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Rare news, good choices

05:32 AM April 13, 2018

After the debacle that was Vitaliano Aguirre’s tenure at the Department of Justice, the President has appointed his opposite as justice secretary: Menardo Guevara is not a close personal friend, has served with quiet competence and distinction in two administrations, and is not prone to making, or being goaded into, uncalibrated statements before the press. And from all indications, the man who first served in the Duterte administration as senior deputy executive secretary is a lawyer who seems to understand that law is about putting limits on power, not lifting them.

After the human rights calamity that was Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s twice-extended tenure as chief of the Philippine National Police, the President has appointed his opposite as director general: Oscar Albayalde is not part of the so-called Davao Group crowding the corridors of power, enjoys a reputation for discipline, and is an articulate and reasonable spokesman of official policy. Many sources say he is strict about following police regulations.

And the sense of professionalism that has characterized the Armed Forces of the Philippines in recent years, continuing under the tenure of Eduardo Año and Rey Leonardo Guerrero as chief of staff, looks set to continue after the President appointed another officer seemingly made from the same mold, Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, as the new leader of the AFP. Galvez, who headed the Western Mindanao Command and led the military response to the siege of Marawi City, has a strong combat background that appeals to the rank and file.

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Their appointments, announced on the same day, made for welcome news; they are all seen as good choices, fit appointees for their high-profile, high-impact roles.

Galvez, like Guerrero before him, is hardly known to the public; Año, who now runs the Department of Interior and Local Government, had a slightly higher profile. But all three have very much preferred to work without any fuss or drama. In a developing democracy, this is a good sign of a
professionalized military.

Albayalde has had his dramatic moments on television, as when, for instance, he was seen berating policemen sleeping on the job. But he strikes the public as someone who is not interested in personal publicity, or indeed as an officer who does not operate as though personal publicity were a substitute for good policy and outstanding performance. Even though he has committed to continue the controversial “Tokhang” campaign begun by Dela Rosa, we do not expect him to turn a deaf ear to the Senate, the Supreme Court, and indeed the general public when appeals for greater transparency about the Tokhang operations and a more disciplined observance of police rules of engagement are raised. And we certainly don’t expect to see him weep in public, as a means to deflect hard questions.

Guevara has been forthright about the circumstances of Aguirre’s departure, as well as the President’s express instructions to him to do the right thing and restore the credibility of the Department of Justice. He will—to be completely candid about it—face a difficult time. His Solicitor General remains someone who is close to and politically allied with the President; the President himself remains committed to some policemen and officials implicated in scandals or controversies; a majority of Supreme Court justices have proven they are susceptible to political rather than legal or constitutional motivations. He will need to navigate a path that is tortuous and steep and increasingly narrow. He will need allies, the right kind: Delfin Lorenzana in Defense and Año in Interior will be key to his tenure, because these two ex-military men have consistently managed to enact the right policy even in the face of the President’s
expressed objections.

To be sure, Guevara is only an alter ego of the President’s. Albayalde is only a representative of the Chief Executive, and Galvez is only a reflection of the Commander in Chief. It is still the Duterte
administration, very much so. But the appointment of officials of clear competence and impressive qualification is rare and positive news; we should all welcome it.

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TAGS: Menardo Guevara, Oscar Albayalde, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Vitaliano Aguirre
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