[PHOTO - ENERGY CHIEF President Aquino congratulates Jericho Petilla after the Leyte governor took his oath as energy secretary at Naia 2. The President left for Laos on Sunday. EDWIN BACASMAS]

By Michael Lim Ubac - President Benigno Aquino on Sunday presided over the changing of the guard at the Department of Energy (DOE).

The President separately administered the oaths of office to newly appointed Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla and his predecessor, Jose Rene Almendras, who was named secretary to the Cabinet.

The ceremonies took place at Terminal 2 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport at noon, an hour before the President departed for Vientiane, the Laotian capital, for the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem).

Almendras, a close friend of Mr. Aquino, had held the energy portfolio from Day One of the Aquino presidency.

In a brief chat with reporters before boarding the presidential flight to Laos, Almendras denied that his latest Cabinet posting was yet another bureaucratic layer, which could potentially overlap with the functions of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.

Almendras, however, pointed to the necessity of a Cabinet-rank Palace official overseeing the ins and outs of government, including the affairs of the 20 departments, called line agencies, under the executive branch.

“There is a need for coordination among the agencies,” he said.

While Ochoa has been under the radar, distancing himself from the media most of the time, Almendras has traveled with the President here and abroad.

Almendras cited his previous function in explaining his new job.

“Secretaries like me before was so focused on just energy (concerns). But there are initiatives that the President (likes to embark on), isn’t it? And, in that case, he wants (that) somebody is the one following through,” Almendras said.

But coordinating the work of the different line agencies has always been the turf of the executive secretary, dubbed the “Little President” because of the enormous powers that come with the office.

As the President’s top political lieutenant, the executive secretary speaks the mind of the President and is the sounding board of the secretaries.

The executive secretary likewise signs presidential appointments, memorandums, executive orders and other presidential issuances; and meets behind closed doors with senators and representatives, on the behest of the President, to advance his political and legislative agenda.

During the Arroyo administration, the executive secretary even signed contracts not exceeding P50 million.

Not a new post

“The Cabinet secretary has been there for—what?—since 1987. So it’s not a new position. It has always been there designated,” Almendras said.

“So there is also such a thing as a Cabinet assistant system. This was started during the time of President (Corazon) Aquino.”

The post was last held by Ricardo Saludo before he was appointed chairman of the Civil Service Commission in the waning days of the Arroyo presidency.

“It’s a whole structure on how somebody below the secretary level is actually working together with the others to create a more dynamic process,” Almendras said.

“Mine is a staff position. Cabinet secretary is a staff position, so it doesn’t conflict with any of the line positions. The line positions are very clear. PMS (Presidential Management Staff) is very clear, the Office of the Executive Secretary—those are line functions. Cabinet secretary is a staff function, it’s in a staff box,” he added.

Almendras disclosed that his position would not fall under any particular department or office, but stopped short of saying whether he would be under Ochoa, or directly reporting to Mr. Aquino.

“So in an org(anizational) chart, (the Cabinet secretary) is not part of the linear … it’s not aligned (with any department),” he said.

Almendras said “no” when asked by the Inquirer whether he would “take some functions” of either the PMS headed by Julia Abad or the executive secretary.

Shadow secretary

But there is one thing that the public should expect from the secretary to the Cabinet.

“You will not even see me. We are (doing) a staff function. We completely disappear into the bureaucracy,” Almendras said. “He assigns me to do certain things and that’s the role that we’re supposed to play.”


Petilla will officially assume his post on Monday, after a turnover ceremony at the Leyte capitol, where Vice Governor Ma. Mimiette Bagulaya will serve as acting governor until elections are held in 2013.

What made the three-term governor accept the Cabinet post?

“We have a President who is actually … very sincere. He really wants changes in the way we do things (and) bring us back to where we were before. In other words, you know, improve the country, make us competitive, and he’s sacrificing. You can see his sincerity,” Petilla said.

He said that all secretaries were actually sacrificing in accepting Cabinet assignments.

“And for me, if the job was offered and it was offered, the least I can do is actually help the President, help the country and help all the people sacrificing here. And that’s the main reason why I actually accepted the post,” he said.


“There are many challenges, many problems, but I think (they’re) nothing new,” Petilla said. “I’m taking off from where Secretary Almendras left. I am not going to reinvent anything.”

His priority is “to get a grip of the entire situation of the power industry and that includes, of course, the power generators, the cooperatives and transmission lines that we have.”

“(I will) look at the 20-year (energy) plan that has been started already. It hasn’t been released yet but we have to look at it and see where we are going,” he said.

Asked about the most pressing problem in the energy sector, Petilla said: “It’s a combination. It’s a push and pull.”

He explained at length the interrelated relationship between power generators, electric cooperatives, the National Power Corp., and the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp.

He said the country had ample power supply in Luzon and Mindanao.

“(But) we’re treading on thin line in terms of the supply power as compared to the demand … When I say it’s thin line (it means that) if all of a sudden we increase our consumption by 10 percent because we have industrialization, then we have a problem. But that’s taking everything into consideration,” he said.

On the Philippines having the higher power rates in Asia, Petilla wanted “to get a grip” of the extent of the problem first before proposing a solution.

ON TARGET By Ramon Tulfo Philippine Daily Inquirer

Can’t Ochoa take a hint?


Former Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras is now secretary to the Cabinet (with a Cabinet rank), making him a virtual executive secretary.

So Malacañang now has two executive secretaries or “Little Presidents”: Almendras and Jojo Ochoa.

One of them has to move over to make way for the other.

Can’t Ochoa take a hint?

* * *

I’ve talked to persons who know the President well. They say he’s the type who doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of his friends.

Most of the people he appointed as secretary, undersecretary or bureau director are either his friends, Ateneo schoolmates or shooting buddies.

When these guys make mistakes which are not noticed by the media, they are retained.

One example is Ochoa, who, according to a Malacañang insider, has committed many boo-boos—such as firing an honest and dedicated official of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency—but whose major faults were not noticed by the press.

Somehow, the President makes hints to erring subordinates they’re no longer needed by appointing somebody else with parallel functions.

* * *

The appointment of two Cabinet officials having the functions of executive secretary is not surprising.

After all, President Noy has three press secretaries: Ricky Carandang, Sonny Coloma and Edwin Lacierda.

And then there is deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte, who holds the rank of undersecretary.

Sen. Joker Arroyo is right: The Noynoy Aquino government is like a student council.

* * *

Plywood being smuggled in from China is killing the local plywood industry.

A port in Northern Luzon is the unloading point of the smuggled plywood which finds its way into Metro Manila, particularly a warehouse in Valenzuela City.

A source in the local plywood industry says 30 40-footer vans carry the contraband per delivery.

The smuggled cargo breezes through checkpoints along the way because the governors, police provincial directors and mayors have been paid off, according to the source.

A national official is reportedly protecting the plywood smuggler, a Chinese-Filipino.

Officers and members of the Philippine Plywood Association tried to make appointments with President Noy in Malacañang to bring the matter to his attention, but couldn’t get through to the President.


* * *

The derailment of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) train in Sariaya, Quezon, recently was an accident waiting to happen.

According to insiders, the PNR management did not strictly enforce standard operational procedures (SOP).

One such SOP states that when there is a typhoon signal the station masters in the affected areas will not allow any train to run until the district engineers responsible for track maintenance and safety certify the tracks are safe to traverse.

It appears that despite the continuous rains preceding the time of the derailment, no notice was given by top management to the concerned area officials to exercise more caution in train operations.

I was told that had the train not been derailed, many lives would have been lost.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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