Was it a joke or the reality? | Inquirer Opinion
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Was it a joke or the reality?

Just before leaving for Cambodia last May 10, President Duterte announced the appointments of Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano as secretary of foreign affairs and Gen. Eduardo Año as secretary of the interior and local government. Earlier, the President named Gen. Roy Cimatu, a former AFP chief of staff, as environment and natural resources secretary.

Año is scheduled to assume his new post on June 2. Although up for compulsory retirement in October yet, Año will take early leave from the service to allow for his move to the Department of the Interior and Local Government. That makes four former military officers in President Duterte’s Cabinet which already has retired generals Delfin Lorenzana and Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

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All four are graduates of the Philippine Military Academy and served continuously in the military organization throughout their professional careers. None of them are lawyers. But what they bring to the table are the old-fashioned values of discipline, a capacity for hard work, a willingness to place community interests above self, and most of all, a love of country. They also have their share of critics. Upon leaving the service, they automatically became civilians bringing with them their military background and experience.

In the Duterte Cabinet, there are two key groups that oversee and control government operations. One is the triad of economic managers made up of Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, Socioeconomic Secretary Ernesto Pernia, and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno. The other group is the other triad of former military officers that include Lorenzana, Esperon, and incoming Interior Secretary Año.

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When the President jokingly announced that Año’s appointment completes his “junta,” perhaps he was not joking. With Año taking over the DILG, a key Cabinet position will be in the hands of a professional soldier with no political attachments and a reputation for getting the job done while instilling discipline in the organization. You will note that in Año’s short stint as AFP chief of staff, a more effective offensive was waged against the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, resulting in greater casualties inflicted on those terror groups.

General Año’s unusually early appointment also closes the door to interested parties who would have used the office for political advantage.

This move of the President reveals an aspect of his character that has escaped earlier notice. When we speak of a
“junta,” the image it conjures is that of a military group controlling government operations, especially after a revolutionary seizure of power. The best example of such a group would be the Egyptian military led by Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. After overthrowing the civilian government of President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the junta called for elections with El-Sisi running for president. He won with 96 percent of the vote in an election international observers described as rigged.

Closer to home is the Thai military junta known as the National Council for Peace and Order that overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2014. After a few years, elections were held with the junta leader Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha being appointed prime minister by a military-dominated legislature with the blessings of the Royal Palace.

A junta can also be civilian in composition and can come about in a peaceful setting. The word “junta” is derived from the Latin “jungere” meaning “to join.”

In theory the three branches of our government serve as a system of checks and balances to make sure no one branch becomes too powerful. But the reality in the Philippines is that the legislative branch is practically an adjunct of the executive. After every presidential election, most elected representatives, regardless of original party affiliation, move over to the administration party or the party in power, citing all kinds of reasons. This provides the administration party with a supermajority to ensure that what the president wants the president gets. Even the official House minority bloc is often referred to as a company union. This supermajority also provides insurance against any impeachment complaints filed against the president.

The other branch, the judiciary, has often been described as “dysfunctional” with all pillars of the criminal justice system in disarray. Justice moves in painfully slow steps with cases often requiring many years before decisions are made. It is a system that favors the moneyed and the influential. And so our detention facilities are overcrowded with mostly the poor and marginalized; and often they are not even facing charges, but unfortunately they have no access to legal help for the paperwork that would get them released.

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It is a system where the word “temporary” as in “temporary restraining order” (TRO) can sometimes mean eternity. Even the President has expressed alarm and displeasure with the issuance of TROs that delay the speedy implementation of infrastructure projects. It is a system crying out for reforms.

In truth, we do not have a working system of checks and balances. Whether we like it or not, what we do have is a powerful junta within the executive branch composed of six civilians under the President. This is the body that will make and implement the most important decisions affecting the nation and the lives of our people.

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TAGS: Alan Peter Cayetano, Duterte Cabinet
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