MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE) Citing his desire to return to private life, Transportation and Communications Secretary Jose “Ping” De Jesus will step down from his post on June 30, a year after he assumed office, an official of the Department of Transportation and Communication said Wednesday.
De Jesus “will not change his mind,” said Transportation and Communication Undersecretary Dante M. Velasco. “He will still be available to the President for advice, but as a private citizen.”
“It’s not because of his health. He wants to return to the private sector,” Velasco said, referring to his 76-year-old boss. Velasco said De Jesus revealed that he never intended to stay at the DoTC for more than a year.
Velasco said De Jesus submitted his resignation on Monday afternoon and it was accepted by President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday morning. As late as Tuesday evening, De Jesus dismissed as rumors reports that he had resigned.
“I am serving as long as I am needed. If I am no longer needed, then I will leave,” De Jesus told the Philippine Daily Inquirer late Tuesday evening. Velasco said De Jesus denied reports of his resignation so as not to preempt Malacañang.
De Jesus could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. He is the first Aquino Cabinet member to resign from his post.
Before joining the DoTC, De Jesus was the president of Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), the country’s largest power distributor. He also served as president of Manila North Tollways Corp., operator of North Luzon Expressway.
De Jesus’ resignation comes ahead of a rumored Cabinet revamp to remove some “underperforming” officials.
“I don’t think (De Jesus) was going to be affected by the revamp because the President was surprised by the resignation,” Velasco said.
De Jesus “loves the Aquino family very much. He does not want this act to hurt his relationship with his family,” Velasco said. The decision was reached, Velasco said, after consultation with a member of the Aquino family.
De Jesus had served under the administration of late former President Corazon Aquino as secretary of public works and highways. One of his landmark projects at the time was the construction of overpasses on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue or Edsa that decongested Metro Manila’s major thoroughfare.
Velasco said he and other undersecretaries were caught off guard by De Jesus’ resignation.
“We had an all-day meeting last Tuesday. We were drawing up plans for the next five years and he was setting a lot of deadlines,” Velasco said. “There was no indication at all that he was going to leave.”
Since joining the DoTC, De Jesus has ordered the review of several key infrastructure projects that were approved by the previous administration.
These include the controversial Northrail project that aimed to build a cargo and passenger train line linking Metro Manila to key Northern Luzon provinces. The project, funded by a loan from the Chinese government, has been plagued with cost overruns that would result in Chinese contractor Sinomach getting more money from the government for less work.
Another project currently under review is the Greater Maritime Access or GMA Ports Project. A review committee formed by De Jesus earlier found that the project aimed to build 72 ports that the country did not need.
Velasco said the review of these contracts as well as other reforms would go on even without De Jesus.
“The secretary has established the foundation of good governance in the DoTC. He has ordered the review of all contracts and started a culture of honesty and transparency,” Velasco said.
Stradcom Corp., the controversial information technology systems provider for the Land Transportation Office, expressed surprise over De Jesus’ resignation.
“This is a big loss to the administration of President Aquino as Secretary de Jesus is not only a man of competence but also of unquestionable integrity. He is well-respected in both the political and business communities,” the company said in a statement.
Stradcom has been at the center of several controversies regarding its multibillion-peso contract with the LTO. An intra-corporate dispute at Stradcom, involving a certain Bonifacio Sumbilla who claimed to be the company’s new owner, led to a failed takeover of the company’s operations last December.
The takeover resulted in the seven-hour paralysis of Stradcom’s and the LTO’s operations. In a justice department investigation, LTO chief Virginia Torres, handpicked by Mr. Aquino for the post, was found to have sided with the Sumbilla faction to remove Stradcom chairman Cezar Quiambao.
De Jesus recommended that Torres be suspended to allow for a deeper probe into the matter. Mr. Aquino ordered Torres to go on a 60-day leave of absence, which ends on June 19.
Velasco denied that De Jesus was pressured to resign due to disagreements with the President on whether to replace Torres or allow her to return to her post. Torres is a close friend and “shooting buddy” of the President.
Velasco denied that there was any rift between De Jesus and the President.
De Jesus “cannot be pressured by any outside forces. He respects the President but he is in command of everything here at the DoTC. His resignation is purely his decision,” Velasco said.