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Dateline Seattle: Tapping the right persons

I have some concerns with the recent appointments of President Rodrigo Duterte for certain government positions. Let us look at some of them. In what could be a sign of political favor, he appointed a former bold starlet and entertainer-turned-blogger as an assistant secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Officers (PCOO). She had been a board member of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board before her latest appointment. Her name is Mocha Uson, a staunch supporter of Duterte. She is known for her inflammatory rhetoric and this seems to be the reason why she was put in charge of fighting bogus news, something that she had been accused of propagating in her blogs. The president defended Uson by saying that she is “bright and articulate” and should not be deprived of the “honors that she deserves.” The President added: “There’s no law which says if you expose half your body with shorts and bra, you are disqualified from being the President of the Philippines.” What is alarming with what the president said in justifying Uson’s appointment is that he is untrained in the art of employing the right person. In Uson you have an assistant secretary who is biased and insults those who do not agree with her. She is not a unifier, she is a divider. She is not what the country needs at this time. Another controversial appointee by the president is Roy Cimatu, former Armed Forces Chief of Staff under the Arroyo administration. He was appointed as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), replacing Gina Lopez, whose nomination was rejected by the Commission of Appointments under a cloud of suspicion. Cimatu is not a known environmental advocate. He has no track record in environmental issues. Vince Cinches, political campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia Philippines, has opined that individuals who do not have any background in environmentalism “would not see the importance of a healthy ecosystem to maintain the economy.” Why the president appointed a retired general when there are other qualified candidates in both the government and private sectors could be traced to what some political observers describe as the “militarization of the civilian bureaucracy.” This brings me to another recent appointee of the president – Gen. Eduardo Ano as secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). He joined the ranks of former military officers Delfin Lorenzana as secretary of defense and Hermogenes Esperon as national security adviser. Ano, branded as the “rebel hunter,” was allegedly involved in the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos during the presidency of Gloria Arroyo when the military was held responsible for the spate of killings and disappearances of political activists. To date, Burgos’ body has not been found. Duterte appears to have a fetish for former military officers. It has been reported that there are, more or less, ten retired military officers holding key positions in the government. A government stocked with retired military officers could be dangerous. True, these officers bring tremendous experience, but they oftentimes become “yes men and women” to the president. If appointed in sensitive government positions, they could even be used by the government to influence and implement policies that are deemed to be anti-people. And there is Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, a rabid Duterte defender, who was recently appointed as the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). A proven mouthpiece of Duterte, he defended the president’s war on drugs before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, insisting that there are no extrajudicial killings (EJK) linked to Duterte or the government. Phelim Kine, the deputy director for Asia of the New York-based international organization, said the Philippine government is «delusional» if it thinks it can sway countries from condemning the extrajudicial killings linked to the Duterte government’s war on drugs. Despite the Vatican and more than 40 UN member states’ expressed concern about EJKs, Cayetano instead blamed the media and the critics of Duterte for spreading exaggerated news. For his loyalty to the president, Cayetano was awarded the DFA portfolio. If Duterte’s recent appointments are indicators of the president’s leadership, the road ahead may be paved with precarious unpredictability and uncertainty.

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