Sunday, August 28, 2005


By Juliet Labog-Javellana, Tonette Orejas, Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the August 28, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THE RESIGNATION of Francisco Licuanan III as chair of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) shows how President Macapagal-Arroyo has become hostage to the impeachment issue, Sen. Joker Arroyo said yesterday.

The senator said Licuanan, retired president of Ayala Land Inc. when he was tapped to head the SBMA less than a year ago, was an excellent choice and was respected and well-liked by Ms Arroyo as a professional with a vision for Subic.

"Unfortunately, some persons high up wanted control of Subic and were waving the flag of impeachment. The President yielded to effectively dilute Licuanan's powers as [SBMA chair]," Senator Arroyo said, adding:

"The President has become hostage to impeachment demands."

The maverick administration senator declined to name the persons who supposedly want to control Subic, but Inquirer sources said political horse-trading had caused Licuanan's unexpected resignation.

A source said Licuanan quit when Ms Arroyo decided to appoint Armand Arreza, an SBMA director identified with Sen. Richard Gordon, as the replacement of SBMA Administrator Alfredo Antonio.

Another source close to Licuanan said he did not take it too well when Ms Arroyo bypassed his nominee, Roberto Garcia, president of automotive battery-maker Ramcar, and chose Arreza.

Yet another source confirmed that Arreza's appointment had caused Licuanan's departure, and said the turnover to Antonio would take place next week.

According to this source, Arreza is a brother-in-law of Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, one of Ms Arroyo's staunchest defenders in the House.

As administrator, Arreza would be technically subordinate to Licuanan, but the latter felt that Arreza would "follow Gordon's orders" and not his, according to the first source.

The source said Licuanan had learned from Tom Alcantara, a close adviser of the President, that Gordon pushed for Arreza's appointment so he could regain "control" of the free port.

"Gordon said he needs Subic because he needs money for the next election [for mayor of Olongapo] to defeat [Zambales Gov. Vicente] Magsaysay," Alcantara reportedly said.

Not running

Gordon, who served as the first chair of the SBMA, vehemently denied the allegation that he needed funds to run for mayor of Olongapo.

"What election? I'm not running in the next election," said Gordon, who was elected senator in 2004 and whose term will last up to 2010. "We've always ran in Olongapo and we never needed money for that."

He said not even his wife Kate wanted to run for any post: "In fact, the President wants Kate to be chair [of SBMA] but she doesn't want it."

Gordon said Arreza was his finance director in the SBMA during his term. But he said he had recommended Inky Reyes, not Arreza, to the post of SBMA administrator.

The source said Licuanan had been told that Arreza would "follow" his, and not Gordon's, orders.

But Licuanan was reportedly unconvinced, and felt that his plan for the SBMA and the Subic-Clark development program would be put in peril with Arreza's appointment.

When Licuanan's concerns were conveyed to the President, she reportedly said: "Because of the impeachment, I have to give way."

"Can you imagine giving Subic to Gordon because his vote is needed [in case the impeachment case reaches the Senate]?" the source said.

'Leaking falsehoods'

Joker Arroyo assailed the Palace for the earlier statement of an unnamed top official that Licuanan quit because he "did not have a taste for bureaucratic life," that he could not handle the heavy workload at the SBMA, and that its setting was just "too stressful" for him.

"Malacanang must learn to be prudent and just keep quiet when [it] cannot tell the truth instead of leaking, through so-called sources, falsehoods about why Francisco Licuanan resigned," the senator said.

He said Licuanan was "too decent a man to state the true reason for his resignation."

"He won't do a Hyatt 10," Senator Arroyo said, referring to the economic managers and Cabinet officials who quit last month and demanded Ms Arroyo's resignation.

"But this episode, with the President faced with impeachment, is being replicated with such frequency. This messy impeachment should be put to an end one way or the other before it ruins the country," the senator said.

'Wrong impressions'

In an interview with the Inquirer yesterday in Pampanga, all Licuanan wanted to talk about were the "wrong impressions" that he did not like the bureaucratic setup and that he couldn't stand up to the pressures of being SBMA chair.

"I was quite happy with my job," he declared. "In fact, I was exhilarated by the accomplishments we've made. We've been gaining momentum and embarking on new initiatives."

These include starting the budget flights at the Clark Special Economic Zone, restructuring the joint-venture project with a Taiwanese group, and getting more investments, he said.

"I was not born to a rich life, so I can take pressure and hard work," Licuanan said, adding that he would return to the private sector.

A top SBMA official close to Licuanan said Gordon's "insistence to put his trusted guy there, one who was not acceptable" to Licuanan, caused the latter's resignation.

"He believes that appointments should be made on the basis of qualifications, not political connections or considerations," the official said.

Clark Development Corp. (CDC) president Antonio Ng described Licuanan as an "honorable and professional executive whose primary interest is the common good," and said he was a "great loss."

CDC vice president Victor Jose Luciano called Licuanan a "vital, credible and respected link" of the CDC to the Arroyo Cabinet.

Control of SBMA

Gordon reportedly wanted control of SBMA to protect his hold on Olongapo.

His brother, Olongapo Mayor James Gordon, is reportedly threatened by the plan of Governor Magsaysay to run for mayor in 2007.

Magsaysay's daughter-in-law, Ma. Milagros "Mitos" Magsaysay, defeated Kate Gordon in the last election in the first congressional district of Zambales.

Gordon was not amused by the accusations.

"I gave the best years of my life to Subic and I suffered so much pain. I haven't returned to my house there in seven years," he said, recalling how then President Joseph Estrada forcibly ousted him from the SBMA and replaced him with Felicito Payumo in 1998.

But Gordon said he was happy with the choice of Arreza as new SBMA administrator.

Arreza was tourism undersecretary when Gordon was secretary, but he resigned after Gordon quit to run for the Senate.

Gordon said Arreza had solid credentials; was among the first volunteers at Subic, joining him as his finance director right after graduating from the Ateneo in 1993 with a degree in industrial engineering, and studied at the prestigious Wharton School in the United States.

"Who better to put there than someone who had sacrificed for Subic right from the start?" he said in a phone interview with the Inquirer.

Inky Reyes

But for all that, Gordon said he had nominated Inky Reyes who, according to sources, was related to someone close to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile.

Gordon said that when Alfredo Antonio said he would resign as SBMA administrator to join the Monetary Board, he asked that Reyes be named to replace him.

"And I did not recommend that [Licuanan] be removed," Gordon said.

He said he phoned Licuanan when he learned about the latter's resignation.

He quoted Licuanan as saying that he (Gordon) would have control of the SBMA through Arreza.

"I think he (Licuanan) does not want someone to challenge him," Gordon said.

With a report from Gil Cabacungan Jr.


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