MANILA, January 8, 2003 (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva and Marvin Sy  - Even before he could officially assume his new post as press secretary, Agrarian Reform Secretary Hernani Braganza said yesterday President Arroyo may soon launch a Cabinet revamp more substantive than the ongoing shuffle.

Braganza raised the specter of a wider Cabinet revamp during a radio interview with former senator and ambassador to the US Ernesto Maceda before he attended the Cabinet meeting where his appointment as press secretary was finalized.

"There’s an ongoing Cabinet reshuffle. But personally, I don’t discount a Cabinet revamp. There would be new names, new faces," Braganza said during Maceda’s radio program "Mr. Exposé."

This developed as President Arroyo met last night at Malacañang with opposition Sen. Edgardo Angara, fanning speculation that he would soon move to the side of the administration.

Malacañang, however, denied that Angara had been offered a Cabinet post or that he was being groomed by Mrs. Arroyo to take over as Senate president.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Angara merely promised "critical collaboration" with the administration in its remaining 18 months. Bunye said there was no "quid pro quo" for the promise of collaboration, adding that the two merely discussed their legislative agenda.

Meanwhile, Bayani Fernando insisted yesterday he would stay on as chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and would not move to the Department of Public Works and Highways, (DPWH) contrary to pronouncements from Malacañang.

This has not stopped Malacañang, however, from scouting for Fernando’s replacement in the MMDA.

After the Cabinet meeting, Bunye, who was just named presidential spokesman on Monday, announced that Braganza would take over as press secretary.

In his regular afternoon press briefing, Bunye had refused to discount the possibility that Mrs. Arroyo may appoint members of the political opposition to her Cabinet.

"The possibilities are not being closed. It just so happens that the President is tackling (the issue) one department at a time. But the possibility of talking to other candidates is not closed," Bunye said.

Among the opposition lawmakers supposedly being eyed for Cabinet positions, apart from Angara who was reportedly offered the post of executive secretary, are Sen. Vicente Sotto for the MMDA and Sen. Rodolfo Biazon for a still unspecified posting.

Also supposedly being eyed for key government positions are former Quezon City mayor Ismael Mathay for the MMDA, Horacio Morales for the Department of Agrarian Reform and Edicio de la Torre.

During the Estrada administration, Morales also served as agrarian reform secretary while De la Torre was director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

From DAR to OPS

Braganza refused to disclose details of the supposed revamp even as he expressed willingness to serve in "whatever field" the President may give him "in or out of her Cabinet."

"I have a personal relationship with the President, personal in the sense of trust and confidence in my capabilities... I accepted the position because I am just following the orders from the President," Braganza said.

During the interview with Maceda, however, Braganza stressed that he would be willing to vacate the post.

"It was offered to me but I do believe there are more qualified people to handle the job of the press bureau," he said.

Braganza, 38, an undergraduate from De La Salle University with no media background whatsoever, is expected to take his post on Jan. 15 vice Bunye who was appointed only in July.

But Bunye told The STAR he did not mind the apparent "demotion" because he was planning on running for public office again. Bunye was mayor of Muntinlupa City for 12 years before being called to Malacañang.

"I’m not married to the title. I’m not married to the position. I am part of the team," Bunye said. "I am a basketball player. I obey the decision of the coach."

Cries of joy

Meanwhile, the Department of Agrarian Reform Employees Association (DAREA) celebrated Braganza’s appointment to the press secretary’s office.

DAREA president Violeta Bonilla and other officers and members went around the DAR building in Quezon City shouting "this is a long overdue victory for all DAR employees." DAREA, which engaged Braganza in a protracted word war last year, also opposed Braganza’s endorsement of Undersecretary Efren Mongcupa to replace him.

The DAR employees instead endorsed the appointment of either assistant secretary Jose Ma. Ponce or assistant secretary Lorenzo Reyes to the post to be vacated by Braganza.

But while Braganza’s former employees celebrated at the DAR, Braganza’s other critics questioned his appointment, saying Braganza, who failed to finish college, could not even handle the communication problems at the DAR much less the entire government.

But in a radio interview, Braganza explained he failed to pass 12 remaining units at the DLSU because he went into hiding during the Marcos regime.

"During the Marcos years, I was a student activist and there was a ‘shoot-to-kill’ order against me. So I went into hiding," Braganza said.

But on the official website of the Office of the Press Secretary, Braganza’s resumé stated he "obtained his AB History-Political Science degree from De La Salle University (1984) where he was president of its Student Council."

Bunye defended his successor and said all Cabinet appointments were the prerogative of the President.

"This is the judgment call of the President and we support her decision." Bunye said. "This is a decision reserved to the President so we do not question the why’s and wherefore’s of the decision."

‘BF’ to stay at MMDA

Bunye also refused to speculate on whether Fernando would finally accept the DPWH post the President offered to him.

But, speaking with reporters at the MMDA offices in Makati City, Fernando insisted he would be staying as chairman of the MMDA instead of accepting the DPWH post.

"I already told (President Arroyo) my wish to stay here at the MMDA," Fernando said, adding he had already relayed to the President his thoughts on the matter and said he would now leave the decision to Mrs. Arroyo.

Fernando had said in a Monday press conference that he had misgivings accepting the DPWH position because he used to have a construction firm that has not been paid for one of its government projects. He said he feared conflict of interest issues would be raised by the public.

Fernando, who was appointed MMDA chairman only in June last year, said he was heartened by the support extended by Metro Manila mayors.

Even Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, who has been blocking Fernando’s plan to crack down on sidewalk vendors in Manila’s dirty and congested commercial areas, said in a radio interview that he supported Fernando’s uncompleted programs in Metro Manila.

"That’s a very nice gesture of support," Fernando said. "With the nice reception of the Metro Manilans, I’m thankful and feel more committed to show results. I’m staying here at the MMDA."

"I cannot leave the MMDA because I have programs that need to be completed," Fernando said.

He reiterated that he wanted to complete the programs that he had started since June last year, including the unfulfilled pledge to rid Metro Manila of sidewalk vendors and other street obstructions as well as solve the metropolis’ continuing multi-billion-peso garbage problem.

Soon after he was appointed, Fernando launched his campaign to clear Metro Manila’s sidewalks and even threatened to douse kerosene on the goods being sold by itinerant vendors. However, he allowed the vendors a reprieve over the holiday season.

Fernando found himself entangled in another controversy when he recommended to junk a multi-billion garbage disposal project. He has since been looking for a place to dump Metro Manila’s garbage. – With reports from Jose Rodel Clapano, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jose Aravilla and AFP 

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