Jesse Robredo as the secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is a very tough act to follow.
But Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas has accepted the challenge. He is the next DILG secretary, a highly placed source in Malacañang confirmed to the Philippine Daily Inquirer Thursday night. He takes over from the late Robredo who died in a plane crash on August 18.
Cavite Representative Joseph E.A. Abaya moves over to the Department of Transportation and Communications, the highly placed source also confirmed to the Inquirer.
Both Roxas and Abaya are stalwarts of the Liberal Party (LP), which is led by President Benigno Aquino. At the request of the Robredo family, both served as pallbearers during the state funeral rites for Secretary Robredo and both had been highly tipped to succeed the latter.
At least three LP members in the House of Representatives on Thursday said the President had made up his mind to move Roxas over to the DILG to sustain the gains made by Robredo who expanded the LP membership among governors and mayors.
Roxas has not replied to calls on whether he would accept the DILG post if offered by President Aquino.
Abaya, chairman of the House appropriations committee, on the other hand, had declared he would accept the job if offered by the President.
Others whose names had been bruited about, like Vice President Jejomar Binay, were quick to end speculations about their appointment to the DILG. Binay, who pulled a surprise win over Roxas in the May 2010 elections, has announced he will run for president in 2016, said he had no interest in the job.
He suggested, though, that Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., whom Mr. Aquino appointed officer in charge during the search for permanent DILG secretary, was qualified for the post, having been a top Quezon City Hall executive for years.
Control of DILG
Another Malacañang official said the party’s top brass had lobbied to the President to make control of the DILG by the party a priority over problems on criminality and the spread of illegal numbers games like jueteng, with the approach of next year’s midterm elections.
Another LP member of Congress, who refused to be identified for lack of authority to speak for the party, said LP leaders had made a strong pitch to the President to keep the DILG in the party’s hands during a lunch in Naga City shortly after Robredo was laid to rest last Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the LP held a meeting at its “Balay” headquarters in Quezon City to swear in new members from several provinces. An LP member present said the DILG vacancy issue was not taken up then as party leaders had already talked to Mr. Aquino in Naga the day before. The Balay headquarters is in the Araneta-Roxas family compound in Cubao.
But Iloilo Representative Jerry Treñas, another LP member who attended Robredo’s interment, said Mr. Aquino and other party leaders merely had lunch and talk of Robredo’s replacement never came up.
“There were many guests at the lunch, including Cabinet members. No discussions were made on LP matters including the question of who would be the next DILG secretary,” said Treñas in a phone interview.
Abaya and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad Jr., another LP stalwart, did not reply to the Inquirer’s calls.
Former Isabela Governor Grace Padaca, whose name was also floated as a possible Robredo replacement, appeared uncomfortable being mentioned along with the likes of Senator Panfilo Lacson, Davao Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, who headed the DILG in the Estrada administration.
“I’m amused when the matter is talked about. They mentioned Duterte, Lim, Lacson, then Grace Padaca. It’s like I’m being lined up with these competent tough men (mga barako),” she said in Filipino in a media forum at Quezon Memorial Circle.
“Para lang akong salinggit (I’m just a runt alongside them),” she said.
But she added: “Hindi naman ibig sabihin na kami pong mga galing sa local governments ay hindi po namin kaya ’yan (But that’s not to say that we who came from the local governments cannot do the job),” she said. “Kakayanin, kakayanin talaga kung nandun yung challenge. Bakit hindi? (We’ll be able to measure up if challenged. Why not?).”
Padaca downplayed reports she was being considered for the DILG post, saying her name was mentioned probably only as part of “political chatter.” She said there were no such discussions in the Liberal Party, of which she is a member.
Meanwhile, DILG employees who are still mourning the loss of Robredo said they were ready to support his replacement, a DILG official said Thursday.
‘Back to normal’
Interior Undersecretary Austere Panadero said that while the employees were still grieving, operations were “back to normal.”
“The people are still in shock … it will take time but normal governance processes are ongoing,” Panadero said.
He said that among plans being pursued by Robredo before his untimely death on August 18 in a plane crash off Masbate was the relocation of informal settlers from Metro Manila.
“Well, of course, the new secretary would also have to pay attention to that, but at the moment what I’m saying is that Secretary Robredo had clear plans on how to deal with that so we are carrying them out,” Panadero said. With reports from Philip C. Tubeza, PDI, and Matikas Santos, INQUIRER.net