ON the admission of the President himself, about 90-plus bureaucrats have to date been “let go” from his administration. Such a euphemism for dismissal cannot, however, mitigate the pain of PRRD’s wrath for those who were sacked, not to mention the grief their families have had to undergo.
Whether the sacking was deserved is not the point at issue here. This article will not examine the guilt or innocence of these public officials.
What needs to be examined is the policy concomitant to the dismissal of these officeholders. This is therefore not an in-depth investigation of individual circumstances singling out two of the President’s men who, because of the importance of their jobs, their personal closeness to the President and their high-profile dismissal, could be the core hypothesis of the President’s emerging doctrine of the “whiff of corruption”. As the Deegong himself stated, he will “…not tolerate any corruption in his administration and he will dismiss from office anyone who is tainted even by a ‘whiff of corruption’; and he is ready to sack any public official even on the basis of false allegations of corruption.”(Inquirer.net, March 30, 2017)
On April 3, after the Cabinet meeting, PRRD fired Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno on the spot due to “loss of trust and confidence”. This dismissal was precipitated by a joint report of Sueno’s three undersecretaries through a letter sent to the President alleging, among other things, the anomalous purchase of fire trucks from Austria. Imputations of corruption involving the acquisition of trucks for personal use and payoffs from illegal gambling were added to the menu of charges.
President Duterte questioned Sueno on the legal brief prepared by his accusers but he claimed not to have seen it. It was his “wrong answers” to Duterte’s questions that was the immediate trigger for Sueno’s firing. But the legal brief was reportedly kept from Sueno, so he claimed ignorance.
At a press briefing the next day, Sueno said:“Feeling ko naman walang [I feel that there was no] due process dahil [because]he did not listen to me…”.
On a similar matter earlier this year, Peter Laviña, was sacked as head of the National Irrigation Administration. It was precipitated by a report personally given to the President by NIA directors on February 23 that Laviña ”…allegedly called them and pointed out projects the regional office had and told them, ‘Kayo nang bahala sa akin’”[It’s up to you to take care of me].(Rappler).
The next day, February 24, in a speech in Davao, PRRD announced that he had fired an appointee (presumably referring to Laviña); and on February 27, PRRD intimated at a meeting with some members of labor groups that the NIA chief was fired for allegedly receiving “40 percent”. No details were given.
The President sealed Laviña’s fate and left his reputation shattered with the statement: “When I said there will be no corruption, there will be no corruption…even a whiff of corruption, talagang tatanggalin kita (I will fire you) …”
Over the following months, this Duterte Doctrine was applied several times but we don’t have the exact data on the carcasses of the bureaucrats strewn over the landscape. Most of these public servants were once close to the President and gifted by him with appointments to sinecures with the associated pelf and prestige.
Facts common to both sackings (Lavina and Sueno) are that these charges of anomalies were reported by subalterns from within their own organization direct to PRRD; the President within a period of a few days from receipt of information took action to dismiss the alleged offenders; the targets of these charges were not given ample time to prepare a reasonable defense; and they were not allowed to confront their accusers. But insidiously, the dismissals were done publicly putting to shame these alleged offenders without a measure of a face-saving mechanism. This public humiliation was a deliberate act by a President out to send a strong message to the bureaucracy, that the consequences of even a “whiff of corruption” are immediate, deadly and total.
From several standpoints, presidential prerogatives have wide acceptance when it comes to hiring and firing of people. And our laws are clear on the matter defining presidential responsibilities stipulated in the Constitution (Article VII, Section 16).
There is no question that the President has the power to terminate from the bureaucracy anyone whose performance displeases him. But the President must be subject to the minimum of fairness and the etiquette of dismissal, for no other reason than this is what is demanded of civilized behavior. But more importantly, there is a greater overarching principle that covers the conduct of the mighty, the powerful and the humble – the rule of law.
The latter demands that the accused officials must undergo “due process”. This is the minimum requirement for a just, humane and civilized democratic society. The requisite process is simply that allegations of transgressions be investigated in a transparent manner by legitimately sanctioned structures. And the President, by virtue of his ascendancy granted by the Constitution, has conferred on him also its primary guardianship. He must therefore uphold its principles.
From another standpoint, nations with weak leaders breed weak laws and will find themselves in a quagmire of corruption and lawlessness. Nations with prudent laws but governed by leaders void of political will to implement such laws may only cripple the primacy of the rule of law. But strong leaders with political will must understand that all are equal under the dominance of the rule of law; none above. President Rodrigo Duterte must aspire to be one of the latter.
By these precepts, the Duterte Doctrine is defective.