Almendras prefers being ‘invisible’ workhorse

Posted on November 7, 2012


President Aquino has given Cabinet Secretary Rene Jose Almendras a powerful role in his administration as implementor of its projects roadmap, without clipping the powers of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.

Almendras will report directly to the President, and will hold office in Malacañang, Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte explained at a news briefing.

It’s well known that the Cebuano finance executive, a close friend of Aquino since their Ateneo college days, enjoys the President’s confidence but prefers to stay in the background and avoid appearing to usurp the role of Ochoa.

“Rene is the kind of person who, if he could help it, would just stay invisible and go on working,” his eldest sister, Cebu Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale told Cebu Daily News.

The President signed Executive Order 99 on Oct. 31 vesting the Cabinet Secretary with powers to implement his 16-point agenda and Philippine Development Plan between now and June 2016, when he steps down from power.

“If you look at everything that the Executive Secretary is doing, it’s quite heavy,” Valte told reporters.

“There are instructions given by the President on a day-to-day basis to his Cabinet secretaries that need to be monitored just to make sure. Secretary Almendras will be that person.”

Before flying on Sunday to Laos to attend the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting, Aquino administered the oaths of office to Almendras and new Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Almendras was the previous energy secretary.

Under the new EO, the Cabinet Secretary’s main job is to help identify a list of priority areas and outcome-based targets in the President’s “social contract” or 16-point agenda, and the Philippine Development Plan from now until 2016. The plan translates the administration’s medium-term priorities into specific programs and projects.

“The Cabinet Secretary will be in charge of monitoring and making sure that the projects under the roadmap will be implemented on time,” Valte said.

According to the EO, his other functions are to:

– Recommend to the President an annual detailed and measurable performance and projects roadmap that will facilitate outputs of the targets against priorities, in close coordination with the concerned agencies;

– Ensure the timely execution and monitor the significant impact of the targets under the annual performance and projects roadmap, and re-align targets when needed;

– Represent the President in meetings and such other fora in order to expedite inter-agency action toward the achievement of the targets identified in the performance and projects roadmap;

– Assist in providing timely and organized information to the Cabinet on issues and problems submitted for decision and action; and

– Perform other functions as needed to attain the objectives or as may be assigned by the President.

On top of these, the Cabinet Secretary will also chair the Inter-Agency Task Force to oversee and integrate the Results-Based Performance Management System across all agencies. The Executive Secretary will co-chair the task force.

The Cabinet Secretary is also a member of all Cabinet clusters, and the National Economic and Development Authority Board Executive Committee, and other NEDA committees.

The President, however, did not clip the powers of the otherwise low-profile Ochoa, according to Valte.

“Well, your Executive Secretary is still what we call ‘primus inter pares’,” (Latin for ‘first among equals) she said. “Whatever the ES was doing before, it will stay.”

Some functions of Presidential Management Staff chief Julia Abad were transferred to the Cabinet Secretary, she said.

Some political analysts observed that Almendras’ appointment would diminish Ochoa’s role in the Executive Department.

In essence, the EO reconstitutes the Office of the Cabinet Secretariat of 1986 and renames it Office of the Cabinet Secretary, defining its powers, and providing support staff.

To avoid confusion, a matrix was released showing the functions of the Cabinet Secretary, the Executive Secretary and the PMS head. It shows that the Cabinet Secretary’s mandate has to do with policy: integration and implementation of the programs of the administrations.

The Executive Secretary’s mandate is administrative in nature since he responds to the “specific needs and requirements” of the President. The PMS head is directly responsible for providing staff assistance in the president’s exercise of overall management of the development process, the strategic planning office said.

The Cabinet Secretary’s powers and functions are limited to six, compared with a long list of functions of the Executive Secretary and the PMS head.

But EO 99 also transfers the functions of the Inter-Agency Task Force to the Cabinet Secretary. Almendras will chair the inter-agency task force. Ochoa will co-chair it. The PMS head is a member.

Almendras will also be a member of NEDA’s Investment Coordination Committee, Social Development Committee and Infrastructure Committee. /INQUIRER


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