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In, out, in: Select Duterte execs get new lease on official life

By: - Researcher / @Inq_Researchers
/ 07:03 AM July 21, 2018

A month before he was sworn into office in 2016, President Duterte presented for the first time the members of his Cabinet  and said, “We are all men of integrity, honesty.” None of his appointees was “tainted,” he said.

Two years later, the President had said goodbye to at least 11 of his top-ranking officials.

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Of the 31 Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions tracked by Inquirer Research, 11 have seen turnovers during the first 24 months of Mr. Duterte’s presidency caused by forced resignations due to alleged corruption and rejections by the Commission on Appointments (CA).

Mr. Duterte said he dismissed officials accused of wrongdoing but critics have slammed the lack of accountability as several government executives fired over alleged corruption were given other posts.

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Campaign vs corruption

The Duterte administration’s campaign against corruption has been weak, said Jan Robert Go, an assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, University of the Philippines Diliman. If there had been irregularities, they must not be left unchecked, he added.

Mr. Duterte made more changes in his Cabinet during his first two years than his predecessor, President Benigno Aquino III, who had departures in six of 30 positions during the same period.

Transitions in Mr. Duterte’s top team were less frequent than under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who replaced 18 of 30 officials during her first two years.

Frequent replacements of the President’s men could affect policies or the manner they are implemented as Cabinet officials personally set the direction of the tasks and operation of their respective departments, Go said.

“The consequence is obvious: the continuity and sustainability of programs and policies. Since each secretary would like to introduce their own flavor, they might revise or do a full turnaround,” Go said.

“These are not necessarily bad, but the devil is in the details, that is, how each secretary would prioritize the work in their area,” he added.

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Former Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo was the latest to leave Mr. Duterte’s Cabinet.

Resignations

Teo was forced to resign in May after the Commission on Audit flagged a P60-million deal between the Department of Tourism (DOT) and state-owned People’s Television Network Inc. to air DOT’s advertisements on a program produced by Ben Tulfo, one of her brothers. She denied any conflict of interest.

A month earlier, the President accepted the resignation of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II following the dismissal of charges against high-profile drug suspects by state prosecutors that aroused public criticism.

Rodolfo Salalima, former secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology resigned in September last year due to alleged corruption in the agency, interference and pressures on him.

Five of Mr. Duterte’s Cabinet nominees were rejected by the CA: Perfecto Yasay for foreign affairs, Paulyn Jean Rosell Ubial for health, Judy Taguiwalo for social welfare, Rafael Mariano for agrarian reform, and Gina Lopez for environment and natural resources.

Mr. Duterte warned back in June 2016: “Let me not hear anything about corruption, [not] even a whiff or whisper. I will fire you or place you somewhere.”

Sueno dismissal

The President made good on his threat, dismissing in April last year  Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno for the alleged graft-tainted purchase of fire trucks from Austria. Sueno, former national chair of the ruling PDP-Laban, was a close ally of Mr. Duterte.

A month earlier, Peter Laviña, Mr. Duterte’s social media manager and spokesperson during the presidential election campaign, quit his post as National Irrigation Administration (NIA) administrator to spare the administration any embarrassment from rumors that he had asked money from NIA contractors.

However, several fired or resigned presidential appointees have been given new positions, among them, former Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, who was named deputy administrator of the Office of Civil Defense in December 2017.

Faeldon had resigned from the Bureau of Customs following his implication in the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of “shabu” (crystal meth) into the Philippines.

Go said that the President still enjoyed a relatively good approval rating, which allowed Mr. Duterte to let the atmosphere cool down a little and appoint sacked officials to new posts.

However, Mr. Duterte is not without a good number of critics who “will definitely pound the President and pound him hard,” Go said.

New appointments

“The idea that a whiff of corruption is enough a cause for removal is reduced to mere rhetoric and PR stunt if the President would fail to make his former appointees accountable,” Go said.

Other former officials appointed to new positions include:

Ernesto Abella, former presidential spokesperson, as foreign undersecretary

Antonio Kho Jr., former justice undersecretary and Mr. Duterte’s fraternity brother at  San Beda University, as commissioner of the Commission on Elections

Jose Gabriel “Pompee” La Viña, sacked from the Social Security System for allegedly questionable activities, as tourism undersecretary

Martin Diño, who lost his post as chair of Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) due to a leadership dispute, as interior and local government undersecretary

Benny Antiporda, a former member of the SBMA board, as environment and natural resources undersecretary

Manuel Serra Jr., fired from the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor for making too many foreign trips, as member of the board of the Philippine Coconut Authority

Melissa Avanceña Aradanas, dismissed from the commissioners of the Presidential Commission on the Urban Poor for not producing results, as deputy secretary general of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council.

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