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Roxas accepts DoTC post

Piatco, port projects among top concerns

MANILA, Philippines—Some men on a mission start out on their jobs with pompous promises. Former Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas began his simply with a song—a Burt Bacharach oldie about a lover waiting for a plane to bring his sweetheart back to him.

It might have been a lighthearted beginning but Roxas was definite about one thing on Tuesday when he finally accepted the post of secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC), which was offered to him by President Aquino: He means business.

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“My priority here is, ‘Wala akong sasantohin’ (I will spare no one). My top priority here is to deliver service to the people,” Roxas said when he appeared on national television to announce his acceptance.

An Inquirer source earlier said that Roxas, the President’s unsuccessful running mate in last year’s elections, had wanted to be the Palace chief of staff, a potentially all-powerful position.

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But Mr. Aquino prevailed on his longtime friend, persuading him to instead head the DoTC, the largest line agency, in charge of projects running into billions of pesos.

“This agency is in charge of huge projects, big-ticket items that have long been the milking cow of corrupt individuals in the past,” Mr. Aquino said at a news briefing.

“I asked him (Roxas) as a friend and as ‘your President.’ I told him I actually need you here in our headquarters, but there’s a fire that broke out on the frontline. Can you be the one to proceed to the fire?” he said.

Taking over the rostrum after the President, Roxas launched into the 1965 Bacharach song “Trains and Boats and Planes,” trying to sing its first line: “Trains and boats and planes …”

Roxas described his new turf in the government as “very huge and very wide” and explained why he picked the song.

No sacred cows

“When I woke up this morning, I looked for a new theme song and I found one written by Burt Bacharach and sung by Dionne Warwick.” Then he burst into song, drawing a few laughs from the reporters.

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“The notes are a little bit off, but the words convey the same meaning,” Roxas said.

Roxas, who according to the President would also be a senior member of the economic cluster, stressed that there would be no sacred cows in his bid to improve public service through transportation and communication.

“It’s been said in a light manner, ‘trains, boats and planes,’ but that’s the way our people move. That’s the way our economy moves,” he said.

“As in the human body, that’s where the blood flows. It’s the veins, the arteries of the body,” he said.

Piatco controversy

Citing Roxas’ role in exposing corruption in the abortive $329-million NBN-ZTE deal during the Arroyo administration, Mr. Aquino said Roxas had what it takes to accomplish the job.

Mr. Aquino said he wanted Roxas to take the lead in resolving the problem of Piatco that he said had long prevented Filipinos from taking full advantage of the Naia 3 airport operation, and the investigation of the allegedly overpriced and over-building of roll-on-roll-off ports project.

He also ordered that public-private partnership projects lined up under the DoTC be pushed.

“Along with the anomalies that are buried (in the) books, all of these have been given to Mar for him to address, investigate and give appropriate attention to,” the President said.

Case of Torres

Asked what he intended to do with suspended Land Transportation Office chief Virginia Torres, Roxas said that what he knew about the agency was based on media reports.

“The President has discussed the matter a few times. (But) there were never any orders or instructions,” he said.

“I’ll look into it. I thank the President for giving me a free hand … We’re not exactly amateurs. We’d look into it.”

Media reports said the possible reinstatement of Torres this month was one of the reasons for the resignation of outgoing Transportation Secretary Jose P. de Jesus.

Mr. Aquino said Roxas would also be a senior member of the Cabinet’s economic cluster and would continue giving him advice on other matters.

Relations with Binay

Asked how he would relate to Vice President Jejomar Binay who defeated him in the vice presidential contest and against whom he has a pending election protest, Roxas said: “My parents brought me up to be a civilized person so I shall extend every courtesy to him as a fellow coworker.”

Asked about reports that a rival faction worked for his appointment to the DoTC which would take him away from the Palace as the President’s chief of staff, Roxas dismissed the question. “I’m very excited,” he said with a grin.

DoTC welcomes appointment

Undersecretary Dante M. Velasco said the appointment was in line with the administration’s platform of stamping out corruption in the government.

“(Roxas) also led the campaign to get the mandate from the people for needed reforms,” he said in a statement.

Velasco was one of four undersecretaries who earlier announced they would leave the DoTC together with De Jesus at the end of the month.

“All of DoTC welcome (Roxas’) entry and are prepared to support him in every way,” Velasco said.

Sen. Francis Escudero said he was “certain that (Roxas) could perform the duties of DoTC chief because of his experience.”

Sen. Franklin Drilon described Roxas as “qualified and competent.” With reports from Paolo G. Montecillo and Christian V. Esguerra

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TAGS: appointment, Conflicts (general), Department of Transportation and Communication (DoTC), Jejomar Binay, Mar Roxas, Naia 3, Piatco, senators
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