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Fariñas to CA: Stop bypass, vote on Aquino Cabinet

MANILA, Philippines – “Can you imagine? You’ve been serving there for 4 years, pero walang basbas ng mga hari, ang mga tao. ’Di kayo humarap sa confirmation.” (You’ve been serving there for 4 years without the approval of the kings, the people. You did not face confirmation.)

Ilocos Norte Representative Rodolfo Fariñas questioned the 4-year delay in the confirmation of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman.

Four years into the Aquino administration, Fariñas said it is about time for the Commission on Appointments (CA) to put an end to the cycle of bypassing and reappointing Cabinet secretaries and other nominees. 

“To my colleagues in Congress, let’s show political will. The delay in confirmation is happening because we allow it. That violates the Constitution,” Fariñas said in De Lima’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday, June 4.

Isalang na at pagbotohan natin para hindi bypass nang bypass. Kung ayaw natin, i-reject na natin iyan. (Let us vote instead of just bypassing. If we do not like them, let’s reject them.)”

Fariñas is the majority leader of the CA, a body that the 1987 Constitution created to vet high-level presidential appointees for checks and balance. It is composed of 12 senators and 12 representatives, with the Senate President as chairman.

Yet Fariñas said the practice of issuing so-called ad interim appointments, or those done when Congress is not in session, undermines the CA’s constitutional mandate. 

“Isn't it a derogation of our Constitution that you are facing us just now? You become full-time secretaries without confirmation,” Fariñas said. “Can you imagine that happening in the US, that the attorney-general serving for 4 years has not yet faced the confirmation process? It’s really more fun in the Philippines!”

Fariñas said he will file a motion to amend the CA rules to limit to 3 the number of times a nominee can be bypassed. After the third time, the CA should vote on the confirmation.

Senators Loren Legarda and Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said they will support the proposal.

"Indeed, 4 years without confirmation, especially for the Secretary of Justice, that would be very difficult to provide justice,” Legarda said.

Senate President Franklin Drilon on Tuesday had a similar proposal, but with only two bypasses.

Besides De Lima and Soliman, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje has not yet been confirmed 4 years after his appointment in 2010. Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla is also unconfirmed but he was appointed only in 2012.

Jinggoy grills De Lima on courtesy call

During De Lima’s confirmation hearing, Senator Jinggoy Estrada took her to task for allegedly violating CA tradition by failing to pay a courtesy call on the members.

“Bakit 'di ho kayo umikot sa senators para mag-courtesy call? That’s been the tradition ever since. Iyan ang nakagisnan ko dito sa CA.” (How come you did not go to the senators to pay a courtesy call? That’s the tradition I am used to in CA.)

De Lima said she only met with the House panel and CA justice committee chairman Aquilino Pimentel III weeks ago. She admitted that the former chairman, ex-Senator Joker Arroyo, advised her to pay a courtesy call on the members, but she was unsure if she could heed the advice.

“The reason I appeared today is because I was finally issued a formal notice. I knew it was a matter of time. It's been so long already,” De Lima responded.

Legarda came to De Lima’s defense, saying the courtesy call was just an unwritten rule that was often not followed.

“I am the one who sat the longest in the CA. I’ve been a member for 3 times already. Two-thirds of the nominees never sought me out but I approved them. So just to be fair with the nominee,” Legarda said.

Pimentel agreed, “If I were the chairman [then], I wouldn’t advise [you about] the courtesy call. To me, it’s immaterial.”

‘You'll jail more congressmen!’

With or without the courtesy call, Fariñas said he will call for a vote to confirm De Lima.

“You are assured of my vote. You are my type of Secretary of Justice.”

Fariñas joked that he was asking questions even if De Lima holds the power to investigate and prosecute lawmakers involved in the pork barrel scam, the country’s biggest corruption scandal in recent history.

I'm saying this with trepidation. Takot na takot ako kasi baka lumabas ang pangalan ko sa Luy files o anong Napoles list. Can you imagine we are grilling the Secretary of Justice who will decide on the filing of cases?”

(I am so afraid because my name might come out in the Luy files or Napoles list if I grill you here.)

Fariñas turned humorous when commenting on the effect of a possible confirmation on De Lima.

“I want to be the one to move para mapagbotohan na. Iba, Leila, ang feeling mo. Siguro mas marami kang ipapakulong sa amin!” (I want to be the one to move for a vote. Leila, you will have a different feeling once confirmed. Maybe you will send more of us to jail!) – Rappler.com