Lacson as rehab czar: Does he need more powers?

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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The former senator says his appointment has no 'legal weight,' does not give him power over the budget

CRACKING THE WHIP. Rehabilitation czar Panfilo 'Ping' Lacson says limitations in his job don't make him a lame duck. Photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – He is an “overall manager and coordinator,” a man with an “overall strategic vision,” a watchdog who can “call upon” any government bureau to help him do his job.

The country’s newly appointed rehabilitation czar, Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, looks extraordinarily powerful. That is, when one first reads Memorandum Order No. 62 that details his job description.

In reality, Lacson said, his appointment has no “legal weight.” He also said he has no power over the budget. Explaining these in a forum Monday, December 16, he left a member of the audience wondering: Does he need more teeth?

The basic problem stems from his appointment papers. That President Benigno Aquino III issued a memorandum order, not an executive order, spells the difference. (Watch Rappler’s video report below.)

Lacson explained: “‘Yung executive order, may legal weight ‘yon eh, ‘di ba, kasi ‘pag merong hindi sumunod sa executive order, puwede kang mag-file ng kaso. May batas na nakapaloob. Pero ‘pag memorandum order, it’s more administrative.

(An executive order has legal weight, because if anyone defies an executive order, you can file a case against that person. There’s law in it. If it’s a memorandum order, it’s more administrative.)

The Administrative Code of 1987 defines executive orders as “acts of the President providing for rules of a general or permanent character in implementation or execution of constitutional or statutory powers.”

In contrast, it defines memorandum orders as “acts of the President on matters of administrative detail or of subordinate or temporary interest which only concern a particular officer or office of the government.” 

Can’t handle funds

Here’s another limit: Lacson can’t directly handle funds, which should pass through other agencies.

Under Memorandum Order No. 62, Lacson’s power over funds is limited to proposals and oversight, specifically to: 

  • “Propose funding support for the implementation of the plans and programs” and
  • “Exercise oversight over the relevant government agencies with respect to the implementation of the plans and programs”

Lacson said he’s not interested in handling funds anyway. He wants to focus on oversight.

When asked if this makes him appear like a lame duck, Lacson brought up his experience as senator for 12 years. (Watch more in the video below.)

Wala naman akong hawak na pondo ng line agencies doon. Wala rin namang legal weight ‘yung aking pagiging senador except yung oversight function ng Congress. But nakakapag-file naman kami ng kaso ‘pag may mga shenanigans. ‘Pag may mga anomalies, we see to it that we guard against those, ang sabi ko nga kanina, mga kleptomaniacs of the world,” he said.

(I didn’t handle funds of line agencies back then. My being a senator, too, didn’t have legal weight, except for the oversight function of Congress. But we managed to file cases in case of shenanigans. Whenever anomalies surfaced, we saw to it that we guarded against those kleptomaniacs.)

He also quelled concerns that he might need more teeth. “Maski malakas ‘yung ngipin mo, kung nagkukulang ka rin sa coordination, you will fail,” Lacson said. (Even if you have strong teeth, if you lack in coordination, you will fail.)

‘Spare Yolanda survivors’

Lacson said the crackdown on these “kleptomaniacs,” in fact, has begun.

He said unscrupulous lower-ranking officials” have started to take advantage of the daunting task ahead. (READ: Lacson smells rehab corruption in LGUs.)

He said he has requested the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police to look into this.

The former police chief also appealed to thieves.

‘Yun lang ang mensahe, na patawarin n’yo na muna ito. Kung talagang hindi n’yo kayang makatiis na hindi magnakaw, at least ito man lang tinamaan ng Yolanda, eh ano na lang, patawad na lang, kasi misery ng ibang tao itong pinagpipiyestahan ninyo,” Lacson said.

(That’s the message – please spare this. If you really can’t help but steal, at least spare those affected by Yolanda. Spare them, because you’ll be feasting on the misery of others.)

Power and responsibility

Despite Lacson’s assurances, experts believe his post is not enough in the long run.

In a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler, Ateneo School of Government dean Tony La Viña called for a standalone disaster agency with power over the budget. (READ: Urgently needed, a new disaster agency.)

Is there a legal issue preventing the President from issuing an executive order, instead of a memorandum order, to outline Lacson’s job?

He didn’t answer this question. Besides, he said, a wider range of powers is “the least of my concerns,” because he can always exercise oversight.

But the retired general admitted greater authority will “definitely” help.

Kasi ang natutunan ko sa military… kailangan commensurate ‘yung authority doon sa responsibility. Kasi kung hindi commensurate ‘yung authority, kulang, tapos ‘yung responsibility masyadong malaki, baka kulangin kami ng pagkukunan,” Lacson said.

(Because I learned in the military that the authority should be commensurate to the responsibility. If the authority is lacking, and the responsibility is too huge, we might end up lacking resources.)

For now, however, Lacson must face a historic task – to rebuild the lives of more than 16 million people – with handicaps in his job description. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email