CEBU CITY,  August 19, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo announced here last night the first wave of her Cabinet revamp as she named 26 new members of her official family and other appointees to various positions in government.

Leading the President’s appointees was Vice President Noli de Castro who was named chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), replacing Michael Defensor.

Defensor, who had served as Mrs. Arroyo’s campaign spokesman in the May 10 elections, was in turn appointed secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), replacing Elisea Gozun.

Mrs. Arroyo also appointed Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita as her new "little president," replacing Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo who was "promoted" to secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

The President did not say where Foreign Affairs Secretary Delia Albert would go.

At a press conference held in one of the function rooms of the so-called "Malacañang of the South," Ermita disclosed that the President had "plans" for Albert but could not announce it at this time.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye, who was appointed as concurrent press secretary, said the next wave of Cabinet changes would take place any day now until the Commission on Appointments (CA) is formally constituted.

Bunye announced last night that the partial list of new presidential appointees included Avelino Cruz as secretary of national defense, Florencio Abad as secretary of education, Raul Gonzalez as secretary of justice, Rene Villa as secretary of agrarian reform, Joseph Ace Durano as secretary of tourism;

Imelda Nicolas as secretary-general of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. as national security adviser, Rodolfo del Rosario as adviser for new government centers, Edgardo Pamintuan as adviser for constituencies, Francisco Licuanan as adviser for Clark-Subic development;

Augusto Syjuco as chairman and director-general of TESDA, Roberto Pagdanganan as chairman and president of the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC), Cerge Remonde as head of the Government Media Group, Thelmo Cunanan as chairman of the Social Security System, Sergio Valencia as chairman of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Fe Barin as chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission;

Deputy Director General Edgar Aglipay as chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Reynaldo David as president of the Development Bank of the Philippines, Eduardo Manalac as president of the Philippine National Oil Co., Jose Perez as president of the United Coconut Planters Bank and Lilia Bautista as ambassador to Belgium.

Meanwhile, in Lahug City, Mrs. Arroyo announced the appointment of Deputy Customs Commissioner George Jereos as new Customs commissioner.

The President announced the appointment at the 51st convention of the Philippine Sugar Technologies Association held at the Waterfront Hotel.

She did not say, however, where Customs Commissioner Antonio Bernardo, who is on an official two-week leave, would go. Jereos has already been designated as officer-in-charge of the bureau. However, he is due to retire in seven months.

Mrs. Arroyo immediately instructed her new Customs chief to strongly run after sugar smugglers, whom she blames for the problems besetting the domestic sugar industry.

The President also disclosed in the same forum that she is retaining Cebu district Customs collector Billy Bibit.

Malacañang has also officially appointed National Food Authority (NFA) administrator Arthur Yap as acting secretary of agriculture and Mrs. Arroyo had in fact signed his appointment papers last Aug. 15.

Yap, who was welcomed by the members of the DA family when he assumed the post yesterday, pledged support for the President’s policy plans.

In accepting his appointment as executive secretary, Ermita said he will do his best "in a manner that I know how to perform and attain the wish of the President."

Ermita disclosed that his first priority as the new "little president" is to foster good working relationship with his fellow Cabinet officials and other heads of government as direct link to the President.

"So we can serve the people and move forward the country to enable the President to attain the priorities she has laid down for her new term. So God, help me and I hope to live up to the expectation of our President and our people," he added.

In the same press conference, Ermita announced the promotion of Marine Commander Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Teodosio as the new Central Visayas commander with a rank of lieutenant-general.

For his part, Pagdanganan disclosed that the President instructed him to stay on "as DOT secretary until such time that Durano is confirmed by the CA."

In the meantime, Pagdanganan said he will familiarize himself with his new task as president and chairman of the board of the PITC.

He said that incumbent PITC president Anthony Abad’s term ends on Oct. 30. He failed to say though where Abad, a former student of Mrs. Arroyo, would go.

Pagdanganan disclosed that the President ordered him to tap funding support from the PCSO for her priority program in the procurement of "half-price" medicine for the poor, which he would handle through PITC.

This manner of succession of office though "would not necessarily apply to all appointees," Ermita said.

In his case, he said he would succeed Romulo anytime now because the new DFA Secretary holds the "number one post in the Cabinet" and it is a "very sensitive position."

As to how soon the next wave of Cabinet changes will be announced, Ermita, a known protégé of former President Fidel Ramos, quoted the favorite line of his former boss: "Abangan! Let’s just wait for the President to decide."

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo humbly accepted the position which he said was "occupied with great distinction by such luminaries as Apolinario Mabini, Elpidio Quirino, Emmanuel Pelaez, Carlos Romulo, Raul Manglapus and Blas Ople."

"In the conduct of foreign policy, my guidepost and loadstar is no less than the Constitution which orders the state to pursue an independent foreign policy with its paramount consideration being national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest and the right to self determination," he said in a statement.

"In every nook and corner of the globe, there is a Filipino trying to beat the odds to make a living and attain his or her dreams. It is the humanitarian duty of government to look after the welfare of our people overseas," he added.

Ermita will make his public appearance as executive secretary when he guests at the forum of the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC) forum at the Ristorante La Dolce Fontana in Greenhills, San Juan.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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