‘Best and brightest’?
There is no question that the President has broad, almost unbridled powers when it comes to appointing people in government. The Constitution authorizes the chief executive to appoint “the heads of the executive departments, ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, or officers of the armed forces from the rank of colonel or naval captain, and other officers whose appointments are vested in him in this Constitution. He shall also appoint all other officers of the Government whose appointments are not otherwise provided for by law, and those whom he may be authorized by law to appoint.”
That is a tremendous authority, limited only by another section in the Constitution that prohibits the President from making permanent appointments to executive positions “two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term.”
The right of the President to choose who gets to join him in public governance and serve at his pleasure is not the problem; it’s when those he entrusts with public office turn out to be unfit for and unworthy of the job.
In the previous administration, a valid and longstanding complaint of Benigno Aquino III was his penchant for appointing to high office college classmates, shooting buddies and other people whose only perceived qualification was their closeness and loyalty to him. Exhibit A of this would be Virginia Torres at the Land Transportation Office, Jun Abaya at the then Department of Transportation and Communications, and ex-police chief Alan Purisima. Singly and collectively, their blatant shortcomings in office, and Aquino’s inability to replace them with more competent alternatives, eventually wrought considerable damage on his presidency.
President Duterte promised something different at the beginning of his term: He would get only the best and brightest for his Cabinet, he said. Nearly a year into his administration and that promise is a mixed bag. The likes of Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and Education Secretary Leonor Briones are inspired choices. The team of economic managers is a solid one. But many others have turned out to be wanting—punctuated by the “rah-rahing” for martial law by Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo and the show-biz posturing by the Philippine National Chief Gen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa amid the carnage that has attended the government’s brutal war on drugs.
Now comes a trio of new appointments that appear to be troubling from the get-go. The former sexy starlet-turned-formidable pro-Duterte blogger Mocha Uson has bagged a powerful position in government as assistant secretary in the Presidential Communications Operations Office. Amid widespread criticism, principally over her track record in disseminating fake news and her fundamental misappreciation of the role of dissent and a healthy free press in a democracy, Mr. Duterte himself has defended Uson’s appointment as a case of his “utang na loob” (debt of gratitude) to her that must be repaid—with a taxpayer-funded position, in this case.
The militarization of the bureaucracy, meanwhile, is seemingly accelerating with the appointment of former AFP chief of staff Roy Cimatu to the environment department, and the announcement this early of the ascension to the Department of the Interior and Local Government by current AFP chief of staff Eduardo Año, who is set to retire only in October. How they specifically qualify for their respective portfolios is not clear. “I’ll add one more soldier and my junta will be complete,” joked Mr. Duterte.
In any case, what has happened to this administration’s “best and brightest” promise? We need more of President Duterte’s high-caliber appointments, like that of Nestor Espenilla at the central bank.
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