A brief history of the office of the Cabinet Secretary

The position of Cabinet Secretary has its origins in the War Cabinet of the Commonwealth government-in-exile, when Col. Manuel Nieto was appointed Secretary to the Cabinet by President Manuel L. Quezon in Asheville, NC, “with right to discuss and vote on matters taken up and decided by the Cabinet” on May 19, 1944. On May 20, 1944, President Quezon also delegated the power to sign official papers on his behalf to Col. Nieto. As shown by a telegram from Vice President Osmeña to President Quezon dated June 10, 1944, the position of the Secretary to the Cabinet primarily focused on policy matters. Sec. Nieto was entrusted with communicating the chief executive’s instructions to the Cabinet and handling communications from the Cabinet to the President for his consideration and approval. Administrative matters affecting the bureaucracy, such as it was during wartime, remained in the hands of Dr. Arturo B. Rotor, the Secretary to the President (the position now known as Executive Secretary) who prepared and authenticated legal documents and performed administrative functions.

In the announcement of his new War Cabinet on August 1, 1944, when he assumed office, President Osmeña did not designate anyone Secretary to the Cabinet: instead, he appointed Nieto as Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce. President Osmeña’s Executive Order 15-W, dated August 8, 1944, which further reorganized and consolidated the departments of the Commonwealth government-in-exile, did not include the position of Secretary to the Cabinet. The further reorganization of the government after it was reestablished on Philippine soil (Executive Order No. 27, dated February 27, 1945), made no mention of the position of Secretary to the Cabinet, either. The return of the government to the Philippines once more put the larger bureaucracy at the disposal of the chief executive.

It would not be until the administration of President Carlos P. Garcia that an office specifically tasked with coordinating with the cabinet was once more established. Instead of a cabinet position, however, what was established was a Cabinet Secretariat. This was accomplished by means of President Garcia issuing Memorandum Order No. 1 on January 7, 1958, which aimed to describe and streamline the functions of agencies attached to the Executive Office. In the MO (itself a form of executive issuance first used by President Garcia), the Cabinet Secretariat was made an attached agency of the Executive Office, headed by the Executive Secretary. Its duties were:

  • Prepare the Cabinet Agenda;
  • Prepare and gather papers for Cabinet action;
  • Prepare and keep up-to-date minutes of Cabinet Action
  • Keep records of decisions and actions made by the cabinet
  • Certify Cabinet action to proper parties
  • Provide Secretariat services for the Council of State and other advisory bodies to the President
  • Provide a catalog of Cabinet actions and decisions for immediate access of the Cabinet

While the head of the Cabinet Secretariat was the Secretary to the Cabinet, the position was not one bearing cabinet rank: it was akin to the older personal staff of Presidents—the Appointments Secretary, the Social Secretary, etc.—who undertook secretarial functions but who did not have cabinet rank. This practice continued throughout martial law (announced on September 23, 1972 and accompanied by a reorganization of the executive department), and beyond the abolition of the position of Executive Secretary in 1975, until the establishment of the Fourth Republic and the change of the form of government from Presidential to a Pseudo-Parliamentary system.

It was at this time, when President Ferdinand E. Marcos relinquished being concurrent President and Prime Minister (he fused the two positions under himself in 1978), that some functions of the Office of the President were transferred to the newly created separate Office of the Prime Minister. On July 29, 1981, with the issuance of Executive Order No. 708, s. 1981, the Cabinet Secretariat was transferred to the Office of the Prime Minister. The EO reorganized the Office of the President and created the Office of the Prime Minister, effectively enabling Article IX of the 1973 Constitution as amended that year. Despite the physical transfer of the Cabinet Secretariat, its duties and mandate remained the same.

After the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986, President Corazon C. Aquino, by virtue of her revolutionary powers, which gave her executive issuances the force of law, reverted the form of government back to the presidential system. Among the provisions of Proclamation No. 3, dated March 25, 1986 (the Freedom Constitution) was the dissolving of the Office of the Prime Minister. Most of its functions were returned to the Office of the President. The Cabinet Secretariat, however, continued to function as such, even without an official issuance pertaining to its mandate.

It was not until December 22, 1986, that the Cabinet Secretariat was formally recreated. Administrative Order no. 25, s. 1987 was the first issuance specifically stipulating the mandate of the Cabinet Secretariat. Here the Cabinet Secretary was in charge of coordinating with the members of the Presidential Committee on Public Ethics and Accountability. President Corazon C. Aquino subsequently issued Memorandum Order no. 96, s. 1987, which aimed to streamline the functions of her cabinet and designated the Secretary to the Cabinet to preside over the meetings of the Cabinet Assistance System (CAS). The CAS was devised by then Deputy Executive Secretary Fulgencio Factoran Jr. to iron out interdepartmental problems.

The Office of the Cabinet Secretary was officially created anew by Executive Order No. 237, s. 1987. In the EO, the head of the Cabinet Secretariat was given the title Cabinet Secretary and cabinet rank. The office was streamlined and its staffing pattern and mandate spelled out. Its main mandate was to provide technical support to the Cabinet, primary advisory counsel to the President, as well as the following:

  • Assist in providing timely and organized information to the Cabinet on issues and problems submitted for decision and action;
  • Provide conference and administrative support services to the Cabinet, the Cabinet Clusters, the Cabinet Assistance System and other committees created by the Cabinet;
  • Conduct technical research and special studies on specific policy issues;
  • Maintain an efficient records-management system, including a Cabinet Archives and a library;
  • Certify Cabinet resolutions that indicate agreements and actions reached during Cabinet meetings;
  • Exercise such other functions and powers as may be provided by law or as directed by the President

The Aquino Management of the Presidency, an end-of-term report published by the Presidential Management Staff in 1992, goes into detail describing the functions and operations of the Cabinet Secretariat. It is useful to review this description at length to understand the functions of the office as it was created, because it provides an insight into the role expected of the office 20 years later, as mandated by E.O. 99 s. 2012. The report states,

“ … headed by a Cabinet Secretary, was the support body concerned with all Cabinet needs—from agenda setting to materials preparation and/or collation, records keeping, information dissemination of Cabinet decisions and actions to concerned departments/agencies/entities, interdepartmental coordination on the implementation of executive actions and decisions, and all other functions and powers as directed by the President. The Cabinet Secretariat also served about 16 permanent committees in addition to a number of ad hoc committees and interagency working groups. In order to adequately respond to the demands of these functions, three major units were created: the Technical Affairs Staff, the Conference Affairs Staff, and the Administrative Support Staff. In view of all its duties and responsibilities, the Cabinet Secretariat, therefore, was the support body most closely involved in the Cabinet Consultation Process.

“The Cabinet Consultation Process as well as the various systems instituted in support of it by the then Cabinet Secretariat could well be said to be the main factor why there was stability in executive department operations despite the numerous Cabinet changes in the Aquino administration. The dynamic impetus for governmental reforms was sustained because systems and procedures had been well laid out.

“The Cabinet Secretariat under the Aquino administration developed beyond the supra-clerical body it used to be into a strategic office central to the policy-making functions of the OP. To begin with, the Cabinet Secretary was given the rank and emolument of a member of the Cabinet.

“Most of the management systems employed by the executive office had their origins in the Cabinet Secretariat. This evolution of the Cabinet Secretariat is understandable when viewed in the context of the Aquino style of leadership. She was consultative, a consensus-builder, and very determined to pursue the reforms her policies had set. Such qualities needed an efficient staff support and system directly linked to her closest advisory body, the Cabinet.

“The Cabinet Secretariat developed a system for planning and preparing the agenda of the Cabinet Clusters, the CORD, the CAS, and the CAS Committees. This was the agenda forecast which was essentially a schedule of issues and concerns that needed to be taken up at the Cabinet Consultation Process within a specified period of time.

“The agenda forecast included day-to-day issues such as those referred by various departments, urgent and pressing issues, and instructions from the President. It also included issues, problems, and events identified by the Cabinet Secretariat in anticipation of forthcoming events. For instance, in preparation for the opening of schools in June, an action plan to address concerns that were most likely to occur during this period should be in the February calendar of the Cabinet Process. Around this time, too, the Cabinet should have been discussing the preparations for the Labor Day celebration.

“Included likewise were updates on the status of major programs and projects. This included the monitoring of the status of landmark programs, such as the CARP, the Program to Refocus Orientation for the Poor (PRO-POOR), the Local Government Code, Agency Performance Review, and Improvement in the Delivery of Frontline Services.

“To ensure that the agenda of the Cabinet and its support mechanisms 
were relevant and timely, the Cabinet Secretariat adopted an issue monitoring system which involved the tracking of issues raised by media and the various sectors; instructions and pronouncements of the President; and current critical events. These were also fed into the agenda forecast.

 “Agreements Monitoring

“To make sure that agreements reached at the various fora of the Cabinet consultation process were implemented, these were entered into the agreements monitoring databank devised by the Cabinet Secretariat. These included status of each agreement, particulary the ones which required regular monitoring and updating.

Action Summary

“A Cabinet fax network was set up in 1989 to expedite the transmission and exchange of documents between and among the various departments.

“Moreover, communication facilities, such as the use of a two-way radio was initiated so that Cabinet members could exchange faster and quicker.

“Relatedly, the Cabinet Communication Network (CNN) was established to promote cooperation and interdepartmental liaisoning among the staff of Cabinet members who were directly involved in Cabinet matters.”

However, in the latter part of President Corazon C. Aquino’s term, the functions of the Cabinet Secretariat were absorbed by the Presidential Management Staff by virtue of Executive Order No. 441, s. 1991. This also created a policy and public affairs group headed by a Deputy Executive Secretary. It was composed of the Presidential Management Staff, the Presidential Complaints and Action Office, and the Sectoral Liaison Offices. The Presidential Management Staff was in charge of providing common staff support to the President, the Executive Secretary and the Presidential Assistants/Advisers System in such areas as management of the development process, administrative reforms sectoral liaison, public assistance, strategic research, and public formulation.

However, even if absorbed by the Presidential Management Staff, the position of Cabinet Secretary remained. The Cabinet Secretariat was administratively under the Presidential Management Staff, but its functions were in support of the Office of the Cabinet Secretary, to whom they reported directly.

Secretaries to the Cabinet were appointed by the successors of President C. Aquino, although the functions of the Cabinet Secretariat were still being undertaken by the Presidential Management Staff. In some cases, the Secretary of the Cabinet was also concurrent head of the Presidential Management Staff.

During the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Secretary to the Cabinet was included in different clusters of the Cabinet: examples are Administrative Order no. 104, s. 2004 and Executive Order no. 771, s. 2008.

On October 31, 2012, President Benigno S. Aquino III, by virtue of Executive Order no. 99, renamed the Office of the Cabinet Secretariat to Office of the Cabinet Secretary. He reinstated the Office of the Cabinet Secretary as independent of the Presidential Management Staff, along lines that closely adhere to its original mandate in 1987. The Cabinet Secretary has also been given cabinet rank and staffing support.

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