Roxas hopes to be Aquino’s paracetamol
He may well have been what the doctor has ordered for President Benigno Aquino III.
“I hope to be the Tylenol, aspirin, paracetamol,” Mr. Aquino’s newest Cabinet member, Transportation and Communications Secretary Mar Roxas told reporters with a laugh on Monday when asked whether he would be a headache to the President.
Mr. Aquino has complained about some Cabinet members who, he said, tended to give him bad news about their departments without offering ready solutions. They have been referred to in the media as the President’s “headaches.”
Roxas, the defeated running mate of Mr. Aquino in the 2010 elections, was in Malacañang for his oath-taking. The ceremony was witnessed by friends and family, including his wife, television anchor Korina Sanchez, his mother Judy Araneta-Roxas, son Paolo and sister Ria Ojeda.
Hardly warming his seat, Roxas quickly sent out word, through Transportation Undersecretary Dante Lantin, that he was not the kind of man who relishes formalities.
“If ‘P-Noy’ is President Aquino,” Lantin said, speaking in Filipino, “Secretary Mar said let’s just call him ‘S-Mar’ for Secretary Mar. It’s simpler and easier to say.”
Lantin said one reason Roxas was not able to attend Monday’s flag ceremony at the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) was that “he doesn’t like any formal welcoming ceremony.”
Mr. Aquino told the media he had asked Roxas to do “many things” at the DoTC, including looking into the status of the Manila-to-Bicol railway project. He said the government was committed to make the entire route operational by November.
He also asked Roxas to look into the roll-on, roll-off project which he had ordered reviewed but this was questioned by a transportation undersecretary, who has since resigned.
“I think the first order of business is really to organize the DoTC and have them produce one voice, or reorganize,” Mr. Aquino said.
Roxas said the President had also asked him to fix “problematic” contracts, such as those involving the NorthRail line, “ports that don’t go anywhere,” and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.
‘Nothing to fear’
Roxas said contracts under review were those “tainted with anomalies, [or are] overpriced or overdesigned or have not undergone the correct and proper process.”
“They (foreign investors) have nothing to fear. They just have to follow the law and the proper process,” he added.
Roxas promised he would see to it that the transport sector was safe, reliable and charging the right fees.
He described the country’s transport system as “disjointed, expensive and undercapitalized.”
“For example, it’s more expensive to ship a package from Mindanao to Manila than ship that same package to San Francisco, which is across the Pacific Ocean,” Roxas said.
Asked how he would deal with Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief Virginia Torres, the “shooting buddy” of the President, Roxas said he would deal with her “the same way I will deal with all the people at the DoTC.”
The Federation of Jeepney Operators’ and Drivers’ Associations of the Philippines (Fejodap) had called on Roxas to urge Mr. Aquino to sack Torres.
Fejodap officials claimed Torres wanted to return the LTO to manual operations. This was in reference to the plan to get rid of the computer systems provider Stradcom Corp. She said the LTO would return to manual operations until a new information technology (IT) provider was found.
Torres has accused Stradcom of raking in excessive profits. Earlier, she withheld payments to Stradcom amid an intracorporate dispute among the company’s shareholders.
Roxas said he had to study the issue carefully. “Our top priority will be to ensure that LTO services are not compromised,” he said.
Roxas vowed to pursue reforms and ensure that all government deals under his supervision are done above board and deliver the best results.
One of his first acts would be to form a new body to deal with “problematic” projects approved by the past administration.
“If we find that these projects are anomalous and are not in the best interest of the Filipino people, I have no problem trying to cancel or renegotiating them,” he said.
The new body will be one of four groups Roxas is forming to reorganize the DOTC structure.
The three other groups will run the day-to-day operations of attached agencies, develop new or “greenfield” projects and formulate a masterplan for the long-term integration of the mass transport system.
Among those who came to shake hands with Roxas during yesterday’s ceremony was Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., who belongs to the so-called Samar faction in the Palace. Roxas leads the Balay faction.
The two factions have been at odds with each other since the presidential campaign last year. With a report from Chona Yu, Radyo Inquirer
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