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Jun 10

The Long View: A diminished presidency

The Long View
A diminished presidency
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:47:00 06/10/2010

This, in effect, is the legacy Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wants her successor to inherit. That is, after she proved the ability of our already-powerful presidency to maximize its existing powers and assert powers and prerogatives never intended for presidents to exercise, but which she did anyway by manipulating the legislature, taking a tactical approach to the law, and cowing the bureaucracy while coddling the military and police.

I first pointed this out in my column, “Diminished leaders” on March 28, 2007, and have revisited the idea from time to time, most recently at an Inquirer Briefing and during my presentation in Berlin, Germany, last month.

The news items hogging the headlines—the proliferation of midnight appointments by the President—is just one aspect of what she has set out to do. The appointments are fully in keeping with what President Carlos P. Garcia set out to do in the closing days of his term, both to reward loyalists and to block the incoming administration from appointing its own people to key positions, and in contravention of the principles the President’s own father, Diosdado Macapagal, put forward in voiding Garcia’s appointments, and which was upheld by the Supreme Court and enshrined in the present Constitution.

The President has reorganized the entire Office of the President by virtue of an Executive Order (No. 330 336). Less obvious to the public is how her policy of privatizing government holdings also means that the next chief executive will find that some sources of government revenue, or positions traditionally filled by administrations, will no longer be available.

A case in point is the government’s deal with San Miguel Corp. to turn its shares into non-voting ones, in exchange for a fixed return on the shares. The privatization of Transco, too, puts strategic industries out of the hands of government at a time when a looming power crisis is being talked about (leaving government in the worst possible situation: having responsibility without authority). And I haven’t even touched on business scuttlebutt about the investments said to have been made by high officialdom in these industries.

It will take time for the new crop of officials to figure out the executive issuances and departmental orders left behind by the Arroyo administration, presenting yet another hurdle to “hitting the ground running,” as the phrase made fashionable by Fidel V. Ramos puts it. So on one hand, there will have to be a lot of forensic accounting done to figure out the true fiscal situation of the government, even as a great deal of wading through executive issuances, the determination of the legality of a plethora of appointments, takes place.

Something as simple as sweeping the Malacañan Palace complex for bugs (the electronic kind) has to be undertaken before officials can settle down to work. And even as the President’s midnight appointments are scrutinized, those she appointed can create mischief. Quite a few of them are in offices with guaranteed percentages from various taxes and fees, and are subservient to her. They have the means and the motivation to use their offices as a kind of rival government with its own entrenched pork barrel.

And of course there’s the issue of the Supreme Court.

Not since 1961, when Garcia tried to sprinkle landmines for the incoming Macapagal administration, has the transition from one administration to the next been so fraught with difficulty. Both 1986 and 2001 were exceptional, abrupt, periods of regime change, and in that sense, easier: everyone expected a clean sweep.

And so it’s appropriate to revisit Macapagal’s arguments as adopted by the Supreme Court, in 1961:

(1) the outgoing President should have refrained from filling vacancies to give the new President opportunity to consider names in the light of his new policies, which were approved by the electorate in the last elections;

(2) these scandalously hurried appointments en masse do not fall within the intent and spirit of the constitutional provision authorizing the issuance of ad interim appointments;

(3) the appointments were irregular, immoral and unjust, because they were issued only upon the condition that the appointee would immediately qualify obviously to prevent a recall or revocation by the incoming President, with the result that those deserving of promotion or appointment who preferred to be named by the new President declined and were by-passed; and

(4) the abnormal conditions surrounding the appointment and qualifications evinced a desire on the part of the outgoing President merely subvert the policies of the incoming administration.

As the Supreme Court said in 1962, “It is common sense to believe that after the proclamation of the election of President Macapagal, his was no more than a ‘care-taker’ administration. He was duty bound to prepare for the orderly transfer of authority to the incoming President, and he should not do acts which he ought to know would embarrass or obstruct the policies of his successor.”

As it is, the public has given credit to those who declined midnight appointments; and there is a continuing clamor for all those who received appointments from at least the time the presidential campaign began in February, to either decline to accept their appointments, or offer the next president their courtesy resignations in order to give him the free hand he deserves at the start of his administration.

Meanwhile, all we have are things like the interesting story (shocking, if true) that Pagcor has banned camera phones and that its shredders are working overtime.

Postscript: Related issues are Executive Order No. 782 which mandated the filling of all plantilla positions; in Raissa Robles’ blog see Oops – Gen. Bangit’s appointment as Armed Forces chief just lapsed, along with Health Sec Cabral, Defense Sec Gonzales and 12 other key cabinet ministers and Arroyo goverment bows – issues General Bangit and 301 other officers “temporary” appointments and Senator Biazon slams General Bangit for “wild statements” and questions his sense of honor; in Newsbreak see Arroyo issues midnight madness of appointments and More ‘midnight appointees’ of GMA bared and Generals, loyal allies pepper midnight appointments;  and most recently,  the Executive Secretary countermanding the Foreign Affairs Secretary’s recall order to political ambassadors (standard practice is for political appointees to come back home as the term of the president who appointed them winds down).

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  1. manuel

    “the proliferation of midnight appointments by the President”

    They are rat droppings, those little mementos that a rat leaves behind after she goes through your pantry.

    And there’s a big pile of it because she is a rat with an insatiable appetite.

  2. SoP

    Complaining about these midnight appointments is like complaining of Gloria cutting down a few trees while the whole forest burns.

    Best for Noynoy to focus on his job and let the media do the accusation of impropriety.

    When he becomes president, he should be civil to GMA, despite the temptation to whine at the little elephant in the room and the mess she made.

    There are other tools still left on the toolbox. Actually, there are a lot of tools.

    Contrary to chicken little pundits and bloggers, these appointments and political maneuvering doesn’t emasculate the incoming Noynoy presidency.

    But then again, Noynoy is the kind of guy who doesn’t know how to swing his balls. So he’ll resort to slinging mud at the little woman.

  3. SoP

    One thing I’ve learned about Noynoy is that he whines like a little bitch. I’ve never known him much before the presidential campaign, save for his political credentials, which we all know are not that exemplary.

    But then he started talking during the campaign and through to his victory to the media. And then I started to learn about the guy’s character.

    All I can say is, he’s a whiny little bitch. A primadonna manboy dreaming up high school revenge schemes like swearing after a barangay captain, calling for another EDSA, etc etc.

    This guy, this guy IS NOT A MAN. He’s a boy.

    Just shut the fuck up man and be a man. Swing a fucking axe, no need to talk to let your thoughts slide to every journalist that comes your way.

    I hate to admit it, but the little woman is more of a man than this new president of ours.

  4. ramrod

    But then again, Noynoy is the kind of guy who doesn’t know how to swing his balls. So he’ll resort to slinging mud at the little woman.
    ——————————–

    So you know how to swing your balls? Who does that?

  5. ramrod

    But then he started talking during the campaign and through to his victory to the media. And then I started to learn about the guy’s character.
    —————————

    At least he’s got character, you on the other hand obviously don’t…

  6. UP n Grad

    Noynoy needs to focus on delivering early on campaign promises. Yes, Noynoy playing the blame-game game and filling the TV and radio airwaves and blogosphere with the litany of GMA-talsik-diyan themes will be entertaining, but

    Noynoy gets beaucoup points when he jails three or four tax-evaders and smugglers as he had promised during the campaign.

  7. UP n Grad

    Noynoy can solve this “midnight appointment” with a single Executve Order stating he revokes their appointments.

  8. taxj

    Noynoy’s presscon was welcome. At least he made assurances that he was there for us. Talk or “whine” is all he can do for now. We can wait ’til he holds the reins, can’t we? Meantime, let’s get entertained, okay?

  9. UP n Grad

    taxj: due diligence on Noynoy’s part requires that his transition team had been worrying about, well, transition, so that his team has a LIST of the sensitive midnight appoints. What MLQ3 wrote just yesterday, his transition team should have known three months ago, and should have been working diligently to prepare for since 3 weeks ago.
    Quite a few of them are in offices with guaranteed percentages from various taxes and fees, and are subservient to her. They have the means and the motivation to use their offices as a kind of rival government with its own entrenched pork barrel.

    A well-prepared Noynoy would then, on July 9 or sooner, be revoking the appointments of the “midnight riders” subservient to her GMA for the 25 most sensitive positions, with more revocations to follow a week later.

  10. alden40

    “As the Supreme Court said in 1962, “It is common sense to believe that after the proclamation of the election of President Macapagal, his was no more than a ‘care-taker’ administration. He was duty bound to prepare for the orderly transfer of authority to the incoming President, and he should not do acts which he ought to know would embarrass or obstruct the policies of his successor.”

    But I believe, Gloria made those midnight appointments when Nonoy was not yet proclaimed. Noynoy was just proclaime dthis week right.

    Anyways, I do agree with Upn, The best thing to do for is for Noynoy to revoke those midnight appointmenst that he can revoke and thats it.

    I also notice that you did not mentioned what you think needs to be done about these appointments

  11. mlq3

    You forget that the constitution now goes even beyond what the supreme court decided in 1962 (back then presidents could run for re-election) and moved up the appointments ban to two months *before* every election and continuing until the end of the term. this is the reason the president has antedated every appointment to technically occur prior to March 10, 2010. However, the President wasn’t as clever as she thought, see Raissa Robles’ two reports: Oops – Gen. Bangit’s appointment as Armed Forces chief just lapsed, along with Health Sec Cabral, Defense Sec Gonzales and 12 other key cabinet ministers and Arroyo goverment bows – issues General Bangit and 301 other officers “temporary” appointments. And the issue includes the Chief Justice issue, too.

    I do not know what can be done. The first, of course, would be as everyone says, for the Arroyo appointments to be voided. But you have several problems immediately. The first is, no one really knows how many they are and who they are; it’s not the most transparent or accessible government. Second there is a distinction between those directly appointed by the President and those elected/selected/appointed in turn in other positions/GOCC’s due to presidential “desire letters,” which requires legal strategies such as revoking the trust deed for some GOCC’s which would automatically remove the existing board. Third, there is the immense number of the appointments and the limited time under law to review them, which means precisely since you can only start a real inventory once you’re there, some might escape oversight. Fourth, there is the problem created by the Supreme Court itself, to which every single revocation might end up fought out (the appointees of the President having their own funds can tie things down in litigation, refuse to vacate their posts, insist on still holding office, leading every single government office affected to be subjected to a divided leadership, a kind of slow-boil civil war) in the Supreme Court, which itself helped cause the problem by exempting itself from the 1962 and 1998 decisions by itself, the 1987 Constitution, and ignoring public opinion or the example of former Chief Justice Moran.

    In fact the argument of the Supreme Court in 1962 is even more powerful today: Garcia was candidate-president up to the proclamation of his rival; under the present Charter presidents aren’t supposed to be candidates, period; therefore from the start of the campaign itself, the Constitution envisions presidents to be caretakers until the end of their term.

  12. mlq3

    See the reports linked to above. Do a timeline of what was going on three months ago, or even three days ago, and combine with the fact that there are other policies/issuances involved (you cannot plan to fill offices you do not know exists, because the government has never publicized its full reorganization) nor could you ask for it not having legal personality to do so prior to proclamation. but even after proclamation, any engagement requires good faith: which by the actions of the president (see the reports above) and her people, continues to sow confusion. Very good case in point is where the executive secretary publicly overrules the secretary of froeign affairs, on a standard procedure in our diplomatic service going back to the quirino-magsaysay transition in 1953, where this is the first time within living memory and possibly ever, when the political appointees expected to go home are told to stay, leading, among other things, to confusion with the countries they’re accredited to, questions on salaries and allowances disbursements, etc. So due diligence seems not only highly difficult but even futile at this point, considering the sustained policy of mischief of the present dispensation. This will be closer to the Clinton-Bush than Bush-Obama transition experiences.

  13. Antonio Sy Jr ???

    @SOP…tama ka. He really should just stop making pronouncements that make him start sounding stupid as each day passes. Ang hirap sa mga maka dilaw, masyado niyong ina-idolize yung Presidente niyo na nalimutan niyo nang tao siya. and Unfortunately, isang tao na wala pang na prove except that he’s won the presidency. We have come down to this, voting in somebody who has NOT accomplished anything substantial in his own life. I guess you have to keep on defending him because of this elephant in the room nobody talks about. I, for now, will be giving him the benefit of the doubt, but sad to say, whatever I have seen so far, has not been promising.

  14. mlq3

    isn’t it in a democracy, legitimate election is the achievement? it is the conferment of a mandate by those from whom power emanates: the people?

  15. UP n Grad

    if “due diligence” wasn’t available, then triage will have to do.

    No matter the situation, the incoming administration has to take control, so prioritizing the “stovepipes”/departments can be done.

    And “promote a snitch” can work… ask the lower-level civil service folks to report anomalies in their chains of command to the transition team.

  16. ramrod

    I would’ve welcomed anyone who got elected president. SOP and others who like to perenially bitch about the government, etc, I don’t understand really. At some point we should get sick and tired of bitching about everything and get down to work.
    Its downright immature and irresponsible, you have to grow up and realize its you yourself that need to solve your problems and not depend on someone else and at a certain point in your adult life you have to develop loyalty, commitment, to something, be it an organization, a company, and work for the betterment of the whole – some people cannot be loyal to anything other than themselves, and thats a problem.
    It has come down to this, if you’re not part of the solution, at least don’t be the problem – you owe the country at least that…comprende?
    Even if Gibo, Villar, Erap won, personally, it wouldn’t have mattered to me anymore as I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired administration after administration, maiba na naman…utang na loob!

  17. ramrod

    Back where I come from we call these people “shit shifters” no matter where they are, who they work for, they’re never happy they just bring shit with them and shift it everywhere. Not productive people I tell you, can’t stick to anything, can’t finish anything they started…They like to talk shit about their bosses, their peers, everything…I keep a sharp eye for these types and fire them as soon as I see them…

  18. nick

    Totally agree with ramrod. It’s sad that “shit shifters” here in mlq3’s blog are targetting their shits at Noynoy who has done nothing bad yet and not on PGMA whose bads are well known. It’s easy to see that the ‘shit shifters’ are on PGMA’s side of the fence, :).

  19. Carl Cid Inting

    “At some point we should get sick and tired of bitching about everything and get down to work.”

    Totally agree. And it applies to Noynoy, much more than anyone else. After all, he wasn’t elected to be the country’s No. 1 whiner.

  20. taxj

    I think Noynoy is doing well-enough, for a mere president-elect. I am sure he will revoke, not just 25, but all the midnight appointments within his first week in office. Replacements may come much later though.

    I wish though that he could do the same for the nine associate justices of the SC who placed SC in the Charter where there is supposed to be none, for the Chief Justice who lacks delicadeza, and for the Ombudsman whose words he mimicked: try me. Well? We are where we are because we did.

    Now I’m whining. But what else could a lonely bystander do?

  21. manuel

    SoP, still hurting that your candidate was beaten black and blue by Noynoy? Now all you can do is bitch like the little cunt that you are.

  22. SoP

    nick on Fri, 11th Jun 2010 2:59 pm
    It’s sad that “shit shifters” here in mlq3’s blog are targetting their shits at Noynoy who has done nothing bad yet

    Pre-announcing that he’ll come down hard on smugglers who are on apparently on a well-known list of criminals with hard evidence against them? Geez, if I were that well know smuggler what shall I do?
    1. Destroy the evidence.
    2. Leave the Philippines to a non-extradition country while the issue is hot and while there’s no departure hold order from bureau of immigration.
    3. Prep the lawyers and fuddle with the evidence to defeat the DOJ.

    Noynoy even gave the exact month when the force of the law will come down hard on smugglers: November. Now if you’re a smuggler, who made millions from smuggling, I bet you’re ass you’d be anywhere but the Philippines on that hot pre-announced month.

    I would qualify Noynoy running his mouth as doing something bad. Why run off your mouth and make life difficult for police and prosecutors?

    manuel on Fri, 11th Jun 2010 10:22 pm
    SoP, still hurting that your candidate was beaten black and blue by Noynoy? Now all you can do is bitch like the little cunt that you are.

    I didn’t vote. I call stupidity whenever I see it. Loyalty to politicians is stupidity.

  23. taxj

    A mere threat of prosecution would make smugglers cower in fear? And, voting is loyalty to politicians? How glaring this stupidity!

  24. Gold

    the bitch!!!!!!

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