NEWSFLASH

FERNANDO GETS BOTH MMDA AND DPWH... FOR NOW

MANILA, January 9, 2003 (STAR) By Marvin Sy  - Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Bayani Fernando may keep his present post and serve concurrently as secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) — but he will get paid for only one position.

President Arroyo’s chief of staff Rigoberto Tiglao also said Fernando would be serving only in an acting capacity as DPWH secretary until the President finds someone who can get a permanent appointment.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said yesterday Palace legal advisers have opined that allowing Fernando to head both the DPWH and the MMDA would not violate the Constitution, provided Fernando does not receive double compensation.

However, Bunye admitted there are still "so many loose ends" in the situation that he cannot say how long Fernando will hold both posts.

"It is not a double thing, but the mechanics being followed was the pattern previously done in the case of Presidential Management Staff (PMS) chief Silvestre Afable, who last year served as acting press secretary," Bunye said.

Afable did double duty in April last year, when then concurrent Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao went to Tokyo, Japan on a six-month study leave.

Afable subsequently relinquished his post as acting press secretary on July 16, 2002 when the President appointed Bunye to the post.

Bunye said Fernando would assume the acting DPWH post when Simeon Datumanong assumes the helm at the Department of Justice on Monday.

Meanwhile, Fernando confirmed in a telephone interview late yesterday afternoon that he was told by President Arroyo to take over the DPWH top post while continuing his work at the MMDA.

"Kaya naman ito (I can do this), with your help," Fernando said while conducting an inspection of the site of a fire in Quezon City.

Fernando agonized over the President’s offer, as he initially questioned his own ability to handle the leadership of the DPWH — an agency that has, over several year, been at the top of the list of the country’s most graft-ridden and corrupt agencies.

Fernando also hedged on the President’s offer because of the unfinished programs he has initiated at the MMDA.

When Fernando assumed his post at the MMDA last June, he began an intensive sidewalk-clearing campaign to remove all obstructions from the metropolis’ sidewalks – vendors included.

This campaign to reclaim the sidewalks for pedestrian use sent Fernando’s popularity skyrocketing beyond the already high levels it was at during his nine-year stint as mayor of Marikina City.

Fernando was also recognized as the man who transformed the country’s shoe-making capital from a crime-ridden enclave to a model urban center where industries and small businesses thrive and whose constituents get their taxes’ worth of government services. Marikina City is now one of the model cities of the country.

However, Fernando became unpopular with some of the agency’s employees because of the reforms he initiated within the MMDA — including a top-to-bottom reorganization.

In a previous interview, Fernando cited the benefits of holding the concurrent position of DPWH secretary and MMDA chairman. He said that coordination between the two agencies would improve under one leadership, particularly in the implementation of critical infrastructure projects.

Fernando added that red tape was evident in his dealings with his DPWH counterparts for the transfer of flood control responsibilities for Metro Manila from the DPWH to the MMDA and the ongoing turnover of the department’s Traffic Engineering Center to the MMDA.

He admitted that the two agencies have some overlapping functions which will best be resolved under one leadership.

Even if the job at the DPWH will demand more of Fernando’s time due to its national scope, Fernando said he will not neglect the MMDA because many of the MMDA programs have already been "institutionalized."

"What is being done by the MMDA is not being done by a Bayani Fernando, but by the employees of the MMDA," Fernando added.

According to Fernando, the policy direction, as well as the system of the MMDA, was already in place before he assumed office, so that whoever takes over the agency will not have a hard time sustaining the agency’s programs.

MMDA Executive Director and traffic chief Angelito Vergel de Dios was hand-picked by Fernando for his post, along with the other heads of MMDA programs Fernando initiated.

Deputy MMDA Chairman Cesar Lacuna was also the MMDA’s number two man since the term of former MMDA chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. as an appointee of the Arroyo administration.

Lacuna also expressed confidence that Fernando can handle both positions, citing Fernando’s dedication to his job and his reputation as a workaholic.

In spite of his initial hesitation to take over the DPWH top slot, Fernando is not short of confidence in handling the technical aspects of the job and described himself as a "technical person."

The 56-year-old Fernando is a mechanical engineer by profession and has had various experiences as the head of his own construction firm, BF Construction Inc.

He dispelled criticisms thrown at him about the supposed conflict of interests he could wind up in as DPWH secretary because he owns a construction firm.

Fernando explained that he has not been involved in the firm for several years already, and even said his firm had a bad experience in dealing with the DPWH. The government, he said, failed to settle its obligations with the firm for one of the projects it undertook.

Employees of the MMDA who have been critical of Fernando were widely known to have been celebrating over the past dew days after hearing the news of the MMDA chief’s appointment as DPWH secretary. — With Marichu Villanueva


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