump session, which is a phenomenon not foreign to any multi party assembly.

Cunanan resolved the legalities of the rump session but rather than the per curiam ponencia, it is in the minutes of the actual session where you find the real drama.  Of particular interest is the parliamentary brilliance of the debaters, especially Liberal Party Senator Ferdinand E. Marcos against Nacionalista Party Senators Cipriano Primicias and Gonzalo Puyat.

Fascinating History. Among the many stories from its past is the notorious confirmation of a phantom appointment. One of the CA’s Chairmen in the final days of the millennium was Senate President Marcelo Fernan. Senate President Fernan must have been humored no end to be chair given his previous history with the Commission.

When he was starting out in local politics, he was nominated by President Carlos P. Garcia for membership in the Cebu Provincial Board. The nomination, duly forwarded to the CA, was later withdrawn by Malacañang for another nominee. The CA, nonetheless, sought to consider the withdrawn nomination. Certain members incredibly argued that once their independent commission assumed jurisdiction, even the appointing power can no longer divest them of the same by mere withdrawal.

The organization of the Commission in present form is attributed to the efforts of Senate President Ferdinand E. Marcos. Until his tenure, the CA really deserved the tag of “adjunct” for working out of the Senate premises, using Senate staff and stenographers, etc. With Senate President Marcos as chair, the structure of the institution took shape as its personnel and several divisions suddenly had a budget. Even up to the 1987 Congress, the sessions of the CA were held in the Senate Session Hall.

Thank you FVR. We join the nation in celebrating the extraordinary life of President Fidel V. Ramos. Patriot, public servant and gentleman.

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