Janette Garin: DOH Acting Secretary or OIC?

Jee Y. Geronimo
Janette Garin: DOH Acting Secretary or OIC?
Which one is her official designation? Even documents from the health department add to the confusion.

MANILA, Philippines – All eyes are on Acting Health Secretary Janette Garin after she implemented personnel changes in the health department’s central office barely a month since she took over, and while Secretary Enrique Ona is on leave.

At least 5 members of the Department of Health (DOH)’s executive committee were affected by the changes. After this, DOH staff started asking whether an Acting Secretary can do this, or if she is indeed Acting Secretary or a mere officer-in-charge (OIC).

When Ona’s leave was first announced on October 29, Malacañang initially referred to Garin as OIC. A day after, the DOH released a statement saying she is Acting Secretary, and members of the media started using the title moving forward.

DOH documents obtained by Rappler indicate there may be confusion on Garin’s official designation even within the department.

In a department personnel order dated October 27, Ona designated Garin as OIC of the department for one month, starting October 28.


“Under this Order, authority is hereby granted to Undersecretary Garin to act on all matters related to the operations of the Department, except on sensitive policy determining matters which shall be referred to the Office of the President for appropriate action,” the order read.

But on the same day, October 27, the department issued another memorandum signed by Ona referring to Garin as Acting Secretary.

“The Secretary of Health will be on vacation leave effective 28 October 2014 until 27 November 2014. Undersecretary Janette Loretto-Garin has been designated as Acting Secretary of Health,” said the memorandum.

What happened in between is not clear to DOH officials. 

When asked about her position, Garin told Rappler she is Acting Secretary and added that the appointment is from Malacañang. 

A DOH undersecretary appointed in July 2013, Garin was made in charge of the DOH following the month-long leave of Ona, which is supposed to end on November 27. 

President Benigno Aquino III had earlier said he has asked Ona to go on leave to “prepare answers” to his questions on the government’s vaccination campaign, and the balance between preventive and curative aspects of public health. 

The National Bureau of Investigation is looking into the questionable purchase by the DOH of one million units of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 10 (PCV 10) – a vaccine used for the immunization of infants and children against pulmonary diseases – worth over P833 million. Complaints from some sectors alleged that DOH procured PCV 10 vaccines instead of a “more cost-effective” vaccine, the PCV 13.

Two government sources said Aquino wanted Ona out.

‘Look at the papers’

Health Undersecretary Ted Herbosa, who became OIC of the department in the past, noted how unusual it is to appoint an acting secretary to fill up a vacancy as short as one month.

“You actually appoint an OIC, you just put the whole agency on autopilot and let the functions happen,” he told Rappler.

In the short span of time since Ona’s leave, Garin has reshuffled key officials in the department, including Herbosa who considered filing a case against her for “trying to fire” him. (READ: Palace: Herbosa still health undersecretary)

Four other members of the executive committee were in effect demoted, with all of them losing their designation as “Assistant Secretary.” Garin was quick to emphasize it was not a demotion but a move on her part to “put the house in order.”

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte earlier said that while OIC is “normally” the designation, an official can also be designated as Acting Secretary in the absence of the department’s Secretary.

She said the difference of an Acting Secretary and an OIC lies in the “powers that come with the designation.”

“You will have to look at the papers that came out whether she’s designated as an Acting Secretary,” she added.

Garin is a former member of the House of Representatives representing the First District of Iloilo. An ally of the Liberal Party in the 2013 mid-term elections, she was deputy majority leader of the 15th Congress where she played a key role in passing the Reproductive Health law, a key program of the Aquino administration.

Under the Arroyo government, Garin was a member of the ruling party back then, the Lakas-CMD. – with a report from Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.