The ABCs of COS, PMS and ES

The ABCs of COS, PMS and ES

Opinion/INTERAKSYON/TV 5  Online News 
16-May-11, 2:25 PM | Leonor Magtolis Briones

Understanding the alphabet soup in the bureaucracy

Filipinos are fond of abbreviating long words and phrases into initials. However the meaning of these initials change when used in government.  For example, “PMS” in popular parlance means “pre-menstrual syndrome.  In government, it refers to the powerful Presidential Management Staff.   In the underground movement, “ES” refers to “economic struggle” or the collection of funds from supporters, whether voluntary or coerced.  In the government, ES refers to the Executive Secretary.

“So how do the functions of the Chief of Staff, the Presidential Management Staff and the Executive Secretary differ from each other?“ This was the question raised by a TV reporter when speculations about Mar Roxas’ “impending” appointment as Chief of Staff of the President came out in media. The question was raised in relation in relation to the personalities involved—former Sen.Mar Roxas, PMS Head Julia Abad and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.  My answer:

ES viz COS and PMS: the difference between line and staff functions

The difference between line and staff agencies is a basic concept taught to students of organization and management in public administration.  Line agencies are the so-called “operations” or executive agencies which are directly involved in policy-making and delivery of services.  On the other hand, staff agencies give assistance to the line agencies.  Line agencies can issue directives, give orders and instructions to other agencies.  Staff agencies stay in the background and provide technical assistance, conduct studies, and generate data needed by the line agencies and the line executives.

Generally, the office of the Chief of Staff is considered a staff unit.  The COS is considered the “office manager”. He takes direct instructions from his principal, supervises the rest of the staff and provides technical assistance as required by his boss.  This is obvious in the case of COS’s of senators, congressmen, and cabinet secretaries. In the case of the President, the COS manages the immediate office of the President.

The Presidential Management Staff is also a staff agency.  It serves as the principal resource base and conducts policy studies as inputs to executive decisions.  It also monitors and assesses the implementation of major programs and projects.  Furthermore, PMS renders technical support to the meetings of the Cabinet and the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council, among others.

On the other hand, the Office of the Executive Secretary is a line organization.  The Executive Secretary signs executive orders, administrative orders and memoranda in behalf of the President with the words: “By Authority of the President” before his signature.  He can issue instructions and directives to the agencies and instrumentalities in the public administration system.  Since the time of the president of the Commonwealth, the Executive Secretary was traditionally referred to as the “Little President.”

The impact of personality and leadership styles

From the above it can be inferred that in terms of formal functions,  the Executive Secretary would be more powerful and influential than the head of the PMS and  the COS.  However it should be remembered that personality and leadership determine actual power, influence and effectiveness.

Historically, executive secretaries behaved and acted literally as “Little Presidents.”  However, there have been instances, where the power of the ES has been “diluted” by the emergence of other offices like PMS and COS.  Since the time of the late President Marcos when the PMS was created, the agency has traditionally been headed by strong personalities. Lenny de Jesus, PMS head during President Estrada’s time comes to mind.  Former Chief of Staff Mike Defensor publicly acknowledged on television that he approved or disapproved the release of pork barrel of congressmen and senators.

The history of different administrations is replete with stories of heads of line and staff offices under the President clashing publicly.   This is not because the territorial lines are blurred; this is because powerful personalities can ignore organizational boundaries with impunity.

Furthermore, physical geography is crucial in Filipino institutions.  The office which is located closest to the President can be in the best position to give advice and whisper information.  In Visayan, the phrase “duol sa luwag”, literally meaning “nearest the ladle” is apt and picturesque.  Those who are nearest the cook’s ladle will get the first sip, the first bite, and perhaps the largest share of food.

Mar Roxas as Chief of Staff

Malacanang said the administrative order appointing Sen. Mar Roxas as Chief of Staff is being finalized.  If we go by the functions associated with staff positions, Mar should not be a threat to other officials who are perceived to be more powerful.

However, considering Mar’s academic qualifications as well as his track record as businessman, former cabinet member and senator, it might be difficult to imagine him in the invisible and inaudible job of office manager

The possibilities become even more interesting when the presidential  plans  of Mar are taken  into consideration.

The need to delineate lines of power and authority

No less than 18 different functions of the Executive Secretary are specified in Executive Order 292 of the Administrative Code of 1987, including the authority to sign papers, assign offices and agencies, appoint officials, implement presidential directives, and promulgate rules and regulations.

The functions of the Presidential Management Staff are likewise clearly delineated.  At the same time, the functions of a Chief of Staff are generally acknowledged and recognized.

Nonetheless, in the light of past historical experience, and considering the personalities and offices involved, it will be prudent for an administrative order to be issued, delineating anew the lines of power and authority among the agencies and offices under the President.

Abangan ang susunod na kabanata!


Leonor Magtolis Briones

Accounting (1958);

Professor Briones is former National Treasurer of the Republic of the Philippines. She is an Outstanding Sillimanian in the field of Fiscal and Public Administration, and has served Silliman University as Chairperson of the Board of Trustees. She holds a Post-Graduate Diploma in Development Organization major in Public Enterprises and a Certificate in Policy for Public Enterprise from Leeds University in England and the Harvard Institute for International Development, respectively. Presently, she is professor at the National College of Public Administration and Governance at the University of the Philippines. Professor Briones maintains a regular column, “Boiled Green Bananas, ” in the Business Mirror.