The Long View: An offer no bureaucrat can refuse


An offer no bureaucrat can refuse

How do you leave a lasting mark on the system? You engage in a Great Reorganization. Such reorganization has happened only five times since the modern presidency began in 1935.

The first was enacted at the start of the Commonwealth in 1935, implemented in 1936, and concluded by 1938. The second was enacted in 1946 at the start of the Third Republic; a committee set up accordinglyfinished its work by 1947. The third was enacted in 1950, with a commission, set up the same year, concluding its work in 1951. The fourth was enacted in 1968, in the twilight of the Third Republic, but despite attempts to move it on in 1970 and to accomplish it by 1971, it required martial law and the first assertion of decree-making powers by President Marcos to make it finally take place.

Notably, in contrast to the previous reorganizations, Marcos’ reorganization was decreed and accompanied by his assertion of his powers as commander in chief to assume control not just of executive offices, but also of all local governments—and putting every official on notice that “[they] shall continue to function under their present officers and employees and in accordance with existing laws, until otherwise ordered by me or by my duly designated representative.” Which essentially meant: Cooperate, or else.

The process was declared completed in 1973, but the commission set up for the purpose was allowed to pursue reorganization plans. Not wanting to be limited by parliament, in 1978 Marcos granted himself continuing authority to reorganize the government, which he decreed he could do in 1981 (setting up a permanent committeeto do it) and 1985.

The fifth, and most recent, reorganization took place under Cory Aquino in 1986, for which she used her revolutionary powers. With the Administrative Code of 1987 of the Fifth Republic, she retained the power to reorganize as far as the executive department was concerned, and a law was introduced in 1988, authorizing early retirement for the affected employees.

Since then, presidents have asserted the continuing authority granted by the Administrative Code to tinker with the executive department’s setup, but not in a cohesive way.

President Duterte began his term with an assertion (Executive Order No. 1) of the continuing power to reorganize the executive. Interesting, because aside from citing the Constitution and the Administrative Code of 1987, the order referred to the Marcos decrees of 1978 and 1981 (which you would think would have been rendered obsolete by now). I wrote about the implications of this issuance last Dec. 14.

So when the President’s Budget Message (pp. 23-24), submitted after his first State of the Nation Address last July, contained a statement of intent to propose the enactment by Congress of a reorganization law, I was surprised no one took notice. If it happens, it will be the first large-scale revamp of the executive in over a generation. The term used was “government rightsizing.” The President seeks “authority from Congress to eliminate redundant, duplicative, and overlapping functions in the Executive Branch.” He intends to file “a proposed Streamlining the Government Act that empowers the Executive to conduct a comprehensive review of… functions and organizational structures, to merge or abolish agencies, and to implement other measures. . . . The proposed law will also provide a reasonable separation package for the personnel who may be affected.”

Considering that a reorganization of the entire government would be required if a new Constitution is adopted, you have to wonder why a reorganization is being contemplated now. To be sure, a reorganization is overdue, but even administrative matters can be highly political. A reorganization law in 2017 would be like a reorganization decree in 1972: Cooperate, or else. Which would be a good warning to make as the administration confronts the problem all its predecessors faced: Political parties are unreliable.

What you want is a movement. But such movement requires official cooperation. What better way to stimulate enthusiasm than the power to reorganize the uncooperative out of bureaucratic existence?

Twitter: @mlq3; FB:

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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