The greatest show in Congress
Whenever the Commission on Appointments (CA) is the headliner of Congress activities, the public is treated to a spectacle. The powerful members of the CA flex their muscle and showcase their boldness to perform astounding feats. Tricks and stunts are pulled off every now and then. Often, there’s bound to be fireworks!
In the spirit of check and balance, heads of the executive departments, ambassadors, public ministers, consuls, officers of the Armed Forces, members of the Judicial and Bar Council, chairmen and commissioners of the Commission on Elections, Commission on Audit, and the Civil Service – are paraded before the CA and other interested parties and given the third degree about their past. At times they end up walking a tightrope and jumping hoops.
The CA is headed by the Senate President, the ex officio chairman who only votes in case of a tie. Twelve senators and 12 members of the House of Representatives are elected based on proportional representation from the political parties and party list.
The CA is used to the spotlight. In 2008, Senator Jamby Madrigal invoked Section 20, effectively deferring the promotion of 25 officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the appointment of then Health Secretary Francisco Duque.
“SECTION 20. SUSPENSION OF CONSIDERATION OF NOMINATIONS OR APPOINTMENTS. Any member may move for the suspension of action by the Commission on any nomination or appointment favorably recommended by a standing committee and the Chairman shall suspend the consideration of said nomination or appointment: Provided, that, such suspension may be taken up on the next succeeding session of the Commission; Provided, further, that this section shall not apply to nominations or appointments taken up by the Commission during the last session prior to an adjournment of Congress.”
In April 2012, Augusto Lagman’s appointment to Comelec was aborted after only 10 months. He did not even make it to his scheduled confirmation before the CA.
Lagman said it was common knowledge that then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile would reject his confirmation because of accusations that Lagman, who was part of the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), allegedly had a hand in the rigging of vote results in the 1987 elections.
There were 24 Senate seats in the 1987 polls. Enrile came last by the skin of his teeth.
Miriam and Dinky
The past few days did not disappoint.
The CA unveiled an action-packed show. It featured Senator Miriam Santiago rising from her sickbed and invoking Section 20, to block the nomination of DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman.
Before the scheduled hearing, she sent an excoriating letter to Abono party-list Representative Conrado Estrella III, and vented her strong opposition to Soliman's confirmation.
Displaying an elephant’s memory, she reprised her 2011 routine with the same reasons.
"I have been opposed to Ms Soliman's nomination from the very beginning of the Aquino administration. Ms Soliman was a fervent devotee of President Arroyo. All of a sudden, on her way to Emmaus, she heard a voice telling her that President Arroyo is allegedly corrupt… In my case, Palace insiders have told me that she and her ilk have felt free to denounce my integrity. I was a judge in the Estrada impeachment case and I voted against opening the second envelope. Ms Soliman and her ilk seized this incident as proof that I was pro-Estrada and therefore corrupt.”
Obviously unimpressed by the CA maneuvers, Soliman has been reappointed 15 times by President Aquino.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada teamed up with whistleblower Sandra Cam to probe Secretary Leila de Lima in her first appearance before the CA. Cam first cracked the whip calling De Lima an incompetent and a liar for various misdeeds from the New Bilibid Prison anomalies to the Reyes brothers’ escape.
Then the indicted senator took center stage and let loose a barrage of death-defying exposés.
“When you were already the chairman of the CHR, didn’t you give a call to Gov. Reyes and told him, gutom pala dito, wala pala akong kikitain dito,” Estrada asked.
Citing a close but dead aide of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the second-time-accused plunderer, accused De Lima of receiving a P1 million monthly allowance from PAGCOR, the government agency that regulates gambling.
Estrada also mentioned a letter sent by alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles to President Aquino regarding the serious illegal detention case filed against her and her brother Reynald by whistle-blower Benhur Luy. Estrada directed De Lima to produce said letter with a mysterious marginal note!
Again, Jinggoy Estrada encored for an ensemble number to oppose Heidi Mendoza’s appointment in COA. With Former state auditor Arturo V. Bersana and lawyers Mariano Sarmiento, Felicitas Aquino-Arroyo and Sandra Marie Olaso-Coronel, they chorused that Mendoza is not fit to become a ranking COA official.
CA finally deferred the confirmations of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman and Commissioner Heidi Mendoza of the Commission on Audit to the last hearing day, thwarting any Section 20 stunt.
Representative Fariñas seized the opportunity to underscore the flaws of the CA process while lamenting the lack of political power to go against the ruling party. He attributes this to the shorter term of Congressmen who then have to be on the good side of the President. (Hint! Hint! )
No one can say that CA members use objective and impersonal standards in their decisions.
The greatest show in Congress is packed with power and pageantry.
We are awed by the political acrobatics, shocking aerialists who pull wool over our eyes, superhuman stunts that try our intelligence and most of all, the over-the-top clowns that have us in stitches! It’s time for a new act. - Rappler.com
Yoly Villanueva-Ong, the founder of Campaigns & Grey, is currently Group Chairperson for the Campaigns Group of companies. She writes weekly for Rappler.