It’s not only Commission on Appointments that sealed the fate of Judy Taguiwalo

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

THE outcry over Judy Taguiwalo’s rejection by the Commission on Appointments (CA) has crossed po-litical borders. That it was expressed by loyal DDS, yellows and reds is enough to alarm the members of the CA.

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But the CA is not the only one that should bear the blame for Taguiwalo’s rejection.

Prior rejections by the CA of President Duterte’s appointments, such as that of Jun Yasay and Gina Lopez, were met with mixed reactions by a divided citizenry. Both rejections had grounds for which each side can make a compelling argument. Yasay apparently misrepresented his immigration records in the US, while Lopez had serious problems regarding the somewhat unorthodox way she handled the mining issue.

But Judy Taguiwalo stood on an image of propriety and service to the poor and the underprivileged. This is a trait that made her perfect for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). She is incorruptible, which even those who voted against her like Rep. Ronnie Zamora can vouch for. There is no character flaw, no misrepresentation about her records that one can throw at her.

Zamora, in a radio interview, said he based his opposition to Taguiwalo’s confirmation on what he per-ceived as the latter’s handling of the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program. He made it appear that she was not capable of managing the funds.

With all due respect to Congressman Zamora, this is a ridiculous allegation.

In truth, it is precisely the fact that Judy was able to manage the CCT funds correctly and in accordance with the spirit of the law, without interference from politicians who had weaponized it as a conduit for political patronage, which led to her non-confirmation by CA.

And it is precisely on this aspect that I take the position that it is not solely the fault of members of Congress, particularly the members of the House whose relationships with their district constituents are more intimately parochial, if they see Judy as a problem that needs to be eliminated in the equa-tion.

Denied of pre-enactment control over discretionary funds in the form of lump sum appropriations earmarked for members of Congress to spend in their districts or pet projects, which the Supreme Court has ruled as unconstitutional, the CCT program became one of the conduits by which elected representatives could continue dispensing services to their constituents. As proof of this, after the court struck down as unconstitutional the legislators’ pork barrel, known as PDAF, the budget appro-priation for the CCT ballooned precisely to accommodate more post-enactment referrals by members of Congress. What used to be pre-enactment lump sum appropriations were merely re-channeled to the regular budgets of executive departments such as the DSWD.

Taguiwalo would have none of this. And this is why she is no longer social welfare secretary.

But her fate is not solely the CA’s to seal. Judy was working not just against a legislative practice that reared its head in another place after it was chopped off by the Supreme Court. In fact, Judy was pit-ted against a political culture where ordinary people seem to perceive their elected legislators not as lawmakers, but as service providers.

Members of Congress win or lose their re-election bids not on the basis of the quality of laws they pass, or the quality of their interventions in the process of crafting these laws. People choose their legislators on the basis of the tangible services the latter provide. This is a political transaction that Judy Taguiwalo threatened to derail, with her insistence that the DSWD should directly dispense social wel-fare programs, without the interference of legislators. And with this, she was doomed.

Considering that transforming political culture is an extremely difficult political project, Judy neverthe-less could have been saved from falling victim to the backlash of this culturally sanctioned usurpation by Congress of DSWD’s executive prerogative had the President given her the leverage during her confirmation hearings.

It could be said that the other factor that sealed the fate of Judy is the refusal of President Duterte to interfere with the work of Congress, and in this particular instance, that of the CA.

While laudable, the President has to carefully rethink his position on this. A President lobbying directly or through his emissaries for his Cabinet nominees is neither illegal nor unethical. US Presidents have on many occasions exercised their influence to lobby for votes in Congress to support their nominees and their legislative proposals.

The President should not rest on the fact that he has a super-majority in both houses of Congress, for such is simply a mirage, if not a fake one. He should be reminded that a substantial number of this ma-jority are political butterflies and turncoats who gravitate towards any incumbent for sheer political survival.

And here, it was clear that in the legislators’ calculations, Judy Taguiwalo was a serious threat to their political survival when they face angry and disillusioned voters in 2019 who will resent them for not bringing home the bacon.

It’s about time that the President begins playing hardball with Congress on his Cabinet nominees, if he wants to keep his agenda of change. And to help him do this, he should appoint people who are good in doing political strategizing and lobbying. He should strengthen his Presidential Legislative Liaison Of-fice.

Otherwise, he may just set a pattern where highly qualified agents of change would simply decline his offer of a Cabinet position, lest they be exposed to ridicule, and the humiliation of being rejected not because they are not qualified, but simply because they are perceived as threats to business as usu-al—and then he did not lift a finger to help.

How can that be for change then?

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