With Roxas in, Aquino reshapes Palace chain of command | Inquirer News
Analysis

With Roxas in, Aquino reshapes Palace chain of command

THE ONE-YEAR BAN on the appointment of losing candidates in the May 10, 2010, election ended on Wednesday, clearing the way for the appointment of the defeated Liberal Party vice presidential candidate, former Sen. Manuel A. Roxas II, to a Cabinet position as President Benigno Aquino III’s chief of staff.

The appointment of Roxas, which is expected to be announced shortly, will not signal the start of a Cabinet revamp to reinvigorate the Aquino administration whose public satisfaction rating has been declining over the past six months.

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Rather, the President is trying to restructure Malacañang’s chain of command by giving Roxas a position that is not a regular portfolio and that potentially puts Roxas in collision with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Mr. Aquino’s longtime legal counselor.

The position of chief of staff, largely an administrative office, was abolished by the preceding Arroyo administration. Although Mr. Aquino has given the new position a Cabinet rank, he is at pain trying to define its functions “so there will be no overlap with the executive secretary and the Presidential Management Staff.” The President said, “We are trying to clearly delineate the functions.”

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While waiting for the one-year ban to end, Roxas, who lost to former Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay in the vice presidential election, endured staying in limbo, serving as the President’s ad hoc troubleshooter in an informal capacity without clearly defined functions.

How Roxas will be placed vis-à-vis Ochoa is a huge test for the leadership style of Mr. Aquino, who is facing the challenge of building a functional executive structure for a strong presidency and providing a base for his political party.

Roxas is president of the Liberal Party, but this does not give him the political clout to determine party policy and to make the administration adopt it as government policy in the light of the fact that the party has only four seats in the Senate and holds only 83 seats in the 285-member House of Representatives. Although it is the largest political group in the House, the Liberal Party is not big enough to hold a majority.

Institutional weakness

However the President defines the functions of chief of staff, Roxas will hold a hollow portfolio. The ambiguity of his new position is mirror image of the institutional weakness of the Aquino presidency and its vulnerability to warring factions competing for the spoils of office and plum positions in the Cabinet.

Historically, Ochoa, a lawyer and former administrator of Quezon City, is lodged in a position, as executive secretary, which is regarded as the most powerful Cabinet position, with jurisdiction over executive offices under the Office of the President, and is considered the alter ego of the president, and it is not an idle talk that he is called the “Little President.”

In the course of consultations on what job Roxas will be given in the Cabinet befitting his position as Liberal Party leader, as running mate of Mr. Aquino in 2010, and his experience as a senator, it has been reported that Roxas has been told by persons close to the President that he can choose any position in the administration, except that of executive secretary.

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It has also been reported that Roxas was considering accepting a Cabinet portfolio responsible for “flagship projects,” with jurisdiction over projects across several departments and well-funded to deliver results.

Recipe for conflict

More than making himself busy, Roxas faces the dilemma of keeping himself visible and keeping his political future alive and putting himself in contention to make another bid for the presidency in 2016.

The position of chief of staff has no line functions vested in a regular Cabinet portfolio. Its functions are still vague and could overlap those of the executive secretary in particular. This ambiguity offers conflict areas that are likely to spark friction between several Cabinet departments.

The President’s approach in glossing over these tension areas underscores a style that can only weaken the capacity of his government to deliver results. His style is highlighted by his appointment of Cabinet members whose authority he undermines by not giving them full powers.

For example, two Cabinet members are in the dark over their continuation in the Cabinet. The names of Environment Secretary Ramon Jesus Paje and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo have not been submitted by the Palace to the Commission on Appointments for confirmation.

Both Cabinet officials are still in acting capacity even though the administration is about to conclude its first year in office by the end of June.

Retrospective reform drive

As a loser in the last election, Roxas, despite his productive record in the Senate, is to join the Cabinet without any political constituency. He had a national constituency as a senator. As Liberal Party president, he could help the President develop the party as a political vehicle through which to articulate programs and policies as a foundation for a strong party system.

Mr. Aquino and his party allies are on the right track in rebuilding the party as a vehicle for political reform and pushing legislation for economic and social programs. So far, he has been using the party as a weapon to galvanize votes in Congress to push for the impeachment of the officials of the previous administration in the government’s anticorruption campaign.

In the history of the electoral transitions of government since 1953, no newly elected government ever pursued an anticorruption campaign with retrospective effect, except the current administration.

When the highly popular Ramon Magsaysay defeated President Elpidio Quirino in the 1953 election, he focused his political reforms on curbing existing malfeasance, not exhuming the corruption of the Quirino regime, and in crushing the Huk insurgency.

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TAGS: Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, Conflicts (general), Government offices & agencies, Jejomar Binay, Management changes, Politics
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