To Take A Stand

The recent departure of Vitaliano Aguirre from the Duterte Cabinet brings to mind what I wrote a year ago. I wrote on April 18 that Karl Rove, former senior advisor and deputy chief of staff of President George W. Bush and now a political consultant and policy adviser, had collated into four categories the suggestions of former high-ranking White House aides of past presidents on how US President Donald Trump’s staff can ensure the success of their tenure. These were:

1. Always give him your best advice, especially if you think he disagrees but bear in mind the president has the final say;

2. Always give the president a broad range of policy choices. Sharpen differences among the choices. And always make certain the strongest arguments against your position are made.

3. You won’t be right all the time, so keep an open mind to other views. Change your opinion if given a good reason, instead of staying invested in a wrong approach.

4. Act with integrity at all times. Reach out to experts outside the president’s official family for advice, expertise, and fresh insights. Talk to the people who will be affected by the administration’s decisions. Always bear in mind that your party affiliation matters less and your responsibility to your country counts even more.

Well, as many as 20 members of President Donald Trump’s official family, including high-profile personages, have been fired or forced to resign for not discharging their functions in accordance with the “best practices” of presidential staffs. Among those who have left the White House sullenly are Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, FBI Director James Comey, and Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub.
Tillerson was fired for making public statements that questioned Trump’s policies, Cohn resigned for tangling with another economic adviser, Price for costing taxpayers $1 million for his domestic and foreign travels, and Flynn resigned for misleading administration officials regarding what he and the Russian ambassador had talked about. Spicer and Priebus quit because they could not accept the appointment of Anthony Scarramucci as Communications Director while Bannon was dismissed for clashing with other White House officials.
Comey was shown the exit for investigating the possible collusion between Trump’s campaign staff with Russian agents. Shaub stepped down after clashing with Trump over the president’s complicated financial holdings.
In my April 18, 2017 article, I wrote that President Rodrigo Duterte’s men and women, especially those who were appointed to Cabinet positions for reasons no other than being his townmates, former classmates, or fraternity brods, would do well to consider Rove’s counsel if they wish to remain members of the President’s official family. Interestingly, like with Trump’s staff, there have been many unpleasant departures from President Duterte’s inner circle.
Because Agriculture Undersecretary Maia Valdez authorized the importation of rice when she did not have the authority, the President fired her.
Due to reports that National Irrigation Administrator Peter Laviña would point out to NIA directors the projects the regional office had and would subsequently tell them, “It’s up to you to take care of me,” he was axed.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno was dismissed when a letter from three undersecretaries alleging that he was enriching himself in office reached the President.
Also sacked were three Bureau of Immigration officials: Deputy Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles, who were accused of extorting P50 million from a Chinese gaming operator Jack Lam in exchange for the release of 1,300 undocumented Chinese nationals working for Lam; and Intelligence Chief Charles Calima, Jr. also for receiving money from Lam.
Anti-Poverty Commissioner Terry Ridon, Maritime Industry Authority Administrator Marcial Amaro III, Dangerous Drugs Board Chief Dionisio Santiago, and Development Academy of the Philippines president Elba Cruz were all axed for excessive travels abroad. Communications Secretary Martin Andanar’s and Presidential Communications Assistant Mocha Uson’s many foreign trips must be special missions for the two officials to be spared the axe.
The President suspended Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang for supposedly disclosing documents in connection with President Rodrigo Duterte’s bank accounts.
But the recent departure of Vitaliano Aguirre from President Duterte’s Cabinet was most mystifying in that the secretary of Justice has not committed any of the wrongdoings that other officials who have been dismissed had been guilty of. While he appeared knee-deep in the multi-million bribery scandal involving his subordinates/fraternity brods, the President affirmed his complete trust in his secretary of Justice
Secretary Aguirre could not have resigned out of his own volition. “I serve at the pleasure of the President,” he would often declare amidst calls from the political opposition and civil society for him to resign. In fact, Mr. Aguirre is generally believed to have pleased the President for having fulfilled many if not all the special missions the President wanted accomplished, like the neutralization of Senator Leila de Lima, the loudest detractor to the President’s war on drugs, and the reinstatement in the police force of the officers involved in the brazen killing of drug lord Rolando Espinosa.
It was also obvious from his pronouncements and demeanor that he relished the power given him by the President. Yet he resigned and the President, who has ostensibly been pleased all along with his performance, accepted his resignation.
I am inclined to think that the President was only deflecting from himself the public outrage over the shameful administration of justice by accepting Vitaliano Aguirre’s unplanned, unintended, and unsolicited (by the President) resignation. “Bring back the dignified image,” Mr. Duterte told the new secretary of Justice, obliquely ascribing responsibility for the miscarriage of justice entirely on Mr. Aguirre. But the secretary of Justice is no more than the alter ego of the President.
Anyway, Vitaliano Aguirre has been disgraced by no less than the President himself. That brings me back to the “best practices” of presidential staffs cited by Kyle Rove, particularly the one about loyalty to country prevailing over loyalty to the appointing power. Rove’s ultimate advice to the president’s staff is that when loyalty to the president and one’s duty and responsibility to the country conflict, decide in favor of the latter. Then only the president and his loyalists would be exposed to the wrath of the unjustly treated and oppressed people.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.