Monday, August 29, 2005

Gordon: No politics in Subic shake-up

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Gordon: No politics in Subic shake-up
Senator says he's not after SBMA post

By Tonette Orejas, TJ Burgonio, Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the Aug. 29, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

SENATOR RICHARD Gordon yesterday scoffed at reports that he had a hand in the sudden resignation of Francisco Licuanan III as chair of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).

Gordon branded as unfair insinuations that he influenced the appointment of SBMA director Armand Arreza, a protégé of the senator, as a replacement for SBMA administrator Alfredo Antonio.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's decision to appoint Arreza, instead of Licuanan's nominee Roberto Garcia, hastened the SBMA chairman's resignation, according to sources. Garcia is the president of automotive battery maker Ramcar.

"Why are we being blamed for the resignation of one who already made money at Ayala?" Gordon said in a phone interview, referring to Licuanan, former president of Ayala Land Inc.

"We are not after his job," said the senator, a former SBMA chair.

Maverick administration Senator Joker Arroyo and Inquirer sources said Saturday that Licuanan was sacrificed by the President in a bid to muster more allies to fend off the impeachment case against her. Three impeachment complaints accuse the President of vote-rigging and other illegal acts.

Gordon denied reports that Arreza's appointment was a tradeoff for his vote against the impeachment of Ms Arroyo if the complaint gets transmitted from the House of Representatives to the Senate for trial.

"Do you think I will vote against the impeachment case? Am I a robot who can't think for myself?" he said.


Asked if he had dangled support for the President in the impeachment issue as a condition for the appointment of his nominees to the SBMA, Gordon said that was "very, very unfair" to the President.

"I'm shocked," he said of his reaction to Senator Arroyo's statements.

Gordon said that if he were pro-Ms Arroyo, he would not have asked the President's son Pampanga Representative Juan Miguel Arroyo to go on leave at the height of calls for the President to resign.

Ms Arroyo has neither become hostage to the impeachment case "nor to any political interest groups," her political adviser said.

"Normal or cyclical organizational movements in the government bureaucracy are just given more political color and meaning where there are none," the President's political adviser Gabriel Claudio said in a text message.

Contrary to the reports, Gordon said he had neither recommended Arreza for Antonio's post nor planned to use him to regain control of the free port, which he had administered in the 1990s.

Pichay's first cousin

"Is that how low the Inquirer thinks of me?" he said, unable to hide his disgust over the paper's banner story yesterday, which quoted several sources as saying that Gordon had pushed for Arreza's appointment for his personal interest. "I got the raw end of the deal here."

The senator reiterated that it was Inky Reyes, a former SBMA volunteer like Arreza, whom he had recommended for the administrator's post, which Antonio left following his transfer to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas' Monetary Board.

Reyes was deputy administrator and chief of staff of Gordon when the latter served as SBMA chairman from 1992 to 1998.

Gordon said he had recommended Arreza, his finance manager at the SBMA, to the SBMA board of directors and got the position.

Gordon also defended Arreza from insinuations that he clinched his appointment because he had the right connections in government. Arreza is a first cousin (not brother-in-law as earlier reported) of staunch presidential ally Surigao del Sur Representative Prospero Pichay.

"That is very unfair to the guy. Armand is a very decent man. I practically raised this guy. When nobody was interested in Subic, young people with a good education like him took the risk by volunteering for Subic," he said, recalling the collective effort of volunteers to rebuild the free port in the aftermath of the Mt. Pinatubo eruptions and the departure of the American military in 1991.

"We got jobs, we got Subic going. What's wrong with that?"

Arreza, who graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University in 1993 with a degree in industrial engineering, served as Gordon's finance director, and later attended the Wharton School in the United States. He also served as Gordon's undersecretary at the Department of Tourism.


Instead of airing criticisms, Senator Arroyo should look into the reports of smuggling in the free port, a former United States military base covering the provinces of Zambales and Bataan, Gordon told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.

"He always criticizes. He better look into what (former SBMA chair Felicito) Payumo did in Subic. Much of it was about smuggling," Gordon said.

Payumo, who was installed in July 1998 by then President Joseph Estrada after almost three months of a standoff with Gordon, said the senator was sidetracking the issue.

"[Gordon] wants to corner the top posts there by pressuring the President, knowing how vulnerable she is now," Payumo told the Inquirer.

Payumo said it was during Gordon's term as SBMA chair that the auction of used vehicles and the importation of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) began. The latter was done without payment of the ad valorem tax.

"There was also smuggling during [Gordon's] time," he said.

Disallowed expenditures

"I thought the issue is Gordon trying to get back Subic by holding the President hostage with his impeachment threat. He wants to divert the issue. Why does he not answer his P854-million disallowed expenditures?" Payumo said in a text message to the Inquirer.

He said it was during the time of Gordon that smuggling began, with more than 300 vehicles avoiding P300 million in ad valorem taxes by merely adding jump seats.

"He started the used vehicles auction by the Ritchie brothers. At least during my term, conversion to left-hand was declared legal by the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel, Office of the President and the House committee on transportation," Payumo said.

Gordon also appealed to his critics to "keep my wife out" of the controversy.

Former Olongapo Mayor Katherine Gordon, he said, had no plans to run for any elective position or join the SBMA.

He scored Inquirer sources for portraying the couple in a bad light by claiming they had political plans and that they were out to use Subic to wield such powers.

"Binastos kaming mag-asawa (We were insulted)," Gordon said.

Gordon said it was his "duty to make sure [the Subic free port] succeeds." That, he said, was his only agenda.

Gordon's concern for Subic stemmed from the pullout of Federal Express and, much earlier, several companies like Acer. He voiced this out to some 300 Rotarians gathered in Olongapo City on Saturday.

"That is why I want to have a direct role in the development of Subic. If not, we are all going to suffer," he said.

Gordon said he found it a "weak excuse" for Licuanan to resign because he found it improper that a senator would be lobbying for posts or if he disapproved of the senator's nominees.

"I don't think it's the only reason. There may have been other reasons," Gordon said.

Governor Magsaysay

Zambales Governor Vicente Magsaysay was reportedly among the politicians who also lobbied Ms Arroyo to accept the resignation of Licuanan.

Last week, according to a top Zambales official, Magsaysay wrote Ms Arroyo to complain about the SBMA policy against the auction of used vehicles imported via the free port.

Magsaysay, according to the source, facilitated the meeting between the President and Zambales Representative Milagros "Mitos" Magsaysay, the governor's daughter-in-law.

Representative Magsaysay reportedly supports the impeachment case against the President.

Governor Magsaysay confirmed he met with Ms Arroyo last week but denied that he had sought the resignation of either Licuanan or Antonio.

"I told the President that I support Mr. Antonio as administrator," Magsaysay told the Inquirer in a telephone interview yesterday.

He said his daughter-in-law was not at the meeting. The governor also said he did not discuss with the President where his daughter-in-law stood in the impeachment issue.

With a report from Christine O. Avendaño


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