EDITORIAL - Floating status

The Philippine Star

A new executive secretary has been sworn in, and he says there is no order creating the new position of presidential chief of staff. Administrative Order No. 1, supposedly signed by President Marcos creating the new post for his former “ES” and campaign spokesman Victor Rodriguez, has not been published in the Official Gazette or released to the public.

So what is the status of Rodriguez? The first “little president” of the new administration stepped down in mid-September amid the controversial import order for 300,000 metric tons of sugar signed by Leocadio Sebastian, a career civil servant whose current status in government is as unclear as that of Rodriguez.

Sebastian believed he had the authority to approve the sugar importation, based on a detailed description of his functions as Department of Agriculture undersecretary and chief of staff of the DA chief, as provided in an order signed by Rodriguez that has been made public. Sebastian told a congressional inquiry that he informed Rodriguez several times about the looming importation. In the absence of any comment from Rodriguez, Sebastian said he proceeded with the import order, amid a sugar shortage that the government initially denied.

Sebastian has since been placed under preventive suspension and recommended by the Senate for administrative and criminal indictment in connection with the sugar import order. Senators, however, cleared Rodriguez of accountability in the mess.

Rodriguez himself announced he was stepping down with the President’s approval, saying in a press statement on Sept. 17 that he would continue “serving… the country” as the Malacañang chief of staff. The Office of the Press Secretary announced that Marcos had signed AO No. 1 creating the Office of the Presidential Chief of Staff, which would be under the direct supervision of the Office of the President. The press secretary provided details of the functions of the OPCOS.

Chief presidential legal counsel Juan Ponce Enrile, however, said the broad powers supposedly given to the COS would duplicate or overlap with those of other offices in the OP including his own, and create tension. Retired chief justice Lucas Bersamin, upon being sworn in as the new executive secretary on Sept. 27, reportedly said he was not aware that AO No. 1 had been signed by the President.

Bersamin is currently holding office in the Office of the Executive Secretary, so his predecessor must be “floating” around Malacañang. While Palace intramurals even in the early months of a new administration are not unusual, care must be given to prevent such controversies from adversely affecting governance. The floating status of Rodriguez also smacks of indecision that could reflect badly on the President himself. This issue must be resolved with dispatch and decisiveness.


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