MANILA, Philippines—Holding its last session before sine die adjournment Wednesday, the bicameral Commission on Appointments (CA) bypassed for the nth time the appointments of five Cabinet members: Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jessie Robredo and Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman.
At the same time, the CA, a powerful body tasked to confirm high-ranking presidential appointments, confirmed the nominations of three ambassadors, including the country’s expert on the contested West Philippine Sea.
With the CA adjourning until July 23, President Benigno Aquino III is expected to issue ad interim appointments to his five alter egos to allow them to continue discharging their official duties during the two-month congressional break.
Cebu Representative Eduardo R. Gullas, vice chairman of the CA foreign relations committee, cited lack of time for the failure of the CA to take action on the nominations of the five Cabinet secretaries.
He said that five-month impeachment trial of Corona had narrowed the time available for lawmakers to attend CA committee hearings, which were meant to determine the competence of Cabinet members.
All five secretaries had been bypassed in past CA plenary sessions.
Henry S. Bensurto Jr., who holds the title of Chief of Mission, Class II, breezed through the CA hearings without any objection from members of the bicameral body. He is the secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Commission of Maritime and Ocean Affairs.
A rising star in the DFA, Bensurto was one of the experts invited by Senate foreign relations committee chairperson Loren Legarda at a recent hearing called following the April 8 Scarborough Shoal standoff between Philippine and Chinese vessels.
Bensurto had insisted on the country’s right under the Convention on the Law of the Sea to seek international arbitration over the Scarborough Shoal dispute with China.
The other two envoys who hurdled the CA were Nestor N. Padalhin, Chief of Mission, Class I, as ambassador to Syria; and Jocelyn S. Batoon-Garcia, Chief of Mission, Class I, as ambassador to Thailand and permanent representative to the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
Padalhin finally got the nod of CA members after he corrected his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) to reflect a condominium unit in Seattle, Washington. His failure to declare this asset drew the ire of senators on May 30, as they had just ousted then chief justice Renato Corona for failing to disclose his $2.4 million account and his P80-million deposits.
Senator Francis Escudero blocked the nomination of Padalhin owing to an undeclared condominium unit in his latest SALN.
Escudero, acting chairman of the foreign relations committee of the CA, had asked Padalhin about the condo unit in the United States. The latter then explained that he was still paying for a monthly mortgage of $1,500 that would be completed in 10 years.
The envoy to Syria was then given until next this week to correct his SALN.
“We [in the CA] are very tolerant with the explanation that he just received wrong legal advice that what he should have reported was not reported because he was instructed that it was not necessary to report them,” said Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a CA member, when asked why they allowed Padalhin to be confirmed by the bicameral body.
Referring to Corona’s removal from the high court because of his failure to declare both his $2.4 million deposits and P80.7-million accounts, Santiago said: “Here you can see the attitude of, at least, the committee on foreign affairs is leniency. We are very lenient with the omission in the SALN. This is different from the omission of the defendant in the impeachment trial where the majority of the senators were very strict.
“So it depends on what was omitted. In this case, the omission concerned a house and lot that was not reported because it was located abroad. The advice he received is that since it was abroad, he did not need to include it in his SALN. You can see here that there is a shift of mood among the CA members,” Santiago added.