MANILA, Philippines – Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin on Tuesday, October 25, signed a memorandum circular that expands the powers of interim heads of government departments and offices, allowing them to enter into new contracts and projects.
Officers in charge (OICs), government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs), and free port and special economic zone authorities will also be allowed to disburse extraordinary funds.
Memorandum Circular No. 9 revoked Item 4 of an earlier circular, MC No. 3, which was signed by Bersamin’s predecessor, Victor Rodriguez.
Several agencies in President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration are headed only by interim officials – most notably the health and defense departments.
As of the release of MC 9, the Department of the Health (DOH), which spearheads efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic, is headed by Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, who is its OIC. The Department of Defense, meanwhile, is headed by Senior Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr. as its OIC. Faustino, however, is expected to become the fulltime head and hold a secretary rank by November 13, or a year after his retirement as Armed Forces of the Philippines chief.
The decision to expand the powers of OICs was made to “ensure continuity in government operations and delivery of services to the public,” according to MC 9, which was released via the Official Gazette.
Bersamin’s memorandum also notes the Marcos administration’s 8-Point Socioeconomic Agenda and its Medium-Term Fiscal Framework in explaining the decision to expand the powers of interim officials.
MC No. 3, signed in late July 2022, extended the terms of OICs of government departments, agencies, bureaus, and offices, as well as non-Career Executive Service (CES) officials in CES posts until December 31, 2022, or until a fulltime appointment is made. MC 3 built on MC 1, which in turn declared vacant posts in government while granting OICs and non-CESO in CES posts hold-over capacities until July 31, 2022.
Rodriguez’ MC 3, however, barred OICs, interim officials of GOCCs, and temporary heads of free port and special economic zone authorities, from entering into new contracts or projects, as well as disburse extraordinary funds. Temporary heads of these agencies, corporations, and zones could only enter into contracts and projects if they have to do with food, transportation, energy, or if they have the authority of the President.
MC 9 only revokes the specific Item in MC 4 that bars OICs and other specific officials from entering into contracts. It also reminds government officials to “strictly comply” with Republic Act 9184 or the law that covers government procurement.
“Extraordinary expenses” are accorded to officials of specific ranks. In the 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA), a department secretary gets P264,000 annually as “extraordinary expenses,” while a department undersecretary gets P108,000. Both department secretaries and undersecretaries, meanwhile, are allocated P90,000 for annual miscellaneous expenses.
Extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses cover meetings, official entertainment, public relations, membership in government associations, Integrated Bar of the Philippines membership, subscription to “professional technical journals and informative magazines, library books and materials,” office supplies, and “other similar expenses not supported by the regular budget allocation,” among other things.
The lack of a fulltime DOH chief has been an issue hanging over Marcos’ head. But it’s also an issue he has sought to minimize.
In an October 20 interview, Marcos said he would appoint a DOH secretary when the situation – referring to the pandemic – is “normalized” or when, he said, COVID-19 is “no longer as an emergency but something that we will have to manage forever.”
Marcos’ recent appointment of a former top cop as undersecretary of the health department has also drawn flack from medical workers groups. – Rappler.com