CABINET  SHUFFLE:  ATIENZA  TO  DENR;  REYES  GETS  DOE

[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo is joined by outgoing Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes during the ‘Trees for Life: 20 Million Seedlings for Planting’ adoption ceremony at the La Mesa Watershed and Ecopark in East Fairview, Quezon City yesterday. Photo by WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, JULY 19, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero and Donnabelle Gatdula - Malacañang announced yesterday changes in the Cabinet, with former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza being named environment secretary replacing Angelo Reyes who is taking over the top energy post left vacant by the resignation of Raphael Lotilla.

The move was seen as a political accommodation for Atienza, a close Palace ally, whose son Ali lost to oppositionist Alfredo Lim in the mayoral race in Manila. The elder Atienza is currently in the United States.

The development came a few weeks after Malacañang began its search for possible replacements for the heads of government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) who tendered their resignations upon President Arroyo’s orders.

“This is the President’s call. The President goes by who she thinks can help her run the government,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

Ermita also announced the appointment of Press Assistant Secretary Jose Capadocia as undersecretary for media affairs.

The executive secretary denied that Mrs. Arroyo was repaying a political favor when she appointed Atienza to her Cabinet. He also defended the qualification of Reyes – a retired military general – as energy chief. The latest appointment was Reyes’ fourth Cabinet post since becoming defense secretary in 2001.

Ermita also denied allegations that Lotilla was eased out because of his failure to dispose of the government’s power assets.

He said the former energy chief had long wanted to leave the government for the private sector but had been prevailed upon by Mrs. Arroyo to remain in the cabinet. The last straw was when Mrs. Arroyo reappointed him along with 11 other Cabinet officials after failing to hurdle the Commission on Appointments (CA).

“He’s (Lotilla) an expert on energy and he told us he wanted to go to private practice. He has been signifying his intention to be allowed to leave since last year,” Ermita said.

“I have served the government for 23 years. I would like to end my vow of poverty and all the ancillary vows that come with it. The principal reason is that I also want to recover my intellectual capital, because government service does not allow you really to think as deeply as you would want to,” Lotilla said at the CSR Expo 2007 sponsored by the League of Corporate Foundations.

“I’ll be more energized,” Reyes said when sought for comment by The STAR. He said he is still unsure when to officially take over his new job, for which he claimed he is highly qualified.

“It’s easy to do the job. It’s only the people who make it difficult,” he said. “I am ‘strike anywhere,’ I can work efficiently wherever you take me.”

Ermita said the turnover ceremonies may be held by end-July or after Mrs. Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the opening of the 14 th Congress on Monday.

Ermita described the appointments as “based on very good judgments by the President.”

Talk of a Cabinet revamp swirled immediately after the May 14 midterm elections in which administration senatorial candidates fared badly.

Earlier this month, Mrs. Arroyo appointed former Tarlac congressman Gilbert Teodoro as defense secretary effective Aug. 3 to replace Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., who returned to his previous post as public works secretary.

Mrs. Arroyo also sacked Jose Ma. Buñag as commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue for his alleged failure to meet collection targets. Buñag pinned the blame on his erstwhile friend Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, whom he said was also to blame for the poor revenue collections.

Over 300 officials from 117 GOCCs, six government agencies and offices, and eight sequestered posts have submitted their resignations to the Palace.

Ermita said those who failed to meet the June 30 deadline in submitting their resignations were considered resigned.

Legacy

Before he became energy secretary in March 2005, Lotilla was a professor of law at the University of the Philippines, deputy director general for the National Economic and Development Authority, and president of Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM).

Lotilla said he is looking forward to a much-awaited vacation. “Before I used to take a break outside of the country, but it does not mean I have to leave immediately. But the first item on my agenda is to go to Palawan. I haven’t gone to Palawan for the last two years, since I became energy secretary.

“I’ve always wanted to take some vacation, as I intended to stay with the national government for only two years, but after President Ramos’ term, I was requested to at least help out the new government and until we had another transition when President Arroyo assumed office in 2001,” Lotilla said.

Lotilla said after the vacation, he might consider joining the private sector. “When I went to PSALM, the line that was given to me is that this is a good transition to private sector. That’s why I accepted PSALM, and of course, when I was asked to consider going into energy, again it was an opportunity to serve that one does not refuse,” he added.

According to Lotilla, he would be willing to assist the government if necessary.

“It does not mean that I will not assist the government where I can, but it’s just that full-time government service is the one I am taking a break from. And besides, I know there are (persons) far more competent,” he added.

“In terms of privatization, President Arroyo has also articulated that privatization is really the policy direction of the government –a nd as I have told you last time, privatization is not merely a stop-gap measure in order to fill in the deficit, but to get government out of businesses that are already matured for the private sector (and) will also allow infusion of new capital that will see an expansion in the activities of these companies,” he said.

He said one of the concerns that he thought was left unaddressed was the passage of the Renewable Energy Act.

“My biggest frustration is that we were unable to pass the Renewable Energy Bill into law in the last Congress as time caught up with us. But I’m optimistic that it will be taken up by the new Congress and pass into law very soon,” he said.

The National Power Corp., meanwhile, said it welcomes the appointment of Reyes as new DOE secretary.

“His experience in various fields of public service, both in the military and civilian fields, will surely bring much benefit to the energy sector, especially at this time when it is undergoing reforms. We look forward to working with Sec. Reyes,” Napocor president Cyril del Callar said. Del Callar also cited Lotilla “for a job well done.”

“It was during his term that most of the reforms that the industry is now enjoying were implemented. Those reforms had great impact on consumer welfare and benefits,” Del Callar said.

An official from a multinational energy company said there have been changes in the energy sector in the past months and that the news of the appointment of a new energy chief did not come as a surprise.

But the official, who declined to be named, said the announcement of Lotilla’s resignation came at a crucial time when developments unfolded in the energy sector, particularly in the sale of generation assets, questions in the operations of the wholesale electricity spot market (WESM), and proposed amendments to the power law.

“Hopefully, these changes would bring about steadying influence in securing the affairs in the power and energy sectors and ensure continuity in the reforms earlier initiated,” the official said. “We are glad that Secretary Reyes is somebody who enjoys the confidence of President Arroyo and is an equally competent and worthy steward to head the energy family.”

Investment ombudsman

Malacañang has also appointed Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez as investment ombudsman.

In an interview, Trade Secretary Peter Favila said Gutierrez has volunteered to be the investment ombudsman after Estrada appointee Floresita Flores was disqualified for age reasons.

Earlier reports named Flores as the new investment ombudsman, a position she held during the Estrada administration.

Both the public and the private sectors have been clamoring for the appointment of an investment ombudsman in order to expedite cases involving businesses.

According to Favila, the appointment of the ombudsman will help encourage foreign and domestic investors.

The appointment of Gutierrez is expected to help curb corruption through close monitoring of government dealings with investors and cutting of red tape.

An earlier plan was to have the investment ombudsman report directly to Favila. However, with the appointment of Gutierrez, the ombudsman will not hold office in the Department of Trade and Industry and will instead be under the Office of the President.

Favila said the present practice of transacting business needs fine-tuning. For example, he said it is difficult for some businessmen to obtain simple permits. “There are complaints in the local level that need to be addressed.”

Favila said the investment ombudsman will oversee graft charges against government officials perceived to be blocking investment activities.

With an investment ombudsman, Favila said the government hopes that more investments will come in as bureaucracy is simplified.

It was former President Joseph Estrada who issued an executive order mandating the creation of the Office of the Investment Ombudsman. – With Elisa Osorio


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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