Minority Floor Leader Marcelino Libanan is right when he urged the president to appoint Cabinet officials who would not run for the 2025 midterm elections.
Libanan argues this is to ensure the commitment to the job, instead of spending a lot of time preparing for an elective run.
Indeed we have had so many Cabinet officials who use their high-profile positions as launching pad for political ambition.
If they intend to run for congressman or governor in their home province, they first fill up positions in their bureaucracy with kababayans who have some form of political clout in their locality, and they pour resources of the agency into “projects” for their constituents.
I recall a senator who, serving his last term, poured his entire “pork barrel” entitlements into the province where he would run as governor.
While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with these practices for as long as they are not money-making “ghost” or defective infrastructure projects, the practice defeats the mandate for which they have been appointed, which, as Libanan states, “Puts away their focus from their (national) agency.”
In response, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin said something everybody accepts as fact, that “(the president) is within his full political power” to replace some people in the Cabinet.
But to address Libanan’s unsolicited advice to the president, the former chief justice stated: “Sino ba naman ang makapagbabawal sa sinumang tao na tumakbo dahil sa nais niyang maglingkod sa bayan.”
But that is precisely Libanan’s point.
Is public service (maglingkod sa bayan) to be measured only in terms of elective office?
Did not the good chief justice serve the country and the people with dedication in all his years in the judiciary, instead of running for Congress or the governorship of his home province of Abra, where his family has been deeply involved in electoral politics?
This writer agrees with Rep. Libanan.
And it would be wise for the president to talk to his appointees in Cabinet and make it a pre-condition that they ought not to run in the immediate and forthcoming elections, and focus completely on their responsibilities to the mandate at hand.
No person who truly wants to “maglingkod sa bayan” will refuse the president’s condition. And if they truly serve with dedication and produce results, then they can run should they so wish, in 2028.
This is not to criticize those who ran for public positions after an appointive stint who served well in their positions, and who did not use the prerogatives of power as launching pad for pre-determined electoral plans.
Some served well in their appointed posts and were rewarded by the public with electoral approbation thereafter, or in some cases, they were asked by their appointing power to be part of the administration’s senatorial ticket.
For those who can yet recall, this was the case of the late DOH Secretary Juan Flavier, who was highly successful as steward of the public health, but was prevailed upon by Pres. Fidel V. Ramos to be part of the 1995 administration ticket, which his Lakas party could not fill up with potential winners that he had to forge a coalition with the LDP, and in a gesture of unity, got his presidential rival, the late Monching Mitra, to be part of the ticket.
Yet Flavier was reluctant to leave his post as DOH secretary, and most everyone except perhaps his enemies from the rabid pro-life advocates were sad when he resigned to make a run for the Senate.
But then, it was his president who asked him to run, just as it was Pres. Duterte who asked his SAP, Bong Go to run for senator in 2019.
These are different from those who accepted appointments with the hidden agenda of propelling themselves to elective public office, and using the administrative machinery and perhaps even the funds of the office to pre-campaign all over the land.
And then again, now that PFM Jr. will fill up the positions he has left vacant, and there are yet so many of them, aside from the three major Cabinet level posts, it is unfair to the public for him to say that “tapos na ang OJT.”
It is also quite unfair to those whom he had appointed thus far.
The general public, even would-be foreign investors would be so disappointed that OJTs had been placed in sensitive offices.
Or maybe the president was in a jocular mood, but, regretfully, it was a bad joke.
As early as a month before his overwhelming mandate, Ferdinand Jr. was ascertained of victory.
His staff and close-in advisers should already have begun the process of quietly making short lists for important Cabinet and sub-Cabinet positions.
More so when he got a huge electoral mandate, when a formal selection committee, not necessarily made public, should have produced a short list, along with a matrix that aside from curriculum vitae, included the prospective appointees’ political/ideological inclinations.
It would then be up to the president to choose from the short list, weighing both academic and professional credentials with his personal esteem of the prospect’s loyalty or political merits.
After all, under our system, every appointee serves at the president’s pleasure.
Thus, by June 30 more or less, the president’s Cabinet, along with posts like the AFP, PNP, BOC, BIR, and key GOCCs and GFIs should have been completed.
Unless, of course, the president had reserved three Cabinet positions, such as the departments of national defense, health and agriculture for election losers from the time he became president-elect.
But what about other sensitive posts?
Note that the present CSAFP was recycled after having appointed someone else, and the very critical BIR and BOC saw a changing of the guard months after June 30.
On top of these, important GOCCs and bureaus are yet manned by OICs and hold-overs, putting both policy-making and program implementation in limbo for almost an entire year.
What do these examples say of a proper selection process?
A year has passed since PFM Jr. got his huge electoral mandate. By his own words, he intends to consider “qualified” election losers.
Who might these be?
Speculations are rife that former SND Gibo Teodoro will be returned to the post he held under PGMA in 2007 till 2009 when he decided to run for president. He ran unsuccessfully last 2022 for a Senate seat.
Or Art Yap, who was PGMA’s agriculture chief from 2005 till 2009 when he decided to run for congressman in the 3rd district of Bohol, and later served as governor for one term, having lost re-election last May 2022.
Media likewise mentions Dr. Minguita Padilla, the renowned ophthalmologist who has been quite active in public health concerns, and has worked in the DOH as consultant in previous administrations, as the incoming secretary.
And since the president himself has said that the time for OJTs or on-the-job training is up, who among his first team, most of whom have already passed the Commission on Appointments’ nihil obstat, will be replaced?
Media speculations on supposed “non-performers” do injustice to those who now sit in their appointive posts.
And for as long as speculations hound them, proper governance becomes hostage.