Race to bag DILG post up; LPs have edgeBy Gil C. Cabacungan, TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Liberal Party (LP) wants to retain control of the influential Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and party members reportedly dominate the list of a replacement for the late Jesse Robredo.
Cavite Rep. Joseph E.A. Abaya, former Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, and Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte were among the prominent party members being floated as the next DILG chief by sources from Congress and Malacañang.
Only Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who has long been rumored as the President’s choice for DILG chief, is not an LP member among the candidates for a successor to Robredo.
In a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Wednesday, Abaya shot down speculation that the administration had already begun discussions on who would be the next DILG chief.
“There is no serious, essential talk on the next secretary of DILG. In fact, I personally think it is inappropriate to talk about such topic while we are still mourning the tragic loss of Secretary Jesse,” said Abaya, the LP secretary general.
Kaya Natin lead convenor Harvey Keh confirmed that Padaca was among those being considered for the DILG post. Both Padaca and Robredo are cofounders of Kaya Natin.
“I think it’s natural that the DILG will be controlled by the ruling party because it has both functional and political goals. The DILG supervises all elected local officials,” Keh said.
Same values, principles
At a news forum in San Juan City Wednesday, Rep. Arlene Bag-ao, a member of Kaya Natin, said Robredo’s replacement must be “efficient, effective, and values-oriented.”
Bag-ao said Kaya Natin would not recommend a replacement for Robredo, but whoever the new DILG chief would be should live by the values and principles lived by Robredo.
Two Catholic bishops on Wednesday said that the public should keep watch over Malacañang’s search for a new secretary of the interior and local government.
“This is a challenge to Malacañang, to find someone who can measure up to the work well performed by our Secretary Robredo,” said Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines National Secretariat for Social Action.
Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, who had worked closely with Robredo in the fight against “jueteng” said the DILG top post was crucial to pursuing President Aquino’s “straight path,” so the public must watch the selection of a successor to Robredo.
Control of the DILG is seen as a key factor in any election, especially with the LP looking to broaden its dominance in both the local governments and Congress next year.
President Aquino’s decision to assign Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. as officer in charge of the DILG has reportedly caused grumbling among LP members in the Cabinet who felt that party members deserve first crack at the post even only temporarily.
But presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Robredo had left “very big shoes” to fill.
“Secretary Robredo is one of a kind,” Lacierda said at a press briefing in Malacañang. “He is a Magsaysay awardee. He has proven his competence in local governance and he has shown himself as capable also of speaking and engaging politicians in the entire political spectrum.”
One proof of that, he said, was Robredo’s “bringing together” five governors of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), helping to ease tensions in the region wracked by political strife and armed conflict.
“Those are very big shoes to fill indeed,” he said.
Not Aquino’s priority
Appointing Robredo’s replacement, however, isn’t on top of the priorities of President Aquino, who was still coping with the DILG chief’s death in a plane crash on Aug. 18.
“The process for searching a new [DILG] secretary will be undertaken soon. But, in the meantime, we would like to pay our respects to Secretary Robredo. So I think that would not be a priority right now,” Lacierda said.
The low-key Ochoa made a surprise visit to the DILG office in Quezon City Wednesday to see for himself the programs in progress and assure the employees of continuity.
So far, Mr. Aquino has not publicly said how he felt about Robredo’s death, but their friendship goes way back to the 2007 senatorial elections, when Robredo helped campaign for Aquino. They shared the same advocacy of good government, Lacierda said.
“Obviously, the President is very stoic, but he is certainly a very close friend of Secretary Robredo,” he said.
Lacierda brushed aside comments that blamed the President for the tragedy for sending Robredo to represent him and speak at a DILG convention in Cebu City on Saturday.
“That decision was made in July,” Lacierda said. “I’m part of the appointments committee and as early as July, Secretary Robredo already accepted the invitation to speak in Cebu. So any insinuation that it was a last-minute decision by the President to ask Secretary Robredo to speak on his behalf is entirely not true and it is entirely malicious,” he said. With reports from Jocelyn R. Uy and Kristine Felisse Mangunay