FIRST CABINET MEETING President Aquino buries his face in his hands as he sits to preside over the first full Cabinet meeting of the year on Tuesday, January 18, 2011, in the Aguinaldo State Dining Room at Malacañang. (Photo by KJ ROSALES)]

MANILA, JANUARY 19, 2011 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Aquino and his Cabinet were not able to come up with a list of priority bills for Congress.

The Cabinet meeting in Malacañang was still going on as of press time late yesterday.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Cabinet has not yet discussed Charter change, new taxes or the human rights compensation bill.

Earlier, Aquino said he would want the victims of martial law compensated.

Sen. Joker Arroyo and other advocates urged him to certify the compensation bill as urgent.

However, Valte said she did not see it in the list of priorities of the Cabinet’s human development cluster.

“We said early on that the President wants to exercise the certification powers judiciously, and there is a possibility that there might be a shorter list,” she said.

“There is a possibility… but, again, that is not final until the meeting is finished.”

Valte said the priority bills might not be readily decided upon because Aquino still has questions on some of them.

“I assume that the President would want a little more time because he asked further details on some of the measures,” she said.

“But, after this, I think we will have more or less a working structure, a working list of what the priority measures will be.

“He did say that there are some items that he wanted more details on. From what I remember, one, he wanted to see a draft; two, he wanted to see more studies; and three, he wanted some figures on some particular measures.”

Valte said Aquino would call for a full Cabinet meeting whenever needed because working with different clusters would be more efficient.

“The President prefers to work in clusters so as not to take time away from the other Cabinet secretaries who have other things to do and who may not be really needed for a particular issue,” she said.

“So he prefers to work in clusters but, from time to time, or whenever it is needed, he will call a Cabinet meeting.”

Valte said the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) would still push through by the end of the month as scheduled.

Health care, log ban priorities – Loren

President Aquino is eyeing the Universal Health Act and the bill seeking a total log ban as among his priority legislative measures, Sen. Loren Legarda said yesterday.

Legarda said Aquino had informed her about some of his priority measures when she visited him yesterday at Malacañang to hand over a letter from Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whom the military government had recently freed from detention.

Legarda said Aquino showed her a lengthy list of legislative measures and pointed out some of his priorities.

“(They are) universal health care, log ban,” she said. “He showed me pictures of logs in Caraga.”

Legarda said Aquino and his team are still studying how the log ban can be implemented.

“Sabi nya (He said) we are still studying it,” she said.

“Sabi ko (I said) if that is going to be your legacy, and you have the popular rating to do something in it, and he has the political will to do it, that would be great. Save lives and save our future.”

It was the first time Legarda set foot in Malacañang since Aquino won in the last elections.

Legarda was the vice-presidential running mate of Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Manuel Villar Jr. in the last elections.

The meeting at the music room in Malacañang lasted about 30 minutes, Legarda said.

The Senate has started plenary debates on the proposed total log ban.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senate committee on environment and natural resources chairman, urged Aquino to certify as urgent the Senate bill calling for a total log ban.

“I fully support the President’s tough stand against massive logging operations. It’s about time,” he said.

“The magnitude of disaster is alarming. We have seen this recently in Australia, Brazil and even here at home in Albay. We have to be tough in ensuring the protection of our environment and we have to do it now.”

Zubiri said he has long been advocating for a total log ban.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile told Legarda and Zubiri on the floor that a total log ban would not ensure the country’s forest cover would be preserved.

In Senate Bill 2172 filed last July, Zubiri proposed a 35-year moratorium on all logging operations except for trees planted for commercial and/or industrial purposes, provided that these are not located in primary and secondary forests or rainforests.

“Various studies and first-hand experiences have taught us time and again that the continuous exploitation of the finite resources of our forests due to intensified logging activities results in catastrophic flashfloods,” he said.– With Christina Mendez


No meat in Noy's First Cabinet Meet By Aytch S. de la Cruz 01/19/2011

[PHOTO courtesy of MALAYA- Legislative agenda. President Aquino meets his Cabinet for the first time this year to discuss the proposed 32 priority bills which are expected to be trimmed to only 25.]

No meat in Noy’s Cabinet meet

Malacañang heralded it as the “first full Cabinet meeting of the President for the year,” the second, actually, in his close to seven months’ presidency, but nothing substantial was apparently achieved, as even his presidential communicators made themselves scarce to the Palace press corps.

The Cabinet meeting was billed by the Palace mouthpieces as tackling the urgent legislative bills, some 32 pieces of legislation, but apparently, there was noting substantive in that meeting.

Aquino and his Cabinet secretaries are seen to be proving themselves as a complete disappointment to the media and the general public.

His three-headed Communications Group leaders were nowhere to be reached for the media’s access to information and updates on that Cabinet meeting and media were limited to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Bereft of news stories and official sources to interview, reporters covering the Palace beat could not help but be convinced that the Aquino administration pales in comparison with its predecessor, the Arroyo Cabinet, whose officials, at least, had the initiative to provide media regular updates whenever a full-Cabinet meeting was being held in the Palace.

Members of the Malacañang Press Corps (MPC) suddenly yearned for the kind of media assistance the late Press Secretary Cerge Remonde and his team of spokesmen in the now defunct Office of the Press Secretary always provided them.

In the administration of the former President, media were sometimes allowed to cover portions of her Cabinet meetings which were regularly conducted every Tuesday or as the Chief Executive saw fit.

When meetings were being held closed door, some of the Arroyo Cabinet members would come out, one after the other guided by Remonde, to brief the media on what has been achieved so far in their discussions.

This practice, however, is no longer observed under today’s administration.

Aquino yesterday only had two official schedules: the Metrobank Foundation’s turnover of P10-million worth of food packs at 11:30 a.m. and the full-Cabinet Meeting to discuss his priority bills for the long-stalled Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) meeting that was supposed to be held 15 minutes later at the Aguinaldo State Dining Room (ASDR).

But word gotten by the idle press working area was that the Cabinet meeting has been delayed for more than an hour because Aquino arrived late for his first official engagement thereby affecting all his other schedules for the day.

It was learned that he also had a 3 o’clock meeting but that appointment apparently no longer pushed through since, according to deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte, Aquino would like to finish his Cabinet meeting first.

Valte was only able to speak to media around four in the afternoon. She was supposed to conduct a press briefing at 11:30 a.m. yesterday but that didn’t happen because she was also asked to join the Cabinet meeting.

As things developed, reporters just waited in their quarters. Some tried to squeeze details and rehash previously reported stories as the Cabinet meeting was not open for them to cover. Only photographers and cameramen were allowed to get inside the ASDR for photo opportunities.

Aquino’s spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, tried to give updates using his Twitter account but none of them could ever be considered substantial enough to be reported.

“Our Agenda for the cabinet meeting is the discussion on the outputs of the Cabinet workshop on the legislative agenda of the Exec Branch,” wrote Lacierda in his first tweet.

“The meeting just started. The president just finished his previous meeting,” he tweeted next to which a follower commented: “Is this a Cabinet meeting?”

“We finished lunch. Secretary de Lima just ended her opening prayer. ES Ochoa discussed the Cabinet workshop process,” was Lacierda’s final tweet as of press time.

Valte’s also failed to provide any substantial information.

“I assume that the President would want a little more time to…because he asked some further details from some of the measures. But, after this, I think we will have more or less a working structure, a working list of what the priority measures will be,” Valte said in response to questions whether the Cabinet has already come up with its final legislative agenda.

She denied that Aquino’s late arrival was the reason their meeting was delayed hence nothing substantial developed in that discussion.

When asked if the long-stalled Ledac meeting would be pushed back given Aquino’s demand for “more details”, Valte said: “I think not. The target will still be met—by the end of the month.”

Aquino’s apparent indecision is what appears to be keeping his administration from moving forward. Valte said the President wants “to be careful in exercising the certification powers” hence the Cabinet is yet to come up with its final shortlist.

“The President wants to exercise the certification powers judiciously and there is a possibility that there might be a shorter list. There is a possibility…but, again, that is not final until the meeting is finished,” Valte said.

“He (Aquino) did say that there are some that he wanted more details on… From what I remember, he had three things: one, he wanted to see a draft; two, he wanted to see more studies; and three, he wanted some figures on some particular measures,” she added.

That meeting lasted for about four hours but Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Secretary Ricky Carandang, who appeared in a press briefing later, was also unable to provide concrete measures to that effect.

“You’re not going to see any bold announcements today of any reduction of toll. The toll increases will stay. We’re trying to just do it in a gradual way and look for other ways which to mitigate. But, again, I think we need to go back some more and discuss this some more before we can announce anything concrete,” Carandang told reporters.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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