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.