Unceremonious unseating of UP PGH director
By Raul Pangalangan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:39:00 03/04/2010
I AVOID writing about faculty intramurals in the University of the Philippines, preferring to talk instead about the more benign politics of murders, massacres and wars. However, the recent unceremonious ouster of a sitting hospital director smacks too much of Malacañang-style politics that writing about it, come to think of it, is just like writing about President Macapagal-Arroyo.
On Dec. 18, 2009, the university’s Board of Regents appointed Dr. Jose Gonzalez as the new director of the UP Philippine General Hospital. I do not know Gonzalez, have never met him, have never spoken to him. I also do not claim to evaluate his qualifications or platform. I write solely about the sheer brazenness of his ouster.
The university is governed by the 11-member BOR, consisting of two co-chairs (the Commission on Higher Education chair and the UP president), two seats for Congress (one each from the House and Senate), four organic members each chosen respectively by the faculty, students, staff and alumni (“organic” in the Gramscian sense), and three non-organic members or as the Philippine Collegian loves to call them, “the Malacañang appointees” (a four-letter word in Diliman’s lexicon, as you can imagine). Gonzalez won by a 5-4 vote. He got the vote of all the four organic regents plus the tie-breaker by the CHEd chair. ( Faculty Regent Judy Taguiwalo’s correction: the vote was actually 6-5. Mar Roxas voted for Gonzales through a letter sent to the Chair while Cynthia Villar voted for Alfiler also through a letter. This is allowed in the 2008 UP Charter for the two congressional representatives in the BOR .)
On Jan. 4, 2010, the first working day after the long Christmas holidays, the BOR officially announced Gonzalez’s appointment. This is where the story starts to get exciting. The next day, at around noon, UP president Emerlinda Roman announced that one of the non-organic regents, former Supreme Court Justice Abraham Sarmiento, had filed a protest letter to strike out the vote of the student regent, Charisse Bañez, on the ground that she did not enroll for the second semester. On that basis, Roman appointed an officer-in-charge for PGH, which provoked opposition. On Jan. 7, the long-delayed formal appointment of Gonzalez as PGH director was finally released and on that same day, he took his oath.
In its January meeting, the BOR upheld Sarmiento’s motion to declare the seat of the student regent vacant and to nullify her vote in the earlier decisions. The organic regents walked out: faculty regent professor Judy Taguiwalo, staff regent Clodualdo Cabrera, and Charisse. Alumni regent Alfredo Pascual, president of the UP Alumni Association, did not participate in the vote.
In its February meeting, the BOR nullified the appointment of Gonzalez and elected Dr. Rolando Domingo as the new PGH director.
To start with, why the tangled legal attempts to block Gonzalez? Why try to appoint an OIC when there was no vacancy? How can the vote of a collegial body be set aside without a collegial decision, and on the basis of a letter by one regent? Is there such a thing as a super-regent whose solitary vote overrides those of his colleagues?
Gonzalez is entitled to hold office for the duration of his term. In the archaic language of the law of public officers, the “termination of official relations” occurs only upon death or disability, retirement, resignation, expiry of term of office, abandonment, abolition of office, recall or removal for cause. Not a single ground is present in this case.
The entire ouster of Gonzalez was actually carried out by first ousting yet another person, Charisse Bañez. Indeed Charisse wasn’t enrolled, but there are two important issues here. One, when her vote was counted in favor of Gonzalez on Dec. 18, the BOR fully debated her enrollment issue (even asked her to step out then) and decided that she could vote. I recall the joke during martial law. Marcos was complaining: Filipinos are so demanding—I already let them vote, now they want their votes to be counted! The BOR must respect its own decisions, and not reverse it only after they discovered that Charisse voted for Gonzalez.
Two, Charisse has a pending application for residency as a student, which is routinely approved for others but which has been kept hanging for Charisse who, not surprisingly, has been harassed by a series of disciplinary cases filed for her activist work. Again, I do not know where she stands ideologically—and I have my own criticisms of the dogmatic and doctrinaire—but the students have chosen her as their regent and the school administration cannot frustrate the students’ choice by harassing her with disciplinary cases.
Irony of ironies, it now turns out that the three Malacañang appointees all have expired appointments. President Arroyo appointed them merely as “Acting Member, Board of Regents.” However, the Administrative Code, Executive Order 292, provides that “in no case shall a temporary designation exceed one year.” All three had exceeded one year. Sarmiento himself was appointed on Sept. 29, 2008. They were all essentially impostors on Dec. 18, trying to oust the student regent who enjoyed an authentic mandate.
The BOR has pooh-poohed that argument, saying that “acting” is different from “temporary.” In what way, I ask? That is a cockamamie legal distinction. I ask the BOR: What is the difference between an “acting” regent and a “temporary” regent? The “acting” designation is as temporary as it gets.
What I have chronicled here is familiar to us by now: the Machiavellian manipulation of technicalities to justify just about anything and to maneuver events to get precisely the desired result. It is a mindset, a way of life, that I identify with the Arroyo administration, and I am saddened when I see it practiced in a university that has become a part of my life since I entered as a freshman 36 years ago.