“There are too many people in the Palace; there is the executive secretary and the Presidential Management Staff (PMS). The chief of staff position is a bit problematic because they have to define the authority of the position.” Satur Ocampo
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Is the position of presidential chief of staff necessary or just created to accommodate former senator and Aquino’s running mate Mar Roxas in Malacañang Palace?
This was the question posed by Satur Ocampo, president of Makabayan coalition, a coalition of eight progressive political parties, in an interview with Bulatlat.com.
When last year’s presidential race was just beginning, Roxas dropped his bid for the presidency to give way to Aquino. Roxas joined the vice presidential race instead but lost to former Makati mayor Jejomar Binay.
Roxas’s appointment as chief of staff is an additional position because it was abolished by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Ocampo said that it will be a problem since Roxas’s functions as chief of staff are not clear.
“There are too many people in the Palace; there is the executive secretary and the Presidential Management Staff (PMS). The chief of staff position is a bit problematic because they have to define the authority of the position. Unlike the executive secretary that has supervisory power over other departments,” Ocampo told Bulatlat.
The PMS headed by Secretary Julia Abad is tasked to manage the development and formulation of the projects and policies of the Office of the President. The executive secretary, on the other hand, is the head and highest ranking official serving in the Cabinet and is the head of the Executive Office of the President.
“It is their dilemma [defining the functions of the chief of staff]. If the executive secretary will be assertive then the chief of staff will only play a minor role. We will have to see what will be the function of Roxas as chief of staff,” Ocampo said.
An administrative order has yet to be released to define the functions of Roxas’s position.
Factions within the Aquino administration
Prof. Bobby Tuazon, director of Political Studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (Cenpeg) said handling the potential conflicts between Roxas and Vice President Jejomar Binay will be a big challenge to Aquino. “Having the two in the same Cabinet meeting will be very uncomfortable, if not rowdy. How will he handle that situation?”
There are reportedly two factions in the inner circle of Aquino called the Samar and Balay group. The Samar group is reportedly composed of loyalists of the Aquino and Cojuangco families, which includes Sen. Francis Escudero and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte. The Samar group is formerly known as the Noy-Bi group because it was suspected of pushing for the Aquino-Binay tandem in the last May 2010 election. It is called the Samar group because of the location of its office at Samar Street, South Triangle in Quezon City.
The Balay group where Roxas belongs is called as such in reference to the Balay of the Roxases, also called the white house, in Cubao, Quezon City. Members of the Balay group includes the so-called Hyatt 10 who also hold positions in the Cabinet.
Tuazon said that Roxas’s appointment spells trouble. “I anticipate emerging problems between Roxas and executive secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr.,” Tuazon said,adding that the executive secretary position is more powerful than the chief of staff.
“How will Aquino bring stability and ensure coordination between Ochoa and Roxas in a situation where the warring factions, which included Roxas and Ochoa, are at loggerheads? It spells a lot of disaster coming.”
Tuazon added, “If there is really an earnest effort to fulfill Aquino’s campaign promises of eradicating corruption and reducing poverty, he must have a solid, consolidated Cabinet to function in the center of the government.”
“I don’t know how the presence of factions within the government will help achieve unity with the presence of Roxas. They will only be able to march in step and push forward their programs if the government is speaking in one voice,” Tuazon said.
Ocampo also said the creation of the chief of staff position is a strategy of the Liberal Party (LP) to ensure that Roxas will be a strong presidential candidate for the 2016 election.
“It is only logical to think that LP wants to ensure that the next president would still belong to their party. For a political party that is not really a major one and does not dominate the Senate and Congress, LP will need a strong base to project Roxas as the next presidential candidate,” Ocampo pointed out.
“Will he present something new to the president? Will he become an asset to the president?” Ocampo asked.
Ocampo said Aquino won as president because of the death of his mother. “Originally, the LP was fielding Roxas even as he was not the frontrunner then.The LP only decided to push the candidacy of Aquino when his mother died. ”
Ocampo said that Roxas’s appointment could either be an asset or a liability to the president. “His appointment should not have a negative impact on the president. Say for instance, it should not be made apparent that future policies and actions of Aquino would come from Roxas or Aquino would appear like just a façade. If Roxas would be deemed as the one who gives commands and makes the decisons, Aquino would be seen as weak.”