DEFENSE,  DOJ  CHIEFS  TO  KEEP  POSTS  --  GMA
 

MANILA, May 1, 2008 (STAR) By Paolo Romero and Jess Diaz - Amid speculation over the forthcoming Cabinet revamp, President Arroyo said yesterday Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez would be spared from the shake-up while Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes and Chairman Bayani Fernando of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority were “safe for now.”

There was no presidential reassurance for the rest of the Cabinet members.

The looming shake-up has triggered speculation that the President is set to accommodate some of the senatorial candidates who ran under the administration’s slate but lost in last year’s midterm elections.

The opposition joined the guessing game with House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora predicting that defeated senatorial candidate Mike Defensor would soon return to Malacañang.

Zamora told dzMM radio that he had it on good authority that Defensor would replace Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye as Mrs. Arroyo’s chief spokesman.

“I wish Mike (Defensor) good luck,” Zamora said.

Defensor was Mrs. Arroyo’s chief of staff before he ran for the Senate in the May 2007 elections. He and eight other members of the administration’s Team Unity ticket lost to their opposition rivals.

Only three made it: Edgardo Angara, Joker Arroyo and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Defensor is also former secretary of environment. He is now involved in two mining companies.

He is seen as prone to controversy, the latest of which was when Senate witness Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. revealed that Defensor asked him to tell lies on the scandal surrounding the national broadband network deal, assuring him that “we’ll just manage it in the media.”

The former Palace chief of staff denied Lozada’s story.

On the other hand, Bunye’s credibility started to suffer at the height of the “Hello, Garci” scandal in 2005 when he presented to the media two compact discs, one of which he said was original and the other tampered.

Zamora also said Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. would make a good justice secretary.

“He is a bright lawyer,” he said. Both Zamora and Teodoro placed first in the Bar examinations.

The defense secretary is being rumored to replace Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, who is said to be sickly.

Another House member, Rep. Rozzano Rufino Biazon of Muntinlupa, said Teodoro is doing well at defense.

Biazon, who is defense committee chairman, said the incumbent defense chief and former defense secretary Avelino Cruz “have proven that what the defense establishment needs is not a military strategist and tactician but a leader with management skills… and

political savvy.”

“They have shown that a true-blue civilian with the appropriate qualities and qualifications is not only effective but also preferred,” he said.

Besides Defensor, several other losers in last year’s elections are expected to get government jobs.

They include former senators Ralph Recto, Vicente Sotto III and Teresa Aquino Oreta, former Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr., and Jamalul Kiram, who was part of the Team Unity ticket.

The one-year ban on their appointment to the government expires on May 14.

The United Opposition (UNO) also said the entry of losing administration bets triggered the looming revamp of the Cabinet.

Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, UNO president, said the imminent Cabinet revamp is “a filthy exercise in political accommodation and patronage.”

“Judging by the names being mentioned as possible Cabinet replacements, it is apparent that the goal of the revamp is not better governance but rewarding blind loyalty,” he added.

Prerogative

Administration lawmakers led by Speaker Prospero Nograles, on the other hand, defended President Arroyo from criticisms arising from the looming Cabinet shake-up.

Nograles said the President’s “decision to reorganize her official family is a timely move given the difficulties and challenges facing the country and the global community.”

Nograles took exception to allegations that the Cabinet revamp will accommodate some of Mrs. Arroyo’s political allies.

“The President’s move is crucial. We support it and, if need be, we are ready to recommend for her consideration qualified personalities of proven integrity who share her visions for the country,” Nograles stressed.

Nograles added the President is also moving to fill up some of the vacancies in the upper and middle-level positions in the bureaucracy, including government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) to enhance further the efficiency in the delivery of services to the people.

“Vacant positions below the Cabinet level must be filled up for efficiency in governance or they must be abolished if found irrelevant and unnecessary,” he said.

A ranking Malacañang official, however, disclosed Mrs. Arroyo is also considering who among the members of the Cabinet should be retained.

The Palace official added Mrs. Arroyo is also contemplating to fire the officials whose appointments have not been confirmed or repeatedly bypassed by the Commission on Appointments (CA).

Those who have yet to be confirmed by the CA include Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, and Justice Secretary Gonzalez.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo, “being the head of government, she alone knows the direction or accomplishment of projects.”

“So she only knows who will be revamped or reshuffled. Let’s give it to her to determine the timing and changes of people (in government),” Ermita said.

He said it does not mean that when an official is replaced, he or she has performed poorly.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes, who has held three Cabinet positions, said he would not be bothered if he would be moved to another post. “We work and we do our work well,” he said.

Shortly after his appointment as energy chief from being environment secretary last year, Reyes could not hide his disappointment by saying he has to work double time in learning the technical details of his portfolio.

‘Secret’

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Bayani Fernando, for his part, revealed any revamp in the Cabinet is not a welcome development.

“Because we are afraid that we would not be able to finish the programs we have started. That’s our fear. Not anything else,” he said.

A top Palace official admitted that many members of the official family are now “twisting in their seats” following the President’s announcement.

Since her announcement on Monday night in Cebu, several names have been floating as possible additions or replacements in the Cabinet.

Highly placed sources revealed Rene Puno, a respected lawyer and younger brother of Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, is among those being considered by the President for a government post.

Other Palace sources said Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales may be sacked after the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG) repeatedly uncovered the involvement of several Customs officials in smuggling.

Teodoro, on the other hand, had been assured of remaining in his post as defense chief even as the fate of other Cabinet officials remains uncertain.

During an evening chat with reporters at the ancestral mansion of Camiguin Gov. Jesus Jurdin Romualdo late Tuesday, Mrs. Arroyo said Teodoro is “not part of the secret.”

When reporters pressed her on Monday on who was included in the secret, she simply said: “Secret.”

“Because there must be civilian supremacy (over the military),” Mrs. Arroyo said, referring to Teodoro’s present position.

When the President visited the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) yesterday, she also announced Secretary Gonzalez is “not part of the secret.”

With Teodoro and Gonzalez virtually assured of retaining their posts, all the other Cabinet officials would become players in the musical chairs game.

These also triggered reports on who may be up for replacement.

There are reports that Interior Secretary Puno is set to replace Executive Secretary Ermita, who in turn, will be given an ambassadorial position.

Defensor will replace Puno, according to reports.

There are also reports that Oreta will replace Jesli Lapus as education secretary.

Puno, for his part, said he is embarrassed by such reports.

“I always consider ES (Executive Secretary Ermita) to be my boss. To me it’s a little embarrassing that these rumors are circulating. I don’t know where it’s coming from,” Puno said.

Militant groups expressed their opposition to the possible replacements.

Among them, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said the appointment of Oreta as education secretary will only indicate the instability in the appointment of the education chief.

“In eight years. Mrs. Arroyo has appointed four people in the Department of Education position. Unfortunately, political payback to the varied personalities and blocs under Malacañang’s wing has been the main consideration in these appointments, rather than the best interests of the basic education sector,” ACT said.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño, for his part, urged Mrs. Arroyo to start the revamp sooner.

Casiño said the President should start with Justice Secretary Gonzalez, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, Ermita and Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon.

He said the reshuffle in the Cabinet would have no credibility if the four officials he mentioned are not included.

“She must start sacking them. If she removes these people, the government will regain credibility,” Casiño said. –With Delon Porcalla, Marvin Sy, Michael Punongbayan, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jose Rodel Clapano, Rainier Allan Ronda


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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