In reply to President Aquino’s new year’s resolution to ignore all criticism of his presidency and his contention that critics have made a cottage industry of criticizing him, I will devote this column to an exposition of the roles, powers and responsibilities of the presidency in our national life, and the expectations of the public that follow from them.
In the popular imagination, as typified by my barber and my son, the President is the “Spender-in-Chief” in our political system. He commands the biggest budget in government, the most pork barrel, and the most discretionary funds. Nothing is included in the national budget without his approval.
Superficially, spender-in-chief may be the most enjoyable and rewarding role of the president, but far more significant and important are the two principal roles of the president, namely: Head of government, and Head of state
As head of government, the president runs and administers the government. This puts governing the nation at the top of his responsibilities.
In political science, governing is the function of controlling government by organizing and providing leadership for the legislative and executive branches, enacting policy agendas, mobilizing support for party policy and building coalitions.
Among his powers specified by the Constitution, the president nominates and, with the consent of the Commission on Appointments, appoints the heads of the executive departments, ambassadors, or officers of the armed forces. The president has control of all the executive departments, bureaus and offices. He ensures that the laws are faithfully executed.
The president is the chief administrator of the nation’s laws. More than anyone, he is responsible for agencies of the national government and the implementation of national policy.
The president is the commander-in-chief of all the armed forces of the government. When it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent, or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.
The President, at the opening of every regular session of Congress, submits to Congress a budget of expenditures and sources of financing.
The ultimate goal of a presidential administration is to implement its policy agenda—the administration’s solutions to the nation’s problems.
As a counterpart to this role as head of government, the President is also head of state. This role is above politics and largely symbolic. As such, he serves as the unifying symbol of the nation, representing all that we hold as good and noble.
In this capacity, the president performs functions such as greeting other heads of state, attending state funerals, undertaking state visits to other countries, and consoling survivors of national tragedies.
In foreign relations, no treaty or international agreement entered into by the executive is valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate.
Consistent with the principle that the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy and as a signatory to the United Nations charter, the President does not have war-making powers.
Some countries like Britain separate the head of state (the queen) from the head of government (the prime minister), allowing each to do his or her job untarnished by comparisons with the other.
In the United States and the Philippines, the president is expected to juggle both roles.
Political scientists and scholars have said that in some ways these two roles are contradictory. The essentially political head of government makes decisions about who will get scarce resources, and the elevated and apolitical head of state should unify rather than divide the public. Few presidents are skilled enough to carry off both roles with aplomb; the very talents that make someone adept in one role often disqualify him from being good in the other.
I submit that branding comment like this as the product of a cottage industry slanders all cottage industries.
When government abdicates responsibility
With the new year just started, we have already seen two startling instances of government abdicating responsibility. Ordinarily, we see this sort of thing happening when the year is well under way.
Our first example is the decision of the Solicitor-General to ask the Supreme Court to allow the Manila Electric Co. to represent the Energy Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy in the power rate petitions before the High Court.
The Office of the Solicitor General filed a Manifestation and Motion on January 2, 2014 before the SC praying that it be excused from filing the Comment on behalf of public respondents—ERC and the DOE—and that the defense of the two concerned government agencies be undertaken by private respondent Manila Electric Co (Meralco).
This is unprecedented and shocking.
The Solicitor-General, sometimes referred to as the third-ranking member of the justice department, is a presidential appointee whose job is to argue cases for the government before the Supreme Court. As such, the solicitor-general is a bridge between the executive and the judiciary, not only deciding which cases the government will appeal to the Court, but also filing petitions stating the government’s position on cases.
Rep. Elpidio Barzaga is totally correct in slamming the Solicitor- General for abandoning his mandate to respond on behalf of the ERC and Department of Energy before the High Court.
He said it was unimaginable that the Solicitor-General has asked the High Court that the defense of the Energy Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy be undertaken by the lawyers of Manila Electric Co., instead of the Solicitor General.
This is not only laziness, but a sellout of the people. It is a manifestation to the court that the government is not keen on siding with the consuming public in winning their case against unconscionably high electricity rates.
PNP for Guinness Records
Equally shocking and unbelievable is the prospect of seeing the Philippine National Police headquarters and officials being secured by private security guards and presumably bodyguards.
It is so shocking that I am going to submit this development to the Guinness Book of World Records. It could make the records book either as the first national police to hire private security guards for security of person and property, or as the oddest example of privatization in history.
The PNP is the country’s biggest law enforcement agency, with some 150,000 police officers and tens of thousands of firearms in its armories.
PNP Director General Alan Purisima has said that the plan will be implemented this year The funds for this are included in the 2014 budget.
The PNP has more personnel than the 120,000-strong Armed Forces of the Philippines.
When this item makes the grade for the Guinness book, it can be said that the Aquino administration has truly made history.