By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has issued twin orders that reorganized his office and abolished several executive agencies, including an anti-corruption body that had been criticized for its inefficiency.
Executive Order No. 1 abolished the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), which ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte created in 2017, and the Office of the Cabinet Secretary, created by the late President Corazon C. Aquino in 1987.
The executive orders may be part of the Marcos government’s efforts to tighten its belt amid a record debt left by his predecessor, analysts said.
“These are partly belt-tightening measures and are also in line with efforts to streamline government operations,” Emy Ruth S. Gianan, who teaches economics at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
“This has always been the goal of most administrations. We have yet to see its full impact.”
“In order to achieve simplicity, economy and efficiency in the bureaucracy without effecting disruptions in internal management and governance, the administration shall streamline processes and procedures by reorganizing… and abolishing duplicated and overlapping official functions,” according to the order.
The PACC’s powers, and functions were transferred to the Office of the Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs. The order also put the existing Cabinet Secretariat under the direct control and supervision of the Presidential Management Staff.
The PACC helped the president in investigating and hearing administrative cases against all presidential appointees. It also conducted lifestyle checks and fact-finding inquiries on presidential employees.
Critics have said the agency was inefficient and had been used to favor certain groups.
The abolition of the PACC could mean that Mr. Marcos “considers the work of the commission either ineffective or superfluous to the Office of the Ombudsman,” said Calixto V. Chikiamco, president of the Foundation for Economic Freedom.
“He might also just be reorganizing the government bureaucracies in accordance with his style of governance,” he said in a Viber message.
Terry L. Ridon, a former lawmaker and public investment analyst, noted that aside from being a belt-tightening move, the order is also a rejection of the previous government’s “division of spoils to allies close to the former president.”
“Public funds should not be compromised to build redundant offices just to favor allies and supporters,” he said in Messenger chat. “The PACC has always been a redundancy in the bureaucracy as it served no real purpose in curbing corruption in government.”
Mr. Ridon noted that the agency had no prosecutorial powers and relied on the Ombudsman and other agencies to enforce its recommendations. “More importantly, it has been engaged in the tagging of public officials in high-profile, but poorly vetted corruption lists that unfairly subjected government officials to slander.”
“It was only successful in publicity-seeking self-promotion through the entrapment of rank-and-file government employees involved in fixer schemes in frontline offices,” he added.
“We — all the former commissioners and staff — were surprised by this decision,” Greco C. Belgica, a former PACC head, told Sonshine Media Network International. “We were hoping PACC would be strengthened, but it was abolished.”
“There’s nothing to fight corruption anymore,” he said in Filipino.
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) welcomed the orders, saying nobody from the private sector wants a bloated government at the expense of taxpayers.
“They should rightsize agencies in a very prudent way,” PCCI President George T. Barcelon said by telephone.
Mr. Barcelon urged the Marcos government to assess all the functions of executive agencies and ensure that those that have larger roles receive bigger budgets.
British Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines Executive Director Chris Nelson said the question now is whether Mr. Marcos could use government resources efficiently and effectively.
The president might have realized that he needs to rightsize agencies because the country is facing significant economic challenges worsened by the country’s ballooning foreign debt, he said by telephone.
Under Mr. Marcos’ first executive order, Executive Secretary Victor D. Rodriguez will supervise, control and oversee all agencies and offices under the Office of the President.
Meanwhile, it created an Office of the Advisor on Military and Police Affairs, which will be under the president’s special assistant.
Analysts said Mr. Marcos would not be safe from bad governance concerns despite the twin orders.
Mr. Marcos can show his commitment to fight corruption by strengthening independent public institutions like the Ombudsman’s office, Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Audit, said Francisco D. Magno, who teaches political science and development studies at De La Salle University.
“There is a need for the institutional strengthening of the Ombudsman by upgrading its human resources, augmenting personnel compensation, and enhancing fiscal autonomy,” he said, citing the agency’s lack of lawyers and resources.
“The government can also be more proactive in taking cognizance of legislative committee reports on government irregularities,” he said. “A government that is committed to controlling corruption would be able to encourage investors and build business confidence in the economy.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Marcos’ Executive Order No. 2 reorganized and renamed the Presidential Communications Operations Office and its attached agencies into the Office of the Press Secretary. It also abolished the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson, which handled the Freedom of Information program started by Mr. Duterte.
The order merged the Freedom of Information Program Management Office, Good Governance Office and Bureau of Communications Services into the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), which is now supervised by the Office of the President.
The Freedom of Information program allows Filipinos to request any information about government transactions and operations.
Mr. Duterte’s first executive order reengineered the presidential office “towards greater responsiveness to the attainment of development goals.”
His predecessor, the late graft-busting Philippine leader Benigno S.C. Aquino III, declared about 4,000 government positions vacant in his first order to rid his government of people associated with ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Mr. Aquino’s mother, the late democracy icon Corazon C. Aquino, formed the Presidential Commission on Good Government in her first executive order in 1986 to go after the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth.