CA, IPS, dated 12 June 2014

Three key cabinet secretaries and two commissioners finally found a “ray of light at the end of the tunnel,” as their long-time wishes of getting past through the intense scrutiny of the Commission on Appointments (CA) were officially granted yesterday. In its plenary session presided by President of the Senate / Chairman of the Commission Franklin M. Drilon before the First Regular Session of the 16th Congress adjourns sine die, the Commission confirmed the ad interim appointments of Hon. Corazon Juliano-Soliman as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Hon. Ramon Jesus P. Paje as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Hon. Leila M. De Lima as secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ). They hurdled the confirmation process despite their appointments having been bypassed by the Commission several times - De Lima and Soliman for 17 times and Paje for 13 times. Likewise, the Commission confirmed the ad interim appointments of Hon. Heidi L. Mendoza and Hon. Jose A. Fabia as commissioners of the Commission on Audit (COA).

The “road to confirmation” was a rough-sailing journey for the three cabinet officials as each of them faced strong oppositions to their appointments during deliberations at the committee level. Their appointments were recommended to the plenary for favorable action by their respective committees. However, while the appointments of De Lima and Soliman were unanimously endorsed to the plenary with no objections raised, Sen. Sergio R. Osmeña III rose to the floor and manifested his negative vote to the confirmation of Paje as environment secretary.

Soliman distinguished herself as a seasoned public servant having been involved in various social works, development projects/programs and organization/community services, and a serious advocate of good governance, people-centered reform and service-oriented public welfare. Her significant past positions prior her social welfare portfolio include being the chairperson of the Philippine Agrarian Reform Foundation for National Development, executive director of the Community Organizers Training Research and Advocacy Institute (CO-TRAIN), executive vice-president of the Community Organizers Multiversity and chairperson of the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), among others. She also served in 2001 as social welfare secretary under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo but her stint was cut short in 2005 when she resigned from her post, together with other cabinet members, who were dubbed as the “Hyatt 10.” Thereafter, she was the project leader of Constructively Engaging Government for a People-Centered Reform, a consultant/facilitator of the Strategic Movement of Reflection for UNICEF Philippines, head of the people Power Volunteer Center and founding trustee of the International Center for Innovation, Transformation and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov) until her present appointment as social welfare chief. Rep. Conrado M. Estrella III, chairman of the labor, employment and social welfare committee, recommended the confirmation of Soliman’s ad interim appointment to the plenary after intense scrutiny of the committee members on her fitness and qualifications to the social welfare post in three committee hearings.

De Lima’ s ascent to the helm of DOJ has been a long and colorful journey. To say that her steps towards the powerful position of a justice secretary were a matter of life and death would be an understatement. What made her a perfect match for the job was the fact that she is widely regarded as an estimable veteran on human rights cases. She has served as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) from 2008 to 2010 - a milestone in her career which helped mold her into the perfect candidate for the justice portfolio. Prior her stint at the CHR, she carved a name for herself as a legal luminary on election controversies for her illustrious role as an election lawyer, while she was the managing lawyer of De Lima Law Firm. She was also a former professor of law at the San Beda College of Law in Manila. Although controversial in many ways, De Lima is a known advocate and fighter of human rights and a champion for women’s rights - a feat recognized by award-giving bodies such as the “Gawad Lingkod Masa Award” by the Gabriela Party List; the Excellent Public Servant, Defender of People’s Rights, One of the “Agents of Change” Award by the Akbayan Party List; and the Public Servant of the Year by GMA News TV, among others. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degrees in History / Political Science from the De La Salle University, Manila and her Bachelor of Laws from San Beda College graduating Class Salutatorian / Faculty Awardee / Code of Kalantiaw Awardee.

Paje, on the other hand, is reputed as an “environment man” having been with the DENR for decades now. He is a career officer who started in the department as a junior forester in 1982 and held various significant positions such as being a senior forester - in-charge of supervising the monitoring and evaluation of foreign-assisted projects, project evaluation officer at the Foreign-Assisted and Special Projects Office (FASPO), service chief of the Human Resource Development Service, OIC undersecretary and assistant secretary of Management Services and Management and International Environmental Affairs, among others. He rose through the ranks and served as the department’s undersecretary for policy and technical services, environment and natural resources operations, environment and forestry and mines. He was also tapped as a presidential assistant on mining and executive director of the Minerals Development Council (MDC) at the Office of the President before he served as senior undersecretary and chief of staff at the DENR. A Doctor of Public Administration from the National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG), University of the Philippines, Diliman Quezon City and a holder of Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning and Bachelor’s degree in Forestry, from the same university, Paje held the top DENR post in an acting capacity in June 2010 until his ad interim appointment as environment chief in June 2011. He hurdled deliberations on his ad interim appointment from the members of the environment and natural resources committee, headed by Sen. Loren Legarda, and endured eight committee hearings where he came face-to-face with individuals and groups (14 sworn oppositions) opposing his appointment since 2011, to effect the recommendation of his confirmation to the plenary. Committee Vice Chair Rep. George P. Arnaiz recommended Paje’s confirmation to the plenary, emphasizing his qualifications and competence befitting the position of an environment secretary.

In separate committee deliberations, Mendoza finally gained the confidence of the body over her fitness and capacity to perform her duties as audit commissioner for a term expiring on 02 February 2018. Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, head of the Commission’s constitutional commissions and offices committee, described Mendoza as a “familiar brave figure in congressional hearings and exposes on controversies involving the misuse of government funds, who does not back down in ferreting out the truth surrounding anomalies, even confronting powers that be amidst threats to her life and her family.” A former auditor of the COA for 20 years, who gained national attention after her revelations of supposed irregularities in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), she was appointed to the commissioner’s post since March 2011 and got the Commission’s approval after being bypassed 14 times. On the other hand, while it took four committee hearings for Mendoza to get the Commission’s nod, Fabia’s appointment sailed through committee scrutiny smoothly as it passed the deliberations impressively in just one sitting. Fabia, whose term expires on 02 February 2020, vice Rowena V. Guanzon was a former municipal mayor of Binmaley, Pangasinan, president and chief executive officer of Philippine Health Insurance Corporation and director general of Philippine Information Agency (PIA). The Commission, in plenary, confirmed the appointments of the two commissioners as favorably recommended by the members of the constitutional commissions and offices committee headed by Guingona with no objections raised.

In the event of the 16th Congress’ sine die adjournment of the First Regular Session starting June 14, 2014, the appointments of Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho L. Petilla, one commissioner each from the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and Commission on Elections (COMELEC), 50 Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) senior officials and 132 Department of National Defense (DND) general/flag and senior officers are deemed bypassed.

Out of the 21 cabinet positions in the Executive branch filled up by the President since 2010, only the ad interim appointment of Petilla as energy secretary that was submitted to the Commission in 2012 has not been confirmed yet.

The CA has, so far, confirmed 399 nominations and ad interim appointments submitted to it by the President, since Congress started its First Regular Session on July 2013.