Alberto Romulo

Aquino taps Roxas as adviser

Aquino taps Roxas as adviser
by Joyce Pañares
Manila Standard

Defeated vice presidential candidate Manuel Roxas II has been named a “senior adviser” of President Aquino, thus his inclusion in the business delegation that has left for the United States, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said on Tuesday.

“There’s nothing unusual that he joined the trip. He is a senior adviser,” Lacierda said, noting that Roxas, being a former New York-based banker, can help the President during his meetings with top executives of US firms.

During his New York and San Francisco visits, Mr. Aquino is expected to make an investment pitch for Manila when he meets leaders of US firms Coach, Luen Thai, IBM, JP Morgan, Sutherland,Automatic Data Processing and Hewlett Packard.

Roxas, however, does not have any official position or portfolio, given the one-year appointment ban on candidates who have lost during the May 10 polls, Lacierda said.

Roxas, a former senator and trade secretary, left for New York ahead of the presidential delegation which only arrived in the US state yesterday.

Roxas is disputing the electoral victory of his rival Jejomar Binay and the Supreme Court will hear the case on Sept. 30.

Presidential messaging head Ramon Carandang said Roxas was personally invited by the President to join the US trip.

“He’s going to be a big help in connecting Philippine business with US business. Mar knows a lot of the very influential businessmen,” Carandang said.

Roxas was also present during Mr. Aquino’s visit to Cebu last week for a regional economic managers’ meeting and during a ceremony for the Metrobank Foundation teacher awardees at the Palace earlier this month.

“I only do what the President asks me to do,” Roxas said in an earlier interview in Cebu but declined to elaborate.

In New York, the President will have a bilateral meeting with Vietnamese President Nguyan Minh Triet at the United Nations headquarters and an interview with the New York Times Tuesday (US time).

Mr. Aquino will have an audience with former US Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and an interview with the Wall Street Journal today (WEDNESDAY US time).

Mr. Aquino will make his international debut when he addresses the 65th United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 24.

“The theme of 65th UNGA, ‘Reaffirming the Central Role of the United Nations in Global Governance,’ is fully aligned with President Aquino’s platform of institutionalizing good governance and combating poverty,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said.

On the same day, Mr. Aquino will serve as coordinator for the 2nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations-US Leaders Meeting in New York which will be co-chaired by US President Barack Obama and Nguyan.

“As country coordinator for 2009-2012, the Philippines has a mandate to broaden and deepen the spheres of cooperation between the countries of Southeast Asiaand the United States,” Romulo said.

Aquino alliance rocked by factions, interests (Second of three parts)

(Series by VERA Files; first published in The Manila Times)

President Aquino also said he told Robredo: “I will retain direct supervision on the PNP [Philippine National Police].” In his testimony before the Incident Investigation Review Committee that is probing the hostage-taking incident, Department of Interior and Local Government Undersecretary for Peace and Order Rico Puno said that he had “verbal instructions from the President to oversee the PNP” in addition to his duties to supervise Patrol 117, Bureau of Fire Protection, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Public Safety College and the Philippine Center for Transnational Crime.

In his platform of government, President Aquino had pledged to transform government service “from presidential appointees chosen mainly out of political accommodation to discerning selection based on integrity, competence and performance in serving the public good: a civil service based on merit and not political patronage.”

Mr. Aquino’s supporters, however, are also among the first to admit that a number of more qualified, competent and experienced individuals recommended by the search committee for Cabinet positions were edged out because the President based his selection not only on trust and his “comfort level” but also on “utang na loob [debt of gratitude].”

Clashes among the President’s advisers have also surrounded the appointments. The two main competing groups are carryovers from the campaign. One is composed of Liberal Party stalwarts and the Hyatt 10, or cabinet members of former president and now Rep. Gloria Arroyo of Pampanga who quit her government after the “Hello, Garci” exposé. The group supported Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd for vice president. They are also referred to as the “Balay” (which means ”house” in the Visayan dialect) group because their meeting place was the Araneta-Roxas compound in Cubao, Quezon City.

The other group is made up mainly of relatives of President Aquino like his uncle, former Rep. Jose Cojuangco of Tarlac, cousin and TV director Maria Montelibano and friends who supported Jejomar Binay’s bid for vice president. They are referred to as the “Samar” group because their headquarters was a house on Samar Avenue in Quezon City owned by real estate businessman Jose “Jerry” Acuzar, brother in law of Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa.

Rough sailing Robredo

Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, who was part of the Aquino campaign and endorsed Binay for vice president, had said Robredo would have a difficult time before the Commission of Appointments.

There is also the clash between the “pragmatists” and “purists” among President Aquino’s close advisers.
The purists are those who think Aquino should make a clean break from his predecessor Arroyo and that he should rid his Cabinet of those identified with her government. The pragmatists are those willing to work with former officials of Mrs. Arroyo.

The ad hoc search committee was composed of Ochoa, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim, Presidential Management Staff Chief Julia Abad, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Internal Revenue Commissioner and Aquino classmate Kim Henares.

Accounts on the role of sisters Ma. Elena “Ballsy” Aquino-Cruz and Aurora Corazon “Pinky” Aquino-Abellada in the search committee vary. While some said they were members of the committee, Ochoa said in an interview that the President’s two elder sisters merely gave suggestions but were not members of the committee.

The post of Foreign Affairs secretary was at first committed to former Trade Secretary Juan Santos, a member of the “Hyatt 10.”

Repaying Romulo

President Aquino, however, was forced to retract the offer to Santos after his sisters prevailed on him to retain Alberto Romulo mainly because of their families’ friendship, despite allegations of incompetence by the career foreign service corps on Romulo.

Romulo was the first among Mrs. Arroyo’s government officials to have openly said he would support and campaign for then Senator Aquino even though he held on to his post all throughout Mrs. Arroyo’s incumbency. “But we owe Tito Bert [Romulo] a lot,” a source present in the meeting quoted one of the sisters when President Aquino informed the search committee of his decision on Santos, who was recently appointed chairman of the Social Security System.

A Malacañang source said President Aquino is keeping Romulo only in a “holdover” capacity for not more than one year.

President Aquino’s lack of rapport with Romulo has resulted in a disconnect between Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) with adverse consequences. These include the cancellation of Mr. Aquino’s visits to Vietnam and Indonesia, scheduled for the second week of September, which the Philippines had initiated.

The disconnect also resulted in President Aquino’s failure to receive the call of Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang at the height of the hostage crisis.

A Malacañang official said an aide of Mr. Aquino received Tsang’s call at about 5 p.m. of August 23 through the Palace trunkline. Tsang called without prior notice, and since President Aquino’s aide did not know who Tsang was, a source said the aide referred the call to the DFA.

A Foreign Affairs department official said that they waited for Tsang’s call but it never came. No one from the DFA took the initiative of calling Tsang because Malacañang’s instructions were “to wait” for Tsang’s call.

(Read the first part here.)

In his own words: Why they’re Aquino’s Chosen

In his own words: Why they’re Aquino’s Chosen
By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer

WHO IS THE CABINET member whose “first assignment” is to get at least “three hours of sleep” daily? Who did President Aquino have to “beg” to join his official family? And who “possesses 80 percent” of his brain?

Backed by an overwhelming electoral mandate, Mr. Aquino has assembled a team of new faces and old hands—a number of them from the Cabinet of his mother, the late former President Corazon Aquino—to help him take on the huge task of running the country.

Here, in his own words, are the key men and women who will help bring about the “real change” that he promised during the campaign.

PAQUITO “JOJO” OCHOA JR. (executive secretary). I’m not a lawyer; Jojo has helped me understand the intricacies of the law ever since I started in public office. Our relationship is on a second-generation basis already.

Our parents were allies in the Liberal Party, and we have been consistent allies throughout our lives. He has given me the most sound advice on so many matters pertaining to my work as legislator. Therefore, I’m very confident of his role as the guardian of my back. He’s more than qualified.

ALBERTO ROMULO (foreign secretary). He has graciously consented to retain his position. And we are very fortunate to have him as a senior member of the Cabinet.

CESAR PURISIMA (finance secretary). I think his credentials speak for himself. But for most of these people, their credentials speak for themselves.

LEILA DE LIMA (justice secretary). I am very sure you are familiar with the quality of her work. The judicial branch is a very important portion of our platform, and again we are very fortunate to get her to consent to carrying the burden primarily for judicial reform.

VOLTAIRE GAZMIN (defense secretary). Perhaps he is one of the key people who gave me the opportunity to be present before you because he took good care of us [throughout] the numerous coup attempts during my mom’s incumbency. And then there is his continuous dedication to the Filipino people in this very abnormal situation we find our country in.

BR. ARMIN LUISTRO FSC (education secretary). I think his coming from the Ateneo de Manila University already speaks highly of his qualifications, that I begged him to join the Cabinet.”

FLORENCIO ABAD (budget secretary). The Department of Budget and Management will have as its head my mentor, who is obviously older than me. He has been a five-time congressman.

The budget is the enabler of all our policy decisions. We believe he is the best person at the present time to assist us in judiciously spending the people’s funds.

CAYETANO PADERANGA JR. (socioeconomic planning secretary). We will have a National Economic and Development Authority that will give us sound advice based on economic, and not political, considerations.

PROCESO ALCALA (agriculture secretary). One of his innovations was to enable farmers in his district to have a centralized market where buyers and farmers deal with each other directly, bereft of middlemen. This increased profits of farmers and dropped prices for consumers.

He has been heavily involved in environmental concerns in and outside Quezon. Organic farming and so many aspects of agriculture have been his advocacies.

RAMON PAJE (environment secretary). He graciously agreed to serve as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

JOSE DE JESUS (transportation and communications secretary). He served in my mother’s Cabinet, both as secretary to the Cabinet and as public works secretary. He was one of the most, if not the most, hardworking members of my mother’s Cabinet.

As public works secretary, he slept three hours a day to make sure government projects were done in a timely and correct manner. His only luxury was a five-hour rest period on Sundays.

His first assignment is to make sure he sleeps more than three hours a day because he is a work-driven individual who will oversee the transformation of the Department of Transportation and Communications, which was characterized by the NBN-ZTE deal, into an agency that truly serves the interests of the people.

ROSALINDA BALDOZ (labor secretary). She used to head the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, among other agencies. Her concentration also is on the workings of the National Labor Relations Commission, which, we believe, is in need of very strong reforms. We find in her the capability to make the labor department truly responsive to the needs of the working man.

ENRIQUE ONA (health secretary). In our interview, we saw in him the potential to become a complete alter-ego, especially given the fact that the health agenda is No. 3 on our platform. And he has been given instructions specifically to expedite universal coverage of PhilHealth, which is one of our campaign promises.

ALBERTO LIM (tourism secretary). He has been involved in various business endeavors including the setting up of [the world-class resorts of] El Nido and Amanpulo.

The bottom line is that tourism is seen as one of the key venues for increasing jobs. We need someone who has proven competence in this field. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, we will have as aggressive and successful a campaign as Thailand’s with regard to visits by Filipinos there.

GREGORY DOMINGO (trade and industry secretary). He served as undersecretary for the Board of Investments, and also was executive director of SM Investments Corp. and international trade law and business law lecturer of De La Salle University’s MBA program.

We see the trade and industry portfolio as very essential, to be headed by a very competent individual who will foster the necessary trade and investments that will lead to the fulfillment of the first part of our platform, job generation.

CORAZON SOLIMAN (social welfare secretary). She needs no introduction.

MARIO MONTEJO (science and technology secretary). He is a man of numerous titles, meaning many degrees, and a person I have known for decades. He is among a group of academicians who set up a corporation to translate their scientific studies into practical and applied technology for their countrymen.

Among their inventions were deep-well filters which were previously imported from Australia to the tune of 80 percent. They designed the filters and also invented the machinery to produce all these filters.

Are you familiar with the amusement park Water Fun, the first that featured slides, waves, etc.? That was Filipino technology—Dr. Montejo and his team’s effort.

None of it was licensed from abroad. It was Filipino-designed, -enhanced, and -experimented.

We expect him at the helm of the Department of Science and Technology to provide the backup for any agency that would propose projects involving technical considerations—be it the creation of a dam or the provision of IT services—to include the capability of Phivolcs and Pagasa.

We want an agency that can completely evaluate the proposals presented to us.

The current practice is to ask the proponent to evaluate and justify his proposal, which I think is counterproductive. The DOST under Dr. Montejo will be a real partner as an agent of change.

JOSE RENE ALMENDRAS (energy secretary). I’ve known him since our college days. He is a very good friend of mine and [was] with Manila Water. His main training is in finance.

For the energy portfolio, obviously we want somebody who is not part of the industry inasmuch as there will be a lot of dealings with the industry. We do not want to fall into a trap of regulatory capture.

He has proven competence in the various firms he has headed and worked for. This enables him to handle the Department of Energy, which is primarily a finance-heavy component of our Cabinet.

ROGELIO SINGSON (public works secretary). He has a very extensive CV and is not a stranger to most of us. It is coincidental that he [was] with Maynilad.

Hopefully, our water utility sector will not suffer with his and Almendras’ absence.

VIRGILIO DELOS REYES (agrarian reform secretary). I met him for the first time at the interview and I was very impressed with his knowledge of the problems pertaining to agrarian reform… which unfortunately are not covered by the Carper law.

Hopefully he will help us craft amendments to make sure the Department of Agrarian Reform is able to fulfill its primary mandate of empowering farmer beneficiaries throughout the country.

TERESITA QUINTOS-DELES (presidential adviser on the peace process). She is the second most closely guarded secret among the Cabinet appointees.

JULIA ABAD (Presidential Management Staff chief). I have been served faithfully by her ever since I became a senator three years ago. She has undergone extensive schooling. But more than that, she has my absolute trust, having run my office. If I have been able to do anything in the Senate, it is because of her. I think she possesses 80 percent of the brain I am holding. (See story on Page A1).

EDWIN LACIERDA (presidential spokesperson). He has been, will be, and hopefully will always be [my spokesperson].

EDUARDO DE MESA (presidential legal counsel). He is one of the first lawyers who helped when I took on public service in 1998.

PATRICIA LICUANAN (Commission on Higher Education chair). She will, as her primary mission, rectify the current situation where the agency tasked to oversee higher educational institutions seems to be sleeping on the job. For example, we have over 40 nursing schools who have not had a single board passer for quite a long time.

She will refocus CHEd so that it will serve the interest of the people rather than institutions that have no right to set up courses they are not competent in teaching.

KIM JACINTO HENARES (Bureau of Internal Revenue commissioner). She has been functioning in effect as secretary to the Cabinet in all the policy briefings that I have been subjected to. She has been very effective in answering a lot of questions in my rushed preparations for the presidential campaign.

More importantly, it is through her and the customs commissioner (whom we have yet to designate) that we hope to recover the tax collection efficiency first demonstrated by the Ramos administration, and, together with the finance secretary, give us the needed revenues without unnecessarily resorting to new taxes.