By Rey Cartojano
In what could be a bold and decisive move to weed from public service Presidential appointees of the previous administration, President Noynoy Aquino acting through his Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa declared in Memorandum Circular No. 1 that "ALL CO-TERMINOUS THIRD LEVEL POSITIONS VACANT AS OF JUNE 30, 2010; DIRECTING ALL NON-CAREER EXECUTIVE SERVICE OFFICIALS (NON-CESO) OCCUPYING CAREER EXECUTIVE SERVICE (CES) POSITIONS TO CONTINUE TO PERFORM THEIR DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES; AND EXTENDING THE SERVICES OF CERTAIN CONTRACTUAL AND/OR CASUAL EMPLOYEES WHOSE CONTRACTS EXPIRE ON JUNE 30, 2010."
The Memorandum Circular immediately created fears and apprehensions from many sectors, even as the new administration made its position clear on midnight appointments irresponsibly rushed by the past government. But the issuance of Memorandum Circular No. 1 substantially missed the controversial issue of rescinding and nullifying midnight appointments, which is a popular move for the new Aquino administration, as public perceptions will easily confuse the main thrust of Memorandum Circular No. 1 as covering midnight appointments.
And so, as fast as an embarrassed cowboy, a shorter, revised and amended version of the said Memorandum Circular No. 1 was issued and now declared ALL NON-CAREER EXECUTIVE SERVICE POSITIONS VACANT AS OF 30 JUNE 2010, AND EXTENDING THE SERVICES OF CONTRACTUAL EMPLOYEES WHOSE CONTRACTS EXPIRE ON 30 JUNE 2010. Aside from the fact that both Memorandum Circulars are identically numbered 1 issued by the same authority, probably a first in the history of Philippine executive directives, despite differences in presentation, language and scope, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Malacañang had to "fine-tune" the memorandum circular since it was supposed to affect only political appointees and not all non-career officials in government. Even if were so, the administration could have easily issued a new Memorandum Circular revising Memorandum Circular No. 1, but to have two Memorandum Circulars denominated as No. 1 with the new MC No. 1 'fine-tuning' the old MC No. 1 is a poor display of draftsmanship, no less.
Let us dissect the scopes of both new and old Memorandum Circular No. 1. In the old MC No. 1, the first part of the caption speaks of third level positions whose appointments are coterminous with that of the appointing power, who is no other than the President of the Philippines. These third level positions refer to positions in the Career Executive Service that above division chief level that exercise managerial functions, to include the following positions of Undersecretary, Assistant Secretary, Bureau Director, Bureau Assistant Director, Regional Director, Assistant Regional Director and Department Service Chief. While the said caption brings fear to those duly qualified CESO career officials appointed by the President, as it presumes that they could be included in the clause, the contents of the old Memorandum Circular No. 1 categorically covers only non-CESO officials appointed by the past President. as they are given at the latest until 31 July 2010 to vacate their posts. In short, the old Memorandum Circular No. 1 actually respects the rights of CESO career officials appointed by the President, so that these officials will have security of tenure even beyond the term of the appointing past President.
The most feared provision, especially for the lowly rank and file government employees, is the directive on contractual and casual government employees, numbering in the tens of thousands to vacate their posts at the latest on 31 July 2010. The only consolation though, is if the contracts of these contractual and casual employees already expired last 30 June 2010. Interestingly and quite obviously, if the contracts of these contractual and casual employees expired on a date after and other than 30 June 2010, they will not be included in the coverage of the old Memorandum Circular No. 1.
The ultimate question then is this: what is the difference between the old Memorandum Circular No. 1 and the the 'fine-tuned' new Memorandum Circular No. 1?
While the 'fine-tuned' new MC No. 1 eliminated the excess verbiage of the old MC No. 1 on the scope of the termination of Presidential appointees who are non-CESO holders (i.e., if the official is a presidential appointee of the past administration but holds a CESO qualification, he is not covered), the said new 'fine-tuned' MC No. 1 did not include from its coverage casual government employees. In effect, the new 'fine-tuned' MC No. 1 revised and amended the old MC No. 1 as it excludes from its coverage thousands of casual rank and file government employees.
Despite the confusion that the new and old of the same Memorandum Circular No. 1 brought to government officials and employees, it is too early to be harsh on a very young administration which appears to be serious and determined in cleaning the ranks of the government of appointments based on political expediency rather than qualifications. From the many career and qualified officials, the clarification brought sighs of relief and hope. But even so, it will be unforgivable if this same mistake of 'fine tuning' and double talk will be repeated for succeeding presidential directives in the future. After all, and as the popular saying goes, you can fool the people some of the time, but not all the time.