The Marcos administration will do well to step back and take a long hard look at the issue of the current vacancy in the education department brought about by the sudden resignation of Vice President Sara Duterte.

We can only imagine the frenzy of lobbying currently going on for such a juiicy post involving players of varying interests and backgrounds, political or otherwise. Unless one is a Malacañang insider, you won’t know how the Palace’s head-hunting process is done. One thing we can speculate with near certainty is that agencies that are supposed to have HR competencies to perform the vetting task would be remotely involved, if at all, in the selection process.

Our governance practice is such that political appointments usually negates merit-based selection. What they mostly do in the private sector is a rigid vetting process conducted by human resources people who take into account criteria such as training and background of a candidate as primary considerations for hiring.

Government can draw lessons from the standard hiring practices of successful private and business enterprises, which mainly evolve around vetting a candidate’s credentials. It should find the right balance between political accomodation and the qualifications of a candidate. It would do well if the chosen candidate possess, at the minimum, the managerial skills required by running the department and that he or she starts with a clean slate or a benchmark starting point.

If a professional HR office handled the vetting of VP Sara Duterte as a candidate for education secretary at the outset of the PBBM administration, they might have picked up her predilection to odd issues not related to education, such as the leftist insurgency, her wanting to return ROTC in school, and the need for the department to have a huge intelligence fund to address rebel recruitment. Duterte had wanted a ₱150 million intelligence fund for her education post on top of ₱500 for her VP post.

These would have raised some flags against her posting in the education department and her possible match to the national defense position. Her performance in office was a dismal failure, represented by the Philippines’ Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rating showing a pitiful bottom ranking of the Philippines – 78/78 in 2018 and 77/81 in 2022.

PBBM may borrow a leaf from his father’s trait of being able to spot a talent in selecting capable people for his Cabinet. Blas Ople at labor and Carlos P. Romulo on foreign affairs were just some of them who delivered despite the political turmoil of the time.

The selection of a new education secretary is ideally better informed by the inherent challenges facing the country’s educational system – issues such as the deteriorating overall quality of our educational system.

At the end of the day after the final decision by Malacanang is made, the wisdom of such decision will be judged long after all the political decisions that factored in it become mere footnote. It will be judged but by how such an appointment had helped, or further worsened, the state of Philippine education.