Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Disperse the chief executive’s power to appoint officials

Posted by butalidnl on 19 October 2006

One thing that I like about parliamentary systems is the fact that the prime minister is limited in his/her power to appoint people to all kinds of government positions. The prime minister’s cabinet is formed as part of the coalition negotiations – i.e. parties agree to join the governing coalition on the basis of programmatic points and seats in the cabinet. After the negotiations are done and the cabinet is formed, it is then put forward for approval by the parliament. The various ministers are then answerable to parliament directly, which could withdraw its support from any one of them at any time. The cabinet ministers may even at times outlast the prime minister.

The president’s power of appointment is quite marked in the present Philippine political system. The pro-charter change campaign fails to point this out as one of the disadvantages of the presidential system.

According to the present Constitution, in Article 7, Sections 13 and 16, the president appoints the following officials:
– Secretaries and Undersecretaries of Departments
– chairmen or heads of bureaus or offices
– members of Constitutional Commissions, and the Office of the Ombudsman
– ambassadors and consuls
– officers of the armed forces, from the rank of colonel or naval captain
– heads of government owned or controlled corporations and their subsidiaries
and all other officers of government whose appointments ae not otherwise provided by law, and those whom he may be authorized by law to appoint

The above list is indeed a mouthful, and it gives the president enormous powers, especially if he/she manages to stay long enough to appoint “friendly” people to these various positions. This power to appoint so many officials is a big reservoir of power of the president, as well as a source of corruption. It is also a task which is too much for one person to do well.

In the current move to revise/amend the constitution, there is not much being said about limiting the executive’s appointive powers. However, I believe that it would be good to clearly limit the powers of the executive, be it a president or a prime minister.

The constitution could be amended in such a way as to limit the president’s appointive right/duty to just the members of the Cabinet. Other bodies or persons should be the ones to appoint the other officials in the above list. For instance, the Armed Forces’ heads of services could appoint officers below them. The foreign service officials should be appointed from within the Department of Foreign Affairs. Constitutional Commissions members could be appointed by a special body formed for this purpose. Heads of bureaus under Departments should be appointed either by the department secretary or a body formed within the department for this purpose.

Under the current procedure, after the president makes an appointment, this needs to be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments, which is composed of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. This is generally a good idea – which follows the logic of balancing the power of the president. However, since the president is able to sway a lot of lawmakers to join her/his party or ruling coalition, the Commission on Appointments is, to a large extent, a rubber-stamp body. We need to set up a body which includes lawmakers, but also having more people with wide experience (and hopefully, who are relatively immune to political pressure) to ensure that appointees have been chosen correctly. Perhaps people like former justices of the Supreme Court, former heads of Constitutional Commissions, and former Philippine presidents could sit together with lawmakers in this “strengthened” Commission on Appointments.

I believe that the dispersal of the power to appoint is a good principle of governance, and that it will be a good idea to implement this whether the country chooses to maintain its presidential system, or to change it to a parliamentary one.

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