‘CA rules make payoffs easy’

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — RULES governing the Commission on Appointments make it easy for any member of the congressional body to stall the confirmation process and to demand concessions—in cash or in kind—from Cabinet nominees who want to be confirmed, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said yesterday.

Santiago’s remarks were the latest in the controversy provoked by Rep. Herminio Teves, who last week said his son, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, could not be confirmed because he refused to pay off several congressmen in the appointments body.

Teves’ claims were backed by former Agriculture Secretary Domingo Panganiban, who was quoted as saying eight congressmen in the appointments body demanded a total of P80 million in projects in exchange for his confirmation.

“Under the notorious Section 20 of the CA rules, it takes only one CA member to veto all the rest of the 23 other members. This one-person veto is what empowers a CA member to extort bribes, government appointments, or public works contracts, in exchange for confirmation,” Santiago said in a statement.

Santiago explained that once Section 20 was invoked, it could not be debated and there was no voting. Thus a nominee was automatically bypassed, even if the committee had already recommended his confirmation to the plenary.

Santiago said the bicameral appointments body could repeal Section 20 of the rules and make it illegal for any member to communicate directly or indirectly with nominees outside the public hearings. This way, “the opportunities for extortion would be minimized,” she said.

Santiago said she was skeptical that any investigation into the alleged extortion attempts would bear fruit because it was difficult to find witnesses.

“Extortion, like bribery, takes place only between two people, and one of them has to testify for the charge to stick. Generally, no nominee will incriminate himself by testifying he obtained confirmation by giving a bribe, an appointment, or a contract to a CA member,” Santiago said.

Further, she said, it would be the nominee’s word against the congressman’s, and all other things being equal, the accused would be presumed innocent.

Santiago recalled that when she was in the executive department, her appointment as agrarian reform secretary was repeatedly bypassed because she refused to give in to the demands of the commission’s members.

“I was bullied and tormented during the sessions, and all the corrupt employees in the immigration bureau had a field day slinging mud at me, with the malicious encouragement of the arrogant senators and congressmen who wanted to take me down a peg or two,” Santiago said.

“They were insufferable. It was a brutal process, sufficient to cause any idealist to be disillusioned with the political process for the rest of her life. In my case, I determined that if I ever joined Congress, I would do the right thing and upstage them all,” she said.

As proof, Santiago noted that the committee on foreign relations under her confirmed the nomination of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo after only one session.