MANILA, Philippines?Former Sen. Ralph Recto, the author of the controversial expanded value-added tax (VAT) law, has been appointed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as socioeconomic planning secretary and director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), effective immediately.
Recto is the third losing 2007 senatorial candidate of the administration party?s Team Unity to be given a position in the Arroyo administration.
Only recently, former Sen. Vicente Sotto III was named head of the Dangerous Drugs Board, while the President?s former chief of staff Michael Defensor was appointed head of the task force on the opening of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport?s Terminal 3.
Recto replaces Augusto Santos, who returns to his old job as NEDA deputy secretary general, according to Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.
Ermita also announced Wednesday the appointments of former Armed Forces Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Antonio Romero II as undersecretary of the Department of National Defense and Thelma Santos as assistant secretary of the Department of Education.
?I look forward to possibly working with the best and the brightest of government employees in NEDA. I also look forward to sharing ideas with former NEDA director generals on a wide range of issues,? Recto said in text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).
Recto?s wife, actress Vilma Santos, is serving her first term as governor of Batangas province.
Arroyo?s personal choice
But Recto, who used to head the Senate committee on ways and means, admitted that his new job was a tough one given the current economic problems both locally and globally.
?It will be a very challenging job considering current conditions, such as global credit crunch, high fuel, rice and commodity prices,? Recto said.
Ermita told reporters that the President chose the former senator herself and signed his job papers on July 10.
He said the qualifications of Recto, an economist, were unquestionable.
Recto, 44, is a Commerce graduate of De La Salle University. He has a master?s in Public Administration from the University of the Philippines and master?s in Strategic Business Economics from the University of Asia and the Pacific.
Asked whether the appointment signaled that the government might be seeking new taxes, Ermita said he was certain the new NEDA head would be ?studying actions, measures and policies he can craft to help the President as a member of the economic team.?
?Let?s observe the conduct of Senator Recto,? he said.
Besides discussing ideas on economic development with former heads of NEDA, Recto said he would consult with representatives of the opposition to come up with appropriate policies to address risks faced by the economy and to maximize opportunities for growth.
?[I also look forward to] work out a consensus with the opposition on strategic economic policies regarding economic threats and opportunities,? he said.
Asked to comment if Recto?s appointment was a payback for losing senatorial candidates, Ermita said: ?We must recognize that the President is the appointing authority ? she will know the qualifications of those people who could help her in governance and therefore the President will not make any appointment that will not be of help to her. So let?s give it to the President.?
Santos, the erstwhile acting NEDA chief, described the appointment of Recto as a ?presidential prerogative.?
?I serve at the pleasure of the President. I am a career official, a CESO (Career Executive Service Officer) and with his appointment, I shall go back to my former post,? he said in a brief statement.
NEDA ?has always been known for its professionalism so I am confident that it will continue to perform its mandate as the country?s premier socioeconomic planning body to the best of its abilities under a new head,? Santos said.
As NEDA chief, Recto will take the lead in coming up with government policies intended to help create more jobs, reduce poverty, and boost the overall domestic economy.
His appointment came amid the global phenomenon of accelerated increase in prices of imported fuel that have resulted in a double-digit inflation in the country, which is heavily dependent on imported oil.
Inflation, a measure of the increase in prices of goods and services consumed by average Filipino households, shot up to 11.4 percent in June, the fastest pace in 14 years.
The sharp rise in consumer prices has prompted economic officials to predict that the country?s economic growth for the year would hit only anywhere between 5.7 and 6.6 percent, slower than the 7.2 percent recorded last year.
In the first quarter, the economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew by only 5.2 percent compared with the 7 percent in the same period a year ago. The slowdown is attributed to tighter consumer spending, which is a consequence of sharply rising prices.