Friday, March 09, 2012

Pimentel vs. Ermita

Facts: This is a petition to declare unconstitutional the appointments issued by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (“President Arroyo”) through Executive Secretary Eduardo R. Ermita (“Secretary Ermita”) to Florencio B. Abad, Avelino J. Cruz, Jr., Michael T. Defensor, Joseph H. Durano, Raul M. Gonzalez, Alberto G. Romulo, Rene C. Villa, and Arthur C. Yap (“respondents”) as acting secretaries of their respective departments. 

On August 2004, Arroyo issued appointments to respondents as acting secretaries of their respective departments. 

Congress adjourned on 22 September 2004. On 23 September 2004, President Arroyo issued ad interim appointments to respondents as secretaries of the departments to which they were previously appointed in an acting capacity. 

Issue: Is President Arroyo’s appointment of respondents as acting secretaries without the consent of the Commission on Appointments while Congress is in session, constitutional? 

Held: Yes. The power to appoint is essentially executive in nature, and the legislature may not interfere with the exercise of this executive power except in those instances when the Constitution expressly allows it to interfere. Limitations on the executive power to appoint are construed strictly against the legislature. The scope of the legislature’s interference in the executive’s power to appoint is limited to the power to prescribe the qualifications to an appointive office. Congress cannot appoint a person to an office in the guise of prescribing qualifications to that office. Neither may Congress impose on the President the duty to appoint any particular person to an office. 

However, even if the Commission on Appointments is composed of members of Congress, the exercise of its powers is executive and not legislative. The Commission on Appointments does not legislate when it exercises its power to give or withhold consent to presidential appointments. 

Petitioners contend that President Arroyo should not have appointed respondents as acting secretaries because “in case of a vacancy in the Office of a Secretary, it is only an Undersecretary who can be designated as Acting Secretary.” 

The essence of an appointment in an acting capacity is its temporary nature. It is a stop-gap measure intended to fill an office for a limited time until the appointment of a permanent occupant to the office. In case of vacancy in an office occupied by an alter ego of the President, such as the office of a department secretary, the President must necessarily appoint an alter ego of her choice as acting secretary before the permanent appointee of her choice could assume office. 

Congress, through a law, cannot impose on the President the obligation to appoint automatically the undersecretary as her temporary alter ego. An alter ego, whether temporary or permanent, holds a position of great trust and confidence. Congress, in the guise of prescribing qualifications to an office, cannot impose on the President who her alter ego should be. 

The office of a department secretary may become vacant while Congress is in session. Since a department secretary is the alter ego of the President, the acting appointee to the office must necessarily have the President’s confidence. Thus, by the very nature of the office of a department secretary, the President must appoint in an acting capacity a person of her choice even while Congress is in session. That person may or may not be the permanent appointee, but practical reasons may make it expedient that the acting appointee will also be the permanent appointee. 

The law expressly allows the President to make such acting appointment. Section 17, Chapter 5, Title I, Book III of EO 292 states that “[t]he President may temporarily designate an officer already in the government service or any other competent person to perform the functions of an office in the executive branch.” Thus, the President may even appoint in an acting capacity a person not yet in the government service, as long as the President deems that person competent. 

Finally, petitioners claim that the issuance of appointments in an acting capacity is susceptible to abuse. Petitioners fail to consider that acting appointments cannot exceed one year as expressly provided in Section 17(3), Chapter 5, Title I, Book III of EO 292. The law has incorporated this safeguard to prevent abuses, like the use of acting appointments as a way to circumvent confirmation by the Commission on Appointments. 

Ad-interim appointments must be distinguished from appointments in an acting capacity. Both of them are effective upon acceptance. But ad-interim appointments are extended only during a recess of Congress, whereas acting appointments may be extended any time there is a vacancy. Moreover ad-interim appointments are submitted to the Commission on Appointments for confirmation or rejection; acting appointments are not submitted to the Commission on Appointments. Acting appointments are a way of temporarily filling important offices but, if abused, they can also be a way of circumventing the need for confirmation by the Commission on Appointments. 

However, we find no abuse in the present case. The absence of abuse is readily apparent from President Arroyo’s issuance of ad interim appointments to respondents immediately upon the recess of Congress, way before the lapse of one year. 


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