Confirmation hearings are an important part of our democratic system

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

Members of the Commission on Appointments with Philippine Permanent Representative to the UN Antonio Manuel Lagdameo. The CA also confirmed the appointment Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel “Babes” Romualdez | Photo by Avito Dalan/PNA

One of the critical aspects of a democracy like ours is the existence of checks and balances to ensure that none of the three branches of government – the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial – would be able to abuse its jurisdiction or powers.

A very important constitutional body that can perform such checks and balances is the Commission on Appointments, which has the power to approve or reject the president’s appointees or nominees for certain government positions. Composed of 25 members from the Senate and the House of Representatives, the CA conducts confirmation hearings to help determine whether a nominee or appointee is suitable for the position or has the capability to undertake the responsibilities required of them. In past confirmation hearings, especially during president Rodrigo Duterte’s term, the CA rejected a couple of appointees for Cabinet secretary outright.

The process is similar to what they have here in the United States, where the US Senate grills every appointee or nominee for Cabinet-level positions and even the Supreme Court, which can confirm or reject such nominees or appointees. It is known as the “Appointments Clause,” which serves as an example of the underlying principle of checks and balances in the US Constitution.

Last Wednesday, I went through the confirmation process conducted by the CA’s Committee on Foreign Affairs chaired by Senator Jinggoy Estrada. I thank Senate President Migz Zubiri, the chairman of the CA, for his kind consideration and concern that it was early morning in Washington, DC, during my confirmation hearing, which I attended virtually. For something as important as that – no problem at all. Apps like Zoom have become necessary for cases like mine where I am already in my host country, saving the government expenses for me having to travel to the Philippines and be physically present.

I was very pleased that the questions asked by the members of the majority and the minority both from the Senate and the House of Representatives – all sides of the political fence, so to speak – were very precise and incisive.

These confirmation hearings are good for those of us who have to go through the process because we will have an idea about the issues that our legislators are concerned with based on the questions they ask. I shared that my marching orders from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. are to increase economic activities between the Philippines and the US. The pandemic has really upended the global economy, and he believes that the US can play a major role in our efforts to economically recover from the impact of the pandemic by having more investments come our way.

“It is important for us to always look at everything based on what is best for our country. Our national interest comes first, and implicit in that is the need to feel the pulse of the people and listen to their sentiments, which President Marcos himself has emphasized on many occasions.”

Certainly, we need to know what is foremost in the minds of our legislators because we have to work with them in terms of how we can proceed with our relationship with major countries such as the United States.

Questions regarding our relationship with China and the United States can become a contentious issue, with concerns that the tension between these two countries could escalate and result in an outbreak of hostilities. As I told the CA, I am convinced that the United States does not want to have that conflict, and neither do the Philippines and many other countries, including our ASEAN neighbors. We are working with our ASEAN colleagues here in Washington, DC, to pressure, to a certain extent, these two major powers to ease up the tension and prevent a potential conflict.

Clearly, our relationship with these two countries is very important, but at the end of the day, we must listen to the sentiments of the Filipino people. We have had a relationship with the United States for over 75 years and more than 70 years with the Mutual Defense Treaty in place. Our people-to-people ties have existed for over a hundred years, and nearly 90 percent of Filipinos consider the US the most trusted nation and still our number one ally.

While we want to reach out to China, engage in economic activities, and have a good relationship with them, it is evident that a significant majority of Filipinos are angry with what our giant neighbor in Asia is doing, particularly in the West Philippine Sea. It is not surprising, therefore, that most Filipinos want to remain within the realm of our friendship with the United States.

It is important for us to always look at everything based on what is best for our country. Our national interest comes first, and implicit in that is the need to feel the pulse of the people and listen to their sentiments, which President Marcos himself has emphasized on many occasions.

As I said during the hearing, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too, regarding relationships. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Sometimes, we must make a choice that is best for our nation, which is paramount. For me, that is the most important thing on my mind, and which is what I do here in Washington, DC.

Shortly after my confirmation hearing at the CA, I met with Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink. What he shared on Twitter summed up the attitude that the US has towards the Philippines today – that our meeting reminded him of “just how fortunate the United States is to have friends, allies and partners like the Philippines.”


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