• Bypassed

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    Benigno S. Aquino 3rd came to power via Tuwid na Daan. He has built and is sustaining the political capital by doing what he promised to do, be right. There have been several examples of crossing the proverbial line and this is frequently justified by an often-repeated quote from former Senate President Jose Avelino under the Quirino Presidency.

    Avelino has often been quoted by powers that be, then and now, to justify an act they used to abhor: “what are we in power for?” The same line invoked by a former Martial Law lawyer who ended up as Executive Secretary during the years of the Freedom Constitution.

    That is why it is no longer a surprise for the Aquino 2nd doing the same thing today what they used to abhor then with GMA. Such is the situation we have with the Commission on Appointments (CA).

    Article VII, Section 16 of the Constitution empowers the President to nominate and, with the consent of the Commission on Appointments, appoint the heads of executive departments, ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, or officers of the armed forces from the rank of colonel or naval captain, the regular members of the Judicial and Bar Council and the members of the Civil Service Commission, Commission on Elections and the Commission on Audit. Article VI, Section 18, on the other hand, states that the Commission on Appointments shall act on all appointments submitted to it within thirty session days of the Congress from their submission.

    It used to be that cabinet secretaries are bypassed by a maximum of one year. Even before it reaches one regular session, the Executive Secretary appears informally before the CA to get the kinks resolved and secures confirmation for the official family of the President. Why? Because there can be no appointee in acting capacity. Once bypassed within the first regular session of Congress, the President decides to heed the position of the powerful CA and appoints a new cabinet secretary. That has been the rule and the tradition. But there are exceptions.

    Comes now Aquino 2nd and there are three appointees bypassed three times . . . I repeat, 3x, meaning a full term of Congress. These are DSWD Secretary-designate Dinky Soliman, DENR Secretary-designate Mon Paje and DOJ Secretary-designate Liela de Lima. They were part of the original 2010 appointments and mid way the term of Aquino II, they are still acting, or has everyone forgot about the three?

    Then there is DOE Icot Petilla who was appointed in October 2012 and has remained bypassed too. COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza was appointed April 2011. She remains bypassed up to the present. So why is the CA still acting on appointments bypassed several times? In previous Congresses, that would have been signal to the Executive to seek another candidate just like what they did with Domingo Lee.

    How can the four cabinet officials have imprimatur over their acts when they are merely in acting capacity? Same with COA Commissioner Mendoza? There are also three (3) COMELEC Commissioners bypassed since the appointment papers were not submitted at all. These are Grace Padaca, Louie Tito Guia and Al Parreno.

    Interestingly, Aquino 2nd when he was Senator in the 14th Congress filed Senate Bill No. 1719, otherwise known as “Appointee Ineligibility Act of 2007.” The bill’s Explanatory Note states: “The intent of the framers of the Constitution in creating the Commission on Appointments was to provide an effective check and balance mechanism between the executive and legislative branch of government. The act of the President in successively re-appointing by- passed nominees is a clear mockery of the above-mentioned principle enshrined in our fundamental law. The 1987 Constitution, particularly Article VII, Section 16, mandates the Commission on Appointments (CA) to confirm all Presidential nominees who will occupy key positions in government.”

    Then Sen. Aquino pointed: “The President has abused her power to appoint because of her consistent re-appointment of her nominees who have been consecutively by-passed by the Commission on Appointments. In fact, a Cabinet official who has been successively by-passed for fifteen (15) times in a span of three (3) years have been re-appointed by the President and allowed to continue performing the functions reserved only to those officials whose nominations have been confirmed by the CA.”

    Walk the talk? Lets look into the measure. Three (3) provisions of the proposed measure are central to the nominees of Aquino 2nd. The meaning of bypassed nominee (Section 4); the effect of bypass (Section 5) and the further prohibition on re-appointment (Section 6).

    Proof of the pudding is the verbatim quote of the proposed measure:

    “Sec. 4. Bypassed Nominee – For purposes of this Act, a by-passed nominee is one whose appointment has not been favorably acted upon by the Commission on Appointments at the close of the session of Congress.

    Sec. 5. Ineligibility of Nominee. – Nominees by-passed for three (3) consecutive instances shall be declared as “ineligible” by the Commission on Appointments.

    Sec.6. Effect of the Ineligibility of the Nominee. – Any nominee declared Ineligible by the Commission on Appointments under this Act shall be barred from being re-appointed or appointed by the same President to any of the positions provided under Article VII, Section 16 of the Constitution.”

    We are not even discussing the effect of regular session of Congress bypassed in terms of salaries and emoluments of appointees. Tuwid na Daan in politics is certainly moving at a snail pace. Reforms in terms of institution (common site of Congress), processes (transparency and accountability, numbers of standing and oversight committees) and policies (SALN, rules of the chamber) are weak; take the case of the PDAF and the CA, to name a few.

    If the legislators that form part of the CA are not alarmed at the manner the confirmation process has been going on, then we cannot rid the bureaucracy with the likes of generals Carlos Garcia and Jacinto Ligot or appointments in foreign posts that are presently embroiled in sex-for-fly scandal; or secretary-designates who have issues on fitness and qualification.

    The CA has a total budget of Php492 Million in FY2013. Its FY2014 proposed budget is Php501 Million and since the National Expenditure Program submitted is based on a performance-informed budget structure, the sectoral outcome of the CA is said to be “check and balance on the appointment process to protect and ensure public interest.” Under Tuwid na Daan, this is a total waste!

    Three years bypassed, a full Congress session has passed and these officials are all acting. A historical record in the confirmation book. Indeed, “what are we in power for.”

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