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?