Our loss, not Judy’s

In the end, Judy Taguiwalo’s learning, experience, integrity, vision and popular support were not enough to get her confirmed. The powerful Commission on Appointments added Taguiwalo’s scalp to its growing collection from nominees who failed to get confirmation, proving once again that ability, fitness for the job and any other praiseworthy and quantifiable metric are unimportant to the lawmakers who serve as gatekeepers to high office and dispensers of Cabinet-level jobs.

I can understand why the previous victims of the CA’s mostly arbitrary vetting process failed to make it through the wringer. Perfecto Yasay lied about his citizenship and Gina Lopez came up against the power mining lobby that counts congressmen as its chief agents and members.

But Judy Taguiwalo, the distinguished and accomplished University of the Philippines professor and activist, whose long career above- and underground the CA members can only dream of replicating, even if their entire careers were taken together and placed in a side-by-side comparison with hers? The woman who made the Department of Social Welfare and Development respectable and responsive again, especially after the depredations of the pork-mad Aquino-era legislators and that forgettable, corruption-prone woman with the brightly-colored shock of hair?

I am, as the musical says, agog and aghast. I feel that if Taguiwalo cannot be confirmed as DSWD secretary, then Mother Teresa of Calcutta should be posthumously excommunicated.

There is simply no reason to deny Taguiwalo her confirmation. And the members of Congress who did so must be truly thankful that they are not required to explain their vote, because they most certainly cannot, in a way that will not incriminate them.

Indeed, a staunch advocate of Taguiwalo’s, DSWD Assistant Secretary Lorraine Badoy, blames Congress’ addiction to pork barrel funds as the reason why the nominee was rejected. Taguiwalo’s rectitude would not allow lawmakers to use the vast social welfare funds controlled by the department, from the Conditional Cash Transfer to calamity allocations, to be used by Congress as they had been before—as political weapons to ensure both their enrichment and reelection; and this was why she did not pass muster.

I can believe that Congress would have approved Taguiwalo’s nomination if she had promised that it would be business as usual at DSWD. But she would not, so she didn’t get confirmed.

Still, up to the very last moment, I was hoping that perhaps, this once, Congress would rise above its members’ self-interest and greed and make an exception in Taguiwalo’s case. I was wrong, dead wrong.

Our lawmakers cannot got against their nature. And so the nation lost not just the best social welfare secretary to ever hold that job, but perhaps the best Cabinet member of any administration, all-time.

It’s our loss, not Taguiwalo’s, mind you. Manay Judy has already lived a life fuller than anyone can reasonably hope for; but all of us, especially the poorest Filipinos whom she has helped in her short stint in the Cabinet, have lost a little hope, a little life, now that Taguiwalo is gone from government.

And Congress—both Houses of it, particularly its members who serve in the CA—made us lose Judy Taguiwalo. I wish we’d lost all of Congress instead.

* * *

Malacañang Palace expressed sadness over the rejection of Taguiwalo and announced that the search is now on for her replacement. The entire nation can only hope that someone just a little like Manay Judy will be found who can fill the overly large shoes that she fit so snugly in.

That said, I sincerely wish that the CA can be revamped so that its membership would be more in tune with the reforms that this administration promised and which the people so desperately need. If President Rodrigo Duterte, whose support in Congress is even greater than his popularity among the citizenry, can only make the CA understand that it is not there to serve as a stumbling block to the administration, then the Taguiwalo debacle will not be repeated.

The CA, which was once given the unenviable task of rejecting presidential nominees who will only be reappointed ad infinitum, has clearly overstepped its mandate this time. The institution of the “three-strike” bypass rule has weaponized it and made it a means to withhold confirmation for the flimsiest of reasons, as we have seen in Taguiwalo’s case.

There is no accountability for the commission. Its decisions are as unappealable as they are unappealing.

The administration may have also erred in not pushing Congress harder on behalf of its nominees. While current policy-making is now more inclusive, as far as Malacañang and Congress are concerned, the job of paving the way for the confirmation of nominees like Taguiwalo seems to have been left to the lawmakers, with no guidance nor pressure from the Executive.

Perhaps Duterte should rethink his policy of letting our lawmakers do whatever they like, as long as they are acting within their power. We simply cannot afford to lose more people like Taguiwalo because Congress, once it is given power, can be trusted to use it for the interest of its members, the people be damned.

Topics: Jojo Robles , Judy Taguiwalo , Commission on Appointments
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