6 things you should know about the President’s job

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Is the president’s job easy? That might be an absurd question to ask. But considering the record number of wanna-be’s who filed their COC’s for the job—130 for this year’s election—there must be something in the job itself that draws people to try.

However selfish, ludicrous or lofty a person’s reason for seeking the presidency is, it is important that he or she knows the responsibilities of the job. But the voters are not free from that equally important duty of knowing what the presidency really entails.

Knowing what is asked of someone—and by extension, what is not—in position can give you a clearer idea of who you should vote for on May 9. So here’s a rundown of the major responsibilities that a President is expected to fulfill once he or she swears on noon of June 30:

  1. As President, he or she is expected to do tasks that are mainly executive in nature.

    As you may recall from your politics and governance course in college, we are following the American system of separation-of-powers in the government, hence the three “branches”: the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. The President, unlike the legislative and the judiciary which are collegial, singly holds the executive power—the power and responsibility to make sure all the laws of the land are faithfully carried out.

    A key takeaway is that a good President will make sure that everyone in the executive department abides by all laws—from the Constitution to the departments’ mandates. That is also the reason why the Presidency has a big stake in issues regarding the government’s budget; not only is the executive branch responsible for proposing a budget, it is also responsible for making sure that every peso in the budget is spent properly, the yearly budget being a law that needs to be executed faithfully.

  2. As President, he or she is responsible for appointing people to key positions in the government.

    Maybe you have heard how, for example, PNoy seems to favor his kaklase, kabarilan and kaibigan as heads of many government agencies, or how Gloria Arroyo’s cabinet was “star-studded” (many of her secretaries were retired decorated generals). That is because the President wields the enormous power of appointment. With the consent of the Commission on Appointments (a body whose members come from the Senate and the House of Representatives), the President can appoint people to positions in both civilian, judicial, and military agencies.

    But the appointing power of the President is not unfettered. Remember Arroyo’s infamous “midnight” appointment of Renato Corona to the position of chief justice in 2010? It was regarded then as a move to ensure she will not face litigation when she steps down from office. But it is unwarranted, as the Constitution specifically bars presidents from making permanent appointments four months before their terms end.

  3. As President, he or she is the Commander-in-Chief of the country’s armed forces.

    While the President is not empowered to declare war (that belongs to the Congress), he or she still holds the very important position of commander-in-chief of the armed forces. This role was realized many times during Gloria Arroyo’s presidency, when she declared a state of emergency or even martial law when peace and order in some parts of the country was challenged.

    This power, again, is not without limits. A President’s declaration of martial law, for example, cannot stand unless majority of the Congress (the Senate and the House) votes in favor of it. It may also be struck down by the Supreme Court if it finds the factual basis of the declaration insufficient.

  4. As President, he or she is expected to work with Congress for the enactment of important laws.

    The presidential campaign trail is littered with the candidates’ promises, and one major concern that emerges is the question of how they will fulfill those promises should they get elected. Although presidents sign bills into laws (or denies their passage through their veto power), strictly speaking they cannot create laws. That is the job of the Congress. Promises such as radical tax exemptions or changing the form of government for peace and development sounds good, but without the Congress acting upon these policy wishes, these will all come to naught.

    That is why it is important that the president be able to work, and work efficiently, with representatives and senators so that his or her desired policies can be enacted. This is not formally codified in the Constitution. The president, though, is required to address representatives and senators on the first day of the Congress’ regular session (informally known as the State of the Nation Address or SONA) to enumerate and explain the laws that he or she wants enacted.

    Whether Congress will actually act on the president’s proposed policies is up to its bidding, and presidents have been accused of taking the money politics route to try to get what he or she wants (the BBL, anyone?). A key takeaway here is that the president should be able to build consensus with Congress so he or she can deliver on his or her promises. This is important especially when majority of Congress comes from a different, opposing coalition.

  5. As President, he or she is expected to supervise over local governments and the Constitutionally-mandated autonomous regions.

    With respect to the three branches of government in the country, the local government units (provinces, cities, municipalities, and the barangays) fall under the supervision of the president. This allows the president to wield enormous influences and opportunities for patronage, but it also entails the enormous responsibility of making sure no LGU gets left behind.

    Another responsibility under the purview of the president is supervising the autonomous regions. Two autonomous regions are mandated by the Constitution, one in the Cordilleras, and another in Muslim Mindanao. Currently, only the latter is enabled by law, and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law sought to revise it. The key takeaway here is that the president is responsible in ensuring that these special regions do not get left behind in terms of development. This brings us to our last point.

  6. The President unifies the nation.

    That may sound cheesy or vague, but the president brings the entire nation together. He or she must act as the bridge in among Filipinos, despite the geographic difficulties and the marked ethno linguistic and religious differences.

Whether it is due to Filipinos’ fixation with celebrity or the enormous powers that the president wields, the presidency, especially during elections, becomes larger than life. While this breeds the unwanted personalization of politics in the country, the president’s “larger-than-life” characteristics as a leader become important especially in times of crises. If anything, a president might be remembered not only by the policies he or she championed, but more so how he or she handled trying situations for the country.

Julius Ryan Umali is an alumnus of the University of the Philippines Diliman.