Hail to the chief

Jose P. Laurel was the third President of the Republic. Yet after the war, he became a Senator. Diosdado Macapagal was also President, but after his term, served as President of the 1971 Constitutional Commission. Joseph Estrada was also President, and after his ouster — after almost being reelected — became Mayor of Manila for two terms. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for her part, had three full terms as her Pampanga district’s Representative in the House of Representatives took a rest, and has now been reelected. President Noynoy Aquino, well, no one (it seems) wanted him back in government, and he died alone in his house after his term.

The first four examples show that even a person who has become the highest official of the land, and who still wants to serve the public, must (should) be willing to serve in a different, albeit “lower” position and their reputation and prestige should be none the worse for it. So what’s the big to-do among the ranks of the Opposition about former Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin accepting the post of Executive Secretary?

To be sure, the position is not exactly chopped liver. On the contrary, so coveted it is that its former occupant, Victor Rodriguez, fought tooth and nail to be retained. Even after it had become apparent that he would be fired, he still tried to weasel his way into an office with equal or greater powers, only to be thwarted by The Immortal One, Presidential Legal Adviser Juan Ponce Enrile. Truly, the Executive Secretary is the primus inter pares of the Cabinet, the gatekeeper to the President.

And CJ Bersamin is undoubtedly (overly) qualified for the job. In a previous column in this paper (Vic Mistake, 26 September 2022), I pointed out that the roster of previous Executive Secretaries reads like a Who’s Who of Philippine governance since one indispensable requirement for the position should be gravitas. In Bersamin’s case, the weight and eminence carried by a former head of a separate and co-equal department to his new position would be beyond compare and well-nigh incalculable.

Discharging a function where knowledge of the law is indispensable, Bersamin does not have to consult legal consultants: he himself not only knows the law but as Associate Justice and later Chief Justice, has written a lot of the law himself. Placing among the Top Ten in the 1973 Bar examinations, he was a private practitioner before embarking on a judicial career that showed him going through the entire gamut of the court system from trial court judge to the highest court of the land. In the meantime, he taught law at the country’s top universities and acquired further law studies abroad. Thus, when it comes to the length of service to the nation and depth of legal knowledge and experience, one would be hard-pressed to find a person with more.

What is more important, though, is that having retired at the pinnacle of his career as a jurist, he is now shorn of that sort of impetus that would make him place networking and empire-building above the desire to serve the President and the public faithfully and honestly. Chief Justice Bersamin has nothing else to prove. At this point in his life, he is simply looking at how he will be remembered by our people. His latest appointment will just be the icing on his cake, another opportunity to enhance a legacy that is already lasting and lustrous.

Thus, we must hail the Chief Justice for his new post and congratulate the President for one of the best appointments made thus far. I will bet my bottom — peso, that is — that CJ Bersamin will do a great job.

Mark my words (with apologies to, and kind permission from, my good friend Mark Lopez).

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