‘What is an undersecretary?’: Ex-PNP chief Cascolan’s appointment in DOH post raises eyebrows

October 24, 2022 - 1:52 PM
Camilo Cascolan
Undated file photo shows then-Police Lt. Gen. Camilo Cascolan. (The STAR/File photo)

Medical workers and other Filipinos aired their concerns about the appointment of a former Philippine National Police chief as one of the undersecretaries in among the most crucial government agencies dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Health on Sunday confirmed the appointment of retired PNP chief Camilo Cascolan as an undersecretary, along with lawyer Charade Mercado-Grande.

Other appointees include Maria Lourdes Caballero Santiago (Director IV), Girlie Enriquez Veloso (Director IV), Maria Joyce Udtuhan Ducusin (Director III) and Sophia Macaranas Mancao (Director III).

The health agency said it would provide more details about the new appointments as soon as possible.

Cascolan thanked President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for the new position, saying that “one doesn’t need to be a doctor to be assigned in DOH.”

“Administration and management will always be a part of every department in government and I believe I will be of big help in this area. What’s important is the government’s program is implemented with the directive of the OIC Sec. DOH,” the former PNP chief was quoted as saying, referring to the officer-in-charge.

The post of health secretary remains vacant, with health undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire acting as the agency’s officer-in-charge since July.

A memo said she was to serve until July 31 or until Marcos formally appoints a DOH chief.

Marcos previously said that he would only appoint a health secretary if the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic has “normalized.”

“Sa ngayon, naghahanap kami ng paraan para nga ma-normalize na natin at hindi na natin kailangan sabihin na ang Pilipinas, state of calamity pa rin, para masabi natin sa ating potential investors, ‘Pumunta kayo rito sa Pilipinas, maayos na’,” Marcos added.

“Paabutin natin doon and then we will normalize also all the reorganization of the government,” he further said.

Who is Cascolan? 

Cascolan served as a PNP chief under the Duterte administration from September to November 2020.

Despite his short stint, Cascolan served as the co-author of the PNP’s “Oplan Double Barrel,” the police force’s flagship campaign against illegal drugs.

This campaign involves the controversial “Oplan Tokhang” linked to the thousands of deaths of drug suspects under former president Rodrigo Duterte‘s “war on drugs” program.

In February 2021, reports said that Cascolan was assigned as an undersecretary of the Office of the President.

The retired PNP chief is part of the Philippine Military Academy‘s Sinagtala Class of 1986, along with former PNP chiefs Sen. Bato dela Rosa and Oscar Albayalde.

Cascolan also has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of the Philippines-Visayas.

‘Huge insult’ 

Cascolan’s appointment as a DOH undersecretary earned condemnation from groups such as the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) and the Philippine Medical Students’ Association (PMSA) which questioned his background prior to the health-related post.

“Cascolan’s appointment is a huge insult to our health experts who are most qualified to administer and run the affairs of the DOH,” the AHW said in a statement.

It added that health workers “prefer an Undersecretary who has a clean track record, not a red-tagger, one whose hands are not tainted with the bloody drug war and one who truly upholds the rule of justice.”

“Thus, AHW asserted that Cascolan’s appointment runs counter to DOH mandate of ensuring the provision of quality health service that every Filipino people deserves and in upholding the quality of life, respect for human dignity and protect the health and safety of the health workers and the Filipino people,” the group said.

The PMSA also called Cascolan’s appointment a “depreciating and offensive to the medical discipline at best,” adding that he is an “inexperienced individual outside of the healthcare field.”

Some individual Pinoys also voiced out their reaction on social media.

“BAKIT nag-appoint ng retired police general at dating PNP chief bilang UNDERSECRETARY ng DOH?!!! PAKIPALIWANAG nga,” physician Gene Nisperos, board member of the Community Medicine Development Foundation, said.

The physician was among the first to inform the public about Cascolan’s appointment.

“But managing public health is different from managing public order. Or unless the position has something to do with procurement? Just asking,” another Twitter user wrote.

“The anger and frustration I feel for all the health workers who studied years to become experts in their field, only to be superseded by a former PNP chief who knows nothing about all of this. Make it make sense,” commented a different Pinoy.

The undersecretary 

According to the Administrative Code of 1987, an undersecretary has the duty to “advise and assist the secretary in the formulation and implementation of department objectives and policies.”

He/she must also “oversee all the operational activities of the department for which he shall be responsible to the Secretary.”

An undersecretary is also expected to “coordinate the programs and projects of the department and be responsible for its economical, efficient and effective administration.”

He/she must also “serve as deputy to the Secretary in all matters relating to the operations of the department.”

An undersecretary likewise has the role to “temporarily discharge the duties of the Secretary in the latter’s absence or inability to discharge his duties for any cause or in case of vacancy of the said office, unless otherwise provided by law.”

“Where there are more than one Undersecretary, the Secretary shall allocate the foregoing powers and duties among them. The President shall likewise make the temporary designation of Acting Secretary from among them,” the code says.