The advantages of being a former classmate of the president

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty Josephus Jimenez - The Freeman

We cannot begrudge the President for having appointed his former classmates, his shooting buddies, and his childhood and school friends to the Cabinet, to the Supreme Court, and to some very sensitive and juicy positions in government. Appointment to such positions are purely presidential prerogatives, and such powers are usually exercised based on trust and confidence. The President cannot be expected to know everybody, and so, when he has many vital positions to fill, he should be understood and tolerated if he chooses his former classmates whom he trusted so much and with whom he is quite compatible . We should give it to him given the tremendous responsibilities to govern the nation. President Marcos appointed his wife Imelda as governor of Metro Manila, as minister of Human Settlements and as president of the University of Life, apart from being a special envoy to Libya to negotiate the Tripoli Agreement.

This is not unique to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III. There had been a lot of precedents in the annals of the presidency. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appointed both classmates, former students, and close family friends. President Joseph "Erap' Estrada appointed his former Ateneo classmates and joked around that if he finished his college, he would have ended up being Cabinet member, and would never had been president. FVR too was not above choosing some of his closest friends and comrades in the military. President Cory Aquino appointed some of her mahjong friends. And President Marcos overdid it by appointing to the Supreme Court, at one time, no less than six former UP Law classmates. In fairness to Marcos, however, the caliber of his appointees was distinctly outstanding.

Presidential classmates should not be disqualified if they have all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications. The principle that abhors nepotism applies only to close relatives, usually up to the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity. That means that the President cannot appoint his or her spouse, or any son and daughter, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, and first degree cousins. Beyond that, appointments are allowed to qualified aspirants although in the realm of ''delicadeza'' and high degree of propriety and rectitude, putting close relatives and friends to high offices somehow leaves a bad taste in the mouth, so to say. Such appointments would most probably lead to conflict of interests. Nonetheless, even US President John F Kennedy appointed his brother Robert as Attorney General.

The principle that abhors both nepotism and family dynasties are based on the premise that the appointing power and the appointee may be placed in situations of conflicts of interests. For instance, when the appointees who are Supreme Court Justices are assigned to rule on a judicial issue that stands to favor or jeopardize the interests of the appointing power, what shall the Justices do? For example, would the six appointees of President PNoy in the Supreme Court inhibit themselves when the judicial issue on Hacienda Luisita, the Mamasapano tragedy, the DAP or PDAP are brought to the highest court ? So, it is possible that majority of the justices would recluse themselves leaving a minority to be unable to rule. That would then paralyze the highest court of the land.

In the Cabinet, if the President finds some probable cause against his former classmates, shooting buddies, or close friends, would he throw the books on them or attempt to cover up the mess? If the subordinates have a contract to be approved by the President, to what extent would friendship and personal interests override the need to uphold public interests? Would the President be unduly influenced by a former classmate to the extent that the merits of the cases and the imperatives of propriety are set aside? It is indeed very difficult for both the appointee and the appointing power. They need to be right, and avoid all appearances of impropriety, much less immoral and unethical and illegal acts and decisions. The best option is for the appointing power and the appointee to avoid any situations of conflict.

But, we are in an imperfect world, and the President is not perfect. Though he strongly emphasizes that he is following the straight and narrow path of rectitude, the fact is many of his appointments were not really based purely on merit and fitness. Many of his appointments were based on being shooting buddies, or close friendship and being classmates. The advantage of being a classmate of the appointing power is the presence of trust and close linkage and rapport. When the final choice is made, assuming that all things are being equal among the aspirants, indeed friends, relatives and classmates have those distinct advantages. The President's trust is what matters most. To all of us, too.














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