Is it time to curtail Presidential appointments?

11,000: in round figures, that’s the sum of appointments a president of the Philippines has to make these days. Granted that this is less than 1% of the entire bureaucracy made up of 1.4 million employees, this is still such a an astronomically high number for one person to make.

Even for a president who wants to be conscientious about the people he appoints, filling up so many vacancies would pose a serious challenge for even recruitment firms that specialize in this area. So in filling sensitive posts, it is no wonder that presidents turn to people they know, i.e. former colleagues. In the case of this current president shooting buddies.

This week the spotlight has been thrown once again on one of these buddies of his in the person of Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief Virginia Torres in connection with the illegal registration of a vehicle that had been stolen by an alleged syndicate. Several LTO and police officials were included in the charges.  The connection to some police officials is curious as it is another drinking buddy, Undersecretary Puno who was put in charge by P-Noy over the national police force.

U/Sec Puno’s name was already dragged into the jueteng payola allegations raised by one former archbishop Oscar Cruz. He was also embroiled in controversy after the panel investigating the Luneta hostage taking incident identified him among several officials liable for the massacre that occurred.

Early in the year a number of deadly incidents of carjacking involving prominent people featured prominently in the news. Some commentators wondered whether some lawless elements were taking advantage of P-Noy’s perceived easy going attitude with respect to law enforcement, particularly in the wake of the Luneta hostage incident and his response to the panel that investigated it.

The personal connection of the president with these appointees make him extremely vulnerable to accusations of favoritism and unprofessional conduct whether the allegations against his appointees are true or not. It raises the question as to whether the president should exercise the power to make so many appointments and whether he should put such a premium on personal friendship as a basis for making them.

In a book review for Friend v Friend: The Transformation of Friendship and What the Law has to do with it by Ethan J Lieb, University of Chicago law professor Eric A. Posner discusses the author’s arguments on the way friendship is currently treated by the law. He states,

“Courts already do regulate friendships… In many states, friends owe fiduciary duties to each other. This means that if you sell your old car to a friend, you have an obligation to mention the leaky carburetor and perhaps to charge a fair price—obligations that one does not owe to strangers. Friends who form business ventures and then fall out may discover that courts hold them to a higher standard of conduct. Since friends trust each other, they are vulnerable to being taken advantage of, and some courts take this factor into account when resolving cases. A stranger who breaches a contract is not as odious as a friend who betrays his trust: although their behavior may be identical, a court might come down harder on the friend than on the stranger” (emphasis added).

It is such a pity that the law does not treat friendship in a similar manner. There is no doubt however that public opinion will come down harder on officials who have been found to abuse the trust and confidence of the president. This is probably what motivated P-Noy to contact Justice Secretary De Lima to inquire as to the veracity of the reports regarding charges being brought against Torres.

11,000: that is an awful lot of people the president would have to worry about. Not only to appoint but to get rid of. Remember EO1? His first executive order that declared empty all political appointments made by the previous occupant of Malacanang, and which later had to be withdrawn and re-issued because of some legal technicalities? The magnitude of the problem would not have to be so bothersome if the president did not have to appoint so many individuals.

The Constitution and the Administrative Code of 1987 which give the president his appointive powers are vague as to the extent of these powers and have been liberally construed to date. Perhaps the time has come to make them more specific through some kind of enabling law or convention. In the United States, where the bureaucracy had about 2.8 million Federal employees (excluding the military) in 2000, the president has the power to fill-up 7,000 posts according to the Plum Book published by the US Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs.

Perhaps the time has come for us to consider paring down the number of presidential appointees. In light of past events, perhaps the punishment meted out against those found guilty of abusing the personal trust and confidence of the president should be at the maximum when judges sentence them. The manner by which such political appointees have in the past allegedly used their position to commit grave acts of corruption would provide justification for this. In the wake of all these incidents, is it time to curtail presidential appointments?

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy ( and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • GabbyD

    seriously, whats the principle behind hiring 11k people?

    if its command resposnsibility, does that mean the president is responsible for the big mistakes of any of his 11k hires?

    Pnoy (rightly) rejects this, as can be seen with his arguments after the HK hostages incident.

    • UP nn grad

      The 11K positions — winner distributing the spoils of victory to supporters and BFF’s.

      • GabbyD

        parang ganun na nga? i cant think of any other principle!

  • The Present is the past and future together. There is only the present.

    The Philippines as a country has had no experience on its own of running a central government.

    The unified centralized system of governance in this country evolved from the colonial administration of the country.

    Unlike our Asian neighbors who have had centuries of unified centralized feudal government. Even Indonesia had it under the dominance of the Javanese Empire.

    In that respect both India and the Philippines are similar. Both the Mughal and British Empires centralized power and both these empires were colonizers. The British created the boundaries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Kashmir and later Pakistan split into two and Bangladesh was formed.

    Hence you have Bong Bong Marcos attempting to revise the history of his Dad’s rule.

    But the Marcos years should be looked at more clearly. His was attempt was similar to the successful attempt of Bismarck in Europe to unify power amongst the feudal lords and centralize government under his rule.

    Marcos set himself up as King. But he failed miserably in economic governance as he did not break the colonial bonds with the U.S. He continued the economic policies dictated by the Americans. He blanketed the country with shallow nationalist slogans but did nothing of substance to change the production relations between landlord and tenant that the emerging tigers then had done under authoritarian governments.

    Cory off course was the counter revolution simply to the the autocratic rule of FM. She replaced it with the rule by ballot.

    So you have today a hybrid executive department that still exists with a lot of laws promulgated by Marcos as King and the failure to decentralize power to the provinces requires the President to manage the police function and garbage collection in far flung areas under the DILG.

    25 years after Edsa I and over 60 years after so called independence the chief executive power is still centralized even over the most important aspect of governance – the public purse.

  • Doy,

    I agree with you. The problem is getting from here to there.

    • Baby steps, MB. If we want to reform our politics, we need to take them.

      • I agree Doy. But where to start? There are 11(?)K of them. I presume they are distributed over departments, agencies, GOCCs etc.

        We know the rationale for doing it in general terms but we have to make specific rationales for specific offices.

        I’m with you on this. I just want to get a handle on it so we can point the baby in the right direction

        • “He shall also appoint all other officers of the Government whose appointments are not otherwise provided for by law, and those whom he may be authorized by law to appoint. The Congress may, by law, vest the appointment of other officers lower in rank in the President alone, in the courts, or in the heads of departments, agencies, commissions, or boards.”

          It is this very broad definition of the president’s powers in the Constitution that allows the president to appoint people deep within the bureaucracy. In my view, the president should not appoint anyone below undersecretary for line agencies. For the judiciary, appointments below the Court of Appeals should be left out. For GOCC’s, any appointment below board level should be off limits.

          As the Consti states, for this to happen a law has to be passed that expressly delegates this to the heads of line agencies, the courts and boards.

          • manuelbuencamino


            I think the principle behind the appointing power is good. Can you imagine a company president without the power to hire anyone below the rank of department head?

            Having said that, I think what management experts should look at is how to make the appointment system more efficient rather than attacking the power itself.

            Without putting a system in place, the macro level problem you cite will only be repeated in the micro level.

          • That’s only my view. I don’t claim to have all the answers here. I can only speak from what I know. In the Australian Federal and state governments, cabinet ministers make hiring decisions on department secretaries who effectively run their portfolios as CEOs.

            Previously, under the strict parliamentary sense, even secretaries would have security of tenure. It would often be the case that a secretary could defy his minister (without fear or favor). This would often be the case after one party sat in office for a long time. They had to reform this for obvious reasons.

            Nowadays, they are given a contract of about 1-2 years at a time and are subject to performance reviews. They can be replaced by the minister if need be. They serve at the pleasure of their minister.

            Secretaries are given the delegation by their minister to hire directors. These directors appoint their subordinates down the line. There is always a panel that screens and decides on who would be the best qualified. Politics still plays a role in some senior appointments, but by and large, appointments operate along the same lines as they do in the private sector.

            The CESOs have a counterpart here called Senior Executive Service or SES. These guys don’t have security of tenure (they are given contracts) though and even non-government people can apply for such positions.

            Perhaps the same thing or something similar ought to be applied in the Philippines. I see no reason why something of the sort could not operate in the Philippines if there was an enabling law.

          • manuelbuencamino


            I think we’re getting somewhere here. How about if the president can appoint but department heads have the power to fire presidential appointees. And so on down the line?

          • manuelbuencamino

            “Previously, under the strict parliamentary sense, even secretaries would have security of tenure. It would often be the case that a secretary could defy his minister (without fear or favor). This would often be the case after one party sat in office for a long time. They had to reform this for obvious reasons.”

            Reminds me of that old BBC comedy “Yes Prime Minister” where the permanent secretary or the british civil service actually run the government with the political ministers realizing it.

          • manuelbuencamino

            sori my typo. the british civil service actually run the government WITHOUT the political ministers realizing it.

          • GabbyD

            what is the principle behind the appointing power? for 11k people?

          • MB, spot on! There is an Aussie version of that show on the ABC called “Hollow Men”. My colleagues and I sometimes feel we are in an episode of it. Lol!