Palace black hole
EVEN SOME of President Aquino’s most influential allies and most vocal supporters are complaining about the black hole in the middle of Malacañang: important contracts have been held up, decisions have been inexplicably delayed, nominations to fill high-profile, much-talked-about vacancies in key positions have taken months to process. The controversy over the delay in the appointment of a new chief of the Philippine National Police is depressingly familiar, entirely avoidable—and very second-Aquino-administration.
The lead in an Inquirer story last Friday offers an instructive example: “Senate President Franklin Drilon called on President Aquino to appoint a permanent chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), saying this was an urgent matter.” Drilon, one of the President’s closest allies, is at the very top of the ruling coalition. He has the President’s ear, and together with House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., can make or break the administration’s legislative initiatives. And yet he is reduced to sending signals through the media at that mysterious gravitational field in Malacañang which absorbs all light.
It took three months for the President to name a replacement for the chair of the Commission on Elections—despite the fact that the retirement of Sixto Brillantes was scheduled and in his last weeks in office regularly and prominently publicized. Does the Office of the President, the Office of the Executive Secretary, and the Presidential Management Staff begin the search for a replacement only when the retirement takes effect?
Occasionally, matter does ricochet off the black hole’s event horizon—and in the case of the Comelec chairmanship we got a commendable appointment in the person of lawyer Andres Bautista. (The other commissioners appointed to the Comelec were of a similar quality.)
But the search committees are deluding themselves if they think that the delay in naming replacements is a function of the quality of the nominations. (That is merely and patently a rationalization.) A highly competent administration would have named its nominees immediately or soon after a vacancy occurs; it only needs to start the search early.
To be sure, the current search for a new national police chief was not scheduled; Director General Alan Purisima resigned from the position (but, to the dismay of many, not from the police service itself) about two weeks after the Special Action Force conducted its ill-fated raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Four months after that resignation, however, there is still no replacement.
This, despite the fact that the PNP is one of the largest organizations in the entire country, needing a steady hand at the helm. Despite the fact that the Mamasapano incident has rocked the PNP to its core, and the service needs a stirring reminder of its purpose and a strong sense of continuity. Despite the fact that an officer in charge—a role discharged ably by Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina since Purisima was placed on preventive suspension last December in connection with his alleged involvement in a corruption case—is by law strictly limited in what he can do. Despite the fact that, unlike the search for a Comelec chair, which must be conducted among a large pool of lawyers, the search for a PNP chief is limited to just a handful of qualified police generals.
Malacañang, controlled by the black hole at its center, cannot even muster the will to simulate a sense of urgency. The Senate president is urging the Palace to act “as soon as possible”; he is telegraphing coalition impatience: “I agree it’s urgent.” And what do we hear from the Palace?
A troubling scenario presents itself. One of the PNP officials preventively suspended with Purisima is former Central Luzon regional director Raul Petrasanta. Like Purisima, he will be back in active service in two days. The possibility that the President will appoint him as the next PNP chief is strong; is this what the country has waited for all this time? Call it what you like, but naming an official still facing serious charges as the next chief is not the straight path.
Has the black hole claimed even the “tuwid na daan”?
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