Almendras to oversee Aquino projects roadmap

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III put his new Cabinet Secretary in charge of overseeing a roadmap of his pet projects, reporting directly to him. 

Jose Rene Almendras will take charge of a new office tasked to organize and deliver results of a master plan of the Aquino administration’s targets and projects.

Almendras’ job description is detailed in Executive Order No 99, which Malacañang released on Tuesday, November 6. The order was issued to clarify Almendras’ duties as the first Cabinet Secretary appointed by Aquino.

In appointing Almendras, Aquino revived the post of Cabinet Secretary, last occupied during the Arroyo administration by Ricardo Saludo and Silvestre Bello III. The position was also filled during the presidency of Aquino’s mother, former President Corazon Aquino. The post was then held by former Transportation and Communications Secretary Jose “Ping” de Jesus. 

“The Office of the Cabinet Secretary is an integral part of the Office of the President for the effective integration and implementation of the programs of the Administration,” said the order.

“The Cabinet Secretary shall be under the control and supervision of, and shall report directly to the President.”

A key function of Almendras is to recommend to Aquino “an annual detailed and measurable performance and projects roadmap that will facilitate outputs of the targets against priorities, in close coordination with the concerned agencies.”

To achieve this, Almendras’ office includes a Performance and Projects Management Office that is created to ensure a “systematic approach” to delivering results of the roadmap.

The roadmap aims to specify priorities and targets listed in the administration’s Social Contract with the Filipino People, and Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016.

Almendras, Aquino's former Energy chief, took his oath as Cabinet Secretary last Sunday, November 4, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport before flying with Aquino to Laos for the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting. Leyte Gov Jericho Petilla replaced Almendras at the energy department.

Aquino announced Almendras' appointment last month, although Palace sources said the President proposed this set-up to Almendras as early as May this year.

Duplication of functions?

Questions have been raised about Almendras’ job description, with criticism that it may overlap with the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) and the Office of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr, who signed the executive order on the President’s behalf.

Under the Administrative Code, the Executive Secretary shall directly assist the President and provide overall coordination in the operation of the Executive Office.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte sought to allay fears of a turf war.

“There’s no duplication of functions. If you look at the matrix, there is no duplication of functions. There is a lot of work in the Office of the President. Our back-end, it’s the administrative, the bureaucracy—the ES takes care of that,” Valte said. 

“Mine is a staff position. Cabinet secretary is a staff position so it doesn’t conflict with any of the line positions. The line positions are very clear. PMS is very clear, the Office of the Executive Secretary – those are line functions. Cabinet secretary is a staff function. It’s in a staff box,” Almendras told reporters Sunday.

“You will not even see me. We are a staff function. We completely disappear into the bureaucracy,” Almendras said.

PNoy’s rep, Cabinet coordinator

Other functions of Almendras and his office as listed in the order include:

As Cabinet Secretary, Almendras is also included as a member of all the Cabinet clusters. Aquino had established 5 clusters to address his key priority areas: Good Governance and Anti-Corruption, Human Development and Poverty Reduction, Economic Development, Security, Justice and Peace, and Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation.

Almendras also gets membership to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board Executive Committee and three other NEDA Board Committees:

The order gives Almendras leeway on the structure of his office and the staffing pattern, subject to presidential approval.

PMS carved out

Almendras’ office will also draw from the PMS.

The order said that “for policy direction and coordination,” “relevant offices” in the PMS will be under the Office of the Cabinet Secretary. Almendras and Abad will identify which offices these will be.

Aquino also mandates government agencies to designate a “focal person” with a rank not lower than that of bureau director or assistant secretary to coordinate with Almendras’ office.

“All heads of departments, agencies, bureaus, offices, including government-owned or controlled corporations shall render full and timely assistance and cooperation to the Office of the Cabinet Secretary and provide such information and data as may be required to carry out its functions.”

Rappler earlier reported that Almendras’ managerial skills and close ties to the President were factors in the appointment. 

Before becoming Energy chief, he held leadership positions in several companies including Manila Water. Almendras also has deep ties to the President, being a classmate at the Ateneo de Manila University. He is said to be part of Aquino's inner circle.  – Rappler.com