MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - She made good on her threat after all, invoking a section of the rules of the Commission on Appointments (CA) to block the confirmation of a Cabinet secretary to his new position.
After less than a minute, however, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago withdrew her motion to veto the confirmation of Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II as chief of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
“My high intelligence quotient dictates that I should reconsider and therefore withdraw my motion,” Santiago said during the plenary session on Wednesday shortly after invoking section 20 of the CA rules, which gives any member the power to singlehandedly veto a candidate’s confirmation.
The CA then confirmed Roxas as secretary of the DILG, a post the late Jesse Robredo held before he died in a plane crash. On the same day, the CA also confirmed the appointment of Joseph Emilio Abaya as secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).
Santiago withdrew her motion after Sen. Vicente Sotto III, the chair of the CA committee on local government, appealed to her “graciousness.”
But even before that, Santiago said she already planned to withdraw her veto because of the importance of Roxas’ job and his competence. She also said they are good friends who worked closely when he was a senator.
“Public service needs someone like Secretary Roxas,” she told reporters.
The senator added that no one spoke to her and convinced her to withdraw her plan to block Roxas’ confirmation.
She added, however, that there’s no assurance she would no longer veto the confirmation of other Cabinet secretaries who, like Roxas, were invited but failed to attend her investigation on former DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno.
Santiago said she had to announce that she would block the confirmation of Roxas, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, and Environment Secretary Ramon Paje “just to wake up Malacanang.” She earlier expressed her anger at Malacanang for supposedly ordering the secretaries to snub her hearing.
In his confirmation hearing early on Wednesday, Roxas said he did not attend Santiago’s probe because he has just been appointed to the DILG and therefore cannot assess Puno.
He said his absence was not meant to degrade the committee’s integrity.
“Since I’m not yet familiar with the issues pertaining to the DILG, I would be unable to contribute any constructive information,” Roxas said, reading his letter to Santiago.
“Inasmuch as I have not worked with Usec. Puno, I will not be able to render a cogent evaluation of his work performance.”
Meanwhile, Roxas faced opposition from a group of immigration, quarantine, and customs employees over the termination of their overtime pay collected from airline companies.
Lawyer Henry Tubban of the union of immigration employees complained about the removal of the overtime pay, and Roxas’ role in it as former secretary of the DOTC.
However, Roxas said other concerned agencies—the departments of Justice, Health, and Finance—were behind the decision, not the DOTC.
“The DOTC was directed to convey to the airlines the decision of these three departments. Any such complaint or opposition in view of the policies is best directed to the heads of these agencies,” he said.
Other lawmakers, however, used the opportunity to defend the government’s decision to stop the collection of overtime pay from airline companies. Under the new policy, the government will pay the employees’ overtime rates instead of letting them collect from airlines.
“The government has said we will pay overtime. Is there anything wrong with that? Are you being deprived of overtime pay?” Sen. Franklin Drilon asked.
“There is nothing wrong with that, but with the procedure in doing so,” Tubban answered.
Drilon warned Tubban that he may be criminally liable if he insists on collecting overtime pay from airlines.
“You’re collecting public funds instead of issuing or receiving these funds in behalf of the government for the treasury. You issue a private receipt and then you appropriate these funds and pay yourselves overtime. Maybe a criminal investigation for malversation of public funds by the Ombudsman is in order,” Drilon said.
Roxas also denied Tubban’s statement that he accused immigration officers of being extortionists and tax evaders. The secretary said he was just echoing the complaints of airline companies.
“Ito ho ay salita ng mga airlines na ikinuwento ko sa reporter na nagtanong sa akin. Hindi ako nagsasabi na mangongotong sila,” Roxas said.
The CA panel dismissed the opposition, saying it is not the proper forum to discuss the issue.