By Chanda Shahani
The "midnight" appointments by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of three regents to the University of the Philippines (U.P.) Board of Regents (BOR) remain neither confirmed nor denied as of today by Quezon Hall despite a categorical confirmation to the Diliman Diary by the Office of the Executive Secretary, Leandro Mendoza last March 11 that such appointments were issued by President Arroyo right before the March 10, 2010 constitutional ban on such appointments kicked in.
Telephone calls made by the Diliman Diary to the office of the Secretary of the University right before the publishing of this dispatch at 4:30 p.m. on March 19, 2010 drew the rejoinder from the staff that they could not report anything because the proper procedure was that they had yet to receive a formal communication to that effect from BOR Chairman Emmanuel Y. Angeles, who currently holds Cabinet-level rank as Chairman of the Committee on Higher Education and Development (CHED).
Quezon Hall's response is highly unusual, in that the office of the Executive Secretary told the Diliman Diary that the appointment papers of Regents Francis Chua, Abraham Sarmiento and Nelia Gonzalez had already been dispatched to the U.P. Administration as of March 11, 2010 or six working days ago.
Here are the combined facts pieced together from a variety of different sources. However, the full discloure of copies by the U.P. Administration of the official “midnight” appointment papers of the three regents would put to rest any charges of a lack of transparency, but would also open a very large can of worms for them. Here's why:
- Student Regent Charisse Bañez filed a legal complaint on February 22, 2010 at RTC # 215 in Q.C. and submitted the 2008 appointment papers of the three U.P. regents as part of her annexes attached to her legal complaint. In so doing, she made public the original appointment dates of these three regents which she mentioned as part of the background to her complaint, had all expired. During the court hearing, the Diliman Diary observed the presence of University Secretary, Dr. Lourdes Abadingo holding copies of the 2008 appointment papers to provide to U.P.'s legal counsel, which is an indication that the U.P. Administration was caught by surprise by the complaint of the Student Regent, possibly due to the fact that all sides were quickly summoned to court because Bañez filed a temporary restraining order. It also indicates that U.P. was concerned that the judge might agree with the Student Regent's argument that the one year rule applied to the three regents.
- Faculty Regent Judy M. Taguiwalo also asserted in a March 1, 2010 report on the February 25 BOR meeting that these three regents all had expired terms because the one-year appointment rule applied to them and thus their terms of office expired in 2009. She cited Executive Order 292 in support of her position.
- The U.P. System's Vice President for Legal Affairs, Atty. Theodore Te has asserted in the website of the U.P. System (http://www.up.edu.ph/features.php?i=190) that the three regents enjoyed two-year and not one-year terms starting in 2008.
- In the February 25 BOR meeting BOR Chairman Angeles stated that the BOR should recommend to Malacanang that the three regents be given regular appointments and it was President Roman who made the motion to do so. This action would be in accordance with R.A. 9500 or the U.P Charter of 2008 which requires that the BOR make such recommendations to the President of the Philippines.
- But the copy of Regent Abraham Sarmiento's appointment signed by President Arroyo and forming part of the annexes of the Student Regent's complaint, showed that President Arroyo signed the appointment in September 29, 2008 and, adopting President Roman's and Atty. Te's logic, should expire only this coming September 29, 2010. Thus the submission by the U.P. Administration of Sarmiento's appointment papers for a “midnight” appointment” by President Arroyo before the March 10, 2010 constitutional ban took effect shows that the U.P. Administration publicly disagreed with Faculty Regent's argument that a one-year rule on such appointments was in effect, but privately agreed with her by submitting Sarmiento's papers to the Palace for a regular appoinment, as they had already expired on September 29, 2009. This is supported by what the Office of Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza said when they stressed that President Arroyo signed Regent Sarmiento's “midnight” appointment on March 9, 2010 but good only until September 29, 2010. It also means that U.P. itself is admitting that Regent Sarmiento was already a former regent when he voted on February 25, 2010 to render the Student Regent a former regent as well, and to vote for Dr. Enrique Domingo as the new Executive Director of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), replacing Dr. Jose Gonzales.
- Regent Francis Chua's appointment was signed by President Arroyo on January 1, 2008, which means that since U.P. already impliedly agreed with Faculty Regent Taguiwalo's one-year argument by submitting Regent Sarmiento's papers for regular appointment, then Regent Chua's term likewise expired on January 1, 2009 and he was a former regent when he voted to remove the Student Regent and Dr. Gonzales.
- Under the one-year rule, therefore, Regent Nelia Gonzales' appointment was signed by President Arroyo on March 18, 2008 and expired on March 18, 2009 and she was also a former regent when she voted to remove the Student Regent and Dr. Gonzales. The application of the one year rule means that every single decision of the BOR, including the removal of the Student Regent, the removal of Dr. Gonzales, and the appointment of Dr. Domingo may be questioned for the period when the terms of individual regents expired; potentially tilting the balance of voting in every instance, and affecting the validity of decisions previously made by the BOR.
- Even if we applied the two-year rule instead of the one-year rule, there still would not have been a majority vote to recommend the three regents to Malacanang because Faculty Regent Taguiwalo said that only five participated in the voting, with BOR Chairman Eduardo Angeles, President Roman and Regents Chua, Gonzales and Sarmiento participating. But of the three Malacanang regents, only Regents Sarmiento and Gonzales were eligible to vote under the two-year rule, as their appointments would not yet be deemed expired; as Regent Chua's tenure would have expired on January 1, 2010 under the two-year rule. Neither did a majority vote exist to remove the Student Regent or remove Dr. Gonzales as PGH Executive Director and replace him with Dr. Domingo, because only four out of the five regents who participated in the voting were eligible to vote.
- Additionally, President Arroyo reappointed Regent Gonzales on March 9, 2010 or nine (9) days BEFORE Regent Gonzales' term expired. This could render President Arroyo's appointment of Regent Gonzalez null and void, and with the March 10, 2010 ban on Presidential appointments already in effect, U.P. will have to wait until the country finishes electing a new President when the presidential elections start on May 10, 2010, before the newly elected President fills up Regent Gonzales' vacant slot with the same or a new appointee.
1) Pictures of dwarfs: http://florentinofloro4.blogspot.com/
2) Picture of Oblation by Chanda Shahani.
(Chanda Shahani is the Editor of the Diliman Diary).