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Reminders for Cayetano

/ 12:14 AM June 12, 2017

This refers to Ramon Tulfo’s column titled “Insubordinate and so full of themselves” (Metro, 5/18/17), where he virtually castigated newly confirmed Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano for showing, this early, signs of insubordination. Tulfo specifically cited an instance where Cayetano contradicted President Duterte’s express intention to look at the possibility of a joint-venture oil exploration in the Spratlys, involving the Philippines, Vietnam and China, all of which have laid claim to that group of islands. According to Cayetano, the undertaking would not be in consonance with our Constitution and laws.

I agree with Tulfo: Cayetano should have thought of the consequences of that statement on our budding friendship with China.

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Being a lawyer, Cayetano must be familiar with well-settled constitutional and legal principles and established jurisprudence vis-à-vis his new role as the country’s top diplomat.

First and foremost, he should realize that he is no longer a member of Congress, a coequal and independent branch of government, where for many years, he basked in the luxury of freely expressing his views as a lawmaker under the protective shield of parliamentary immunity. He is now a Cabinet member; as such, he holds office at the pleasure of the President who, from the purely legal standpoint, has full control of all executive departments. In the exercise of this power, the President may remove Cayetano, or any Cabinet member for that matter, any time, at his absolute discretion, without any legal impediment or inhibition.

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Second, in the realm of political law, President Duterte is the spokesman of the nation when it comes to international affairs, and as head of state, he has the inherent executive function of conducting foreign relations. Paraphrasing American jurisprudence, the President, as head of state, is the organ solely authorized to “speak or listen” for the Philippines in the broad field of foreign affairs. As such, he has delicate, plenary and exclusive power in this vast external realm with its important, complicated, delicate and manifold problems (US vs Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., 299 US 304). It follows that whatever he decides in this sphere is binding on all the departments of the government. Cayetano, as a lawyer, must be very aware of this, and that, in the matter of foreign relations, he, as foreign secretary, is just the President’s alter ego.

Third, Cayetano must likewise be aware that as a Cabinet member, his tenure is coterminus with the trust and confidence reposed in him by the President. If he knows what’s good for him, he must take care not to do anything, either by word or deed, that would erode such trust and confidence. More specifically, he must refrain from making contradictory pronouncements on matters of foreign policy, which could embarrass the President. The erosion of such trust and confidence would be enough—nay, most powerful—justification or cause for his instantaneous ouster from the Cabinet.

Cayetano may have breezed through his confirmation by the Commission on Appointments as the President’s nominee for foreign secretary in less than five minutes. But he could get fired, too, even faster—in one minute flat.

BARTOLOME C. FERNANDEZ JR.
retired senior commissioner,
Commission on Audit

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TAGS: Alan Peter Cayetano, joint-venture oil exploration, spratlys
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