It’s a rejection that was long in coming. But when it happened, it bruised not only Perfecto Yasay Jr but the Commission on Appointments (CA) that tolerated his lies for far too long – until he admitted on national TV that he once had a US passport.
L’affaire Yasay unmasked everything that’s wrong about this beast called the Commission on Appointments, a creation of the 1987 Constitution but is neither under the Senate nor the House.
Its power lies in its 3 general tasks: to confirm, bypass, or reject the appointment of top public officials and senior military officers. But this power is flawed, and here’s why.
Delayed hearings. The “foreign” secretary (pun intended) had served 7 months before questions on his citizenship cropped up. What had the CA been doing since he was appointed in July? Defer to his globetrotting? Tardiness has always been the commission’s hallmark – so that hearings are often rescheduled to give way to other matters.
Sloppy work. The bicameral body has its own budget, its own set of officers and dozens of committees, its own secretariat of more than 100 people with an investigative arm, its own office, and a staff of about 5 people per member – all separate from the Senate and the House. Despite this, it failed to obtain the paper trail of Yasay’s US citizenship and his renunciation, with media beating them to it. Poor documentation and screening has been the commission’s hallmark – so that public officials get away with submitting incomplete documents and insufficient information about themselves.
Vested interests. We recall the time when a politician exposed how he was asked to cough up P5 million for the confirmation of his son to a Cabinet post. We recall the time when alleged pork barrel scam queen Janet Napoles allegedly allotted millions for CA members. Vested interests and partisanship have been the commission’s hallmark – so that a critical appointment could turn into an avenue for horse-trading and bargaining between lawmakers and officials who want a position so bad.
False power. Yet, is the CA really that powerful? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the CA chooses to bypass the appointment of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez. What would stop the President, who just expressed unequivocal support for her, from reappointing her? Under the previous Aquino regime, at least 3 Cabinet secretaries were bypassed more than a dozen times by the CA. But they were eventually confirmed – after 4 years – because there’s no limit to how many times the President can reappoint a “bypassed” official.
Whimsical one-veto vote. The commission that allows the President to reappoint someone it has “bypassed” has another strange rule which grants one member the power to veto an appointment. Just one vote – by anyone and for any flimsy reason – can delay one’s confirmation. But does that affect how that official performs? A Cabinet secretary who is bypassed by the CA continues to perform his or her functions.
Which brings us to the crux of the matter: if the CA finds an appointee unfit, why has it seldom rejected appointees and chosen instead to merely bypass them? Because in the end, a powerful presidency holds lawmakers at his mercy. A bypass slaps the wrist of the official concerned. A rejection slaps him – and the appointing power.
In the Yasay case, it is not the CA that slapped him. He shot himself in the foot through his lies.
In the case of the popular Gina Lopez, your guess is as good as ours. Beholden to the President, the CA will likely just sit on her appointment for now. (Otherwise, this would be a first in Philippine history – a back-to-back CA rejection under one presidency.)
So, no. These CA hearings have not revived our faith in the confirmation system. They have reinforced our doubts about it. – Rappler.com