DOJ secretaries not the first: Courtesy resignations under Duterte admin

April 30, 2018 - 12:28 PM
duterte fist bump with troops
Reuters file photo of President Rodrigo Duterte

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s memorandum asking the assistant secretaries and undersecretaries, most of whom are supposedly fraternity brothers of the President Rodrigo Duterte, to tender “courtesy resignations,” came as a surprise to the public.

Guevara’s order comes less than a month after his predecessor Vitaliano Aguirre II, another of Duterte’s fraternity brothers, tendered his resignation.

Some are pleased with the development, seeing it as the first step towards ushering in a new age for the embattled justice department.

There are also those who are resistant to the idea that the shakeup will actually have anything to contribute to a better DOJ.

Those who quit out of ‘courtesy’

“Courtesy resignations” are a familiar phenomenon under the Duterte administration.

In fact, one of Duterte’s first directives early in his incumbency was to call for the courtesy resignation of presidential appointees from the previous administration. Career officials, appointees in the judiciary, military and police, and officials at constitutional commissions were the exempted from the order.

Opposition stalwart Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay) criticized Duterte’s order, calling it reminiscent of former president Ferdinand Marcos’ Letter of Instruction 11, which likewise called for officials in the executive to submit letters of their resignation to the heads of their respective departments in the Presidential cabinet.

LOI 11 was published on September 29, 1972, just a few days after Marcos declared Martial Law.

According to Lagman, both Duterte’s memorandum and LO11 were harsh and lacked due process.

OUT OF COURTESY. Former Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, former Commission on Higher Education chief Patricia Licuanan and former Housing Secretary Leni Robredo, who is also vice president, have all tendered resignations.

Former presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella explained that the purpose behind the order was to address corruption in the executive and to give the president “a free hand.”

In December 2016, Vice President Leni Robredo resigned from her post as secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council after she was allegedly barred from appearing at cabinet meetings.

Late last year, the president’s own flesh and blood, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte tendered his resignation, citing accusations flung against him about his involvement in the drug trade. The elder Duterte accepted his son’s resignation.

Just last month, Assistant Commissioner for Post Clearance Audit Group Ariel Nepomuceno resigned from the Bureau of Customs again after Duterte reappointed him there. Nepomuceno had already submitted his courtesy resignation from his original post last year to make way for Isidro Lapeña.

The case of Patricia Licuanan

One of those who resisted the initial order addressed to appointees of Duterte’s predecessor was former Committee on Higher Education chief Patricia Licuanan, a career public servant.

Licuanan, who was appointed to her post during the Aquino administration, refused to submit a resignation letter despite Abella’s insinuation that she should have also resigned.

Amidst criticism from left-leaning groups like the National Union of Students of the Philippines and pressure from the Palace and also from CHED, Licunanan continued to attend cabinet meetings as CHED commissioner.

Under RA 7722 or the Higher Education Act of 1994, the term of the CHED chair lasts four year. Licuanan’s reappointment to the CHED post was in 2014, meaning her term was to last until 2018.

What happened to Licuanan? She was after all allowed to serve until 2018. That came to halt when Duterte sacked her in January following accusations that she made several unnecessary trips abroad.