, JULY 28, 2007 (STAR) By Iris Gonzales - Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri is leaving his post as director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to head another government agency.

“Yes, it’s true, but I am still waiting for instructions from Malacañang,” Neri said in a telephone interview yesterday when asked to confirm his impending transfer.

He declined to reveal which government agency he would be transferred to but he said it is an office that needs urgent attention and that there are “problems to be solved.” He also claimed the move would only be temporary.

Neri said Deputy Director General Augusto Santos will be the NEDA officer-in-charge when he leaves.

A ranking administration official told The STAR that Neri is going to chair the Commission on Higher Education as Mrs. Arroyo is disappointed over CHED chairman Carlito Puno’s slow implementation of the ladderized education program of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, which would increase educational and employment opportunities.

The official said Puno is going to head a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) connected to the coconut industry.

There is also talk that Neri would move to the Department of Finance, currently headed by Secretary Margarito Teves.

Reached by The STAR last night, Teves said he and his fellow Cabinet members serve at the pleasure of the President even as he expressed confidence that he is not the one who will be replaced by Neri.

“I think I’m going to do some trouble-shooting,” Neri said, adding that he prefers that Malacañang be the one to release the details.

He said he felt a little sad over the order, “considering that I’ve grown accustomed to this (NEDA) job.”

“But President (Arroyo) told me I have to do some more hard work,” Neri said, adding that he expects to stay in his new post for at least six months.

He said he was surprised by the order and was rushing to issue last-minute instructions to his subordinates at NEDA and finish some paperwork last night.

As of last night, Teves said the President has not talked to him about putting another official in his place.

This is not the first time that Neri left NEDA for another assignment. In July 2005, he served as budget secretary in place of Emilia Boncodin, who was part of the so-called Hyatt 10 group of Cabinet officials who resigned en masse.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr., Neri’s colleague in the President’s economic team, also expressed surprise over the development. Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye could not be reached for comment.

Talk of a Cabinet revamp swirled immediately after the May 14 congressional and local elections, where administration senatorial candidates fared badly.

Palace officials said the movements in the official family were related to the outcome of the elections.

Last July 18, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita announced the appointment of former Manila mayor Lito Atienza as the new environment secretary and the transfer of Angelo Reyes to the Department of Energy following the resignation of Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla.

Ermita also announced the appointment of Press Assistant Secretary Jose Capadocia as Undersecretary for Media Affairs.

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

Mrs. Arroyo also sacked Jose Ma. Buñag as Commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue for his alleged failure to meet targets. Buñag blamed Teves for the poor revenue collections.

The appointments and movements in the Cabinet came a few weeks after Malacañang began searching for possible replacements for the heads of GOCCs, who tendered their courtesy resignations upon the President’s orders last month.

Other appointments were announced by the Palace on Wednesday, including Natividad Dizon as deputy chief presidential legal counsel under the Office of the President; Teresita Castillo, presidential assistant with the rank of undersecretary; Austere Panadero, interior and local government undersecretary; Pastor Benavidez, assistant chief state counsel with the Department of Justice; and Ma. Anthonette Velasco-Allones, executive director of the Career Executive Service Board of the Civil Service Commission.

Ermita said so far 450 officials from 134 GOCCs, attached agencies and government sequestered firms have resigned and the search for their replacements is still ongoing. – With Paolo Romero

Alvarez to head GOCC on mining By Paolo Romero Saturday, July 28, 2007

President Arroyo recently appointed former senator and environment secretary Heherson Alvarez as chairman of the Philippine Mining Development Corp. (PMDC), a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) tasked to revitalize the country’s mining industry.

Alvarez welcomed the appointment and said he is looking forward to “creating wealth for our people from the bosom of the Earth, but with due respect for the environment.”

“We will push for sustainable development in the mining sector while adhering to the principles of responsible mining, strict enforcement of environmental and mining laws, protection for indigenous peoples, and sharing of benefits for all stakeholders,” he said in a statement.

He said he will lead the management of the country’s mineral assets, geared towards making the Philippines a world mining leader by 2010, in line with Mrs. Arroyo’s vision for the Philippines to become a First World country in 20 years’ time.

On the same day of Alvarez’s appointment on July 18, the President also signed Executive Order No. 636, transferring the PMDC from supervision of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to the Office of the President, citing the need to closely monitor and oversee the efficient and effective implementation of the utilization and development of the country’s mineral resources.

At the 7th Asia-Pacific Mining Conference and Exhibition last month, Mrs. Arroyo said the mining industry will serve as a leading engine for Philippine economic growth, becoming a source of revenue and wealth to fight poverty in the country.

The PMDC will be in charge of opening to serious investors for possible development some 65 non-performing mining tenements in the country that were previously canceled, covering a total of 68,000 hectares of mineral land.

Income from mining is projected at $2 billion by end-2007, increasing to $10 billion per annum if the targeted mining boom pushes through.

The Philippines is the world’s fifth richest country in terms of mineral resources.

For 2007 alone, investments in mining in the country have already reached more than $500 million.

Alvarez claimed that he had successfully addressed the 19-year-old problem in the small gold-mining area in Mt. Diwalwal in Davao, which had resulted in violence.

At least 6,000 people have been killed in Diwalwal, including a judge and a town mayor who were assassinated, since gold was discovered there in 1983.

Alvarez proposed, and Mrs. Arroyo signed, Proclamation No. 297, Declaring Diwalwal a Mineral Reservation under the management of the DENR. He then organized cooperatives that included indigenous groups, and a profit-sharing scheme of 85 percent to 15 percent in favor of small miners and their families, numbering about 20,000.

“This move addressed pollution through the construction of the Mabatas Dam, ended the unabated violence and for the first time, government collected taxes there. This also established the ancestral claims of cultural minorities, secured the rights of small-scale miners over the claim of PICOP’s sister company, Southeast Mindanao (SEM) Gold Mining Corp. The Supreme Court upheld on June 23, 2006 that SEM’s claim on the whole Diwalwal was without basis,” the statement said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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