Eduardo Ermita

Obama concerned about failed RP polls: ex-US official

Obama concerned about failed RP polls: ex-US official
abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines – The US government is concerned about alleged efforts to extend the term of the Arroyo administration through different failure of elections scenarios, a former US State department official said.

In an interview over ANC’s The Rundown on Wednesday, W. Scott Thompson said the US government is keeping its eyes and ears on how the May elections will be conducted. He said there are consequences if the process or the outcome of the elections is tainted.

“Now, they (Washington officials) are listening. Yes, they are aware that (failure of elections) might happen. There are awful lots of people warning them about it, and they might just make the difference,” Thompson said Wednesday evening.

He criticized former US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney for painting an overly optimistic picture of the Philippines. He said the new Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. and other Washington officials have been getting a clearer political picture just recently.

The May elections in the Philippines, a key ally of the US in Asia, has caught the attention of Washington after political tensions in neighboring Thailand erupted.

“The immediate reason is what’s happening in Thailand,” Thompson said. “That is making the Philippines 10 times as important. That (Thailand) was a very secure, calm ally. Now it is going to pieces.”

The political crisis in Thailand has deteriorated as Bangkok’s ruling elite is pitted against working class groups. The red-clad movement’s continuous call for elections through street protests has claimed 15 lives and is shaking the confidence in the region as a whole.

Thompson is professor emeritus of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Tufts University. He served the Ford and Reagan administrations. He used to be a Manila resident.

Consequences

Various scenarios—from failure of elections, to military juntas, to other schemes to extend the term of President Arroyo beyond 2010—have been floated. The warnings have come from the likes of former security adviser Jose Almonte, former House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., and former President Fidel V. Ramos.

“We’re waiting to see if the process is orderly,” he said. “I think it (Washington) has made clear now (to the Arroyo administration) that it is committed to a fair, orderly election process. If that doesn’t happen, then there are consequences.”

Washington, the political capital of the US, can send different signals to the Arroyo administration if the Philippine elections is not clean, Thompson stressed.

“The various elements we know she (President Arroyo) has put in place – the Supreme Court justices, the [PMA] Class of ’78 (Philippine military), etcetera – are ready. If she tries to steal or otherwise postpone the elections, then something can happen from outside,” he noted.

Washington has already sent signals to the Arroyo administration, according to Thompson. He cited how worried President Arroyo has been on the possible judicial reviews of her previous actions after she is no longer president by June 2010. “Officials in Washington might might have something to do with that.”

He said signals of the power relationship between the two countries can be checked through the goings on at the political capitals, Washington and Manila.

“Historically, the power relationship is always played out in the bigger country’s capital, in this case Washington, not here (in Manila),” he explained.

He said the US government has various ways to show its displeasure. “You can recall your ambassador, or send ambassador in (to Washington) for a chat. The first thing that the Secretary of State or Assistant Secretary would do is invite your ambassador. “

“If that doesn’t play out, you can recall your ambassador, slow down aid flows, make speeches. You can warn the President that there are things that might happen.”

Kenny’s failure

The Obama administration has been taken by surprise by the failure-of-elections scenarios because the former US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney painted an overly optimistic picture of the country under President Arroyo, said Thompson.

He said it was only in the recent months that the Obama administration has been taking a long look at the Philippines, and the picture they are getting is different from Kenny’s reports.

“For the past 3 years, the (US) embassy (in the Philippines) was sending the official message (to Washington) that there is no problem here. It’s like someone in Washington (was) saying in September 2001 ‘Oh what a beautiful month this is,’” he said sarcastically.

“She (Kenney) just didn’t get it. The embassy is just out of touch with the reality here,” he criticized.

He shared that, according to his friends in Washington, Kenney did not listen to her own staff, including opposition groups in Manila. “She had only two sources: GMA (President Arroyo) and (Executive) Secretary (Eduardo) Ermita.”

He criticized Kenny’s efforts to endear herself to the Filipinos by going to fiestas, dancing in entertainment shows on TV, and being a staple in basketball games and tennis matches.

“She was not listening to what was going, which is a diplomat’s first function,” he stressed.

It is only recently that Washington is discovering the political issues in Manila because “they sent
a much higher ranking ambassador and who is more senior than the one here in the past 3 years.”

New, tougher envoy

Thompson expressed confidence in Harry Thomas Jr,, the new US ambassador who replaced Kenney. US President Obama appointed the new envoy to the Philippines last November.

“He’s a tough guy. Has been in Bangladesh, not in tiny Ecuador like Kristie (Kenney). He has ran the biggest foreign service officers show in Washington. I think we should take him seriously,” he said of Thomas.

Thomas is a former Director General of the United States Foreign Service, executive secretary of the US State Department, director of the Department’s Operations Center, and special assistant to former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Aside from Bangladesh, his previous postings include India, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Peru.

Thompson said Thomas has the ears of key officials in Washington, and has already sent the message that failure-of-election scenarios are being mulled here.

Thompson said the new envoy will do things differently to continue getting a clearer political picture. “In the first place, there will be more distancing between the (US) embassy and Malacañang. None of the intimacy that you saw in the couple of years.”

‘Obama doesn’t like Arroyo’

Thompson said US President Obama does not like President Arroyo.

“I think he (Obama) doesn’t like her (Arroyo),” he candidly told The Rundown. “(His dislike is) not personal. I think he knows what she’s been up to.”

His basis? “That’s what my friends at high levels have told me. (Another is from) reading his body language with her.”

He gave an example: “His failure to acknowledge her presence on various occasions.”

President Obama did not immediately return the congratulatory call of President Arroyo, who was among heads of states that wanted to greet him after his historic win in 2008.

In February 2009, President Arroyo failed to meet with President Obama in Washington despite efforts by Filipino diplomats. She flew to the US after she failed to get an audience with him during a side trip to Bahrain to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, one of the earliest official engagements of the newly inaugurated President Obama. The foreign trip was originally intended for the economic meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

She finally met with him last July 2009. It was a brief meeting, lasting some 45 minutes. Thompson said it wasn’t taken seriously in Washington. “It was something extended to (different) heads of state. It was pretty routine.”

The cozy relationship between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also does not matter if, according to Thompson, higher principles like President Obama’s commitment to democracy come into play. Clinton visited Manila last November 2009.

“I don’t think her (Hillary Clinton’s) personal relationship with (President) Arroyo would come to play when it gets up to the level of stealing, postponing, and failing the elections under any guise that’s tainted. And it’s hard to see how it would fail without being tainted,” he stressed.

Why US cares?

The Rundown’s host Ricky Carandang prodded Thompson on why Washington cares about the goings on in the Philippines.

The former US State Department official cited Thailand’s political crisis as the trigger.

He also said that “Philippines is in our guilt conscience. We were not proud of the fact that we were a colonial power. We did a lot of things here we are not proud of. We don’t like to think of the fact that we are not doing well here.”

He also said they are wary of “another 1972,” referring to the period leading to the declaration of martial law by former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos who eventually stayed in power for two decades.

“We paid a high price when we supported Marcos.”

He added that supporting the administration of President Corazon Aquino, who replaced President Marcos after a bloodless revolution, was part of their atonement.

The sentiment of the US government under the Obama administration is to promote democracy, “which is part of his image.”

“Here is a friend (Philippines) where democracy can work with some nudging from its friend (US),” he concluded.

Arroyo to troops: Vote Teodoro

Arroyo to troops: Vote Teodoro
By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

“Campaign for Gibo. Make him win on May 10.” This was reportedly the marching orders of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as she roused party members into campaigning for the Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer.

The resignation of administration standard-bearer Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro and defections by party stalwarts have impacted so heavily on the ranks of the ruling Lakas-Kampi-Christian Muslim Democrats that it needs “resuscitation,” Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, the economic adviser of President Arroyo, said Tuesday.

Ms Arroyo is reportedly trying to whip the party into mobilizing members and resources behind Teodoro amid speculation that she is secretly backing Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar.

“We’re under resuscitation,” Salceda told reporters, admitting that the departures from the party had caused “a general climate of uncertainty” among governors, congressmen and mayors.

Still, Salceda said, the party was “circling the wagons” around Teodoro and aggressively campaigning for him.

“It’s political CPR,” the outspoken governor said, using as a metaphor the first-aid treatment for patients with heart and lung emergencies.

He added: “There is no organization that will allow itself to simply die. It will fight before dying.”

Emergency meetings

Salceda and other governors held an emergency caucus early Tuesday at Discovery Suites in Ortigas Center, Pasig City, to “conduct a loyalty check.”

Several meters away, the Lakas-Kampi-CMD national executive committee led by the new party chair, Deputy Speaker Amelita Villarosa, met at Linden Suites to discuss pressing issues, including funding for local officials.

Ms Arroyo made a surprise appearance at both meetings, purportedly to rouse party members into campaigning for Teodoro and the rest of the administration’s national slate.

“Laguna Gov. [Teresita] Ningning Lazaro asked the President about the Villar issue. And the President told her: ‘That’s why I’m here. That Villar issue is a non-issue,’” party secretary general Raymundo Roquero said, quoting Lazaro.

Teodoro, 45, quit as Lakas-Kampi-CMD chair on March 30, purportedly to focus on his own campaign and make way for a “full-time chair” who would attend to local officials desperate for campaign funds.

The next day, Sarangani Gov. Miguel Dominguez and Francis Manglapus quit as president and secretary general, respectively, to give the executive committee a free hand in picking the new chair.

Shortly afterward, Villarosa, Manglapus and Roquero were elected party chair, president and secretary general, respectively.

The purported support for Villar of the President’s husband, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, as well as the defection of his key allies in the ruling party to the NP, forced Teodoro’s resignation, according to an administration senatorial candidate.

New name for group

At the Discovery Suites caucus, 34 governors signed a manifesto to “work hard for overwhelming electoral majorities” for Teodoro, and 16 others expressed intention to sign it.

The governors are members of the League of Provinces of the Philippines, which has lost its chair, Misamis Occidental Gov. Loreto Leo Ocampos, to the Liberal Party, and its president, Camarines Sur Gov. L-Ray Villafuerte, to the NP.

In an attempt to erase the stigma of the defections, they organized themselves into the National Caucus of Governors, and elected Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia as president, Dominguez as vice president, Salceda as secretary general, and former Agusan del Sur Gov. Adolf Plaza as finance officer.

Over at Linden Suites, Villarosa denied that there was a squabble over funds with party vice president Prospero Pichay, and guaranteed “sufficient funding” for local officials.

“They are funded. If there are those complaining, they’re probably asking for additional funds,” she later told reporters without elaborating. “Everything will be attended to.”

To the question of whether she was in effect asking the local officials to stay with the party, she said: “Yes.”

Local officials had yet to receive logistical and campaign support from the party a week after the March 26 kickoff of the local campaign, Mayor Ramon Guico of Binalonan, Pangasinan, a Lakas-Kampi-CMD senatorial candidate, said earlier.

Guico heads the League of Municipalities of the Philippines.

Former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who chairs the party’s advisory committee, admitted that support would only be in the form of “usual support for poll watchers.”

‘It’s politics’

Ms Arroyo turned up at the Linden Suites meeting at around noon and stayed to witness the election of officials to vacant but minor party positions.

“I don’t have any instruction. It’s politics,” she told a mob of reporters as she emerged from the closed-door meeting at around 1 p.m. and was led to the elevator by her security men.

But according to Pichay, Ms Arroyo’s marching order to the party was: “Campaign for Gibo and make him win on May 10.”

In an interview after the meeting, House Deputy Speaker Pablo Garcia said Ms Arroyo “dropped by to say hello and to show that it’s still status quo, that we should support Gibo.”

“So our message to local officials is: ‘Relax.’” Garcia said.

At Discovery Suites, Salceda said the governors intended to “create enclaves of strength” for Teodoro in the countryside by aggressively campaigning for him.

“We’re doing political CPR. If we’re able to rise from this, we’ll be in fighting form,” he told reporters.

Salceda said that while party conditions now were “less than ideal” than during previous elections, an electoral victory by Teodoro was “within a feasible, strategizable domain.”

“We will exploit our internal strength and deploy this strategy to get 14 million votes—the number of votes you need to win,” he said. “It’s still viable because we have 51 governors.”

The governors’ tough challenge is how to make the city and municipal mayors toe the line and back Teodoro because the funds are coming “in trickles,” Salceda said.

“We can make them stay if there’s enough incentive … It can be funds; it can be popular support,” he said. “My guess is they’re sticking by mere inertia. Meaning, this is the party they know.”

No experience

On the campaign trail in Taytay, Rizal, Bagumbayan standard-bearer Sen. Richard Gordon did not express surprise at the current state of the ruling party and said its standard-bearer lacked the “moral ascendancy” to head it, to begin with.

But when asked if he believed rumors that Teodoro would pull out of the race amid the continuing defections of party members, Gordon said he did not think so.

He said the defections were understandable considering that Teodoro “just suddenly joined the party.”

Teodoro was a member of his uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco’s Nationalist People’s Coalition before jumping to Lakas-Kampi-CMD to become its presidential candidate.

Gordon praised Teodoro’s intelligence but said the latter lacked experience and a solid track record as a leader.

He said that if there was anything positive in Teodoro’s presidential campaign, it was that it had prepared the latter “for another run in the future.”

Gordon said voters should look beyond money, popularity and political machinery in choosing their leaders, adding that the coming elections were crucial.

Dimaporos

While defections rock the ruling party, the influential Dimaporo family of Lanao del Norte has announced that it remained solidly behind Teodoro.

On Monday, Gov. Khalid Dimaporo, the provincial party chair, gathered administration candidates and leaders from 22 municipalities to a meeting in Tubod town where they formalized their stance.

Among those in attendance were party stalwarts Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo, Imelda Quibranza-Dimaporo, Fatima Aliah Dimaporo and Irma Umpa-Ali.

“We want to send a message that we are not affected by negative media reports and that we are firm in our commitment to deliver a landslide victory for Lakas-Kampi-CMD in Lanao del Norte,” Dimaporo said in a statement e-mailed to the Inquirer in Davao City. With reports from Edson C. Tandoc Jr. in Taytay, Rizal; and Jeffrey M. Tupas, Inquirer Mindanao

Relatives invading House

Relatives invading House
By Jess Diaz
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Close relatives are seeking to replace almost all of the 79 members of the House of Representatives who are exiting or “graduating” from Congress on June 30.

From Ilocos to Mindanao, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters are swapping posts to keep their hold on power in their districts and provinces.

The best example is President Arroyo, who is running for representative of Pampanga’s second district, a job held by her elder son Juan Miguel or Mikey.

Mikey in turn is eyeing to continue his stay in Congress through the party-list system. He is the first nominee of a group calling itself Ang Galing Pinoy.

Three other Arroyos are running for congressional seats.

In Ilocos Norte, former first lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos is seeking to replace her son, incumbent second district Rep. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who is running for senator.

Her elder daughter Imee is a gubernatorial candidate.

In the first district, Michel Kristian Ablan wants to take the place of his father, outgoing Rep. Roque Ablan Jr., who is running for governor against Imee and incumbent Michael Keon, a relative of the Marcoses.

Graduating Rep. Eric Singson of Ilocos Sur has fielded his son Eric Jr. to take his seat.

In Cagayan province, former Rep. Juan Ponce “Jack” Enrile Jr., only son of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, is reclaiming his seat in the first district, whose incumbent representative is Jack’s wife Salvacion, who is just on her first term.

In the small province and lone district of Quirino, Dakila Carlo Enriquez Cua is seeking to replace his father, outgoing Rep. Junie Cua.

Mayor Kimi Cojuangco of Sison town in Pangasinan wants to take the seat of her husband, nuclear power advocate and outgoing Rep. Mark Cojuangco of the fifth district.

A second Cojuangco would most likely get to sit in the House of Representatives. He is Henry of Tarlac’s first district, brother of billionaire businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr.

The first district is the bailiwick of former defense secretary Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro Jr., presidential candidate of the ruling Lakas-Kampi. Its incumbent representative is Teodoro’s wife Nikki, who has opted not to seek a second term to help her husband in his campaign.

The Teodoros had planned to field Gilbert’s mother Merceditas, a former assemblywoman and sister of Danding and Henry, for Nikki’s seat. But when Henry chose to run, they decided against her candidacy.

Gilbert and his uncle Danding are not on speaking terms. Pitting Merceditas against her brother Henry would have highlighted their misunderstanding.

In Bulacan, graduating Rep. Lorna Silverio’s husband, Don Ricardo “Carding” Silverio, is seeking to replace her.

Silverio the candidate is a former congressman of the same third district his wife represents. He was a friend of the late President Ferdinand Marcos. He started the Toyota dealership in the country during the Marcos regime.

Even in Metro Manila, relatives are seeking the seats of graduating lawmakers.

In Muntinlupa, Sen. Rodolfo Biazon and son Ruffy, incumbent representative of the lone district, want to swap jobs. The father is running for congressman, while the son is aspiring to be a senator.

In nearby Las Piñas, Mark Villar, son of Sen. Manuel Villar, is seeking to replace his mother, graduating Rep. Cynthia Villar.

Former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita is running for representative of Batangas’ first district, whose present representative is his daughter Eileen.

In Camarines Norte, incumbent Rep. Liwayway Vinzons-Chato is running in the newly created second district, while son Wilfredo is a congressional candidate in the first district.

Rep. Chato is the author of the law that split her province into two districts.

In Marinduque, Rep. Camencita Reyes has chosen to run for governor to give way to son Edmundo, who is aiming to reclaim his congressional seat.

In Iloilo, Rep. Judy Syjuco of the second district is giving way to her husband, August Syjuco Jr., former director general of the Technical Skills Education and Development Authority.

Former presidential legal counsel Sergio Apostol is seeking a congressional comeback by replacing his wife Trinidad as representative of Leyte’s second district.

In the nearby island of Samar, Gov. Raul Daza of Northern Samar and son and incumbent Rep. Paul Daza want to swap jobs.

The same is true with Western Samar. Gov. Milagros Tan and daughter Sharee Ann, the youngest member of the House, want to switch positions.

Governors Daza and Tan are on their third and last term, while Representatives Daza and Tan are just on their first three-year term. Son and daughter have given way to father and mother instead of seeking a second term.

Down south, in Davao City, Karlo Nograles is seeking to replace his father, Speaker Prospero Nograles, as first district representative.

The Speaker, who is on his third and last term, is running for city mayor. He is up against the tandem of Vice Mayor Sarah Duterte, his mayoral opponent, and incumbent Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who is running as his daughter’s vice mayoral candidate.

In Zamboanga del Sur, Rep. Antonio Cerilles of the second district is running for governor. His wife Aurora, the incumbent governor, is seeking his seat.

The Constitution bans political dynasties. That’s why its writers limited House members and local officials to three consecutive three-year terms. However, there is no constitutional provision against politicians fielding their relatives to replace them.

Palace defends martial law declaration

Palace defends martial law declaration
By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Despite the dismissal of the rebellion case against former governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and six others, Malacañang said there was justification for its declaration of a weeklong martial law in Maguindanao in the wake of the Nov. 23 slaughter of 57 journalists, lawyers and members of a political clan.

“We continue to stand by the public policy wisdom of the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao, if you look at the positive outcomes from that declaration as well as the manner it was conducted,” deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said.

Olivar noted that Quezon City Judge Vivencio Baclig, in his decision, merely ruled out probable cause for rebellion and “did not speak for the broader issue of the appropriateness of declaring martial law at that time, at that place.”

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Delfin Bangit also said there was basis for the rebellion case against some members of the powerful clan.

“There are options available. We can appeal the court decision. We will present the evidence when we make the appeal,” Bangit said in an interview.

“The decision has been handed down by the court. We uphold the rule of law and we follow the legal process,” AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said. “We will tap means that are within the bounds of law to allow the case to prosper.”

President Arroyo declared martial law in Maguindanao on Dec. 4 after authorities warned that armed followers of Ampatuan were mobilizing and that local government operations, including the courts, were no longer functioning.

Olivar also assured the families of the massacre victims of speedy justice despite the junking of the rebellion case.

“This is an initial reversal that the prosecution has experienced but these things happen. You win some, you lose some,” Olivar said.

“But we will persevere for justice for the victims,” he said. “This is not yet over.”

He stressed the dismissal was unlikely to affect the separate multiple murder charges against the Ampatuans.

Olivar also rebuffed allegations that the dismissal of the rebellion case was a compromise with the Ampatuans, known allies of President Arroyo.

“There’s a malicious speculation that the rebellion charges were dismissed to allow a backdoor for the Ampatuans. Again, this is wildly speculative, there’s no evidence offered for it,” he said.

“And to suggest through this kind of speculation that the Palace is interested in getting accused-murderers scot-free in exchange for so-called political debts is really almost slander against people running the executive branch,” Olivar said.

No rejoicing

For most Ampatuans in Shariff Aguak, there is no reason to rejoice over the dismissal of the rebellion charges against their detained clan leaders since they are still facing a graver case of multiple murder.

“Those we believe who are innocent, but were also charged, can now focus on proving their innocence in the brutal massacre in Barangay Salman (in Ampatuan town) last year,” said an elderly Ampatuan, who asked not to be identified.

Most members of the closely-related Ampatuan and Sangki clans here and in nearby towns are convinced the massacre of 57 people last year in Barangay Salman involved only two or three clan leaders.

“We can’t speak more. That’s our honest belief,” a public school teacher married to an Ampatuan said.

A Quezon City judge on Monday dismissed the rebellion case against Andal Ampatuan Sr. and six members of his powerful clan. The Ampatuans, however, remain in detention because they are facing multiple murder charges also before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.

“If there is one sector that wanted the prosecution of the suspects done without disruption, it’s us, for we too want vindication. We were not involved in the massacre, yet we’ve been ostracized,” said another clan member.

“We’ve stopped schooling as a consequence of our being Ampatuans.”

Victims’ families worried

Relatives and friends of the massacre victims said they were worried the multiple murder case might also be dismissed.

“We are so dismayed. The court should not do that in the multiple murder case. We are longing for justice, the court should handle the multiple murder case with all honesty and integrity and we are appealing for that,” said Police Office 1 Eliver Cablitas, vice-chairman of the “Heirs of 11/23 Maguindano Heroes” and widower of local newspaper publisher Maritess Cablitas.

“From the start, I knew the rebellion case could be dismissed. But in the multiple murder case, we have high expectations from the very start that the court will (hand down) guilty verdict on the Ampatuans and their accomplices,” Myrna Reblando, vice-chairman of the “Justice Now,” another organization of the victims’ kin, told The STAR.

Weak case

The Liberal Party led by standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and his running mate Sen. Manuel Roxas II urged the Arroyo government to file the appropriate charges against the Ampatuans and not help them walk away by pressing weak cases such as rebellion.

“The fact that the charges were weak to begin with shows that the political alliance is still alive. Before you know it, it will be business as usual for Mrs. Arroyo, the Ampatuans and other politicians who serve her ends,” Aquino said.

“The government is duty bound to have them arrested and charged with the proper criminal cases that can stand in court, not a sham case for rebellion when everyone knows there was no element of rebellion present when the massacre occurred or even thereafter,” Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said.

“The massacre was pure and simple multiple murders of innocent people,” he stressed.

“What I am worried about is the fact that the dismissal of the case of rebellion could affect the conduct of the multiple murder cases being tried before the sala of (Quezon City) Judge (Jocelyn) Reyes,” LP senatorial candidate Alex Lacson said.

“The court’s finding revealed that the declaration of martial law in that part of Mindanao was just an attempt by President Arroyo to show a semblance of being in control of a situation she had allowed to fester – that of arming a political clan widely perceived to have been instrumental in manufacturing votes for the regime,” businessman and senatorial candidate Joey de Venecia said.

No poll sabotage plot

Malacañang, meanwhile, denied text rumors that Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza had threatened to resign to protest an alleged plot by President Arroyo and other officials to derail the country’s first nationwide automated elections.

The story, which made the rounds last night, alleged that former executive secretary Eduardo Ermita and Mindanao Development Authority chairman Jesus Dureza hatched “a plot to sabotage the elections.”

Sought for comment, Dureza suggested that those who were spreading the rumor “breathe the mountain air here.”

“We just attended the blessing of a big crucifix here for the Holy Week. I suggest that these people breathe the mountain air here and cleanse their minds and hearts,” Dureza said.

Mendoza could not be reached for comment but Ermita said his successor at the Palace forwarded him the text message.

“You know what sir, I got this ridiculous text and I will forward it to you,” Ermita quoted Mendoza as telling him.

“What they are spreading, the scenarios are out of this world, and too much of an insult to the intelligence of Filipinos and to those who receive it,” Ermita said in a phone interview.   With Aurea Calica, Christina Mendez, Edith Regalado, Jose Rodel Clapano, Reinir Padua, Alexis Romero, Rose Tamayo-Tesoro, John Unson

Mendoza is now both DOTC and executive secretary

Mendoza is now both DOTC and executive secretary
By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Same faces, no surprises.

Heeding the Supreme Court, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Wednesday replaced Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and at least five other Cabinet officials running for local posts in the May 10 national elections, Malacañang announced.

Ms Arroyo tapped Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza as her new executive secretary in a Cabinet revamp prompted by the Supreme Court ruling that appointive officials running for election were deemed resigned.

Ermita, 74, is seeking a seat in Congress in his Batangas hometown.

Press Secretary Crispulo Icban Jr. admitted that Ms Arroyo’s moves were prompted by the high court ruling that officials running for election were deemed resigned and should leave their posts effective March 2.

Ermita said Ms Arroyo had drawn up her list of replacements as early as Feb. 22 when the high court upheld the constitutionality of election rules.

The Commission on Elections had ruled that appointive officials were considered automatically resigned upon the filing of their certificates of candidacy.

“Since then, the President has been mulling who should replace who in these posts,” Ermita said in a regular Malacañang briefing. However, Ms Arroyo withheld announcing her choices.

“That is the style of the President—she places her cards close enough to her chest about important designations in the Cabinet,” Ermita said.

Also deemed resigned were Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, Presidential Management Staff (PMS) Director General Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Technical Education Skills and Development Authority (TESDA) Director General Augusto Syjuco, Secretary Raul Gonzalez, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and Secretary Edgar Pamintuan of the Urban Luzon Beltway.

Except for Gonzalez, the Cabinet officials had turned in their resignation letters.

All are running for a seat in Congress except for Gonzalez and Pamintuan, who are seeking mayoral positions in their hometowns.

Turnover next week

The Cabinet officials are expected to “wind down their activities” before the weekend for a smooth turnover next week, Ermita said.

Ms Arroyo appointed Solicitor General Alberto Agra as acting justice secretary, Maritime Industry Authority Administrator Ma. Elena Bautista as PMS director general and Syjuco’s deputy, Rogelio Peyuan, as TESDA director general.

She is eyeing Deputy Executive Secretary and Presidential Anti-Graft Commissioner Natividad Dizon to replace Gonzalez as chief presidential legal counsel, according to Ermita.

The President is also considering Deputy Executive Secretary Joaquin Lagonera Sr. to assume Andaya’s post. She had earlier named Agriculture Undersecretary Bernardo Fondevilla as a substitute for Yap, Ermita said.

There is no replacement yet for Pamintuan. In the cases of resigned Cabinet officials whose replacements have not been named yet, their undersecretaries are expected to assume their posts, Ermita said.

Announcement of the reorganization came a day after the high tribunal denied with finality a motion filed by election lawyer Romulo Macalintal to reconsider its Feb. 22 ruling.

Confidence, loyalty

Ms Arroyo, who is stepping down on June 30 and is herself seeking a congressional seat, “personally handpicked” Mendoza to be the new executive secretary, according to Ermita.

“It is a position of confidence. Somebody the President has some degree of confidence to be dealing with and someone that the President has confidence to help her and bring in the Cabinet together and that is the main job of executive secretary,” he said.
“We can be sure that the consideration of the President is experience, competence, loyalty and reliability,” he said.

Mendoza previously headed the Philippine National Police and served for nine years as transportation and communications secretary.

Ermita, however, could not say if Mendoza would also act as presidential spokesperson.

Big challenge

Mendoza called his new post as “a very big challenge, a big departure from where I came from.”

He told reporters he was “always a soldier, I always follow orders.”

Mendoza Wednesday attended the Coast Guard’s thanksgiving program in connection with the recent enactment into law of Republic Act No. 9993, the “Coast Guard Act of 2009.”

The Coast Guard will now be attached to the Department of Transportation and Communications to oversee the safety of maritime transport and navigation.

In her speech at the yearend Philippine Economic Briefing at Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City, Ms Arroyo acknowledged Andaya and Yap for their contributions to the government.

She thanked Andaya for his procurement reforms, and Yap for the creation of 1.8 million jobs in agriculture. With a report from Jerry E. Esplanada