‘Tis the season to appoint people to crucial constitutional posts. President Macapagal-Arroyo has just announced in Davos, Switzerland her appointment of retired Supreme Court justice Jose Melo as chairman of the Commission on Elections. She also confirmed that she has extended for three months the term of General Hermogenes Esperon as AFP chief of staff.
Awaiting her appointments in the coming days are the remaining two posts of Comelec commissioner, chairman of the Commission on Audit, and chairman of the Civil Service Commission. In a matter of months, she will appoint a new Commission on Human Rights, justices of the Supreme Court, and key posts in the the AFP and PNP. By the end of the year, all senior appointive members of the government will have been appointed by the President.
Many have expressed fears that these appointments may lead to a weakening of democratic institutions, promote further a culture of patronage politics, undermine meritocracy, and pave the way for a possible extension of her stay in power. It is also within this logic that challenges to the constitutional boundaries may occur and lead to subversion of Philippine democracy–even to a possible Marcos scenario.
There is however a counter-current that exists. The serious problems of a controversial presidential legitimacy, her current low level of unpopularity, a disunited military with an uncertain loyalty, and the critical media. church, and civil society all militate against charter change–without which the absolute constitutional limit of a fixed 6-year term for the president operates. At exactly 12:00 noon, June 30, 2010, president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ends her constitutional presidency.
There is therefore the imperative to address the legacy of her regime, mitigate opposition, and ensure her political survival beyond 2010. This means firstly the appointment of people close to her but also acceptable to the body politic.
There is currently a 50-50 chance that her appointments will go either way, either for political survival or for legacy–until she herself decides on a clear course of action. However, the best bet for her is to appoint credible friends.
The appointment of Justice Melo to the post of Comelec chairman models this approach. His appointment places him in a golden opportunity of making good on urgent questions of electoral reforms.
Of course, it remains to be seen if other presidential appointments to the Comelec will follow a positive trend, that such appointments make a material impact on the credibility of the electoral institutions, and actually lead to the implementation of electoral reforms.