Sunday, December 19, 2004

The President's appointing power

The President's appointing power

Updated 02:29am (Mla time) Dec 19, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the December 19, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

SO soon after his re-election, President George W. Bush has again committed another political blunder. He nominated a close supporter for the position of Secretary of Homeland Security who later embarrassed him with a serious confession. Bernard Keric withdrew his name because he had not disclosed that a foreign domestic employee of his had illegally entered the country.

A similar mistake embarrassed President Bill Clinton during his first term, an indiscretion that should have warned President Bush later to be more careful with his own appointments. His error was a second mistake and could have been avoided with more prudence. Dubya did not take the necessary precautions to check the credentials of Keric but assumed that his friend was qualified to be a member of his Cabinet. What made it worse was that Keric's responsibility was to be homeland security.

If the president's advisers had looked closer into the man's record, they would have been less approving. It was reported that Keric had, as chief of the department of corrections in New York City, spent $30,000 of the Police Foundation funds to order 30 busts of his, never distributed, though, probably because of public criticism. A civil suit was filed against him for forcing his staff to work for the Republican candidates on pain of disciplinary action for non-compliance; the case was settled with the plaintiff receiving $300,000 in damages and a promotion. There were also suspicions of Keric's Mafia ties.

Keric's best recommendation must have been the active role he played in campaigning for Bush during the last election. Even former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York was enthusiastic in endorsing their fellow Republican who, they should have known, was not spanking clean. They would have been discomfited with the nominee's rejection by the US Senate, which performs the confirmation function here exercised by our Commission on Appointments. The Democrats would have gleefully pounced on this opportunity to get back at Bush for trouncing their party's candidate last month.

A similar improvidence has marked some of our own President Macapagal-Arroyo's appointments, but they have not met with much public disapproval. When former Sen. Ramon Revilla was appointed chair of the Public Estates Authority (now the Philippine Reclamation Authority), the act was questioned briefly but was soon accepted and forgotten. The appointment was regarded as another capricious decision of the president to express her gratitude for the political largesse of a legislator who did precious little during his two terms in the Senate, besides his lack of qualifications for his new office. Some say he was also too old for the job. His claim that he has fathered some 80 children, the majority of them illegitimate, must have been counted in his favor.

Another appointment originally received with much skepticism was of former Rep. Joseph Durano, who now holds the position of tourism secretary. He has no known talents or experience for the office, but his name was speedily approved by his former colleagues in the Commission on Appointments. It is generally believed that Durano has been rewarded for his strong electoral support for Gloria in Cebu, where she won a landslide victory. This was another proof that the appointing power is often exercised by the president, and not necessarily the incumbent Gloria alone, to thank loyal political supporters. Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Joseph Kennedy (JFK's father and a failed politician with Nazi sympathies) ambassador to the Court of St. James for his campaign contributions.

There are probably other appointments extended by President Arroyo in favor of persons with doubtful credentials except only party affiliation and loyalty to her. That is to be expected because she is a political creature whose stamina as a public leader depends on popular support. This is both the strength and the weakness of democracy. In an authoritarian regime, the despot does not care what the people think of the appointments he makes, almost always for his own interests and not the public's. In the real democracy, only the best candidates are appointed after careful scrutiny of their qualifications, including their moral character, for the positions to be entrusted to them.

Under the Constitution, appointments to certain important offices are subject to the confirmation of the Commission on Appointments, but its decisions are often dictated by political considerations, including respect for or even fear of the president. It is seldom that his choices are rejected. In the United States, even nominees to the federal Supreme Court with exceptional endowments have been denied confirmation by a highly selective Senate.

To de-politicize the judiciary, its members from the Supreme Court down to the lowest level no longer need the confirmation of the Commission on Appointments. Their appointment requires only a previous nomination by the Judicial and Bar Council, which, as I have observed earlier in this column, is not a really independent body. The president's political influence over its regular and appointive members is often, if not always, irresistible.


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