By Chanda Shahani
U.P. Regents Francis Chua. Abraham Sarmiento. Nelia Gonzalez. These are the three Malacañang-appointed regents who were among the thousands of midnight appointees of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who left President Benigno S. Aquino III with the burden of having to co-govern this country with people who did not enjoy his trust and confidence and who may actually constitute stumbling blocks to his oft-repeated claims to governing this nation transparently and democratically as seen by their own track records in governing U.P.
We remind our readers that the U.P. Administration, counting these 3 regents as its allies in the BOR, has been rocked by a series of controversies, ranging from the stripping of U.P. Diliman Sociology Professor Sarah Raymundo of her academic freedom, to pursue her own political beliefs outside the classroom, by denying her a position in her own department despite being granted tenure by the majority of the BOR; to other problems emanating from the lack of legitimacy of these 3 regents to remove Dr. Jose Gonzales as director of the Philippine General Hospital last January 25, 2010, as their acting appointments by former President Arroyo in 2008 had already lapsed and they had not yet been given their midnight appointments (on February 10 and March 8, respectively before the March 10 prohibited period had set in). These regents also have to answer for their voting records in privatizing portions of the PGH through a lease contract that has been deemed by the Department of Justice as being contrary to R.A. 9500.
President Aquino has already issued Memorandum Circular Number 1, reversing midnight appointments by President Arroyo by July 31, 2010 unless there are exceptional and mitigating circumstances for retaining them, either legally or due to outstanding performances by these midnight appointees.
Former President Arroyo, who struggled with the issue of of her own elected legitimacy during her term, essentially tried to water down popular anger and repeated attempts to oust her by idealistic elements within the military; cause-oriented organizations and within the halls of congress by essentially dispensing the people's money and co-opting dissent within the ranks by dispensing money for large-scale projects and government positions like so much largesse and releasing pork-barrel funds to congressmen and senators who did not oppose her. During her term, many positions within the government were filled by her by appointing individuals not to a full term, but in "acting" capacities, so that these individuals, including the three (3) Malacañang Regents could be kept on a tight leash, and undertake actions, according to her own interests. Individuals who were appointed in "acting" capacities, therefore, could be easily removed if they did not toe the Macapagal-Arroyo line.
In the case of U.P. PGH, we are given a window into former President Macapagal-Arroyo's absolutely cynical frame of mind when it becam clear that Macapagal-Arroyo, who was already intending to run for Congress (3rd district, Pampanga) was biased in favor of disbursing funds for Pampanga versus other provinces who needed the funds more. According to President Aquino's July 26, 2010 SONA: “Sa kabuuan ng 108 million pesos para sa lalawigan ng Pampanga, 105 million pesos nito ay napunta sa iisang distrito lamang. Samantala, ang lalawigan ng Pangasinan na sinalanta ng Pepeng ay nakatanggap ng limang milyong piso lamang para sa pinsalang idinulot ng bagyong Cosme, na nangyari noong 2008 pa.”
Little surprise, then that these three (3) Malacañang regents participated in voting in a BOR meeting on January 25, 2010 that installed Dr. Enrique Domingo who not only is in favour of the continuation of the U.P. Administration-initiated privatization of certain areas of PGH but is also from a prominent political family in Pampanga. It would therefore have been in the interests of former President Macapagal-Arroyo and the U.P. Administration to find a way to oust Dr. Gonzales, who, in the overall scheme of things, did not come from a politically sensitive region (Dr. Goznales hails from General Santos City) unlike Dr. Domingo. Dr. Gonzales' other perceived liability was that he was against the current model of privatizing portions of PGH. We have written about this in great detail in the the past, as the convergence of U.P.-Administration interests with the interests of Malacañang: http://diliman-diary.blogspot.com/2010/03/alternative-copy1.html
In the “University of the Philippines: the First 75 Years,” (U.P. Press, 1985), we are made aware that as early as 1925, then U.P. President Rafael Palma had already warned about “the need to keep the University beyond political interference.” A Commission created then by the Philippine Legislature, and headed by Dr. Paul R. Monroe of Columbia University issued a report stating that “Higher Education is an activity which can only be carried on effectively only in an environment of detachment and and independence reasonably far removed from considerations of expediency and policy (such as governed political afairs)."
It is therefore, time for these three (3) regents to step down and resign before they are automatically removed on July 31, 2010, in order to give President Aquino, who has the undisputed mandate of his people, a free hand in considering the recommendation of the BOR in recommending replacements, which is in accordance with R.A. 9500 (Section 12i): “Three other Regents who have distinguished themselves in their professions or fields of specialization, to be appointed by the President of the Philippines, considering the recommendation of the Board. At least two (2) of these Regents should be alumni. All these Regents shall each serve for a term of two (2) years.”
It would be a conflict of interest for these three (3) Malacañang Regents to recommend themselves for regular appointments by President Aquino because that would be a self-serving action. As for their regular two-year appointments by President Macapagal-Arroyo in February and March 2010, these are precisely part of the cluster of midnight appointments being questioned by President Aquino in his July 26, 2010 SONA when he said in reference to midnight appointments to the MWSS Board of Trustees, and their abuse of their positions, by saying that: “Hindi naman sila agad maaalis sa puwesto dahil kabilang sila sa mga Midnight Appointees ni dating Pangulong Arroyo. Iniimbestigahan na natin ang lahat nang ito. Kung mayroon pa silang kahit kaunting hiya na natitira - sana kusa na lang silang magbitiw sa puwesto.”
President Aquino might as well have been talking about the three (3) Malacañang regents – and by inference – he actually was – as he was referring to the total population of midnight appointees as well.
Do we really want the three regents to be unceremoniously removed? Or do we really these three (3) Regents, who have been serving endlessly for several terms or more to go down in flames and embarrass the entire institution by challenging the Philippine President in a protracted legal dispute? Would it not be better, in the interests of the service, for them to resign now? There is no shortage of qualified people who are willing to serve for free (there is no compensation per se for serving in U.P.'s BOR). Unfortunately, and as was the usual style of the current and outgoing U.P. Administration, no consultations were made of the different sectors (student, alumni, staff and faculty) before these three regents were automatically renominated. This is undemocratic and not sustainable. It would be better for the different sectors in U.P. to recommend able and qualified people made up of fresh blood so that the recommendation to President Aquino is made as democratically, and not in some back rooms in Quezon hall in the dead of night.
By way of example, PAGCOR Chairman Efraim Genuino filed his "retirement" papers with outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on May 28, 2010 after the May 10, 2010 elections.
Genuino resigned despite the fact that Malacañang had earlier defended his appointment and four Pagcor board members, saying these were dated March 9 or the eve of the start of the constitutional ban on midnight appointments?
Genuino acted ethically in resigning instead of desperrately hanging on to his position and defending his "midnight" appointment. This unilateral move on Genuino's part has allowed incoming PAGCOR Chairman Cristino "Bong" Naguiat, Jr. to conduct an investigation into any irregularities that may or may not have occurred during Genuino's term. It allows the truth to come out in an administrative investigation and charges filed by Chairman Naguiat, if warranted.
So, it is with a great sense of urgency that we ask the three (3) Malacañang regents to follow the path blazed by former PAGCOR Chairman Genuino, by doing the the right thing by resigning. This would be for the good of U.P. and the Filipino People, and would spare us all a long-drawn out and unseemly struggle. Please resign. now. Please.
(Photo credits: Pictures of dwarfs: http://florentinofloro4.blogspot.com/
(Chanda Shahani is the Editor of the Diliman Diary. He has a Master's in Entrepreneurship from the Asian Institute of Management (ME) and is an A.B. Comparative Literature graduate from U.P. Diliman)