MALACANANG, December 16, 2003 (STAR) Controversial chief presidential legal counsel Avelino Cruz Jr. has submitted his resignation from the Cabinet effective Dec. 31.

Cruz said he is resigning to help in the campaign of President Arroyo who is seeking a full six-year term in the May 2004 elections.

His resignation letter was dated Dec. 8, but his imminent departure as chief presidential legal counsel was announced only yesterday by the Palace press office.

Cruz said former assistant secretary for legal affairs of the Office of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), Joe Nathan Tenefrancia, will be designated officer-in-charge of the Office of the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel when his resignation takes effect.

This marks Tenefrancia’s return to the Palace. He left the PMS in September 2001 to work for the Villaraza and Angcangco Law Office as a senior partner and was with the law firm until May this year.

Cruz also used to work at the same law office before the President appointed him to his Cabinet post when she assumed office in January 2001. He was one of the President’s personal lawyers.

Cruz figured in a number of controversies in the past, including being implicated in the alleged shakedown attempt against German firm Fraport AG, part of the consortium that built the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.

He and former presidential adviser on strategic projects Gloria Tan-Climaco were accused of extortion attempts against Fraport AG, supposedly to raise funds for Mrs. Arroyo’s campaign kitty.

The President, Cruz and Climaco have vehemently denied Fraport AG’s accusations.

In his resignation letter, Cruz thanked the President for giving him the opportunity to serve in government and expressed his continued support for the administration’s efforts toward good governance.

Deputy presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said the President might have already reached an understanding with Cruz to accept his resignation from the Cabinet so he could help her campaign.

"I think that (resignation) was discussed with the President for some time now," Saludo said.

He added that Tenefrancia, as recommended by Cruz, would be the new chief presidential legal counsel, though "there has been no formal designation yet, but I think this would just be a formality."

Cruz is the third Cabinet official of the Arroyo administration to resign in as many weeks.

The first was Finance Secretary Jose Isidro Camacho, who tendered his resignation on Nov. 30, citing personal reasons and a desire to seek a better-paying job in the private sector.

Trade and Industry Secretary Manuel Roxas II was the next to quit the Cabinet on Dec. 10 in order to join the 12-candidate senatorial slate of the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD) party in the 2004 elections.

Highly reliable Palace sources said there are at least three to four more close aides of the President who are expected to resign to help her campaign on a "full-time basis."

The same sources said that PMS chief Silvestre Afable Jr. and presidential adviser on overseas development assistance (ODA) projects Marita Jimenez are among those expected to resign in the coming weeks.

"They cannot work politically and concentrate on their respective jobs at the same time," the source said.

Besides being PMS head, Afable also serves as the head of the government peace panel negotiating formal talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) scheduled to begin in January in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Jimenez will reportedly work as the "media operations" chief of the President’s campaign machinery.

Cruz, meanwhile, will work in the "lawyers’ group" of the President, which will take charge of legal issues during her campaign.

Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) chairman Michael Defensor welcomed Cruz’s resignation, saying "he will be on board our campaign."

However, Defensor denied reports that he would be among the Palace aides expected to resign to work full-time on the President’s campaign.

"I can be the campaign spokesman while, at the same time, do my job for the housing sector," he said. – Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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