POSTSCRIPT / September 7, 2010 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Palace says ‘Move on,’ but itself isn’t moving

TIRED BUZZWORD: The overworked exhortation for this battered country to “Move on!” is starting to lose its ring. That slogan is obviously overused.

Under any circumstance, with or without a problem before us, with or without a reminder from our taskmasters, we just have to move on. Simply because we have to.

The “move on” buzzword shows impatience with current discussions of problems of crisis proportions. It suggests the droppiing of the hot subject of the day so we can talk of something less embarrassing.

Actually, there is no need for Malacanang to ask the media and the people to “move on.”

People have to make a living. We do not produce food on the table or stuff money into our pockets by watching noon-time TV shows or listening to endless hostage-drama discussions.

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CHANGE SUBJECT: Without being told, people will move on when there is need for it – and there is need for it every moment of their wretched lives.

But while exhorting the nation to move on, the communication secretaries of President Aquino have not been creative enough to give the expectant public reason to move on.

Until now, Malacanang’s propaganda experts have not been able to draw the people away from the non-productive prattle over the hostage-taking of last month.

There are a million important things to talk about, but the Palace’s propagandists do not have the imagination to slap on the table an earth-shaking subject that will make the tired public sit up and drop the hostage-taking subject.

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COSTLY INDECISION: It appears that the continued failure of the Aquino administration to make a quick firm decision on the P18.7-billion Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project could be very costly.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima has told the Senate finance committee conducting budget hearings that despite a series of opinions of the Department of Justice that the project is valid, legal and binding, the administration has decided to put it on hold.

But the government will continue to pay the “commitment fees” for the lake project while the deal is being reviewed, the secretary said.

Rival investors and critics of the previous Arroyo administration have denounced the lake project as a “midnight” deal, citing also the lack of public bidding and the staggering size of the long-term financial commitment.

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BINDING OPINION: The justice department has issued an opinion that the project, funded through Official Development Assistance, is covered by an executive agreement and not by the Government Procurement Act (RA 9184) requiring public bidding.

It was not clear why despite the supposed misgivings of the Aquino administration, the project was given the legal go-signal by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and, before her, then acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra.

If President Aquino suspected a raw deal or simply did not like the project, all he had to do was tell the justice department not to issue a favorable legal opinion. Until overturned by a competent court, a DoJ opinion is binding.

The contract was signed with Baggerwerken Decloedt En Zoon (BDC), a Belgian firm, for rehabilitating the polluted and heavily silted 950-square-kilometer fresh-water Laguna de Bay and building a ferry network to serve lakeshore towns.

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RUSH ORDER: Executive Order No. 2 revoking the appointments of so-called “midnight appointees” is being represented by Malacanang as its way of getting rid of incompetent political appointees.

The objective is laudable. Entry into government service must be through merit, not political connections.

But the problem with EO-2 is that it appears to have been rushed by the President’s legal advisers in total disregard of basic rights, particularly the right to due process.

Further, it threatens the entire civil service as it sets a precedent that a government worker, no matter how qualified and despite his length of service, may instantly lose his job on the sole basis of the President’s saying his appointment is void.

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GARAFIL CASE: This was exactly what happened to lawyer Cheloy V. Garafil at the Office of the Solicitor General. After passing the bar in 2003, Garafil joined the Department of Justice as prosecutor. From there, she rose through the ranks.

After six years, she applied at the OSG in pursuit for her dream of becoming a judge. She was appointed by President Arroyo on March 5, 2010. Garafil does not personally know President Arroyo or then Solicitor General Alberto Agra, who endorsed her application.

But as she was then new with the OSG, she could not take her oath since she has yet to resign from the DoJ as required by law.

It was only on March 22 that she took her oath and on April 6 when she assumed her office at the OSG. Then on Aug. 4, Malacanang issued EO-2 revoking “midnight” appointments. Garafil suddenly found herself a “midnight” appointee.

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UNFAIR, UNJUST: On Aug. 5, former IBP president Jose Anselmo Cadiz became Solicitor General. The next day, he directed a senior Assistant Solicitor General to tell employees affected by EO-2 that he would implement the order on Aug. 7.

Employees who had prior OSG positions slid back to their previous positions. Those who were hired from outside, like Garafil, were rendered jobless. She was not present during the Aug. 6 announcement, so when she reported for work on Aug.9, she was informed that she had been terminated effective Aug. 7.

While Garafil, a career service employee, lost her job, the real midnight appointees are still entrenched in their positions because EO-2 has yet to be implemented in their offices.

To gain justice, Garafil has chosen to question before the Supreme Court the constitutionality of EO-2.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 7, 2010)

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