Fitness, competence and integrity
The Commission on Appointments is in the headlines after rejecting the appointment of Perfecto Yasay as secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The aspirant to the post of top Filipino diplomat went through a rigorous scrutiny and was forced to account for earlier pronouncements about his citizenship before he was ultimately deemed unfit for the job.
As this has shown, the CA is a powerful body, and carries the critical responsibility of checking the appointing powers of the president. Its proceedings are among the checks and balances of the government that allow a thorough dissection of a presidential appointee, and rightly so. The Filipino people deserve nothing less.
The requirements include not only stellar academic training, relevant experience and track record, untarnished integrity, and a long-term vision, but also, most critically, the highest degree of statesmanship. A statesman adheres to an all-embracing philosophy that can withstand opposition and at the same time promote an openness to change, cognizant of these volatile times.
The statesman builds his platform around truths, facts, and scientific evidence gathered from the most credible sources after careful study. The statesman must also have the foresight necessary to see the immediate problems as well as those that loom on the horizon, then formulate a carefully studied solution that serves to benefit present and future stakeholders alike.
Rallying his stakeholders around this common vision is also critical. There is no room for sowing discord in the statesman’s agenda, no room for divisive, unproductive rhetoric. Failing these, the statesman fails, not just himself but also the country at large.
The recent succession of problematic presidential appointees seems to belie the commonsensical nature of these qualities. Perhaps it is high time for the CA to consider institutionalizing a clear set of qualifications that can set the standards for appointees, especially and starting with Cabinet-level posts. This can help establish a well-defined list of academic, technical and relevant experience, effectively complementing all civil service eligibility for government service.
For perspective, qualifying for a plantilla position in the government entails passing basic requirements such as a bachelor’s degree, the civil service exams, a battery of interviews, and other certifications. A similarly rigorous set of standards should be in place for the most important officials of the government.
Analysts have proposed reforms in the CA, which include institutionalizing a clear set of qualifications that would set the guiding standard for each presidential appointment starting with the heads of all departments. Each agency would require a well-defined list of academic, technical and relevant qualifications that should complement, if not upgrade, the standard of all civil service eligibility requirements for government service.
This brings to attention the case of Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez, whose travails with the CA are the subject of heated debate. Those critical of her, while lauding her passion for the environment, cite her lack of academic qualifications, neutrality, and disregard of due process and laws as evidence of her being unfit.
That CA hearings on Lopez had fixated on her supposed lack of qualifications and competence as opposed to probing her moral integrity is telling, they say. The DENR is certainly as complex and multifaceted as the DFA in a different way. Just managing the convoluted bureaucracy requires a level of technical expertise and level-headedness. Having an army of consultants will certainly not make up for what many see as gross incompetence. This doesn’t even consider Lopez’s clear ideological bias against legitimate large-scale mining.
From the comments of some CA members during the last hearing, Lopez’s spirited defense of her appointment and months’ worth of performance fell short of the passing grade.
Dindo Manhit is president of Stratbase ADR Institute.
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