CABINET members who intend to run for office in the 2016 elections should follow the example of Vice President Jejomar Binay and resign their posts, Senator JV Ejercito said at a forum on Tuesday. This is an eminently sensible suggestion that we believe any Cabinet member with electoral ambitions should heed at once.
The call was echoed by a number of lawmakers in both houses of Congress, including Senator Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.
The main point raised by the legislators was one of delicadeza, that fuzzy concept of propriety that is often injected into discussions of the behavior of public officials but not often followed in practice. Even if they do not intend to misuse the resources of their departments or even realize they are doing so, the Cabinet secretaries with campaign plans can hardly avoid doing so, Ejercito explained in his remarks.
The two congressmen in turn both pointed out that one very obvious form of using public resources for campaign purposes is the recent proliferation of “infomercials” produced by various Cabinet departments.
Malacañang, not surprisingly, has defended the practice as part of the Secretaries’ job to keep the public informed. That is an explanation we find highly dubious, as nearly the entire Cabinet are solid allies of the President and the Liberal Party, who have a vested interest in the prospects for the Cabinet members’ election success.
Among those already known or expected to run in the elections next year, according to a number of sources, are DILG Secretary Mar Roxas for President, and for the Senate, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, TESDA director-general Joel Villanueva, MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino, Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, Health Secretary Janette Garin, and Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras.
A matter of focus
While we certainly support the call for delicadeza and agree that it is imperative that these ambitious officials conduct themselves in a manner that is above suspicion, whether in their appointed offices or on the campaign trail, that is not the most important reason for the Cabinet to heed the lawmakers’ call.
The real issue, as we see it, is one of effective management. Even a completely honest and well-intentioned official cannot perform his appointed duties with full attention and effort if that devotion is divided between his job and his political objectives.
This year will be critical to the Philippine economy. The country’s economic performance is already being tested by global instabilities, and this year, the country is deeply involved in the development of greater regional linkages through the formation of the Asean Economic Community and the initiatives of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Anything less than peak performance on the part of Philippine government departments could very well be the result if the leaders of those departments spend their time on individual ambitions.
Fortunately, most government agencies are staffed by competent technocrats in supporting roles to the Cabinet secretaries. For example, prior to his current post, BSP governor Amando Tetangco Jr., the country’s first central bank governor to serve two terms, had worked in various positions in the organization over a few decades, even as a subordinate helping the BSP chief maintain monetary stability and investor confidence while instituting market discipline during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.
Current Cabinet officials are entitled to pursue other offices if that is their ambition. What they are not entitled to, however, is the freedom to compromise the efficient function and output of their current offices in that pursuit. Those who are facing the choice should declare where their commitment lies; if it is not fully dedicated to their departments, then they should resign and let the other competent administrators do the job for the benefit of the governed and the nation’s future.