Scrap the CA
The sight was surreal. That was Jinggoy Estrada sitting in judgment over Leila de Lima last week. It wasn’t of course in a court of law, Jinggoy would never be there in the position of judge, he could only be there in the position of judged. It was a court of the lawless, otherwise known as the Commission on Appointments. He was there to confirm the appointment of De Lima as secretary of justice.
He was determined not to.
He made that clear from the start. He was looking forward to confronting De Lima, with a view to embarrassing her by revealing some unsavory things about her, not least personal ones. The personal ones courtesy of fellow scammer, S. Cam (the “S” for Sandra)—ah, but truly birds of the same feather flock together. If for that alone, he should never have been
allowed to be a judge, flouting as he did every canon of impartiality. But this is the court of the lawless, otherwise known as the Commission on Appointments.
Inevitably, the exchange between Estrada and De Lima took a surreal turn. Trying to prove that De Lima was in no position to cast the first stone—in the form of implicating him, along with Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla in Janet Napoles’ scam—Estrada accused De Lima of receiving a personal P1 million monthly allowance from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as CHR (Commission on Human Rights) chair. De Lima replied that it was neither personal nor an allowance, it was additional funding for the CHR.
Having nothing to back up his accusation, Estrada simply insisted, “I don’t believe you, you were receiving a monthly allowance of P1M.”
But this surrealism, or indeed plain charade, is not at all unexpected. It is built into the system. The whole notion of a group of people so utterly partisan, so utterly loyal to their principals, or to their self-interests, so utterly rived by personal enmities, determining the fitness of people for their offices is so mind-bogglingly stupid. It controverts sense, common or uncommon, altogether.
This is by no means the first time this has happened in this hugely iniquitous way. An astonishing case of it took place way back at the start of Cory’s administration. Cory’s choice of agrarian reform secretary was Butch Abad who at the time had his roots firmly planted in civil society and who showed an activist orientation (alas, all that is gone now, replaced by greed, not least in government positions), seemed an excellent, if not perfect, choice for it. He spoke out on behalf of the tenants who were beneficiaries of land reform, in the process earning the ire of the pro-landlord elements in Congress, who were amply represented in the CA.
Repeatedly, they rejected him, arguing perfectly seriously that he was not fit to become agrarian reform secretary because of one flaw: He was “pro-farmer.” I wrote several columns about it then, astonished that the public wasn’t at all astonished by that logic. Indeed, lighting struck twice, the same logic was applied to Bobbit Sanchez. He was not fit to become labor secretary, the CA said, because he too suffered from one flaw: He was “pro-labor.” Ordinarily, you would think that being pro-farmer and being pro-labor were the best things to commend an agrarian reform secretary and a labor secretary, but, well, this is the commission of idiocy, also known as the Commission on Appointments.
The same epic charade has happened twice in P-Noy’s time.
One was the CA’s rejection of Jesse Robredo as secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government. It was never clearly stated what its objections were against him. But whatever they were, what made them mind-boggling was that no one was a better fit for the job. Robredo was the face of local government, a thing the Magsaysay Awards Foundation recognized by making him the recipient of the award for government service, the first Philippine mayor to receive the honor. The CA’s rejection added whole new meanings to incomprehensibility.
It took dying to prove the CA wrong, at least officially since there was never any doubt about it. Suddenly, the same people who were opposed to his confirmation were loudly calling for it, if only posthumously. Naturally, his widow spurned it, it merely rubbed salt on wound.
Two was the CA’s rejection of Gus Lagman as a Comelec commissioner. Or specifically by Juan Ponce Enrile who headed the commission then. Enrile’s specific reason for doing so was his charge that Lagman, as a pillar of Namfrel, cheated the Grand Alliance for Democracy party (GAD) of its votes in 1987. As though GAD, Marcos’ martial law creation, ever needed cheating in the afterglow of People Power. In this particular case though, Malacañang participated in the charade. Needing Enrile to oust Renato Corona, it persuaded Lagman to walk away. In fact, Lagman wasn’t just eminently fit for the job—he was heads over shoulder the most knowledgeable among the commissioners—he was eminently fit to be Comelec chief.
The way I see it, there are only two things we can do with the Commission on Appointments.
The first is to remove it from the hands of the senators, from the hands of the politicians, from the hands of those least qualified to weigh the qualifications of government officials. They are not the best judges, they are the worst. They are not the wisest judges, they are the dumbest.
You want a CA, put it instead in the hands of people not unlike those of a constitutional commission—academicians, NGOs (the real ones, the ones that distinguished themselves for serving the poor before Janet Napoles came along), leaders in their fields.
Or if that is a laborious process, entailing another level of bureaucracy, just trust in the government, for good or bad, to choose its own people. That’s what you elected it for. That’s what you put it in power for. That is the second option, and probably the best.
What to do with the CA?
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