Just my opinion
By Raïssa Robles
Over the past
two years year Jesse Robredo was bypassed THRICE, not twice by the Commission on Appointments (CA) for his confirmation as the Department of Interior and Local governments Secretary.
On top of that, his confirmation allegedly scheduled last Wednesday August 15, 2012 – or three days before he died – was postponed to later this month.
Consider that the CA confirmed Sonia Brady as Philippine ambassador to China in FIVE DAYS. Brady’s appointment was never on the table and was only submitted by Malacañang Palace to the CA on May 25, 2012. The CA confirmed her on May 30, 2012. To read about Brady’s appointment, please click on this link.
Between Sonia Brady and Jesse Robredo, Brady was probably an unknown to many of the 25-member CA and yet it was she who got the nod quickly.
This is why I say the 25-member CA and Senator Vicente Sotto III – chairman of the CA Committee on Local Governments – owes the public a brutally honest explanation why it did not confirm Robredo’s appointment a year after his appointment papers were submitted to Sotto’s CA committee. As the chair, it was Sotto’s responsibility to check the veracity of graft complaints submitted to his committee against Robredo. Did he do that? And what was his conclusion? He has not told the public.
Now that, in the wake of Robredo’s death, the public is beginning to show their love for him, congressmen and senators are falling all over themselves trying to cover up their hostility or indifference to the unconfirmed secretary.
Sotto, the TV comedian accused of plagiarism, has swiftly floated the idea of giving Robredo a “posthumous confirmation.”
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the ex-officio chair of the CA, has backed the idea. [UPDATE, 6:41 AM Aug 24, 2012: I based this sentence on a radio report. However, commenter @eoaquino has since pointed out to me that Enrile never endorsed this. I checked and she’s right. Here’s the link to Enrile’s ambush interview on the matter.]
A posthumous confirmation would make for an interesting scenario. How would the DILG staff, mayors and governors get in touch with the Secretary? Through prayers? [UPDATE, 7:10 AM, Aug 24, 2012: Other quarters have suggested using “spirit of the glass” or the ouija board in case of posthumous confirmation. What do you think?]
I once covered the CA extensively. I’d like to share with you what I learned about this “august” body which I once called “The Commission of Disappointments” in a column I wrote for Business Star.
Robredo was bypassed 3x
The CA said Robredo was bypassed twice this year. Technically, that’s correct – because the CA qualified its statement by saying “this year”. The CA did not mention about last year – December 14, 2011 to be exact – when Robredo was bypassed for the first time. You can read about it by clicking here.
The second time Robredo was bypassed was in March 2012 and then again in June 2012. So, a total of three times. This is not counting the fact that three days before he died, Robredo was supposedly set to be confirmed according to Sotto. But the fact that Robredo still talked to Ca member-Congressman Rex Gatchalian and Senator Loren Legarda showed he was unsure of confirmation. Read about that here. And here.
Besides, even if Sotto’s committee approved his nomination for plenary deliberations by the entire CA, there is no telling what Robredo’s uncle, Congressman Luis Robredo Villafuerte, might have done. Any CA member can cast a “Section 20” vote during the plenary for any reason whatsoever – such as “I don’t like your face” – and that would stop the confirmation cold. At least on that day. Uncle and nephew had a falling out a long, long time ago.
In any case, I believe the CA should come clean with the public and just admit that they kept bypassing Robredo, not because of incomplete paper requirements or their lack of time, but because of POLITICS.
Robredo’s confirmation was stuck for one year inside Senator Vicente Sotto’s committee. Sotto recently said that Robredo’s paper requirements were only completed last November 2011. He told the Philippine Daily Inquirer:
It’s not difficult to have him confirmed. It was just a matter of time. It was just a matter of timing.
Sotto also told Inquirer that in fact, Robredo was scheduled to be confirmed by his committee “by lunchtime of August 29” and by the CA body the same day.
Then Sotto passed the buck of non-confirmation to fellow CA member Congressman Villafuerte. You can read more about what Sotto said here.
Yesterday, I heard Villafuerte on DZMM radio passing the buck to certain individuals who had filed graft charges against Robredo before the Office of the Ombudsman.
Again, I only have one question to ask the CA: WHAT ABOUT SONIA BRADY?
A CA confirmation is like a hazing
Why couldn’t Jesse Robredo get the Sonia Brady treatment?
There are two other possible reasons why not.
First, being confirmed by the CA is like undergoing hazing. Second, confirmation is part of political horse-trading and power play.
The reality is that lawmaker-members of the CA were holding hostage the confirmation not only of Robredo but also of Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr and Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman as a way of extracting concessions from the Executive Department. And also showing who’s boss.
Don’t be shy about admitting this, Sirs. This is how you play politics.
Recently, Senator Miriam Santiago praised Robredo in her Facebook account.
She also said of Robredo in an interview:
And I was very proud when he became a Cabinet member, although he was not bombastic—that was his way. This is ineffable. It is beyond words. It’s a loss.
Really, now. I did not hear her say this when Robredo was alive and needed confirming by the CA., of which she is a senior member. Did she lobby for him?
If there’s anyone in the entire CA who should know how the CA bullies presidential appointees, it is Senator Miriam Santiago.
I remember the first time I saw Miriam Santiago up close was during her confirmation hearing – or should I say her NON-CONFIRMATION hearings at the CA for the post of Agrarian Reform Secretary in President Corazon Aquino’s cabinet.
Miriam Santiago was wildly popular then, coming from her stint as the Immigration Commissioner who ate death threats for breakfast. The CA members tried to break her.
She fought back by bringing a book with her to the CA hearing and reading this in front of CA members and of TV cameras. I don’t recall now what the exact title of the book was, but it was on philosophy dealing with time and infinity.
Later while interviewing one of her University of the Philippines law school students, I learned that Professor Miriam had vented her anger and frustration in her UP class. My source – now a senior level official in an independent government commission – told me that Prof. Santiago had regaled her class with anecdotes about the lawmakers who were giving her such a hard time. Santiago once told them:
This senator in the Commission who opposes me is now being referred to as the third lady in the Senate, the one having an affair with a driver.
[NOTE: I extracted this quotation from a profile I wrote on Santiago for Philippine Star on May 7, 1992.]
I don’t recall Senator Santiago ever being confirmed by the CA as agrarian reform secretary. She was in that post only from July 1, 1989 to December 23, 1989. But I know she was bypassed by the CA on October 16, 1989 because I had written about it and I still have the news clipping below. Santiago was reappointed by Cory Aquino but she resigned before end-’89.
It’s quite interesting that to this day, the CA holds office in a building totally separate from the rest of the Senate. This is meant to discourage the media from covering the CA too much.
The CA is like a totally separate kingdom from Congress. Its 25 members are among the most powerful. Their criteria for confirming this or that government official is not based on the appointees’ professional qualifications or talents but on external things such as their perception of him or as a result of lobbying by a fellow CA member. For instance, Corazon Aquino’s transport secretary Reinerio Reyes had a hard time getting confirmed because CA members thought him “too arrogant”.
Senator Santiago was also found to be too arrogant by the CA but they concocted another reason to block her – she was not qualified for the job.
In another instance, Magdara Dimaampao bagged a seat in the Commission on Elections over a more qualified candidate because Senator Mamintal Tamano then lobbied his CA collagues saying – “pagbigyan mo na ko.”
Which is why it is highly likely that Congressman Villafuerte was able to freeze Robredo’s appointment for so long for a similar reason.
The implication behind the plea is that when their turn came, their gesture would not be forgotten.
In short, the paramount considerations for a nominee obtaining confirmation from the CA are not competence and character but meekness and patronage.
The CA treats nominees arbitrarily. They may be kinder to one and rude to another. For instance, they were very kind to Sonia Brady but not to De Lima or Robredo or Paje or Soliman.
I remember how they once exuded so much kindness and consideration towards a general but not to an envoy. I’m referring to how they grilled then Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos behind closed doors in order to ask the delicate question about his rumored mistress and child by her (which Ramos denied). But in the case of Ambassador Rodolfo Severino, CA members grilled him in open session about the intimate details of his love life.
What the CA did to Robredo it has long been doing to other presidential nominees. The only way to honor Robredo posthumously is to treat men and women like him who come before the CA in much better fashion.
I’m not questioning the power of the CA to do what it pleases. But I would like to ask the CA members to consider that perhaps they are frightening away good men and women who could otherwise do good for the nation from joining government service. That’s all.
And I would like to ask my fellow journos to please keep a jaundiced eye on the CA and its oftentimes arbitrary vetting process.