GMA RESPECTS CAMACHO RESIGNATION; AMATONG IS 'OFFICER-IN-CHARGE'

MANILA, November 22, 2003  (BULLETIN) By Fil C. Sionil - Finance Secretary Jose Isidro N. Camacho yesterday resigned, citing "physical, financial and emotional" reasons for leaving the government he served for nearly three years.

"The President has accepted my resignation. I never expected government as a lifetime duty. It is time to move on," Camacho told reporters, shortly after he came from Malacanang where he met with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Chief Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo on his possible replacement.

Camacho is set to leave his post by the end of the month. He has endorsed Finance Undersecretary Juanita Amatong in his stead.

Amatong said in a telephone interview that she will only be "officer-incharge" until Camacho's permanent replacement is named by Malacanang.

"I have talked with Executive Secretary Romulo and he agreed," Amatong said.

Camacho said his decision to leave the government service was not spontaneous, claiming he labored about it along with his family, whom he described also sacrificed when he joined the government.

"For me, it was a very difficult decision. I reflected upon this for a long time. It is time to move on. It is something I've discussed with my family many months ago," he said.

He pointed out that there is no specific reason or last straw that prompted him to throw in the towel. "It is a combination of many, many reasons. It is time to move on and get on to the next phase of my life," he said.

Camacho likened government service to a 100meter dash competition with no finish line on sight, wherein "one cannot survive and in an appropriate time you have to pass the baton to the next runner."

He described his almost three year stint in the government as "physically, financially and emotionally exhausting." Camacho, 48, was an accomplished investment banker, earning millions of pesos annually before he agreed to serve the country in March 2001, first as energy secretary and later as finance chief.

He believed that the timing for him to move on to another "phase" of his life is appropriate, considering that the blueprint of bringing back on track the negative fiscal position of the government has already been in placed, including the passage of important legislative measures, the implementation of which is expected to further maximize the economic growth potential of the country.

It is still uncertain whether his resignation will spawn a wave of resignations of his appointees such as Bureau of Customs Commissioner Antonio M. Bernardo, Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Guillermo L. Parayno Jr, and other officials.

But, what is sure is that National Treasurer Eduardo Sergio G. Edeza and Deputy Treasurer Mina Figueroa will be following Camacho's footsteps. Edeza confirmed he will stay on a month longer than the finance chief while Figueroa has been quoted as saying that her tenure in government will end when "my boss (referring to Edeza) leaves."

Bernardo, on the other hand, said he will be staying. "I serve at the pleasure of the President," said Bernardo, who was a classmate of Camacho during their primary and secondary education in Don Bosco.

With deep regrets

President Arroyo accepted with deep regrets yesterday the irrevocable resignation of Finance Secretary Jose Isidro Camacho as she begins to scout for his immediate replacement on or before Nov. 30.

Presidential chief of staff Rigoberto Tiglao said the President has accepted Camacho's decision to relinquish his post effective Nov. 30, designating Finance Undersecretary Juanita Amatong to temporarily assume office in an acting capacity until a permanent replacement is named.

He said that Camacho has been wanting to leave government service as early as July this year but was prevailed upon by the President due to the failed July 27 coup attempt by a contingent of military officers and personnel led by Navy Lt. SG Antonio Trillanes.

"With his reforms and his example of public service, Secretary Camacho will leave the Department of Finance stronger and better positioned in its role as pillar of fiscal stability and economic confidence in the republic," an official Malacaņang statement said.

Malacaņang insiders claimed that Camacho has finally decided to leave the Arroyo Cabinet after the President has insisted to allow Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) President and General Manager Winston Garcia to stay in his post despite alleged mismanagement of government pension funds.

Camacho, who heads the President's economic dream team, has earlier recommended that Garcia be further investigated by the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) due to a string of allegations hurled against him by various organizations of some 1.4 million government workers.

It may be recalled that the President has asked Garcia, son of Cebu Gov. Pablo Garcia, to stay put after the younger Garcia has promised to make readily and immediately available the long-pending loan applications of government workers.

Garcia is now under investigation by the PAGC due to complaints of alleged mismanagement of government funds that resulted in the discontinuance of the government workers' loan applications and benefit claims due to fund shortages.

Garcia, for his part, has blamed the suspension of government workers' loan applications and benefit claims because of GSIS's ongoing computerization program of the pension fund system, then later on cited the non-remittance of premium contributions of government agencies.

Yet, despite the alleged fund shortages for workers' loans and benefits, the GSIS under Garcia purchased Juan Luna's "Parisian Life" and other paintings for a total of P53.352 million that the Commission on Audit (COA) has reportedly found to be "highly irregular."

Also included in the PAGC's probe are complaints lodged by the Kilusang Manggagawa ng GSIS (KMG) that Garcia had purportedly made unliquidated and unauthorized cash advances amounting to some P3.4 million in his first five months in office, excluding his salaries and allowances.

Garcia likewise has allegedly established "costly, ineffective and unlawful" district offices and has illegally hired law firms which GSIS pays a handsome service fee of about P200,000 monthly, thus violating the GSIS's own charter. (Ferdie J. Maglalang)

Oreta hopes for reforms

Opposition Senator Tessie Aquino Oreta expressed the hope Friday that the resignation of Finance Secretary Jose Isidro Camacho would lead to sweeping reforms in the Arroyo administration's fiscal policy, notably the overhaul of its deficit busting strategy that has only trapped Filipinos deeper in debt.

Oreta pointed out in particular to Camacho's borrowing binge approach, which, she said, should be discarded in favor of an intensified campaign to raise revenues.

"We hope that Mr. Camacho's resignation would be accompanied by far-reaching reforms that would focus on an intensified revenue generation campaign instead of relying on heavy borrowings to cover our burgeoning budget deficit, which has proven to be a flawed strategy that has only sank Filipinos deeper in the debt quicksand," Oreta said.

Oreta said this fresh revenue generation strategy to collect some P100 billion in unpaid income, corporate and value-added taxes, which, she said should include a no-nonsense campaign against big-time tax evaders would prove to be a better alternative to Camacho's borrowing strategy, because it would free more funds for essential services like education and health.

She lamented that as a result of Camacho's borrowing binge strategy, debt servicing now eats up a third of the national budget, leaving scant resources for programs designed to attack poverty, such as projects to widen access to basic education and primary health care.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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