To Take A Stand
By Oscar P. Lagman
When Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo sent to Congress a position paper opposing an administration proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal liability, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said that Cabinet members who do not agree with the President’s policies or directives must resign. He said, “I just reminded the secretaries that they are the alter ego of the President. Now, if they don’t agree with the President, they might as well tender their resignation. Because as Cabinet secretaries, you cannot contradict the views of the President,”
When Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and NEDA Director-General Ernesto Pernia told the Senate that a shift to federalism could wreak havoc on the Philippine economy, Consultative Committee member Fr. Ranhilio Aquino said, “[I]f [Duterte] favors federalism let him sack Dominguez and Pernia or command them to keep their traps shut. Freedom of expression does not apply to Cabinet officials in respect to policy.”
Ms. Taguiwalo chose to disregard Mr. Alvarez’s opinion and Mr. Dominguez got back at Fr. Aquino by stating that “such attitude would not enrich the level of discourse on the proposed Constitution.” None of the three Cabinet secretaries would be a toady of the President. They considered it their duty to always give the President their best advice, especially if he has an opposite view, bearing in mind that their loyalty to the President matters less and their responsibility to country counts even more. After all, they were not placed in their high-ranking positions because of their personal relationship with the President.
While Mr. Dominguez is both a townmate and former classmate of Mr. Duterte, Ms. Taguiwalo and Mr. Pernia were not known personally by the President when they were appointed department secretaries. All three were chosen for their respective positions because of their expertise in their areas of responsibility, expertise gained through intensive training and extensive experience.
Ms. Taguiwalo eventually lost her Cabinet position because she clung to her beliefs. Will Messrs. Dominguez and Pernia cling to their beliefs or will they cling to their positions by changing their stand on federalism?
There is a Chinese idiom, “Ride a tiger,” which means that once one finds himself in a dangerous situation, getting out of it can be detrimental to his career or aspirations, even threatening to his life. It comes from the phrase “he who rides the tiger is afraid to dismount or finds it hard to get off it.”
There were those who, in the mistaken belief they would retain their influence, chose to ride the tiger by hanging on to President Joseph Estrada even when his extensive involvement in illegal gambling had been exposed. History branded them the Craven Eleven, most of them suffering the end of their political life when Erap was chased out of Malacañang. In contrast were the Hyatt 10, the intrepid men and women who broke away from Gloria Arroyo when her attempt to influence the results of the 2004 presidential election was exposed. They retained the respect of the people.
There are many individuals in the Duterte Cabinet who serve at the pleasure of the President, having been appointed to their positions simply because they were classmates, dormmates, provincemates, or whatever. Either they openly hail the President’s policies and programs or hold their peace, as Mr. Alvarez and Fr. Aquino suggest, to remain in the Cabinet. They go along with the President lest they draw the wrath of a man with the reputation of a cold-blooded punisher. In the words of President John F. Kennedy, “those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.”
In his third State of the Nation Address, President Duterte admitted that it was hard for him to let go of his friends. He said he values friendship but it also has limits. “I have friends and political supporters whom I appointed to public office and then dismissed or caused to resign.” But the President said that in reference to his friends who have been tainted with corruption.
However, he also called on his friends to help him in his cause to maintain their friendships.”This is a lonely place I am hemmed in. Do not make it lonelier by forcing me to end our friendship because you gave me the reason to end it. It pains me to end the loss of friendships,” he said. Does contradicting the views of President Duterte or opposing him in respect to policy also give him reason to end his friendship with the dissenting official?
It would cause the President no pain if he eases out of government chief economic manager Pernia but it would inflict intense pain if Mr. Duterte ends his lifelong friendship with Secretary Dominguez. But in order to spare President Duterte pain, Secretary Dominguez can resign. To spare himself the dishonor of being fired, Mr. Pernia can resign with Mr. Dominguez for reason of fundamental difference with the President. Executive Secretary Rafael Salas parted ways with President Ferdinand Marcos for the same reason. So did Assistant Defense Secretary Ruben Carranza with President Joseph Estrada and Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo with President Gloria Arroyo.
When the story on the Duterte presidency is written, I wonder if there would be a unit known as the Dissenting Duo in reference to the two economic managers who resigned from the Duterte Cabinet because they would not go along with the President’s cause.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan!, a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.