Campaign spokesman-turned-Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez. TMT FILE PHOTO
Campaign spokesman-turned-Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez. TMT FILE PHOTO

THE executive secretary (ES) is the "little president," but it is inherently a management position that acts like a traffic cop of documents, people and guests to and from the President. Some say it is a glorified clerk position, but if one focuses on the management aspect instead of getting muddled up in the politics and decision-making process, the office should be in tiptop shape to serve the President. After all, the President is the one elected, with a mandate of 31 million while the executive secretary is an appointed position. The problem begins when the executive secretary wants to be in the eye of every act of the President, interferes in the appointment process, puts the institution of the presidency in questionable acts, and wants to be heard and seen more than what the Office of the Executive Secretary is mandated to do.

The ES manages the Office of the President proper, and the OP attached agencies. He is not a decision maker. I would not even consider him an alter ego of the President like the Cabinet members. Is he "primus inter pares" or first among equals? That is a blur because the Administrative Code does not say so, but it is a tradition often extended by the Cabinet. If you look at EO 292, the first Cabinet position listed is that of Foreign Affairs. But the authority of the ES is derived from the President, and he is the only one who can sign under the phrase, "by authority of the President" and from there emanates the perceived power of his office.

Per EO 292, Title 2, Chapter 8, the Office of the President is composed of the Office of the President proper and the agencies under it. OP proper is made up of the Private Office, the Executive Office, and Common Staff Support System (CSSS). The Executive Office refers to the offices of the executive secretary, deputy executive secretary and assistant executive secretaries. The CSSS is composed of officers under the general categories of development and management, general government administration and internal administration, and the presidential special assistants/advisers system as may be needed by the president.

Victor Rodriguez is the 39th executive secretary since 1936, or the Commonwealth era. The first executive secretary was Jorge Vargas, a lawyer, diplomat and youth advocate from Bago, Negros Occidental. Most of our executive secretaries were lawyers, but we had a doctor (Arturo Rotor) and some military men (Aguirre, de Villa, Ermita and Mendoza) occupying the coveted position. The shortest stint, post-EDSA, was that of the late senator Ed Angara who stayed for only 20 days under the Estrada administration. The next shortest stint was that of Peter Garrucho who served only for two months. Paquito Ochoa (under Aquino 3rd) and Salvador Medialdea (under Duterte) completed their tours of duty, starting and stepping down with their principals.

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The executive secretary is under the control and supervision of the President, carries out the functions assigned by law to the Executive Office and performs such functions as may be delegated to him by the President. Under EO 292, the executive secretary has 18 functions, one of which is the attestation function of signing "By authority of the President." Was the memo from ES Rodriguez signed "By authority of the President" (delegation authority of the executive secretary to Agriculture Undersecretary Sebastian dated July 15, 2022) a proper exercise of the attestation function? Because the ordinance power of the President (acts of the president) is limited to executive order, administrative order, proclamations, memorandum orders, memorandum circulars, general or special orders. It was clearly marked "Memo from the Executive Secretary."

The origin of the executive secretary post dates to the American colonial period. The first Office of the Executive Secretary was created by Act 167 of the Philippine Commission (1901). It was an Executive Bureau created to assist the Civil Governor (later Governor General) in his executive duties. Act 609 s 1903 further consolidated the office. By Administrative Code 1917, the title of the head of the Executive Bureau was changed from executive secretary to secretary to chief of the executive bureau. Tasking was principally on administrative supervision and control of the Secretary of Interior. The executive secretaries were Americans, and the interior secretaries were Filipinos.

Act 4007 devolved the Executive Bureau to the different agencies. Acts 167 and 2711 provided private secretaries to the governor-general. These were carried over to the Commonwealth in the person of the secretary to the president, Jorge Vargas, with his own office along with his own staffing pattern as contained in the Appropriation Act of 1937, or CA 38. The office was headed by a secretary to the president, with Cabinet rank, whose role was to assist the president in his duties and responsibilities. By EO 137 s 1937, the secretary to the president was given the duty of attesting the signature of the president on all executive orders, proclamations, and commissions and of affixing the great seal of the Commonwealth of the Philippines to some documents.

EO 94a 1947 renamed the position of chief of the Executive Office to that of executive secretary. PD 831s 1975 abolished the position and replaced it with presidential assistant. By virtue of EO 292 s 1987, the Office of the Executive Secretary was formally re-established and was given the mandate to directly assist the president in the "management of affairs of the government as well as to direct the operations of the Executive Office."

We are on the 52nd day of the Marcos administration. After President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. won a historical mandate in the May 2022 elections, we seem to be aimlessly floating around without any big program launched. The first two published executive orders (Official Gazette) pertained to reorganizing the Office of the President, abolishing the Presidential anti-Corruption Commission and the Office of the Cabinet Secretary. Clearly, it was a consolidation of powers in the ES. The second was to reorganize and rename the Presidential Communications Operations Office and its attached agencies into the Office of the Press Secretary, abolishing the presidential spokesman. The Office of the Press Secretary is said to be a power struggle between the person behind the position and the public face. As a source claimed, "it is a recipe for disaster."

Three memorandum circulars were likewise published in the Official Gazette: MC 1 declared vacant certain positions in the bureaucracy; MC 2 mandated strict compliance with the requirement of a strengthened complete staff work for the processing and evaluation of requests for presidential issuances; and MC 3 corrected the errors due to MC1. Under MC 1 the following were declared vacant: "all presidential appointees whose appointments are classified as co-terminus; all presidential appointees occupying positions created more than the authorized staffing pattern; all non-CESO occupying CESO positions and contractual and casual employees. Had MC 1 not been amended, we could have seen the bureaucracy grinding to a halt by end July 2022. If the ES had carefully studied his MC 1, that would mean affecting a total of 1,024,856 positions, broken down as follows: non-career at 157,451; JO/COS at 582,378 or a total of 739,829 filled positions. PRRD left a total of 285,027 unfilled positions.

From alleged campaign donations gone haywire, to the botched PPA appointment and oath-taking of a family member both at MMDA and LRTA, reported promises made during the campaign season that resulted in major elbowing from PCSO to Pagcor to BARMM and so much more. Then the SRA maneuverings from the delegation of authority to claims he didn't see any importation plan to diversions to Customs raids and claims of recycled importation documents, all framed as the star of the show on SRPs of sugar in groceries. Is the President being served well? Or is the ES merely proving to all that the President is weak? Hard questions, but they need to be asked because the acts are coming from the ES, handpicked by the President.

As has been said, "the greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse" and there are 110 million reasons for President Marcos to succeed, right, ES?