Confirmation of Duterte appointees uncertain
MANILA, Philippines — The confirmation of five appointees of President Rodrigo Duterte is hanging in the balance as allies of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the Commission of Appointments (CA) seem more inclined to extend to the president-elect the courtesy of choosing officials to serve under the incoming administration.
A CA panel postponed for the second time on Monday the confirmation of the heads of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Commission on Audit (COA), and Civil Service Commission (CSC), and of two election commissioners, as a Senate leader suggested that Marcos be given a “free hand” in selecting the appointees.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri noted that, if confirmed, Comelec Chair Saidamen Pangarungan and Commissioners George Garcia and Aimee Torrefranca-Neri, COA Chair Rizalina Justol and CSC Chair Karlo Nograles would have seven-year tenures expiring on Feb. 2, 2029, outlasting Marcos’ six-year term under the 1987 Constitution.
The three are independent constitutional commissions that generally operate outside the ambit of the President’s executive powers as each enjoys fiscal autonomy.
“So with due respect to these gentlemen and ladies here,… the question is asked: Wouldn’t it be better [to let Marcos Jr. make the appointments]?” Zubiri said in a hearing by the constitutional commissions and offices committee chaired by Sen. Cynthia Villar.
He pointed out that “the chairperson of the COA will be there for seven years. And, therefore, a position of seven years means this new President, with a mandate of 31 million votes, will not be able to appoint the head of the COA even to the last day of his term?”
Zubiri recalled that, in 2016, then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile invoked Section 20 of the CA rules allowing any member to call for a suspension of any nominations or appointments.
Enrile explained at that time that an appointment by the outgoing President would deprive the incoming President the free hand to choose the people he would want to represent him.
Quoting Enrile, Zubiri said, “I tell you, ambassadors deployed abroad are representatives of the President. It would be unfair to the next President if these people are appointed by the outgoing President.”
Zubiri noted further that the late former President Benigno Aquino III gave the incoming Duterte administration a “free hand [with regard to the] constitutional commissions.”
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III tried to intercede on behalf of some of the appointees, especially Justol, saying it would be a waste to bypass a career official like her only because her appointment came in February when Congress was no longer in session and the campaign was in full swing.
“Maybe we can proceed on a case-to-case basis,” he suggested.
But Zubiri argued that, “If we make [this] case-to-case, then we’re favoring one over the other. It would be unfair to the appointees.”
In an interview after the hearing, Garcia said he respected and understood Zubiri’s position on this matter, “considering there is [a] precedent for it and [the lawmakers] need to weigh which direction to go, whether to respect the appointing authority or just let the new appointing authority… decide.”
“Of course, we will accept our fate,” the Comelec official said.
On Zubiri’s motion, the committee rescheduled anew the confirmation to Wednesday, the CA’s last session day.
The confirmation was also postponed last Wednesday upon the request of members who couldn’t attend as Congress was still tallying the votes for president and vice president.
Zubiri and Villar, who both supported Marcos during the election campaign, are being tipped as strong candidates to be the next Senate President.
Speaking to reporters, Zubiri admitted that he had been getting calls from the Marcos camp, including incoming Cabinet members, asking him to allow the incoming President to be the appointing authority.
“There’s a lot of lobbying going on—to appoint and not to appoint. I know for a fact that many future Cabinet members… have asked me to give the opportunity to the new President, which is a reasonable request. I’ve been getting many calls,” he said.
But the senator said there was no request from Marcos himself.
“Nothing from the President-elect. President BBM (Marcos Jr.’s initials) is very careful also because he used to be a senator so he knows the importance of legislation. He never mentioned anything to me,” Zubiri said.
Meanwhile, the CA has confirmed the promotion of 17 military officers: Adonis Ariel Orio, Glenn Jun Calambuhay, Fermin Carangan, Marvin Licudine and Consolito Yecla to brigadier general; Wilbur Mamawag, Araus Robert Musico, Ignatius Patrimonio, Charlton Sean Gaerlan, Jonas Lumawag, Camilo Ligayo and Romulo Manuel Jr., major general; Alberto Carlos and Rommel Anthony Reyes, vice admiral; William Gonzales, lieutenant general; Renato David, rear admiral; and Francisco Tagamolila Jr., commodore.