MANILA, January 8, 2004
(BULLETIN) By Ferdie J. Maglalang - President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo convened yesterday her first Cabinet meeting this year and replaced some of its members who resigned to either campaign for her or run for election in the national and local elections in May.

The new additions bring to nine the female members of the Arroyo official family.

In the Malacañang meeting, the President welcomed new Trade and Industry Secretary Cesar A.V. Purisima and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Joe Nathan P. Tenefrancia into her official family which has more than four months in office before her term expires this June.

Purisima, former chairman and chief executive officer of the auditing firm Sycip, Gorres, Velayo & Co. (SGV & Co), took over the post vacated by Manuel Roxas II of the Liberal Party, who was included in the senatorial lineup of the Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4).

Tenefrancia, a former senior partner of the Villaraza & Angangco Law Offices, took the place of former presidential legal counsel Avelino "Nonong" Cruz who had relinquished his post to be part of the President's election campaign team.

Also welcomed into the Arroyo Cabinet were Tourism Undersecretary Oscar Palabyab as acting tourism secretary in place of Richard Gordon who also joined the K-4 senatorial line-up.

Former Presidential Management Staff (PMS) chief Silvestre Afable has been replaced by deputy presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo. Afable, who also writes Arroyo's speeches, took an indefinite leave to be a full-time campaigner for the President.

National Security Adviser Roilo Golez, who is eyeing to regain his congressional seat in Parañaque City, has been replaced with his deputy director general, Lt. Gen. Victor Mayo, who will be National Security Council officer-in-charge.

Appointed before Purisima and Tenefrancia were Delia Domingo Albert as foreign affairs secretary, and Merceditas Gutierrez as acting justice secretary, bringing to nine the female members of the Arroyo Cabinet.

Albert was given the foreign affairs portfolio following the death of Blas F. Ople. Gutierrez took over from Simeon Datumanong who is running for congressman of Maguindanao.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the President discussed with her Cabinet the prospect of expediting the "doable projects" she has initiated, particularly in peace and order, anti-kidnapping, anti-drugs, anti-terrorism, and economic programs.

"In terms of programs that will benefit the poor, the program 'Sulong' (Small and Medium Enterprises Unified Lending Opportunities for National Growth) was also discussed. Some infrastructure projects that need to be fast-tracked were likewise discussed," he said.

The nine female members of the Cabinet are Albert, Patricia Sto. Tomas (labor), Corazon Juliano-Soliman (social welfare), Elisea Gozon (environment and natural resources), Marita Mapili-Jimenez (presidential adviser on absorption of official development assistance), Gutierrez, Teresita Deles (presidential adviser on the peace process), Emilia Boncodin (budget), and Juanita Amatong (finance).

Goals bared

New Trade and Industry Secretary Cesar A.V. Purisima said yesterday he aims to attract more foreign investors and for existing investors to invest more in the Philippines.

"I think the challenge for the Philippine economy really is to make sure that we develop our entrepreneurial base," Purisima said, adding that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was correct in pushing for the development of small and medium-enterprises (SMEs) nationwide.

Purisima also said that based on his discussions with industry leaders, the semi-conductor industry would lead the country's export growth this year.

He said that this forecast is based on the projected growth of the semiconductor industry in the United States from 10 to 30 percent this year.

"This means that in the Philippines, the semi-conductor industry will grow by a minimum of 10 percent this year," Purisima said.

Bunye said that the President appointed Purisima to head the trade and industry department because of his professional competence and integrity.

Purisima worked as assistant secretary for legal affairs at the Presidential Management Staff under the Office of the President from February to September 2001 before moving to the Villaraza and Angangco Law Offices as a senior partner in May 2003.

Won't use gov't funds

Malacañang assured yesterday it will refrain from using the scarce government resources in advancing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's bid for a full six-year term of office as well as the entire slate of the Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan (K-4) in the May elections.

Press Secretary Milton Alingod allayed fears by some quarters, notably by the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), that government resources might be used in the President's partisan political activities.

"The President has made sure that this (situation) will never happen because she is very well aware that the use of government resources as well as its facilities during the campaign is against the law and therefore, strictly forbidden," he said.

House Assistant Minority Leader Gilbert Remulla earlier had expressed apprehension that government funds, facilities and even personnel might be tapped by the President or her campaign handlers for her presidential campaign scheduled to start Feb. 10.

Remulla has asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to issue clear guidelines on the use of government funds, facilities, and personnel for partisan activities.

Presidential campaign spokesman Michael Defensor, also chairman of Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), said there are certain laws and regulations that strictly prohibit the government from engaging in purely partisan political activities.

"The utility of government resources is something that the government will avoid not only because it will have so much backlash on us but more so because people will be liable of graft and corruption," he said.

He cited how the presidential bid of the late House Speaker Ramon Mitra suffered when authorities found out that he was using the facilities of the chamber to print his campaign materials a few days before the 1992 presidential elections.

Alingod and Defensor, however, admitted that there is a "very thin line" that delineates what is purely "in pursuit of governance" or in advancement of the President's partisan political agenda. (Ferdie J. Maglalang)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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