AN alter ego can be thought of as a person’s clone or second self. A professional alter ego might be a trusted aide who knows exactly what the boss wants done. A personal alter ego might be a close friend who is almost like a twin.” This is how Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an alter ego. It was included as a part of the English language sometime in 1537.
Alter ego is actually a Latin word meaning “other self.” It was used by ancient Rome’s greatest orator, statesman and philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC- 43 BC), in a letter to his closest friend and adviser, Titus Pomponius Atticus (110 BC-32 BC). Cicero wrote, “You are a second brother to me, an alter ego to whom I can tell everything.”
Appointment of Cabinet members
The President has the sole power and prerogative to appoint the members of his Cabinet. This power is explicitly provided for in Section 16, Article VII of the Constitution.
Likewise, the President, if he so desires, can invite the Vice President into his Cabinet. This is allowed by the Constitution, in Section 3 of Article VII, which reads, “The Vice President may be appointed as a member of the Cabinet. Such appointment requires no confirmation.”
Cabinet members as alter egos
Cabinet members, particularly department secretaries are the alter egos of the President. Thus, by the very nature of the office of a department secretary, the appointee to such an office, whether in an acting or permanent capacity, must necessarily have the President’s confidence.
Justice Jose P. Laurel, one of the first Filipinos to replace American justices in the Philippine Supreme Court, intelligently dissected the principle of alter ego of the Chief Executive in the 1939 case of Villena v. The Secretary of the Interior (G.R. No. 46570).
Justice Laurel alluded to American jurisprudence in the case. I liberally omitted the citations for readability’s sake. He wrote:
“After serious reflection, we have decided to sustain the contention of the government in this case on the broad proposition, albeit not suggested, that under the presidential type of government which we have adopted and considering the departmental organization established and continued in force by paragraph 1, section 12, Article VII, of our Constitution, all executive and administrative organizations are adjuncts of the Executive Department, the heads of the various executive departments are assistants and agents of the Chief Executive, and, except in cases where the Chief Executive is required by the Constitution or the law to act in person or the exigencies of the situation demand that he act personally, the multifarious executive and administrative functions of the Chief Executive are performed by and through the executive departments, and the acts of the secretaries of such departments, performed and promulgated in the regular course of business, are, unless disapproved or reprobated by the Chief Executive, presumptively the acts of the Chief Executive.”
Following this concept of alter egos (in legal parlance called the principle of qualified political agency), all actions of the department secretaries are presumed to be the acts of the President. If a department secretary performs acts that are illegal, irregular or improper, then the President assumes the responsibility for the same acts. It is in this scenario that the President can fire anyone in the Cabinet – if that “alter ego” no longer functions as his alter ego, including the Vice President if he/she is a part of that Cabinet.
Laurel continues: “With reference to the Executive Department of the government, there is one purpose which is crystal-clear and is readily visible without the projection of judicial searchlight, and that is the establishment of a single, not plural, Executive. The first section of Article VII of the Constitution, dealing with the Executive Department, begins with the enunciation of the principle that, ‘The executive power shall be vested in a President of the Philippines’.”
This means that the President of the Philippines is the Executive of the Government of the Philippines, and no other. The heads of the executive departments occupy political positions and hold office in an advisory capacity, and, in the language of Thomas Jefferson, “should be of the President’s bosom confidence,” and, as Attorney General Cushing said, “are subject to the direction of the President.” Without minimizing the importance of the heads of the various departments, their personality is in reality but the projection of that of the President.
Stated otherwise, and as forcibly characterized by Chief Justice Taft of the Supreme Court of the United States, “each head of a department is, and must be, the President’s alter ego in the matters of that department where the President is required by law to exercise authority,” Justice Laurel further wrote.
So, there you are. There is no question that the cabinet members should speak, act, and perform, in accordance with the instructions and commands of the President and each one should have the latter’s bosom confidence.
How about the Vice President?
Philippine political history is replete with instances where the elected President and Vice President came from different political parties. Oftentimes, these two highest public officials would have differing ideologies and sometimes diametrically opposed views on certain issues.
Remember President Joseph Estrada and Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? Can you recall President Benigno Simeon Aquino and Vice President Jejomar Binay? The case of President Corazon Aquino and Vice President Salvador Laurel is an entirely different one. What do these things have in common? The Vice President was at odds with the President. Back to the present, history repeats itself in the personas of President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a renowned author, journalist and social activist, compared a family with a boat and came up with a quote about it. Let me borrow her quote and paraphrase it this way –
“If the Philippines is a boat, it would be a canoe that makes no progress unless everyone paddles in the same direction.”
Indeed, we cannot have a President paddling in one direction and a Vice President paddling in another direction. The Vice President should toe the line of the President. Similarly, the Vice President should be an alter ego of the President. All in the name of unity and progress–unless we want the country to eventually self-destruct.
The VPOTUS as a model
Let us take a look at the Vice President of the United States (VPOTUS). The US Vice President is indirectly elected, together with the President, to a four-year term of office by the people of the United States through the Electoral College. The Americans vote only for the President. The Vice President is considered “part of the package” of electing the President. The Vice President likewise acts as the President of the United States Senate.
What is the rationale for this? The practice of voting for a presidential candidate, together with his prospective vice president began in 1864 in the interest of fostering national unity. After the American Civil War, the states began to place candidates for President and Vice President together on the same ballot ticket, thus making it impossible to vote for a presidential candidate from one party and a vice-presidential candidate from another party, as had previously been possible.
Today, Vice Presidents in the US are not really elected. What they elect is a two-person team–the President and the Vice President.
We can use this as a model in our future elections.
Include this in the constitutional amendments
The move to amend the Constitution is now in process. One particularly important part of the Constitution that should be changed is Article VII, Section 4, which reads in part, “The President and the Vice President shall be elected by direct vote of the people for a term of six years…”
The Vice President should no longer be elected by a direct vote of the people. Instead, the running mate of the winning candidate for President should be considered elected as Vice President, for all intents and purposes.
My insight tells me that with this constitutional change, the bickering and constant attempts by the Vice President to steal the limelight from the President and to make himself/herself relevant, will be a thing of the past.
Well, the Office of the Vice President is a sinecure anyway.