By Melito Salazar Jr.
Last week during the flag ceremony of the Commission of Higher Education (CHED), Chairman Patricia Licuanan announced her resignation. It was the end of a Calvary of humiliation and suffering which began when President Rodrigo Duterte stopped her attendance in Cabinet meetings, followed by petitions from some (eager-beaver?) underlings for her resignation, seemingly insubordination from officials, who despite orders, refused to vacate their offices, incessant attacks from congressional allies of the President on so-called non-performance and excessive and expensive travels (even unauthorized when all were covered by proper travel authorities from the Office of the Executive Secretary). Realizing finally that her continued occupancy was hurting the effectiveness of CHED, Chairman Licuanan let go.
This episode belongs to the annals of public administration and bears lessons for those who, after a successful career in the private sector, respond to the call of service in government. Respected by their peers, they find that in an administration that seems to lack civility and peopled by persons hungry for positions and power, their lifetime achievements marked with integrity are no shield to the greediness of some. Schooled in the classrooms of fair play, respect for each other and cooperation and collaboration, they discover the reality of government (maybe, of a particular administration) devoid of these values.
The dawning reality is that offices which are constitutional in nature, or where the incumbents serve a fixed term and can only be removed for cause, are not safe when the administration in power is determined to wipe away all vestiges of the previous administration. The occupants will be subjected to harassment and public allegations of wrongdoing with no charges being filed in the proper forum. Any self-respecting individual will go not just for his/her piece of mind but to protect the institution they serve from the negative and debilitating effects of the onslaughts. And if nothing can really be brought against these incumbents then have the draft constitutional amendments declare as part of the transitional provisions that all constitutional positions are considered vacant after the passage, allowing the incumbent president to appoint ALL. And since the Supreme Court by that time will have a majority of his appointees, one can surmise that all these will be ruled as “constitutional” in case a suit is filed.
Yet if it is small comfort, it is not only incumbents appointed by the previous administration that experience the peculiar nature of the Duterte administration. Cabinet secretaries Gina Lopez, Judy Taguiwalo, Paulyn Rosell-Obial, Perfecto Yasay and Rafael Mariano were rejected by the Commission on Appointments without the President exerting any effort to convince his congressional allies to approve his nominations. Usually a presidential choice is speedily approved but in the Duterte administration, the message seems to be, “you are on your own.”
Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno was dismissed due to “loss of confidence and trust.” Department of Information and Communications Technology Rodolfo Salalima resigned but subsequently President Duterte revealed that his resignation was asked because of partiality in the conduct of his office. Dangerous Drugs Board Chief Dionisio Santiago was fired for his “junkets” and allegedly receiving a gift from a suspected narco-politician. When it turned out that all the trips were approved by Malacañang and the receiver of the gift was another Santiago, the public surmised that the reason for the firing was his comments against a mega drug rehabilitation project.
Normally and as a courtesy, cabinet members are asked to resign and their services are acknowledged by the President. They leave office with their reputations intact. This does not seem to be the case in the Duterte administration. While there are those who relish this “kiss and tell” approach, the danger is that reputations are besmirched simply on the basis of allegations which in the end could be proven false.
The present Duterte cabinet members as well as those impatient to be appointed are forewarned. You could be the next victim of the Duterte administration style of dealing with Cabinet members. Better leave now or do not even think of accepting a presidential appointment.