News update Noynoy takes DILG post

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MANILA, Philippines – President-elect Benigno Aquino III will take charge of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) as he looks for people to fill the remaining vacancies in his Cabinet.

Aquino announced yesterday the names of most of the members of his Cabinet. He has chosen Northern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo David as his Armed Forces chief.

Aside from the DILG secretary, Aquino has yet to name the Customs commissioner who will be part of his economic team, as well as a permanent secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

DENR Undersecretary Ramon Paje will take over as officer-in-charge of the department.

Aquino said outgoing Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo was still a candidate for the top DILG post. He did not confirm whether former Customs chief Guillermo Parayno was being considered for the Bureau of Customs as earlier reported.

“Pending the choice, I will take the portfolio of DILG and hopefully I can relinquish it to one of the two candidates in the very near future, hopefully by next week,” Aquino said. He later said there were actually three names in the shortlist.

He said the three candidates – as local officials – got “particular set of pluses and minuses.”

“We are also trying, some of them have multiple roles that they can fill. And it’s my fault, I still have to make a decision, I didn’t talk to them until after I got proclaimed. We’re still not that confident of choosing which of the three,” Aquino said.

Aquino said he would want someone he could trust completely to head the DILG but stressed that his statement should not be misconstrued as lack of trust in vice president-elect Jejomar Binay, who wanted the post.

Aquino did not offer the DILG position to Binay but gave him other options. “We don’t have any fight,” Aquino said.

For the Department of Energy, Aquino named Manila Water Corp. president Jose Rene Almendras as secretary. Almendras was Aquino’s former classmate at the Ateneo de Manila University.

SM Investments Corp. executive director Gregory Domingo will be the Department of Trade and Industry secretary. He was formerly trade and industry undersecretary and Board of Investments chief when Sen. Manuel Roxas II was the DTI secretary.

Maynilad Water Services Inc. president and chief executive officer Rogelio “Babes” Singson was named secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

Singson, who was the chairman and president of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), joined Maynilad after its re-privatization in 2007 under new owners, DMCI-Metro Pacific Consortium, the country’s largest water concessionaire.

Current Manila Electric Co. president Jose “Ping” de Jesus was named secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications.

Aquino praised De Jesus for his accomplishments when he was secretary of the DPWH during the time of his mother but said past associations should not be the sole basis in choosing Cabinet members.

“The buck stops with me if they do not perform,” he said defending his appointments.

He said the person he was eyeing for the Department of Science and Technology has backed out.

“There may be five who will praise but 10 will criticize. It takes time to vet,” the incoming president said.

‘Little president’

As Aquino announced earlier, lawyer Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr. will be the executive secretary.

“Jojo has been helping me out. I’m not a lawyer, he has helped me out in understanding the law and the intricacies of the law ever since I started in public office,” he said of Ochoa.

“Our relationship stretches back on a second-generation basis already. Both our parents were allies in the LP (Liberal Party), we have been consistent allies all throughout our lives. He has given me the most sound advice on so many matters pertaining to my work as legislator. Therefore I’m very confident his role as the guardian of my back, he’s more than qualified,” Aquino said.

Economic team

Former Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima got back his old post as earlier reported. “I think his credentials speak for himself. But (for) most of these people their credentials speak for themselves,” Aquino said.

Purisima, who is well-known in the trade and finance industries, was a member of the so-called Hyatt 10, comprising officials who bolted President Arroyo’s Cabinet at the height of the “Hello, Garci” controversy in 2005.

Florencio “Butch” Abad, another Hyatt 10 member, was named budget and management chief.

Corazon “Dinky” Soliman also got her old job as Department of Social Welfare and Development secretary, while Teresita “Ging” Deles was again named presidential adviser on the peace process.

“The budget is the enabler of all of our policy decisions. We believe he is the best person at the present time to assist us in judiciously spending the people’s funds to help him and help us,” Aquino said of Abad.

University of the Philippines professor Cayetano Paderanga Jr. was named National Economic and Development Authority director general, a position he had also held during the administration of Aquino’s mother.

He said Paderanga “will give us sound advice due to economic considerations and not political considerations.”

BIR Deputy Commissioner for Special Concerns Kim Jacinto-Henares will be the agency’s chief.

“Kim has been functioning in effect as secretary to the Cabinet in all the policy briefings that I have been subjected to. She has been very effective in coming out with answers to a lot of the questions in my rushed preparations for this presidential campaign,” Aquino said.

“More importantly it is through her and the BOC commissioner we have yet to designate where we hope to recover efficiency first demonstrated by the Ramos administration and give us the needed revenues together with the secretary of finance,” Aquino said.

As expected, former human rights commissioner Leila de Lima was officially named justice secretary by Aquino.

“I am very sure you are familiar with the quality of her work. As you know, the judiciary is a very important portion of our platform and again we are very fortunate to get her to consent to carrying the burden primarily for judicial reform in our country,” Aquino said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo will remain in his position and Aquino said “we are very fortunate to have him as a senior member of the Cabinet.”

The new defense secretary will be retired Lt. Gen. Voltaire Gazmin, who was “one of the key people (who) took good care of us during the numerous coup attempts during my mom’s incumbency, as well as his continuous dedication to the Filipino people in this very abnormal situation we find our country in.”

De La Salle University president Fr. Armin Luistro will be the secretary of the Department of Education.

Aquino said the statement of DLSU “already speaks highly of the qualifications of Bro. Armin that I begged him to join the Cabinet.”

Old and new

Outgoing Quezon Rep. Proceso Alcala will be the secretary of the Department of Agriculture, which Aquino said he hopes to transform into “a main agent for the job generation aspect of our platform.”

“He has been heavily involved in environmental concerns within and without Quezon, organic farming and so many aspects of agriculture have been the advocacies of Alcala,” Aquino said.

The Department of Labor and Employment secretary will be the agency’s undersecretary Rosalinda Baldoz. She used to head the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, among other agencies.

“Her concentration also is with the workings of NLRC (National Labor Relations Commission), which we believe is an adjunct of her agency under DOLE in need of very strong reforms. We find in her the capability to make this agency truly responsive to the needs of the working man,” Aquino said.

While Aquino was thought to be planning to keep Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, the incoming president named National Kidney and Transplant Institute executive director Enrique Ona as her successor.

“In our interview, we saw in him the potential to become a complete alter-ego, especially given the fact that health agenda is number three on our platform. And he has been given instructions specifically with regard to expediting universal coverage of PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corp.), one of our campaign promises,” Aquino said.

Makati Business Club executive director Alberto Lim will be the tourism chief.

“He has been involved in various business endeavors to include the setting up of El Nido and Amanpulo. There are many details about him. The bottom line: Tourism is seen as one of the key venues for increasing jobs in the country. We need someone who has proven competence in this field,” he said referring to Lim.

Aquino said he chose De Jesus for the DOTC because he was one of the most hardworking Cabinet members during the time of his mother.

“He used to sleep three hours a day to make sure government projects are done on a timely and correct manner, his only luxury was a five-hour rest period during Sundays,” Aquino said.

He also expressed full confidence in his energy chief. “I knew him (Almendras) since college days. He is a very good friend of mine. His main training has to be with finance. Obviously we want somebody who is not part of the industry inasmuch as there will be a lot of dealings with the industry,” he said.

Boon for S&T

For the Department of Science and Technology, Aquino has chosen Dr. Mario Montejo.

“If you are familiar with the water amusement park Water Fun, the first that featured slides, waves, etc., that was Filipino technology, Dr. Montejo and his team’s effort. None of it was licensed from abroad. This was Filipino designed, enhanced, experimented, etc. We expect him at helm of DOST to provide the backup,” Aquino added.

“We would want an agency that can evaluate completely the proposals they will be presenting to us. The current practice is to ask the proponent to justify the proposal he is already proposing and to evaluate the proposal which I think is counterproductive. So DOST under Dr. Montejo (will be) a real partner as an agent of change for our country,” Aquino said.

The next Department of Agrarian Reform secretary will be Virgilio delos Reyes. He is a lawyer, educator and former undersecretary for policy, planning and legal affairs of DAR.

The Presidential Management Staff chief is Julia Andrea Abad, Aquino’s chief of staff at the Senate.

“I have been served faithfully ever since I became senator about three years today by the Hon. Julia Abad. She has undergone numerous schoolings. But more than that she has my absolute trust having run my office. If I have been able to do anything within the Senate it is because of her I think she possesses 80 percent of the brain I am holding,” Aquino said.

The presidential spokesman is Edwin Lacierda, a constitutional law expert and professor. “He has been (my spokesman), will be and hopefully will always be,” Aquino said.

Aquino named Eduardo de Mesa as his chief presidential legal counsel being one of the first lawyers he worked with and trusted when he took upon public service in 1998.

For the Commission on Higher Education, the new chairperson will be Dr. Patricia Licuanan, president of Miriam College.

“She will as her primary mission rectify the current situation where the government agency tasked to oversee higher educational institutions seems to be sleeping on the job especially as an example in nursing school profession, we have over 40 institutions which had not had a single board passer for quite a long time,” Aquino said.

Aquino did not name a press secretary because “we’re transforming that office into the Communications Group, which handles not only workings with the press but also is the main avenue for feedback with our constituents.”

“We are still in the process of organizing this particular office. The meeting I came from was organizing that particular office. We only tackled Cabinet positions. There are already 25,” Aquino said.

As regards criticisms that some Cabinet members had worked for the Arroyo administration, Aquino stressed that having served government in the past should not be a liability.

Aquino said he did consider those who helped him in his presidential bid because they naturally got the same visions for the country.

No hard feelings

Cabral, meanwhile, said she respected Aquino’s choice and that she had never expected him to appoint her anyway.

“We had a very pleasant discussion about the status of health in the Philippines. We had a talk last Sunday but he did not offer the position to me,” Cabral said.

“I wasn’t expecting anything, he did not say anything to me. All I heard was only on television and radio. But he never mentioned anything to me personally,” she said.

“He’s entitled to his own Cabinet. We cannot second guess him,” she added.

No celebration yet

For Sen. Miriam Santiago, it’s too early for the new Cabinet officials to feel triumphant as they have yet to hurdle the Commission on Appointments.

“I will just make a general statement. There may be a lot of triumphalism today. That is to say that certain groups and certain individuals will feel triumph over their opponents, over their rivals or over their nominees. But in all these short-lived euphoria, these new appointees have to remember that they have to pass the CA,” Santiago said in an interview yesterday after Aquino named the members of his official cabinet.

AFP happy

“We welcome the appointment of retired Gen. Gazmin as DND secretary and Gen. David as chief of staff. Their experiences and skills will greatly contribute to the fulfillment of our mandate,” AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said in a phone interview.

“His (Gazmin) imperatives were successful and we are confident that he will greatly contribute to the achievement of our objectives,” he said.

“Gen. David has professional competence and has held various sensitive posts. He is qualified to be the chief of staff,” he added.

Northern Luzon Command spokesman Maj. Rosendo Armas described David as “strict but fatherly.”

“He (David) wants his orders followed as soon as possible. But one can also see his fatherly qualities,” Armas said in a separate interview. With Christina Mendez, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Mayen Jaymalin, Marvin Sy, Alexis Romero – By Aurea Calica

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