An analysis of the President's Cabinet picks 1 year after winning

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 19 2017 04:13 PM | Updated as of May 22 2017 12:03 PM

MANILA - The Philippine Constitution and the laws of the land allow the President to appoint officials into his government, and President Rodrigo Duterte's Cabinet was promised to be filled with only the "best and the brightest."

Almost a year into the Duterte regime, political analyst Ramon Casiple described the president's official family as "a mix" not only in terms of ideologies but also a reflection of political consolidation. 

"One, [it consists of] people he trusts, so that’s non-ideological and second, appointments is part of his set of weapons to solve certain problems, like rebellion and so on," he said in an interview with ANC's Early Edition on Friday.

"[A] Cabinet is also meant to assist him in areas where he doesn’t have the expertise, like economy and so on. It’s also political consolidation, meaning positions are given to allies and would-be allies," he added.

Casiple believes Duterte is trying to give everybody his due and "doesn’t want one group to dominate the Cabinet."

Duterte also is not the type to micromanage his alter egos, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said.

He shared, 3 or 4 secretaries present their respective agencies' concerns when Cabinet members convene for their weekly meetings with the Chief Executive.

"He lets the members of the Cabinet do their thing. He makes them report in whatever manner they want to, he listens," he said in a phone interview in the same show.

This, however, was not the case when Duterte fired former Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno in a Cabinet meeting last month, admitted Panelo.

"He did that because he was outraged at the fact that when he was asking the member of the Cabinet, he thought, he felt that he was lying through his teeth. He was angry and so he fired him instantly," he said.

"He reacts to this certain kind of lies…He wants honesty," he added.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella in April said Duterte sacked Sueno due to "loss of trust and confidence," after the latter was accused of corruption by his three undersecretaries.

Days later, Duterte said he fired Sueno, who was instrumental in his campaign, when the latter claimed he was not informed of a legal opinion from his own office.

Undersecretary Catalino Cuy, a former police chief from Davao, was named as officer-in-charge of the Department of the Interior and Local Government thereafter. 

He will formally be succeeded by Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Eduardo Año who will retire later this year.

FORMER RUNNING MATE, NOW TOP DIPLOMAT

Duterte, an admitted reluctant candidate at first, was convinced to run by a then-senator who asked to be his vice-presidential bet: Senator Alan Peter Cayetano.

When he won and Cayetano lost, Duterte said he will offer the foreign affairs portfolio to his former running mate when the one-year appointment ban after the elections ends.

He made true of his promise earlier this month.

Though the seat was warmed by Duterte's college roommate, Perfecto Yasay Jr., for less than a year before he was rejected by the Commission on Appointments, Cayetano "made sure that he was there when any foreign affairs issue comes up," observed Casiple.

"I think he will be tested in this position precisely because diplomacy is a very discreet, very refined post, and he is not exactly a diplomat," said Casiple.

"He has to prove himself that he can be a diplomat because as a politician, it’s always in the public eye, always everywhere where there is an issue," he added.

Casiple said, Cayetano had a taste of being the country's top diplomat when he co-chaired the Philippine delegation to the periodic review at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), "where he got so many reactions, both bad and good."

EX-MILITARY VS LEFTISTS?

Año, when he assumes the DILG post after his retirement, won't be the first former military man to join Duterte's official family. He would join National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu.

While it's not new for Presidents to pick his Cabinet secretaries from the pool of former military chiefs, Duterte also appointed to Cabinet posts nominees from the Communist Party of the Philippines.

He has so far appointed Judy Taguiwalo to the Department of Social Welfare and Development and Rafael Mariano to the Department of Agrarian Reform, while Liza Maza was named chairperson of the National Anti-Poverty Commission and Joel Maglunsod a labor undersecretary.

Though these officials may be representative of the opposite sides of the political spectrum, Casiple believes their appointment and co-existence within the Duterte Cabinet does not yet present a big issue.

"The peace process is still going on and it is the desire of President as well as I think the military that the process should end favorably, and that makes for very cautious behavior within the Cabinet," he said.

"Since the logic of appointment is within peace process and they (the military) supported the peace process, it has not blown up into an issue as yet. It’s a potential landmine, but not on a level of a very open controversy at this time," he said.

He also noted, the group of ex-military officials is "fairly new as a bloc" so it remains to be seen if they will indeed perform as a bloc within the Cabinet.

EX-MILITARY MAN TO OVERSEE THE POLICE?

The DILG is mandated to "organize, train and equip primarily for the performance of police functions, a police force that is national in scope and civilian in character," and the department will soon be headed by a soon-to-be former military man.

Casiple acknowledged that the obvious reason for Año's appointment is that a military man is need to "understand police work in the sense of the military aspect of the work."

He said, however, that he would not recommend a military man handling the police force because the police is a civilian organization and is completely different from a military organization. 

Casiple also noted that Año is from the Philippine Military Academy Class of 83, and Classes of 83 ,84, and 85 were classes that were "jumped over" in the appointment of Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa and even the military side.

"There is that attempt, I think, to consolidate influence in the military by attending to the classes that were jumped over. Of course, that's speculation. I don't think anyone will ever confirm that," he said.

This speculation notwithstanding, Casiple believes Año, an "intelligence man" will improve the administration's anti-drug campaign.

"I think one of the key reforms that they need to do is the pinpoint operations—meaning, the avoidance of innocents and also to ensure that controversial decisions, particularly regarding self-defense or killings, should be scrutinized and put under strict control," he said.

"They need that because it became already an issue even at the international level and maybe there is a perception that General Año can bring the military side to that," he added.