By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has appointed a former chief justice as his executive secretary.
Ex-Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, 72, took his oath at the presidential palace on Tuesday, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles told a news briefing. Mr. Marcos chose Mr. Bersamin for the post because of “trust.”
The former magistrate will replace Victor D. Rodriguez, the president’s long-time aide who resigned amid the country’s sugar import fiasco.
“The President says he is well-qualified to be the Executive Secretary having put in so many years in the judiciary,” she said. “He has the necessary legal background and the ability to deal with the paperwork plus of course, he is trusted and well-qualified for this.”
The executive secretary, who is also called the “little president,” helps the president in managing state affairs.
The Senate investigated a plan by the Sugar Regulatory Administration to import 300,000 metric tons of sugar that Mr. Marcos later vetoed amid rising prices and tight supply.
The Senate majority later cleared him, but the Senate minority bloc said he had failed to communicate the palace import policy.
Mr. Bersamin, who was the chief justice of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte from 2018 to 2019, was appointed justice by former President now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2009.
He wrote the ruling allowing former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who is now Mr. Marcos’ legal adviser, to post bail on humanitarian grounds.
He also wrote the decision that acquitted Ms. Arroyo of plunder charges in 2016 — she was accused of misusing P366 million in charity funds — effectively freeing her from years of hospital arrest.
“This is definitely a political appointment,” said Jan Robert R. Go, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines.
“Is he anticipating legal challenges to his future actions?” he asked. “Is he surrounding himself with capable and connected people to shield him from his possible shortcomings?”
“The speculation is that the failure of the former executive secretary was due to his inability to manage competing political interests inside Malacañang,” Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a policy analyst, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
“It is only logical to expect that his replacement would be someone who has that skill and who has a proven track record of being able to manage partisan politicking inside government.”
But he doubts Mr. Bersamin could do that.
“Justices and judges presumably are not skilled at managing competing political interests because they are actually mandated to avoid this,” he said. “Being in the Judiciary means sticking to the law and ignoring politics at all costs.”
“A former chief justice seems out of place in a highly political and partisan office.”
The late President Corazon C. Aquino, who appointed Mr. Bersamin judge in 1986, restored the pre-martial law executive secretary position, according to the Official Gazette.
Her predecessor, the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos — Marcos Jr.’s father — abolished the position and replaced it with the presidential assistant in 1975.