“ARE you from Zambales?”
No, this question was not asked in a social gathering. Rather, it was asked at the confirmation hearing of the nomination of Avelino Cruz as defense secretary about 10 years back.
“Yes, Your Honor, I was born in the Ilocano side of San Marcelino, Zambales,” Cruz replied.
“If only for that, you already have my vote,” said then Sen. Loi Estrada-Ejercito, a member of the bicameral Commission on Appointments and a Zambalena.
That incident shows that while the confirmation process could be a pay-back time for some CA members, some presidential nominees or ad-interim appointees don’t go through a ringer. (Nominations are made by the President while Congress is in session and ad-interim appointments, while Congress is in recess.)
The lady solon had only one vote but other members of the CA hearing panel shared her sentiments.
Sen. Mar Roxas leafed through a thick paper detailing Cruz’s assets and asked if his wife was aware of all his assets.
“Being a dutiful husband, I report all of my assets to my wife,” Cruz said.
“A person who is truthful to his wife is good enough to handle an executive position,” Roxas remarked while voicing full support for Cruz’s confirmation.
A review of my notes while covering the CA showed that there were several other instances where a presidential appointee breezes through a supposed grilling session.
For instance, the confirmation hearing of former Press Secretary Cerge Remonde lasted less than five minutes. Cebu Rep. Eduardo (EddieGul) Gullas, the CA vice-chairman, immediately called for the committee’s endorsement of Remonde’s confirmation even before a question could be asked. Nobody objected.
This moved Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile to comment that he could not think of any other Cabinet official endorsed by a CA committee that fast.
“Now, we’ll be having Secretary Remonde more on television with his funny English accent,” JPE joked.
Of course, the executive secretary is always an exception to the grilling that usually had to be endured by a presidential appointee. Sen. Joker Arroyo had described the Aquino Cabinet as “student council” but he seconded the confirmation of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.
The final confirmation hearing of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales was light-hearted, in marked contrast to the grilling that he had undergone before being bypassed 25 times. In a surprising twist, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada didn’t object to Gonzales’ confirmation this time, although the Estradas had been the object of Gonzales’s verbal attacks. He expressed admiration for Gonzales’s loyalty to his boss, then President Arroyo.
Even Sen. Ping Lacson had kind words for Gonzales who had often threatened to file criminal charges against him.
“What I like about him is that he loves his job and he loves to work. Barely recuperating from (kidney) transplant operation, he wanted to return to work immediately,” Lacson noted.
After hearing the talks focused on Gonzales’s health, Estrada said: “I appeal to all members to allow Secretary Gonzales to spend the rest of his life in public service.”
“Wait a minute. That sounds like an eulogy,” Sen. Dick Gordon riposted.
Definitely, most appointees want to be in the good graces of the CA members, and one of the ways of doing so is to be punctual in confirmation hearings. Gen. Alexander Yano, the newly appointed Armed Forces chief of staff, didn’t want to be late for the hearing scheduled at 10 a.m. and his escorts of two cars and two motorcycle cops made sure he wouldn’t be. How? With siren blaring, they ordered vehicles to give way to Yano’s convoy.
At the confirmation hearing, Yano got an earful from Sen. Ping Lacson, whose car was one of those ordered to stop while Yano’s convoy sped through the traffic at Nagtahan.
“This will not cost you your confirmation but I had the opportunity of wearing in 1999 the four stars you were about to wear. I was probably more powerful then than you are now but I was not allowing my escorts to cut vehicles along the way unless extremely necessary,” Lacson, a former chief of the Philippine National Police, said to Yano.
Lacson also had this to say on the “arrogance” and high-handedness of some government officials with police escorts amid heavy traffic.
“They knock at or strike the cars or shout as if they are kings of the road. I also experienced having motorcycle escorts — that’s part of the privileges of the position – but I never allowed my escorts to cut cars. I felt I should be sensitive to the feelings of others,” Lacson added.
Oh yes, Lacson is also being eyed as a presidential candidate but he’s not biting (yet?).
“Show me the numbers,” he said.