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THE Interior and Local Government secretary Benhur Abalos’ campaign to get the Philippine National Police’s 479 generals and colonels to submit this only-in-the-Philippines thing called “courtesy resignations” — wholeheartedly backed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. — will be among this administration’s colossal governance blunders.
Talk of historical irony. It was Marcos’ nemesis who invented this fiction of courtesy resignation.
“Courtesy resignation” is the pulled-out-of-thin-air invention that President Corazon Aquino used in her Proclamation 1, issued Feb. 25, 1986, or the day she claimed to have assumed the presidency. In that proclamation, she said: “As a first step to restore public confidence, I expect all appointed public officials to submit their courtesy resignations beginning with members of the Supreme Court.”
“Courtesy resignation” was obviously a public relations spin for Aquino’s dictatorial order: “All you Marcos minions, including the Supreme Court, step down now!” The Supreme Court justices of course ignored Aquino’s order and so did Marcos Cabinet ministers and deputies who simply didn’t go to office, didn’t even bother to submit “courtesy resignations” and faded away from the government — refusing to pay “courtesy” to the new one-woman ruler. Even the highest ranking official after Marcos, Prime Minister Cesar Virata refused to vacate his post, pointing out that it wasn’t Marcos who appointed him but members of the Batasan Pambansa.
The myth that a “courtesy resignation” has legal basis, and could remove with little hassle the government officials the president, or a department secretary, wants to, was due to the fact that Aquino assumed dictatorial powers on Feb. 25, 1986 until the new 1987 Constitution was ratified a year later. (That constitution provided the legal basis for the widow’s continued rule until the 1992 elections.)
She actually didn’t need “courtesy resignations” since under her dictatorial powers, she could fire any government official she wished to, for any or no reason. Aquino never used the term again, and there is in fact no evidence of a single Marcos official submitting such a document. She simply kicked out whoever she wanted, through orders of her executive secretary, Joker Arroyo, in the case of national officials, and of Interior Secretary Aquilino Pimentel in the case of thousands of local government officials.
The Supreme Court in 1988 cut down Aquino’s fiction of “courtesy resignation” in the case of a Commission on Elections official, who claimed that despite his resignation, due to the acceptance of a “courtesy resignation” he was asked to submit ahead of his retirement, government must pay him his benefits to the end of the term he didn’t serve. The court granted his appeal, and pointed out: “Verily, a ‘courtesy resignation’ cannot properly be interpreted as resignation in the legal sense for it is not necessarily a reflection of a public official’s intention to surrender his position.”
Does Abalos realize what he is getting into? Colonels in their 30s or 40s may just manipulate things for their courtesy resignations to be accepted, and they will get benefits as if they retired 10 years later.
However, even if “courtesy resignation” had no legal basis, a few department heads of new administrations — even two presidents — over the years would demand such “courtesy resignations,” extending the life of this fiction. That these were announced in the press reveals its real intention: as a PR stunt to send the message that the department head was cleaning up his agency.
It’s not of course without practical use: It spared both the department head from having to formally fire a subordinate, which carries the connotation that he is being relieved because of his inefficiency or he has done something wrong.
Rulings by two past Civil Service Commission chairs have further undermined the legality of “courtesy resignations.”
In 1992, CSC Chairman Patricia Sto. Tomas, citing the 1988 Supreme Court decision mentioned earlier, issued a memorandum circular declaring: “Career Executive Service Officers shall not be required to tender courtesy resignations to any new administration in the executive department or any agency of government. Career Executive Service Officers may only be separated from the service for cause and after due process or by voluntary resignation.”
In 2004 CSC Chairman Karina Constantino bolstered the uselessness of courtesy resignations. Her Circular 7 of that year pointed out: “Courtesy resignation is not necessarily a reflection of an employee’s intention to surrender his (her) position. authority and the appointing power. An official order or directive requiring the tender of ‘courtesy resignation’ shall be null and void on its face, creating neither right nor obligation.”
While I have not (so far) been able to find any decision by the CSC or by any court declaring that police generals and colonels are in effect or officially CESOs, I would think it rational to presume that they are because of the tedious and strict process, mandated by law, by which they become generals and colonels.
Republic Act 8551 of 1988 (Philippine National Police Reform and Reorganization Act) mandates such a process. More importantly for the issue of “courtesy resignations,” the law specifies that overall it is the National Police Commission that has administrative powers over the police, and not just the DILG secretary.
While the Napolcom is chaired by the DILG secretary (currently Abalos), it is a collegial body that includes three from the private sector. The law also provides that investigations of the police for any suspected crimes is undertaken by the PNP’s Internal Affairs Service (which is a nationwide organization), which can either file the cases itself or assist the Ombudsman. Police officials and the ranks and file can appeal the findings of the IAS to a national appellate court.
There is no law that empowers the DILG head to organize a five-person board that would determine which “courtesy resignations” will be accepted, on grounds that an officer is involved in the illegal drug trade, and therefore his “resignation” is accepted. That board would be merely a kangaroo court or a star chamber hastily condemning police officials as criminals.
But why have 600 generals and colonels submitted “courtesy resignations,” as PNP Chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin claims?
The first reason is obvious: They cannot be seen as refusing to do so because it would portray them as guilty of undiscovered crimes, especially involvement in the illegal drug gangs. “If they’re not guilty of something, why wouldn’t they submit their courtesy resignation?” Azurin quite stupidly asked. General Azurin will be retiring in three months, in April. Why risk going against Abalos’ foolish ideas?
Second, they know that this courtesy-resignation thing is merely a PR stunt which will not affect them at all, and rid their ranks of scalawags. Doesn’t Azurin know the huge resources the police have to expend to prove that an officer, out of the 600 who submitted their resignations, is involved in illegal drugs? If he thinks that a five-man board can do it, why couldn’t the Internal Affairs Service under his command do it.
And if the five man board investigates, because of its limited resources, say, only 50 officers, how can it justify their having investigated these 50 and not others? First submitted, first investigated? There will be a barrage of accusations that the real police scalawags are bribing the board members.
By hyping this courtesy-resignation campaign, Abalos is digging a huge grave for himself. Determining which police officials are involved in illegal drugs isn’t at all an easy task. If it was, the past administration — with President Duterte himself keen on doing so — would have fired scores of police generals and colonels.
In a few months, this campaign will fizzle out and prove useless, as it has totally no legal basis and its aim — for a five man board to determine the officials’ innocence — impossible to undertake.
Worse, especially after his five-man kangaroo court dismisses officials who are known in the PNP as innocent — relatively, that is — its ranks would be at best divided, and at worst on the way to plotting to topple this government. It would be another boo-boo of the Marcos administration, and the country will be laughing at him and the PNP leadership for being bungling amateurs. The PNP will be demoralized as this “courtesy resignations” hullabaloo, while achieving nothing, has portrayed the entire police leadership as corrupt that all of them have been asked to submit these useless documents.
That would be the supreme irony. Aquino invented this flawed weapon called “courtesy resignations.” The younger Marcos uses it, and it blows up in his face.
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