‘Bastusan’ at the Commission on Appointments
As unsavory as the Filipino word might sound, it is appropriate to describe the latent protocols at the Commission on Appointments (CA). To degrade or otherwise debase does not quite capture the full flavor of the word where reputations are dragged into the mud and slime, there finding company with the same filth in which Congress and the CA members now similarly wallow.
Note how one CA member repeatedly threatens an exposé only to be constantly absent when the critical hour comes. The default excuse—chronic fatigue syndrome. The repeated gambit simply compels suspicions of behind-the-scene negotiations and horse-trading.
In another instance, one CA member simply refuses to convene a critical subcommittee, thus applying a technical denial. Never mind that the denial of a hearing likewise denies both the appointee and the public due process, thereby leaving the decision solely subject to political wiles and whims.
With Secretaries Leila de Lima, Corazon Soliman and Ramon Paje finally confirmed at the congressional plenary following inordinately numerous rejections and bypasses, critical appointments to President Aquino’s Cabinet might finally gel even as some of the most important remain stalled. Mr. Aquino’s term is well past the halfway mark. CA rejections have led to dysfunctions as important positions remain ad hoc, uncertain and interim, if not strictly and technically unauthorized.
This isn’t new. Throughout her extended incumbency, Gloria Arroyo had interim appointees in critical departments. Notable was the game of musical chairs played at the Department of Energy as an ever-changing gallery presided impotently over both the highest electricity tariffs in the region and the most prohibitive fuel increases in history. The obvious bureaucratic weakness brings to fore the question of the appointment powers granted the president.
It is part of the political processes surrendered to the president. Once elected and empowered by a mandate where numbers and pluralities count, the democratic gene virtually vanishes and makes way for its diametric opposite, an autocracy where critical numbers are reduced to one and pluralities don’t count.
For the moment let us set aside our basic expectations of appointments by merit. Despite what appears as a negation of democratic processes, there is really an attempt at consistency under the current system.
The president is gifted a free hand to choose who will be his so-called alter egos—personages especially rewarded and drawn mostly from the bandwagon that blazed the campaign trail, and who, as prospective appendages, should technically reflect not only the way the president thinks but, more important, the way he might act on certain issues.
With appointments as politically motivated and infected by the personal relationships of the president, the reflexive cliché of an alter ego makes sense. The Cabinet mirrors the president. It is merely a finer distinction that he takes care of the bigger backdrop and they take care of the brushstrokes. From policy to programs, there should neither be divergence nor differences. Nor infighting.
This should hold between the president and his Cabinet, and among the Cabinet individuals pooled in a collective. The official thoughts and actions of a Cabinet secretary are the thoughts and actions of a singular president. While surrendering to a form of autocracy, as a mechanism for efficiency, it should work. The president and his Cabinet are one.
These precepts established, the rejections and bypasses inflicted on the appointment process by a bureaucracy statutorily created, albeit spawned from political DNA and thus prone to patronage politics, should likewise reflect on the president. In other words, what does it say of the president where he has had to reappoint as many as 15 times within the span of three years the same old secretary repeatedly rejected and bypassed by the CA? Fifteen times bypassed is 15 times rejected. That’s effectively a rejection every other month.
Seen from a different perspective, when presidential alter egos are condemned to an indefinite limbo for a good part of a six-year term, really now, is that unequivocal approval and trust in the appointing authority? We can trust the president, but we cannot trust his choices?
By surrendering to the president the choice of his Cabinet we deliberately surrender to his wisdom and discretion the benchmarks for Cabinet performance.
There is nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, in a stupid attempt to apply some amount of checks and balances to that protocol, we’ve twice sunk ourselves in a deeper rut by doubly politicizing an already political protocol by empowering a gaggle of even more parochial and politicized power-brokers and horse-traders as arbiters of who are authorized Cabinet secretaries against those condemned to remain indefinitely trapped in the twilight zone.
This is the representative government we’ve chosen, so ultimately it’s our responsibility. Unfortunately the crafting of laws and the judging of Cabinet competence do not enter our decision criteria when we elect legislators who later, beyond our control, haggle and horse-trade for a personal paddock at the CA feedlot where they wantonly play with the appointees offered them.
Given our quickly decaying trust in our legislators who comprise the CA, the impact on executive performance is especially disturbing.
Dean dela Paz is a former investment banker and a consultant to the Joint Congressional Power Commission. He authored a book on energy governance tool kits and teaches finance, investment mathematics, and corporate strategy.
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