I found myself nodding in agreement when Senator Panfilo Lacson described his now-former colleague Alan Peter Cayetano, the newly-confirmed foreign affairs secretary, as a good friend but “an annoying foe.” The image that I suddenly remembered was that of Cayetano’s former ally in the long-running hearings in the Senate to demolish then Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senator Antonio Trillanes, turning off Cayetano’s microphone in a fit of all-consuming, yes, annoyance.
Trillanes has remained his usual arrogant self, of course, becoming the most vocal enemy of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Senate. And Cayetano, as Duterte’s losing running mate in last year’s elections, was transformed as the most prominent of the president’s apologists in the same chamber—thereby annoying Trillanes no end.
But ever since Duterte’s election, Cayetano also began training in earnest for the position long promised to him by the President: that of annoying the entire world as Digong’s presumptive foreign affairs secretary. Cayetano was seen less and less in the Senate as he started accompanying Duterte on his many foreign jaunts in the region and beyond.
The understanding back then was that Perfecto Yasay was merely a place-holder for Cayetano, who would take over at DFA as soon as the one-year ban on losing candidates expired. Yasay, of course, abbreviated his stay some more by fudging about his citizenship issues, which led to the appointment of Enrique Manalo as the new place-holder.
Cayetano finally got the trainer wheels removed from under him when he was told to go to Geneva to defend the Philippines’ human rights record under Duterte in a United Nations shindig. He certainly annoyed the country representatives who came prepared with their knives to extra-judicially gut the Duterte administration at the conference, with the help of human rights advocates from Manila who were also present.
But Cayetano was able to get a word in edgewise, as he is wont to do. Yesterday, he was deemed ready to annoy everyone in the world who wanted to dispute Duterte’s foreign affairs policy, from the South China Sea to the other side of the Pacific Ocean and beyond to the Atlantic, where Americans and Europeans are being treated to report after report about a supposed lawless, bloodthirsty dictator in the Philippines, as their thoroughly biased media routinely and unjustly depicts Digong.
As for me, Cayetano is that annoying-but-great basketball player from another team who is suddenly traded to the one you’ve always been rooting for. You hate his guts because he’s not on your side, but you know he’s going to do well now that he’s on your team.
So annoy the hell out of them, Secretary Alan. It’s about time Duterte had someone like you to defend him on the world stage.
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But while the Commission on Appointments wasted no time to confirm Cayetano, it once again withheld its approval in the case of Secretary of Social Welfare and Development Judy Taguiwalo. Taguiwalo was made to go through the wringer by members of Congress who wanted to make sure that she would continue the practice of playing nice with lawmakers, who see her department as an important conduit for patronage.
The thoroughly disgusting behavior of the commission towards Taguiwalo, who is by all accounts precisely what DSWD needs right now in order to shed its image as a repository of pork from which Congress members may withdraw funds at will, needs to be condemned in no uncertain terms. And Taguiwalo must not bow down to congressional brow-beating, even if it costs her the confirmation she has been seeking itself.
For far too long, both Malacañang and Congress have been allowed to weaponize DSWD, conscripting it in the effort to secure votes, even if its mandate is really to help the poorest of the poor, especially in times of calamity. In the previous administration, the department fell into disrepute after Corazon “Dinky” Soliman used the much-expanded Pantawid ng Pamilyang Pilipino Program in order to strengthen the hold of the ruling Liberal Party in poor, disaster-stricken areas and to make politicians toe the party line.
Taguiwalo, picked by Duterte to end the practice of using DSWD for patronage, has already streamlined the agency, making it more responsive and efficient in the short time that she has been running it. Under ordinary circumstances, Taguiwalo’s confirmation would have been a no-brainer, if what she has done so far—including keeping the politicians out—was the only metric used to judge her fitness for the post.
But Congress, which is still marooned in its discredited, patently unconstitutional pork-barrel time warp, has to make sure that Taguiwalo will give them their pound of flesh. And Taguiwalo’s insistence that she is not going to use her position to dispense pork to anyone, regardless of political affiliation, is what’s causing the hold-up.
Forget the “communist” tag and the single-mother non-issue: Congress wants Taguiwalo to say that she will give them money—and they are not going to confirm her until she says she will play Congress’ dirty, extortionist game.