Scrutinizing the Cabinet
After being sworn to office on June 30, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. also swore in his team who will help him fulfill his inaugural message of unity, hope, and “no excuses.” This is especially true of his appointments (technically, “nominations”) to his Cabinet, who in general have been widely accepted even by the opposition (or what is left of it, after the massive mandate of the victors).
NONETHELESS, THEY MUST STILL BE CONFIRMED OR APPROVED by a “majority of all the members” of the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA) composed of 12 senators and 12 congressmen with the Senate president as “ex-officio chairman” who, however, “shall not vote, except in case of a tie.” The CA members shall be elected by each House “on the basis of proportional representation from the political parties or organizations registered under the party-list system represented therein.” (Article VI, Section 18, Constitution)
Not all the members of the Cabinet, however, will be subjected to confirmation; only 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 by the Constitution.”
Hence, officials with Cabinet rank but not heading “portfolios” or executive departments — like special assistant Anton Lagdameo and Presidential Management Staff head Naida Angping — are not subject to confirmation. Moreover, the constitutional list is exclusive; thus, officials—though higher in rank than those in the list, like the Bangko Sentral governor—shall not be subject to confirmation. Further, high elective officials, like Vice President Sara Duterte, are confirmed automatically as a matter of courtesy. So, too, the President’s assumption of the agriculture portfolio is not subject to confirmation.
THE PRESIDENT’S CHOICES MAY EVENTUALLY BE CONFIRMED but they will still be scrutinized publicly. They must be prepared to be interrogated about their public and private lives. Long forgotten enemies would bring up their slightest indiscretions. Even the best of intentions would be broiled in the heat of public questioning. Past activities, income tax payments, and private ventures will be dug into, not necessarily to probe the nominees’ suitability for their jobs, but to be able to horse trade political and personal favors.
Department heads must leave their professions and divest from their businesses. They must disclose their assets and liabilities as well as list down their relatives, whether by blood or by affinity, at the beginning of their terms and every year thereafter. The Constitution requires them to live simply. They must be ready to explain how they acquired their mansions and how they can afford to send their children abroad.
Verily, they are expected to strictly observe transparency and accountability. It is not enough to serve well, it is equally important to communicate well. Even the purest of officials must undergo public scrutiny. This is the price of public service.
They would be well advised to carry always an iPad or even an old-fashioned memo book where the Constitution, anti-graft law, ethical standards law, and relevant portions of the Administrative Code would be readily available. A mastery of these laws is a must for the wise and the diligent. Public service demands sacrifice. It is not a place for the vacillating and the weakhearted. Neither is it for the selfish and the self-righteous.
NEW PUBLIC OFFICIALS CAN TAKE LESSONS from the late Dr. Jovito R. Salonga. Upon being sworn in as a Cabinet member, he dissolved his famous law office. Though not required by law, Salonga gave up his only source of income to set a high ethical standard. They can also take tips from former finance secretary Carlos Dominguez III on how to avoid conflicts of interest, and from former justice secretary (now Solicitor General) Menardo Guevarra on how to divest from their private businesses.
Top Cabinet officials should be ready to forego their privacy because our tri-media and social media, the freest in the world, will use microscopes and telescopes, cameras, and mobile recorders to scrutinize the minutest details of their lives. Daily, they will be headlined, columned, broadcasted, texted, Twittered, YouTubed and Facebooked. They will be on call 24/7, not just by the President, but also by radio, TV, social media, and print reporters wanting to have the first crack at the breaking news.
Cabinet members must enjoy the absolute trust of the President. As his alter egos, they speak for him and act on his behalf. Hence, they must instinctively know his mind, his driving force, and his inner self. They must share the same mindset, the same vision as he. Aside from being eminently qualified, they must subordinate their personal ambitions and march to the beat of a single drummer. Teamwork is as essential as brainwork and hard work.
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