Cabinet mirrors President
A president chooses his or her official family according to his or her personal standards for vetting who can best help transform his or her thoughts and dreams into reality. For this reason, if for no other, incoming President Rodrigo Duterte deserves sufficient leeway in choosing the members of his Cabinet.
Unique and sui generis. Critics have been too picky with his announced choices, undercutting them even before they have taken their seats. I will no longer detail their objections and laments. Suffice it to say that Duterte himself is unconventional and sui generis. And so, I am not surprised that he selected Cabinet officials who, like him, are unconventional and sui generis.
To be sure, many of them have served in previous administrations or have been involved in high-profile happenings. I am referring to Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez, Silvestre Bello II, Perfecto Yasay Jr., Hermogenes Esperon, Vitaliano Aguirre II, Salvador Medialdea, Art Tugade, Alfonso Cusi and Salvador Panelo.
Setting aside their prior association or celebrity status, what is critically important is that Duterte trusts them and believes in them. After all, they are his “alter egos” (extensions of himself). They mirror his advocacies, leadership qualities, vision, election promises and deeply-held beliefs.
Under the doctrine of qualified political agency, their acts are deemed to be the acts of the President unless rejected or altered by him. They will carry out his mandate, his commitments and his governance. Ultimately, the President is answerable for their performance or nonperformance. Their success will be his success. Their failures will be his failures.
Remember that it was Duterte’s unpredictable persona and unorthodox utterances that catapulted him to a landslide victory. His political party and partisan alliances were not as important as his persona. Indeed, his very slogan, “change is coming,” is laden with manifold unspoken but forceful promises.
Understandably, the incoming chief executive would want his Cabinet members to be like him—strong-willed, decisive, daring, transparent, unorthodox, and able to deliver on his grand promises.
Difficult to be in Cabinet. Given all these, and the resulting extraordinarily high expectations of our people, his Cabinet members will be intensely scrutinized every moment of their incumbency.
As I wrote in an earlier column (6/20/10), “They and their families should be ready to forego their privacy because our tri-media, the freest in the world, will use microscopes and telescopes, cameras and recorders to scrutinize the minutest details of their lives and careers. Daily, they will be headlined, columnized, broadcast, texted, Twittered, YouTubed and Facebooked. Twenty-four hours a day, Cabinet members will be on call, not just by the President, but also by radio and TV reporters wanting to have the first crack at the breaking news.”
The confirmation of department secretaries by the Commission on Appointments is not a cakewalk either. They will be interrogated about their public and private lives. Past activities, income tax payments and private ventures will all be dug into, not necessarily to probe their suitability for the job, but at times to be able to horse-trade political and personal favors. Long forgotten enemies will bring up their slightest indiscretions. Even the best of intentions will be broiled in the heat of public debates.
The Constitution bars Cabinet members from holding any other office or employment during their tenure. They shall not, directly or indirectly, practice any profession or participate in any business. They shall strictly avoid conflict of interest. This may be one reason a very qualified person, Peter Laurel, declined the education portfolio: His family is deeply involved in education and in business.
The Constitution also requires them to live simply. They must be ready to explain how they acquired their homes, how they can send their children to expensive schools, and how they spend for their vacations abroad. They must disclose their assets and liabilities, as well as list their relatives, whether by blood or by affinity, at the beginning of their terms and every year thereafter.
They would be well advised to be familiar with the Constitution, the Anti-Graft Law, Ethical Standards Law and relevant portions of the Administrative Code. They might as well carry with them copies of these documents or digitize them in their iPads or iPhones for instant reference.
Rising to the occasion. Having said all that, I would like to stress—on a more positive note—that it is precisely because of the credibility created by the peculiarities of the victory of the incoming administration, and because of its clarion call for radical change, that the best and the brightest who have been wary of joining public service may find themselves in the perfect scenario for sincere and selfless public service.
The 2016 elections encountered a disillusioned electorate that deeply sought what it believed to be genuine change. People were willing to gamble on someone they believed to be the answer to this aspiration, a catalyst of real and meaningful change, even as news about his faults and shortcomings came out. Truly, this was a profoundly hopeful electorate.
On this hopeful note, I welcome these chosen ones of incoming President Duterte. On their shoulders rest the people’s trust that they will help him carry out his mandate to effect the meaningful change they long for.
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