PALACE FAUCETS GO DRY   /   CA  CONFIRMS ERMITA, BUNYE

MANILA, December 16, 2004
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo has been helping residents of depressed areas get clean water through her "Patubig ni Gloria" project.

But for the past three days, the seat of government has been in dire need of a dose of its own charity.

With taps at the Palace running dry, a truck from Maynilad Water has been making a nightly delivery of 12,000 cubic feet of water.

Malacañang is among the areas serviced by the company, a concessionaire of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

The truck arrives in the dark of the night and offloads its precious cargo behind the Kalayaan Building.

The service disruption came just after MWSS Administrator Orlando Honrade warned last Saturday about a possible water shortage in Metro Manila.

In a press conference at the Palace, Honrade said taps in Metro Manila could run dry by April next year if the damage caused by successive typhoons to the Umiray Dam in Aurora is not repaired at the soonest possible time.

But Malacañang’s water problem is not directly related to the dam damage but is more a byproduct of the financial difficulties of Maynilad.

The company has been under government control since its owners, the Lopezes, withdrew from its contract with the MWSS.

Maynilad is one of two concessionaires of the MWSS. The other is the Ayala-owned Manila Water.

Only last Monday, Mrs. Arroyo — assisted by Honrade and Maynilad president and former public works secretary Fiorello Estuar — inaugurated the P53.2-million F-1 Zone Water Supply Improvement Project in Tondo, Manila.

Honrade reported to Mrs. Arroyo that the principal and interest of the concession fees owed by Maynilad had reached P9.88 billion as of June 2004.

He said the MWSS incurred P9.83 billion in outstanding debt to cover Maynilad’s obligations.

Honrade said that the MWSS was working closely with the Department of Finance to address its problems with Maynilad.

CA confirms Ermita, Bunye By Jose Rodel Clapano The Philippine Star 12/16/2004

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye were confirmed yesterday by the Commission on Appointments (CA).

Their confirmation brought to five the number of members of President Arroyo’s Cabinet who have been given the green light by the body empowered to approve or reject major Cabinet appointments and promotions in the military and the diplomatic service.

Education Secretary Florencio Abad, Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rene Villa had previously been confirmed by the CA.

Also confirmed yesterday were 31 military officers, most of whom were promoted to the rank of colonel.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos, who chairs the CA’s committee on government-controlled corporations and other offices, endorsed the confirmation of Bunye and Ermita at the plenary and was respectively seconded by Senators Mar Roxas II and Richard Gordon.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he found Bunye’s answers to be very consistent, and that the press secretary "is competent enough to remain in his post."

Bunye said he was only "too happy" to be able to personally hear the testimonials and accolades he received in his honor while he was being grilled yesterday at the confirmation hearing.

"I was touched to hear their eulogies when I am still alive," said Bunye, a day after he represented the President at the wake of movie actor Fernando Poe Jr.

Ermita said Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago also noted the eulogy-like paeans to him and Bunye. "So I could not add anything more to these testimonials of my colleagues at the CA which sounded like eulogies for the Executive Secretary," he quoted Santiago’s own remark at the CA plenary session.

The 69-year-old Ermita, however, said he was most touched by the support of opposition Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile for their confirmation.

"This is a manifestation of the respect of both the majority and minority to the Office of the President," he said.

Except for Villa, Ermita, Bunye, Durano and Abad had the advantage of being former members of Congress themselves and thus were given the "parliamentary courtesies" by their former colleagues who did not give them a hard time at the CA hearings.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, who is also CA chairman, told a news conference that since Congress is adjourning for the Christmas holidays this weekend, other Cabinet members are now considered bypassed and Mrs. Arroyo would have to reappoint them.

Those considered bypassed include three controversial department heads — Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes, Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas and Environment Secretary Mike Defensor.

Some CA members are making an issue out of the huge increase in Reyes’ wealth. The former defense secretary has claimed that the increase resulted from the decision of his ailing mother to have her bank deposits held jointly by the two of them.

Sto. Tomas is being blamed for the violent dispersal of protesting workers at the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac last month, while Defensor has become suddenly controversial in the wake of the flashfloods and landslides in Aurora and Quezon, where illegal logging continued unchecked until tragedy struck.

Also among those bypassed and would have to be reappointed is Finance Secretary Juanita Amatong, whose job has reportedly been offered to opposition Sen. Edgardo Angara.

Angara and Mrs. Arroyo have been talking on what the senator calls "critical collaboration."

Drilon reminded those bypassed to submit the documents that the CA has required of them or they would soon be rejected.

"If they continue to refuse to comply with our requirements, we will be forced to take harsher measures. There is a danger that we will reject their appointments. That is a fair warning," he said.

He also urged the President not to go around the constitutional requirement of confirmation of Cabinet members by appointing these officials in an "acting" capacity and not submitting their appointments to the CA.

"If the intention is to have these officials perform regular functions, then their nominations should be submitted to the Commission on Appointments and the President cannot deprive the commission of the opportunity to pass upon their qualifications," he said.

He reminded Mrs. Arroyo that at least two Cabinet members — Public Works Secretary Florante Soriquez and Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit — are still holding their posts in an acting capacity despite doing the job of full-fledged department heads.

In the case of Soriquez, he has been acting secretary for more than a year now.

The confirmation hearings of the CA would continue when Congress resumes session on Jan. 10, 2005. — With Jess Diaz, Marichu Villanueva


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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