President 24/7, no private time

The President received flak on social media over his Singapore trip for watching the 2022 Singapore Grand Prix officially known as the Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix 2022.

In defense of his trip, the President in his Facebook post justified it by saying that it was productive, to wit:

“They say that playing golf is the best way to drum up business but I say it’s a Formula 1. What a productive weekend! It was fulfilling to have been invited alongside several dignitaries and to have met new business friends who showed that they are ready and willing to invest in the Philippines.”

Apparently, in his state visit to Singapore the other week, he was invited to grace the aforesaid occasion. Other foreign leaders and dignities were in Singapore to watch the prestigious Formula Grand Prix like Saudi Advisor to the Royal Court Dr. Fahad Bin Abdullah Toonsi, Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr., Cambodia’s minister attached to the Prime Minister and managing director of Electricite Du Cambodge Keo Rotanak, and Cambodian commerce minister Pan Sorasak, among others.

Confirming and validating the productive aspect of the President’s visit to Singapore, the Singapore minister for manpower Tan See Leng stated in his Facebook post that he and the foreign leaders discussed bilateral ties, collaboration, and manpower policies on the sidelines of the event.

A photo taken during the racing event showed Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the President in an animated conversation.

Evidently, the occasion presented a good opportunity for PBBM to foster and strengthen bilateral ties with the other invited foreign leaders, and he took advantage of it.

The former Supreme Court Chief Justice and now Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, like the President, drew criticism when the former expressed his take on the latter’s Singapore trip. The newly appointed ES was quoted as saying:

“I am not going to be defensive about it. I will even dismiss the criticism. That is what is insensitive — the criticism.”

“He met there with many people who were very relevant to our business activities or the running of our government here. Whether it was a fully paid trip or not is irrelevant.”

“We do not have direct knowledge on how it was funded, but I am sure if that was the trip of the President, you don’t need to be particular where the funds were sourced because he was still performing his job as President when he was abroad…”

The duly elected President of the Philippines, under the Constitution, shall perform his duties and exercise his functions as such. His work is a 24-hour job. He is not President for less than 24 hours. He remains President during his waking and sleeping hours. Unlike other government officials, he has no private time. As President, whether in the country or outside of it, he carries with him the powers granted him by the Constitution and the duties imposed upon him by it. There can be no break in his duties as President. He cannot evade or avoid doing his duties by invoking that he is entitled to private time.

There is no such animal as a private time when one is President. Every time is official time.

A President cannot disassociate his person from his position. Everything he does is a reflection of his exalted position. Every utterance he makes carries with it the authority bestowed on the position he occupies. Every move he undertakes brings with it the burden and glory of the presidency.

Having been given the constitutional mandate to be the head of the state, he is the face of the nation, and the representative of the Filipino people, whether he is in the country or when he goes abroad.

As the President he is entitled — and the state is duty bound — to provide him with all the available resources of the government at its command, so that he may efficiently and effectively perform his prime duty of serving and protecting the people.

Necessarily too, the President’s safety and well-being must be secured at all times, 24 hours a day. The Presidential Security Group cannot renege on its duty to protect him just because he is watching a movie, riding a motorcycle, playing golf or leisurely driving a car, or watching a racing event, which non-thinking critics and detractors would argue is not part of his functions as President, hence not entitled to the protection of the PSG whose security expenses are shouldered by the taxpayers.

The President’s travels, therefore, are all on official time. No such thing as personal time.

But it does not mean, however, that the President is above the law. He is precisely the person empowered and obligated to enforce the Constitution, as well as all the laws of the land.

He is accountable during — and after his term — for any transgression of the Constitution.

But the President, like any other public official, is entitled to the presumption of regularity in the performance of his duties. That presumption is pierced only upon proof to the contrary, and observance of due process.

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