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).