Monday, 29 March 2010

News Sharing: GMA's German Cut

GMA’s German cut

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:07:00 03/28/2010

Filed Under: Government

IT was when Philippine Ambassador to Germany and former foreign secretary Delia Albert received the “Most Outstanding Filipino Woman in Global Diplomacy” award from President Macapagal-Arroyo in ceremonies in Malacañang that she received confirmation, from the President herself, of the swirling rumors. She was being replaced.

The smile-while-I-stick-the-knife-in-your-back announcement was part of a wave of recent presidential appointments, all made despite the election-period ban. Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, himself a new appointee, said there was “nothing irregular” with the latest round of mass hirings and dismissals. In a sense, he was right. Albert’s sudden replacement, together with other secretive appointments such as those involving the National Historical Institute and the National Museum, are in fact characteristic of Ms Arroyo’s management style. The last-minute advice to affected parties, the general lack of transparency (the Senate and House representatives to the board of the National Museum, for instance, were not informed of a key meeting), the strained rationalizations offered after the fact and, above all, the plain lack of courtesy—this recent wave of appointments has the President’s signature down to the last flourish.

The rationalizing of her spokespersons was characteristic too. The Palace had violated the strict protocols that govern diplomatic appointments, in part by skipping certain necessary steps, but all deputy spokesman Gary Olivar could say was: “No, it wasn’t hasty.” And that was that; no elaboration or explanation.

If it wasn’t hasty, why wasn’t Albert told well beforehand, following the usual 60-day recall notice, so that she could prepare for her return and advise the German foreign ministry? If it wasn’t hasty, why did the announcement of her replacement by the 87-year-old taipan Alfonso Yuchengco catch the Department of Foreign Affairs flatfooted? A DFA spokesperson was left to say, awkwardly: “We have learned of Yuchengco’s appointment but we have not received official copy of his appointment. Ambassador Albert stays so far.”

More crucial is the fact of replacement. Why would the Philippines appoint a new ambassador to Germany who can, at most, and assuming all legal obstacles are hurdled, serve for only three months? Yuchengco, the man behind Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. and other business interests, served the country as ambassador, at various times, to Japan, China and the United Nations. But even a diplomat with his experience cannot hope to do anything substantial in a mere three months.

The president of the Union of Foreign Service Officers, Assistant Secretary Vicky Bataclan, expressed her peers’ main concern. “Our beef is that Mr. Alfonso Yuchengco’s appointment is void. There is no Commission on Appointments to confirm his nomination, which is [needed for] the necessary steps, like requesting his agrément from the German government. In any case, all political ambassadors are coterminous with [the President]. This is, thus, a useless nomination to a nonexistent CA, almost void ab initio, if not unconstitutional.”

Like we said, characteristic of the President’s management style.

There is also the matter of the election ban. In the Supreme Court’s most controversial ruling to date, it decided that the President could appoint the Chief Justice even during election season, when the Constitution expressly prohibits appointments except for urgent requirements in the Executive. The President’s latest wave of appointments crashes against the breakwater of this decision (it certainly makes the majority justices even more vulnerable to accusations of being used, whether willfully or naively, by a Machiavellian administration).

Belatedly, administration spokespersons have argued that the latest appointments were all done before March 10, the date the election ban started. But one of those dismissed, Clarence Paul Oaminal, until very recently vice chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board, gave the lie to the Palace’s party line.

When he was informed of his misfortune, he said, he found out that his dismissal was made retroactive to March 5, or before the election ban took effect. Expect the same unkindest cut to be tried with Albert and the rest.

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