The rejection of the appointment of former University of the Philippines professor Judy Taguiwalo as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development should not have been unexpected, but it still shocked the nonpolitician supporters of the Duterte administration.
The final count of the vote could not be determined because the Commission on Appointments again adopted secret voting, but Taguiwalo did not receive the 13 votes necessary for confirmation. The CA consists of 12 senators and 12 representatives, plus the Senate president acting as chair.
Two main narratives are now making the rounds, to explain the rejection of someone like Taguiwalo, an activist turned martial law human rights victim turned esteemed academic.
The first can be summed up in a Facebook outburst by the entertainment artist Jimmy Bondoc, a devoted supporter of President Duterte. “Ganito babagsak ang Administrasyong Duterte (This is how the Duterte administration will fall). Perfect example of how the 1987 Constitution has usurped too much power from the President, to the point of paralysis.” Bondoc blames the legislature, having constitutionally “usurped” power from the executive, for rejecting the President’s own choice.
The second storyline can be represented by Taguiwalo’s own guess. She told reporters it is possible her position on two key issues—her uncompromising stance against political intervention in the use of the DSWD’s now much larger budget, and her opposition to the administration’s proposed tax reform—cost her the post. “I stood up against continued pork barrel,” she said; she had instructed the department’s regional directors that DSWD funds were “not common funds and entitlements of congressmen or congresswomen.”
There is an overlap between both narratives, of course; the idea that legislators have too much power in the appointment and confirmation process is related to the notion that appointments can be blocked if the appointees do not play by the usual rules. But Bondoc is not only ignorant about constitutional history (the CA was not a new invention of the 1987 Constitution but a check-and-balance feature carried over from previous constitutions); he is naive about Philippine politics.
He gives the lawmakers too much agency, at a time when President Duterte enjoys supermajority support in both chambers of Congress, commands the policy agenda with his unremitting focus on illegal drugs, and dominates the public agenda with his trademark rhetoric.
It is not only possible, but probable, that Taguiwalo offended some lawmakers with her position on DSWD fund use; this was clear from her first budget hearing. But as some senators said during the CA’s last plenary session, her management of the DSWD was characterized by competence and compassion. Taguiwalo herself put it plaintively in a simple question: “What more could they ask from me? I did not steal money.”
The fate of the two other Cabinet appointments rejected by the CA offers instructive lessons. Perfecto Yasay was rejected after undeniable proof surfaced that he had lied about his American citizenship, and Gina Lopez didn’t know what hit her.
There is no smoking gun against Taguiwalo, on any issue large or small. But it is common knowledge that she is one of three members of the Cabinet appointed by the President from a list of nominees proposed by the National Democratic Front. At the time of Taguiwalo’s appointment, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano and National Anti-Poverty Commission Chair Liza Maza, the President was enthusiastic about the prospects of completing peace negotiations with the NDF to end the communist insurgency. Today, the reality is completely different. Now the President has lost trust in the NDF, and all-out war is back on the priority list.
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