PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is right when he says that no law disqualifies Margaux “Mocha” Uson from becoming president of the Philippines. He also once said that boxing champ Manny Pacquiao may become president one day.
Why not? But Uson will have to wait until 2028 before she can run for president because she is a few days short of the required minimum age requirement of 40 in May 2022. She was born on May 17, 1982. Pacquiao will be 43 years old by then. He was born on December 17, 1978.
Except for Uson’s age, the two are very much qualified under the 1986 Constitution, which previous presidents either refused or failed to have amended for various reasons.
Section 2, Article 7 of the Constitution provides: No person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, able to read and write, at least 40 years of age on the day of the election, and a resident of the Philippines for at least 10 years immediately preceding such election.
The Constitution does not qualify fitness for public office, including the presidency, in terms of performance record, psychological or psychiatric state, physical appearance, moral values, and academic or intellectual level of achievement. Those are unwritten qualifications that voters are expected to consider in choosing candidates to elect.
Presidents don’t have to go through the Commission on Appointments for a meticulous process of confirmation but their appointees do.
Presidents have the power to appoint anybody they wish to, either to recognize one’s outstanding performance record or to pay a debt of gratitude. It’s called presidential prerogative.
In the case of Uson, who became popular as leader of a provocative dance group called Mocha Girls and later as a political blogger, Duterte said her appointment as assistant secretary for social media at the Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO) was in recognition of her group’s help in his campaign in 2016.
“Utang na loob ko iyan sa kanila because they offered their services free at a time na wala akong pera, because they believe in me. Now it’s my time to believe in them,” Duterte said to defend Uson’s appointment which has been criticized for her lack of credentials.
“And if it just a matter of dancing, she was not dancing naked. She was—during the campaign—a little bit sexier than the others, but that does not prevent anybody to deprive her of the honors that she deserves. It’s a matter of intellect,” the President explained.
Then he went on: “Iyang pagsasayaw niya, hanapbuhay iyan, eh. [Dancing is her livelihood.] That’s hanapbuhay. There’s no law which says that if you expose half of your body, with shorts and a bra, you are disqualified from being the president of the Philippines. There’s no really no law.”
Duterte said he believes Uson is “bright and articulate.” Well, her blog has a following of at least 4 million; a number that skeptics say is mostly online trolls or fanatics who are allegedly paid to defend the administration from critics.
Uson finished a course in medical technology at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in 1998 but dropped out of her medical studies. She has academic credentials, although it is not related to her assigned role at the Palace.
What is disturbing is that Uson will be in charge of fighting fake news, something she has been accused of propagating on her blog. She has been propagating her own version of “alternative facts” which others say are falsehoods or twisted facts tailored to portray the administration positively.
By presenting her “alternative facts” that are supposed to bring the administration closer to the people, Uson is, at the same time, destroying the mainstream media for its alleged biases against the President. She considers mainstream media as biased for reporting developments and statements that are critical of the administration. Obviously, she and others in the administration want only positive reports coming out in the media.
“It’s time for us to stop relying on the wrong reports from some mainstream media, and to strengthen social media with the help of true members of the DDS (Die-hard Duterte Supporters). Because we are the media of Tatay Digong,” Uson had said in her blog, explaining the role she would be playing in government.
Previous Presidents and other public officials faced similar criticisms of using their position and power to pay personal and political debts. Uson is not the only presidential appointee whose credentials and fitness for a high-paying job has been questioned.
What is disturbing is that the number is growing. There are also questions about Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, Solicitor General Jose Calida, Presidential Chief Legal Adviser Salvador Panelo, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, among others
Their appointments to sensitive positions in government speak well of the policy that in public service, it is whom, and not what, you know that matters.
With the number of presidential appointees whose interpretations of the law and moral values are against the norm, and whose performance records are far from being outstanding, we may yet see the promised change coming. But it may not be the change we expected. If truth has many versions in this administration, change has other meanings, too, and it may not be what we know.