DoTC chief quits, surprising Aquino
MANILA, Philippines—In a move that an official said caught President Benigno Aquino III off guard, Jose “Ping” de Jesus has resigned as head of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC), the first member of the Cabinet to quit the 11-month-old administration.
Citing his desire to return to private life, De Jesus submitted his resignation on Monday afternoon and the President accepted it Wednesday morning before flying to Brunei for a two-day working visit.
A longtime friend of the Aquino family, the 76-year-old De Jesus will officially step down from his post on June 30, almost a year after he assumed office.
As late as Tuesday, De Jesus was dismissing reports that he had resigned.
Transportation Undersecretary Dante M. Velasco said De Jesus had denied the reports of his resignation so as not to preempt Malacañang.
De Jesus’ resignation came amid speculation in the media that the President would revamp his Cabinet to remove “underperforming” officials.
“I don’t think (De Jesus) was going to be affected by the revamp because the President was surprised by the resignation,” Velasco told reporters.
“(De Jesus) loves the Aquino family very much. He does not want this act (of resignation) to hurt his relationship with the family,” Velasco said.
He said De Jesus reached the decision after talking with one of the sisters of the President, but he did not say who.
De Jesus is the second government official to leave the administration this week.
On Monday, Mr. Aquino announced the resignation of Bureau of Corrections chief Ernesto Diokno, who had come under attack over the unauthorized out-of-prison trips of former Batangas Gov. Antonio Leviste, a homicide convict.
De Jesus could not be reached for comment. He did not report for work on Wednesday and his phone was off.
“(De Jesus) will not change his mind. He will still be available to the President for advice, but as a private citizen,” Velasco said.
Velasco denied speculation that De Jesus was pressured to resign due to disagreements with the President on whether to permanently replace suspended Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief Virginia Torres or allow her to return to her post.
De Jesus had recommended the suspension of Torres to allow for a deeper probe by the Department of Justice into controversies involving Stradcom Corp., the information technology (IT) systems provider for LTO.
An intracorporate dispute at Stradcom, involving a certain Bonifacio Sumbilla, who claimed to be the company’s new owner, led to a failed takeover of the company’s operations last December.
In a justice department investigation, Torres—who was handpicked by Mr. Aquino for the LTO post—was found to have sided with the Sumbilla faction to remove Stradcom chair Cezar Quiambao.
De Jesus recommended that Torres be suspended and Mr. Aquino ordered Torres to go on a 60-day leave of absence. Torres’ leave ends on June 19.
Just one year
Velasco rejected suggestions that De Jesus had resigned for health reasons. He said De Jesus “wants to return to the private sector.”
Velasco also said De Jesus had previously told some people that he never intended to stay at the DoTC for more than a year.
Before joining the DoTC, De Jesus was president of Manila Electric Co. (Meralco). He also served as the president of Manila North Tollways Corp., operator of North Luzon Expressway.
De Jesus served under the late President Corazon Aquino—the President’s mother—as public works secretary. He later served as her Cabinet secretary.
Velasco said he and the other undersecretaries were surprised by De Jesus’ resignation.
“We had an all-day meeting yesterday. We were drawing up plans for the next five years and he was setting a lot of deadlines,” Velasco said. “There was no indication at all that he was going to leave.”
Since joining the DoTC, De Jesus had ordered the review of key infrastructure projects approved by the previous administration.
These included the controversial NorthRail project to build a cargo and passenger train line linking Metro Manila to key northern Luzon provinces.
It was a friendly parting of ways between the President and De Jesus, a Palace official said.
Secretary Herminio Coloma, head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, said De Jesus met with Mr. Aquino on Monday and “conveyed to the President his preference to return to the private sector at this time.”
“The President commended Secretary De Jesus. He eased many of our concerns in the transport and infrastructure sector,” Coloma told reporters in Brunei, where Mr. Aquino is on a visit.
An opposition lawmaker, Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, speculated that De Jesus probably stepped on the toes of some people among the “warring factions” in Malacañang and that this forced him to resign. With a report from Tarra Quismundo and Gil C. Cabacungan
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