NEW  CABINET  MUSICAL  CHAIRS  AT PALACE

MANILA, JANUARY 22, 2009
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - It’s musical chairs again at the Palace, with President Arroyo reshuffling key posts in her Cabinet, ostensibly triggered by the request for a lighter workload from Press Secretary Jesus Dureza.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Dureza had asked Mrs. Arroyo late last year that he be allowed to have more time with his ailing wife Elizabeth.

The President appointed Dureza as her chief presidential legal counsel.

Dureza will be replaced by Presidential Management Staff chief Secretary Cerge Remonde, who in turn would be succeeded by Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

Taking over Esperon’s post is National Security Council Deputy Director General Avelino Razon Jr.

Ermita also announced that Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief Alberto Suansing would be moving up as Undersecretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), taking over the position of Ma. Elena Bautista who now heads the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina).

Ermita said it was not yet clear whether Suansing would be replaced by National Anti-Terrorism Action Group chief Arturo Lomibao, who could also move to head the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

All the appointments would take effect on Feb. 1, Ermita said.

“You might call this an overhaul, but you can see it’s just a shifting of Cabinet posts,” Ermita said.

While there were no indications yet from the President, Ermita said the latest reshuffle could trigger more changes in the official family.

He dismissed questions that Dureza was removed from his post because of his controversial “prayer” during a Cabinet meeting last year that invoked divine providence to allow Mrs. Arroyo to continue serving the country beyond the end of her term in 2010.

The “prayer” drew criticism from various sectors, who suspected that the administration was scheming to prolong Mrs. Arroyo’s say in office.

Ermita said Dureza had informed him last year “he would try to beg off from this (press secretary and presidential spokesman) job that is very stressful.”

“Imagine having to move with the President around the country and for that matter go on foreign trips, and there is need to attend to the health of his wife,” Ermita said.

Ermita added Esperon also requested that he be replaced by Razon, his classmate at the Philippine Military Academy.

He said the transfer of Esperon, who was appointed peace adviser in June, would not affect the ongoing efforts to revive peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“In the words of the President, he (Esperon) was former (Armed Forces) chief of staff, now he occupies the chief of staff for civilian activities,” Ermita said.

Dureza, for his part, issued a statement thanking Mrs. Arroyo for choosing him as her chief legal adviser.

The post of Chief Presidential Legal Counsel has been vacant for several months after Sergio Apostol moved to Union Bank as a member of the board.

“Being the President’s legal adviser will bring me new challenges and fresh work perspectives. This will be an enriching experience for me,” he said.

Dureza said his seven-month stint as press secretary allowed him to revisit his first career as a journalist. He also thanked the different units of the Office of the Press Secretary.

“As a Palace lawyer, I will be working in a field where I have also devoted many of my fruitful years – as a law practitioner and in the government,” Dureza said.

For his part, Remonde said he would do his best in his fourth Cabinet post since 2001.

PMS Undersecretary Beth Gonzales, however, appealed to Mrs. Arroyo not to remove Remonde.

“We at PMS are willing to work double time, if Secretary Remonde would be appointed in concurrent capacity,” Gonzales said.

The new appointments came about six months after the last reshuffle of the Cabinet.

Some lawmakers, however, said the Cabinet reshuffle was “unusual,” indicating that there are problems within Mrs. Arroyo’s official family.

“My response here is, why am I not thrilled? I would say it’s unusual. She’s almost at the end of her term and now she wants a new team. That means the old team is not working, that’s logic. So why was it not working, couldn’t you do that during the earlier part of the term,” Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said.

Santiago claimed the new musical chairs indicates that members of her official family “can’t get along with each other.”

“That’s always the case in Malacañang,” she said.

Santiago said the only way to placate warring factions in the Cabinet is to initiate a reshuffle.

“It is the President’s way to calm the waters. She has to shift around, play musical chairs, but for me that’s not a good sign,” she said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said that the reshuffle was a “mere rigodon of the same cheerleaders.”

“(This Cabinet reshuffle) offered no new prospects for the growth of the country. There are no new faces, no new inputs, no new direction. So what is the point of a revamp if there will be no fresh initiatives?” Pangilinan asked.

Pangilinan pointed out the purpose of a Cabinet revamp should be to infuse new ideas and initiatives in the President’s inner circle for better policy-making and executive action.

“No matter what’s done by those playing musical chairs, the ship will still sink,” Pangilinan said. –With Christina Mendez


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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