Who is the real ‘Little President’ now?By Neal H. Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The appointment of former Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras as the new Cabinet secretary has spawned talk that he is the “new Little President,” and that his appointment has clipped the powers of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, the real “Little President,” the title having been tacked on to the executive secretary (ES) because most of his work is to do and assign work “by authority of the President.” Still, because Almendras is a “barkada” who hangs out after work with President Aquino, people think that he is the de facto ES. In fact, Almendras is known to be one of the President’s three former Ateneo classmates closest to him (the other two are Cristino Naguiat Jr., now the chair of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., and Romy Mercado, former owner of Red Ribbon before he sold it to Jollibee).
So who would be doing the work of the ES: Ochoa or Almendras? I did a little homework and read up on pertinent laws, particularly the Administrative Code, which spells out the duties and functions of each ranking public official. The duties of the ES are defined by this law. While a presidential executive order can add to these duties, no executive order (EO) can reduce it. In other words, the ES may be given more tasks, never less.
The Administrative Code lists 18 specific functions of the ES. Here is a sampling:
•directly assist the president in the management of the affairs pertaining to the government of the Republic of the Philippines;
•implement presidential directives, orders and decisions;
•decide, for and in behalf of the president matters not requiring personal presidential attention;
•exercise supervision and control over the various units in the Office of the President proper, including their internal administrative requirements;
•determine and assign matters to the appropriate units in the Office of the President;
•have administrative responsibility for matters in the Office of the President coming from the various departments and agencies of government;
•exercise primary authority to sign papers “By authority of the President,” attest executive orders and other presidential issuances unless attestation is specifically delegated to other officials by him or by the president;
•determine, with the president’s approval, the appropriate assignment of offices and agencies not placed by law under any specific executive department;
•assist the president in the performance of functions pertaining to legislation.
In the first two years of P-Noy’s administration, various executive orders have broadened the scope of the powers of the ES. Under EO 42, the ES not only sits on each of the five Cabinet clusters, he also chairs the powerful Security, Justice and Peace Cluster. And he heads the Anti-Terrorism Council, the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, and the Overseas Preparedness Response Team.
As head of the Office of the President (OP), the ES is responsible for disciplining the rank and file of the country’s over 1 million government employees, as administrative cases against public officials and employees in the executive branch are elevated to the OP.
There are approximately 50 agencies attached and under the control and supervision of the OP. The ES chairs a dozen of these and sits in 14 more as member.
And here is something everyone familiar with the law and bureaucracy knows: An EO cannot supersede a law, only complement it. So the President cannot clip the powers of the ES with an EO. Simply put, no one else can transmit appointments, attest and sign executive issuances, or oversee the bureaucracy. You cannot transfer the powers of the ES by virtue of an executive fiat.
Unless a law amending the Administrative Code is passed, the ES remains the Cabinet’s primus inter pares.
What are the duties and functions of Almendras as the new Cabinet secretary?
Principally as new head of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), Almendras replaces Julia Abad who has been effectively made an undersecretary of the office. The Cabinet secretary is not a new position. The secretary to the Cabinet is really more like the secretary to the President. Almendras is not the head of an agency, neither is he the working head of the bureaucracy like the ES. He is more like an extra pair of hands for the President, an executive assistant tasked to relay the President’s instructions and directives regarding projects and programs of government.
The Cabinet Secretariat used to be under the PMS headed by Abad; it is now going to be headed by Almendras. In effect, Almendras will be taking over some of the duties and responsibilities formerly handled by Abad, not by the ES. Section 6 of EO 99 is clear about this:
The following offices shall be directly under the Office of the Cabinet secretary (OCS)—“the relevant offices under the PMS which shall be identified by the Cabinet Secretary and the PMS Head;” and the Performance and Projects Management Office (PPMO). Some offices previously under the PMS will now be under the OCS, and it is the PMS that has been relieved of some functions (project monitoring, Cabinet coordination), not the ES. The Cabinet Secretariat itself, tasked to coordinate with members of the President’s official family, used to be under the PMS. Now it is a separate entity under Almendras.
Has Almendras been promoted? I don’t think so. On the contrary, I think he has been demoted. He lost the Department of Energy. And I think the reason is that he has been unable to relieve the power shortage in Mindanao. When he suggested that the people of Mindanao pay more for their electricity, the people demanded his resignation.
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