, February 14, 2005
(STAR) By Marvin Sy  -  Malacañang called on critics of newly appointed Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. to allow the former police general to prove his worth despite his supposed lack of qualified technical skills.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye reiterated that being a civil engineer is not a requirement for anyone to head the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Bunye cited precedents. "We have had several past secretaries who were not engineers. For that matter, one does not have to be a doctor to become an effective secretary of health," he said.

Bunye said Ebdane did not deseve to be criticized for his alleged lack of qualifications to head a government agency usually run by engineers.

He said Ebdane, the former chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), was precisely selected by President Arroyo to clean up DPWH of its corrupt image and implement reforms.

"What is important is that Ebdane enjoys the trust and confidence of the President and he is perceived by the President to be capable of helping implement her 10-point agenda," Bunye said.

Ebdane is scheduled to take over the post today from Undersecretary Florante Soriquez who had been ordered relieved last Wednesday by Mrs. Arroyo on allegations of graft. Soriquez has been at the helm of the agency for over two years in an acting capacity.

Mrs. Arroyo issued the marching orders to Ebdane to focus on the exchange of accusations of graft among its officials, particularly Soriquez who has denied the accusations.

The President has defended her choice of Ebdane to head the DPWH.

She claimed her erstwhile national security adviser and former national police chief is "technically" an engineer, being a graduate of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) with a degree in civil engineering.

Ebdane first served as PNP chief before being appointed as national security adviser, replacing Norberto Gonzales who was named presidential chief of staff last August.

Following the appointment of Ebdane to the DPWH, Soriquez reverted to his rank as undersecretary.

Soriquez had declared he would continue to serve until retirement in two and a half years despite adverse publicity following his relief over graft allegations.

"Being a career undersecretary, he cannot be removed except for cause and only after due process. But he will have to face his detractors in a proper forum," Bunye said.

He pointed out that Mrs. Arroyo had referred the claims of graft against Soriquez before the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) for investigation.

Two days after getting sacked, Soriquez faced the first of the barrage of accusations after the anti-corruption watchdog Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) filed charges against him and 19 others before the Ombudsman over alleged irregularities in the bidding of a P192-million sewerage project of the Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

Likewise, top officials of the DPWH declared their full support for Ebdane in the hope that the former police general will implement the much needed reforms in the department.

Antonio Molano, a representative of the group Konsiyensiya which he claimed initiated the removal of Soriquez from his post, said many ranking officials of the department welcome the appointment of Ebdane, despite criticisms that he is a former police general heading a technically oriented government agency.

Molano claimed many of the district engineers and regional directors are banking on Ebdane’s police background in instituting needed reforms at the DPWH.

He said many officials expect Ebdane to be professional in dealing with his subordinates while implementing true reform in the department.

Molano agreed that it does not take an engineer to head the DPWH. He cited former secretary Gregorio Vigilar, a retired general, whom he described as the "best secretary the DPWH ever had." Vigilar served the government during the administration of former presidents Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada.

Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, for his part, expressed confidence Ebdane would implement reforms in DPWH.

Arroyo said that under Ebdane’s watch, the PNP hurdled the greatest challenges to its organization.

"We expect Ebdane’s excellent performance to continue at the DPWH where his main thrust is to rid the department of graft and corruption. His unblemished record qualifies him to the post," the Pampanga lawmaker said.

Arroyo said Ebdane was able to reduce the administrative cases against policemen under his watch as PNP chief.

In 2003 for instance, the number of PNP personnel involved in administrative cases such as neglect of duty, irregularities, incompetence, misconduct, dishonesty and disloyalty decreased by an average of 19.4 percent, he said.

Arroyo said Ebdane is guided by the President’s marching orders.

"Ebdane should expeditiously act on anti-graft reforms at the DPWH especially on contract-awarding, implementation and monitoring," Arroyo said. - With Paolo Romero

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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