MANILA, January 7, 2003 (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva and Nikko Dizon  - Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Bayani Fernando continued to play coy yesterday even as he met with Malacañang officials to discuss his possible acceptance of a Cabinet portfolio.

Fernando, who is being eyed to take over the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) post to be vacated on Monday by newly appointed Justice Secretary Simeon Datumanong, told Palace reporters he asked President Arroyo to give him one week to decide whether to accept the position.

Fernando again refused to categorically accept or decline the appointment even as Metro Manila mayors said he should stay at the MMDA instead of moving to the DPWH.

"Seloso kami (We are the jealous-type)," said Pasay City Mayor Wenceslao "Peewee" Trinidad, spokesman for the Metro Manila Mayors’ League.

Trinidad said that while there are others who are qualified to be MMDA chairman, Fernando has gained the support of Metro Manila mayors because of his determination to instill order in the metropolis.

"We still have a lot of things to do for Metro Manila," Trinidad said, echoing Fernando’s reason for postponing his acceptance of the appointment to the DPWH.

Trinidad also expressed reservations on suggestions that Fernando be appointed concurrently as MMDA chairman and DPWH secretary.

While incumbent Metro Manila mayors used to be appointed concurrent MMDA chief, Trinidad said it would be difficult for Fernando to hold two positions at the same time.

"That would be difficult," Trinidad said. "We prefer na maiwan siya sa MMDA (that he stays at the MMDA)."

Mrs. Arroyo offered the Cabinet portfolio to Fernando on Friday evening, the day before she announced the appointment of Datumanong to replace resigned Justice Secretary Hernando Perez.

But Fernando said he would have to think about the offer because he still had unfulfilled commitments as MMDA chairman, a post he has held since last June.

Fernando, 56, also hinted that he would be able to better fulfill his commitments as MMDA chairman if he would be appointed public works secretary in a concurrent capacity.

In his weekly press conference at the MMDA offices in Makati City yesterday, Fernando again mentioned that the two agencies have some "overlapping functions" that would be more easily addressed if the MMDA chairman were also the DPWH secretary.

He cited the functions of overseeing flood control programs, maintenance of roads and control of traffic lights —issues over which the two agencies have clashed in the past.

"I am studying this right now so that I would know what to tell the President when the time comes. I will share with her my opinion and it’s up to her to make the decision," Fernando said.

He also expressed confidence that he would be able to meet the "more extensive" challenges at the DPWH.

"The job calls for a technical person and I’m a technical person," Fernando said. "It’s a big task but if the President says this is what she wants then it is my duty to obey," he added.

At the same time, Fernando reiterated that he still has uncompleted projects and that Metro Manilans may feel "abandoned" if he does not complete them.

"This is a big job so I have to be certain. If I accept another post, It’s like I’m abandoning the Metro Manilans," he said. "I still have projects which I started but have not yet been realized. It would be a shame for me to leave the MMDA now."

Meanwhile, opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. endorsed Fernando’s appointment to the DPWH, saying Fernando’s expertise would fill the nation’s need for improved infrastructure.

Pimentel, a resident of Marikina City, noted that when Fernando was city mayor from 1992 to 2001, he solved flooding in the city streets.

"He also paved all roads in the city," Pimentel enthused. "His expertise should serve the nation that hungers for good infrastructure."

At the Department of Justice (DOJ), government lawyers tried to draw "first blood" from newly appointed Secretary Datumanong by questioning his litigation experience.

The ranking lawyers said that although Datumanong was a Bar topnotcher in 1959, he did not really practice law because he was more of a politician.

"Of course, we welcome him but I think he has to have some updated knowledge of the law," one of the lawyers said, saying that state lawyers may take advantage of Datumanong’s supposed lack of legal expertise. — With Marvin Sy, Efren Danao

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