The official who signed the broadband deal with ZTE Corp. is now the “Little President” while the undersecretary whose appointment to the maritime authority was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (SC) now heads the management staff at Malacañang as President Arroyo started forming a Cabinet transition team yesterday.
Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza replaced Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita who is seeking to represent the first congressional district of Batangas.
Mendoza’s undersecretary, former Maritime Industry Authority administrator Elena Bautista, replaced Presidential Management Staff (PMS) director general Hermogenes Esperon Jr. The SC had earlier ruled that Bautista’s appointment to two positions was unconstitutional.
There was no word on who would replace Mendoza at the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC). It appeared that some Cabinet members would hold on to their posts in a concurrent capacity until after new officials or officers-in-charge are named.
The President announced the appointments shortly after the SC announced that its ruling, which deemed appointive officials resigned upon filing their certificates of candidacy, was final and executory.
Ermita, in his final news briefing yesterday with Press Secretary Crispulo Icban said Mrs. Arroyo is considering Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs and Presidential Anti-Graft Commissioner Natividad Dizon to replace Secretary Raul Gonzalez as chief presidential legal counsel. Gonzalez is running for mayor of Iloilo City.
Others appointed were Office of the Government Corporate Counsel head Alberto Agra as justice secretary to
replace Agnes Devanadera, who is running for representative of Quezon province.
Agriculture Undersecretary Bernardo Fondevilla was also appointed to replace Secretary Arthur Yap; Technical Education and Skills Development Authority deputy director general for field operations Rogelio Pijuan vice TESDA director general Secretary Augusto Syjuco; and Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Joaquin Lagonera to replace Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr.
Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo has yet to name the replacement for Subic-Clark Alliance for Development Council chairman and Presidential Adviser for External Affairs Edgardo Pamintuan, who is running for mayor of Angeles City.
Except for Gonzalez, all the Cabinet officials tendered their courtesy resignations last week.
Justice Assistant Secretary Arthel Caroñongan also tendered his resignation yesterday to run as representative of the second congressional district of Pangasinan.
Mrs. Arroyo earlier gave assurance of a smooth transition of power to the next president on the day when she steps down from office on June 30. The administration has fielded former defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro as its presidential candidate.
“It is our duty as well as the duty of all to help the Comelec (Commission on Elections) to ensure peaceful, fair and transparent elections as well as the peaceful transition of power to the new administration,” the President said in a recent radio interview.
Ermita added the turnover ceremonies for the new Cabinet officials could happen anytime next week.
“I can imagine that the other officials involved also are doing their so-called winding down activities, official turnover, so that there’ll be smooth turnover,” he said.
He said Mrs. Arroyo was also ready to fill up posts lower than Cabinet rank that were left vacant for the same reasons as in the case of Deputy National Security Adviser Luis “Chavit” Singson, who is running for governor in Ilocos Sur.
Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes, who is being invited as nominee in the party list 1-UTAK, has not tendered his resignation.
Reyes said he has yet to decide to accept the nomination of the party-list group.
There was no word on Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, who is also being invited as a party-list nominee.
The appointments came a day after the Supreme Court ruled with finality its decision to consider all appointed officials resigned if they filed their certificates of candidacy for the May 10 elections.
Ermita, who served as executive secretary for five and a half years, said Mrs. Arroyo was already beginning thinking of their replacements since early this year but gave no indication of her preferences.
“That is the style of the President—she places her cards close enough to her chest about important designations on Cabinet,” he said.
Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo chose Mendoza as executive secretary for his “experience, competence, loyalty, and reliability.”
Ermita said the post of executive secretary is a “position of confidence” whose task is also “to rally together the Cabinet members.”
With the appointment, Mendoza will now act the “Little President” with the power and supervision of the so-called transition team to allow a smooth turnover for the new President on June 30.
Mendoza served as chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) before he was appointed DOTC secretary.
As DOTC chief, Mendoza represented the Philippine government in signing the scandal-ridden national broadband network (NBN) contract with China’s ZTE Corp. on April 21, 2007.
Mrs. Arroyo went to Boao, China to witness the signing of the contract but she was forced to scuttle the deal with ZTE following the controversy linking her husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, to the irregularity.
Mendoza, for his part, vowed to be more transparent to the media as the new executive secretary.
“I will be accessible and all the questions, we will answer… I have been in the government service for more than 46 years already. I know how to do service and how to behave myself when in a particular situation,” said the former police general.
Mendoza said the primary function of the executive secretary is to integrate and coordinate the efforts of the Cabinet.
He said his function is to oversee the Cabinet during the four remaining months of Mrs. Arroyo’s term of office until June 30, when the new president is sworn in and takes over.
As “Little President,” Mendoza admitted it would be an “enormous job.”
“I am always a soldier. I always follow orders. Personally, it’s a big challenge. It’s a departure from what I came from. The enormity of the job really is there and I really have to face this challenge, of course I am always thinking of how I can best serve the interest of this country and the interest of the appointing authority,” he said.
Mendoza said he would remain the DOTC secretary in concurrent capacity until the President makes an appointment.
He said he would have to give up the DOTC post saying there are legal issues involved in holding two positions in the government.
When asked if he would recommend someone to the DOTC, Mendoza said he would leave it to the search committee to decide.
Mendoza added his successor in the DOTC should continue to improve the nautical highway, create more airports and “most importantly, which we failed to deliver, is the national broadband network. I think our country needs this very well.” –With Evelyn Macairan, By Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star)