Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Newsletter -Keeping the Veep Busy Edition

Manuel L. Quezon III
8 min readSep 11, 2022


My column this week looked at the President’s designating the Veep as “Officer-in-Charge,” by means of a new kind of executive issuance, the “Special Order,” which was an innovation of the Duterte administration, quite likely a carrying-over of mayoral practice. Setting aside the (to me, weaker) phrasing of the Duterte-Marcos era instructions, the basic principles since 1936 have been retained. The Veep for her part, seems to have seized on her designation with alacrity, and one wonders how the more institutionally-oriented people she summoned, actually felt about it.

Proyekto Pilipino has had two episodes focused on the barangay: the first, on our views and observations on the barangay as the basic building block of local government; the second, an interesting because candid conversation with an experienced barangay dynamics, both local and national.

The Veep’s Command Conference

This week’s The Long View

Responsibility without authority | Inquirer

President Marcos Jr. recently issued Special Order №75, identifying the Vice President of the Philippines as “Officer-in-Charge” during the absence of the President on official business, which for those interested in such things, points to an innovation of the Duterte administration — the Special Order.

The original arsenal of presidential issuances, following the American executive system, was composed of the executive order, the administrative order, and the proclamation for civilian mattera and general orders for the military. Later on, Memorandum Orders and Circulars, Letters of Instruction were created. What these are and the differences between them, are enumerated in the present Administrative Code, which also mentions Special Orders: ““Acts and commands of the President in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines shall be issued as general or special orders.”

The innovation of the Duterte Administration, while it seems somewhat related to the military –in military practice, “a routine order issued by an authorized military headquarters that includes matter concerning individuals but is not of general interest” — seems to be the carrying-over of local government executive practices, to the national executive.

Among the many uses of Special Orders to designate specific officials for specific tasks, President Duterte designated the Executive Secretary (Special Order №1265, 2018; №420, 2019; №1346, 2019; ); or the Secretary of Justice (№528, 2019; №631, 2019; №1061, 2019), as an “Officer-in-Charge to take care of the day-to-day operations in the Office of the President and to oversee the general administration of the Executive Department.. and… if necessary, act for and on behalf of the President, except on matters that the President is required by the Constitution to act in person.”

What is interesting is though the form has changed –most significantly under the present administration and its predecessor — the substance has remained remarkably consistent.

When the modern presidency began in 1935, precedents arose that would be retained by many subsequent administrations. Among the most basic is the principle that presidents retain their powers wherever they may be, and that as a consequence these powers cannot, and should not, be delegated except under very limited circumstances. A press statement from December 7, 1936 by President Quezon enumerated why:

“Under the Constitution, in the absence of the President of the Philippines from the national territory, there can be no Acting President. Wherever he goes, the President carries with him the authority and powers of his Office and he can exercise them as fully and as if he were in his Office at the capital of the nation. There will, therefore, be no Acting President during my absence from the Philippines and the Government will continue to be run and its official affairs transacted in the same manner as they are when I am in the Philippines.

“Each Secretary of Department will attend and decide matters pertaining to his department which under the law he has authority to decide. To those that require my approval, if necessitating urgent action, my consent can be had by cable. Of other departmental business, which although within the province of a Secretary of Department are of such importance or affect the general policies of the Government in such a way that the Department head thinks he should consult me, the Secretary may also communicate with me by cable.

“In my absence, the cabinet may hold its weekly meetings to consider routine matters under the presidency of the Vice-President. Such official business as is ordinarily carried on in my Office under the signature of the Secretary to the President shall continue to be transacted as heretofore.

“Should a case arise in which the personal signature of the president is required and the matter has been consulted and decided by me, the Vice-President, after writing my name above his signature, may authenticate the document with his own signature, for and in behalf of the president.”

This was codified in Executive Order №30 in 1936, and №87, 1937.

President Osmeña, despite having no vice president, still found it necessary to forestall any potential confusion and issued an identical Executive Order (№67, 1945); in his absence, the Executive Secretary presided over Cabinet meetings; President Roxas, for his part, didn’t travel abroad and neither did President Magsaysay, so neither needed to issue this kind of order. By the time President Quirino issued his own Executive Order (№299 in 1950) he already had a vice-president who could preside over Cabinet Meetings (he issued identical E.O.s: №470, 1951; №519, 1952; №605, 1953.

In his time, President Garcia did the same, but because his vice-president was the first elected from the opposition party, and thus, not given any job whatsoever, Garcia instructed (№315, 1958) that the Secretary of Finance should preside over the Cabinet. His reiterations of these instructions (№322, 1958; №336, 1959; №392, 1960; №416, 1961) retained the same setup; where once these orders stated presidents could be reached by letter or cable, now radio was cited as a means of reaching the president. For his part, Presidents Macapagal (№12, 1962; №57, 1963; №70, 1964; №71, 1964; №86, 1964), stipulating the Vice-President to preside and conduct ceremonial duties while mandating the Executive Secretary as the point person for all communications.

President Marcos, however, was the first to modify the essential text of the order when he signed Executive Order №42, 1966: after reiterating the usual policy statement that the President retains his powers wherever he may be, it moved the section on the vice-president from the end to the second paragraph of the order, while explicitly stating that the veep exercised general supervision over the conduct of affairs in executive departments but did not do so with regard to administrative functions.It seems as a sweetener, the Vice-President was explicitly given permission to receive visitors in the Presidential Study. In terms of departments, the do’s and don’t’s were likewise, expanded, likely a shrewd innovation by Executive Secretary Rafael Salas and retained thereafter (№110, 1967;№114, 1968; №177, 1969). During the dictatorship, there doesn’t seem to have been any similar issuance.

With President Cory Aquino, instead of being an Executive Order, the same text was issued as an Administrative Order (№4, 1986) and by President Aquino III, it had become a mere memorandum signed by the President. For her part, President Arroyo generally preferred to announce that Vice-President de Castro would be caretaker, a term popularized by President Ramos who usually designated the Executive Secretary as such.

This remarkable continuity in policy and practice may escape the notice or awareness of the present Vice-President, but it’s one ingrained in our institutions including the military. The press releases of summons to command conferences by the veep, the bowing, scraping, and saluting, provides a pleasant impression of delegated power, but it’s only the appearance of it and far from the substance of it.

Two-part #ProyektoPilipino

“Napakahalaga ng local government dahil malapit ito sa bituka. If you really want to leave an impact on the lives of people, the LGU is where you need to go.”

The local government units (LGUs) are very crucial to the day-to-day living of Filipinos since they are closest to their constituents. This is why we need to understand and appreciate the importance not just of the public servants under the LGU, but also of our own duties and responsibilities as members of the community.

Civics should have a sense of expanding our concept of “tayo” or “us.” And local government is where we learn the basics of governance and this level of active citizenship.

“Maging aktibo ka kung saan ka nakatira dahil parte ito ng pagsama sa Proyekto Pilipino.”

We have 42,046 barangays in the Philippines; these small units of government are the closest to the community, and are the first to respond to the community’s needs.

In his 35 years of service as a barangay official, former Holy Spirit Barangay Captain Felicito Valmocina has understood the two most important things in barangay leadership: political will and integrity. Now that he is named the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) undersecretary, he hopes to inspire more barangay leaders to rise up to the task of nation-building.

In this episode of Proyekto Pilipino, Fr. Tito Caluag and his trio of distinguished thinkers — Manolo Quezon, Leloy Claudio, and Carlo Santiago — talk to Usec. Valmocina about the workings of the barangay, the importance of monitoring after implementation, and his new role with DILG.

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Manuel L. Quezon III

Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Editor-at-large Views strictly mine. I have a newsletter, blog, podcast, and Patreon.