And then there were 7: Petilla quits DOE
MANILA, Philippines–And then there were seven vacancies in the top echelons of government.
With national elections barely a year away, President Aquino has found himself with a leaner Cabinet as more officials have offered to quit to prepare for their candidacy.
In an interview with reporters at the sidelines of the 26th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Langkawi, Malaysia, Aquino confirmed that Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla and Bureau of Corrections Director Franklin Bucayu have resigned, but that he had asked them to stay put until replacements for their posts could be found.
Petilla had asked to be replaced as early as last year but the President said he had prevailed on him to stay longer.
“We’re actually looking at potential candidates to replace him,” Aquino said, adding that Petilla was hesitant at the onset to take on the post vacated by then Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras in October 2012.
The President said Petilla wanted to spend more time on his business process outsourcing venture in Leyte province and to prepare for next year’s elections.
“I can promise you that Secretary Petilla will not leave the job if he is not sure it’s in capable hands… But I do recognize that he and other members of the Cabinet also have a right… to advance their own personal plans,” Aquino said.
In a report, Petilla, a former Leyte governor said to be short-listed in the Liberal Party’s senatorial lineup, admitted he was considering next year’s elections. “I can’t stay in this position forever. Eventually, I have to go,” he said.
“If I am serious about (running), it would be difficult to still be here and make preparations (for my campaign). It would be unfair to use my current position, so I can’t have two (posts) at the same time. The moment you declare (your candidacy), you are already a candidate,” Petilla added.
Bucayu cited his failing health and death threats for quitting the administration, Aquino said.
He had already interviewed Bucayu’s replacement, the President said. “He was actually willing to accept the assignment, but I said, think about it [some] more. He should not think he’d have many allies coming in,” he added.
More Cabinet officials are expected to resign in the next few months, as the period for the filing of candidacy for the 2016 elections starts.
The President has yet to fill up the vacancies in the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the Civil Service Commission, and the Philippine National Police.
Hardest to fill
Aquino said he himself wanted the vacancies filled up immediately, but that he could not settle for just anybody. He added that the energy department and the Department of Agrarian Reform were the hardest posts to fill.
The President explained that it was taking him a long time to appoint a permanent PNP director general because he did not want the appointee to come in amid the mudslinging and investigations that preceded the resignation of PNP chief Alan Purisima.
“I want to know if these [allegations] have any basis or are just demolition jobs,” Aquino said.
“I want to be sure [about] the person I would appoint to a sensitive position especially [with] the coming elections. I believe we should use as much time to pick the right [candidate] rather than rush and regret my choice,” he added.
The President said he has also chosen a candidate to fill up the position of Comelec chair, but that his first choice had begged off. His second choice—a young lawyer—was eager to take on the job, but Aquino said he wanted to be doubly sure that the next Comelec head could withstand the intense pressure of a presidential election.
“I hope I’ll be able to fill [these posts] with competent people who will be there to oversee the remaining months prior to the turnover [after the 2016 elections],” he added.
The President refused to name the possible appointees to the vacancies, but described them as “young and full of vim and vigor.”
“These people want to know who they will try to influence at the earliest possible time,” he said. “And perhaps some of these people will also be tidying up their affairs before they embark on [their] new assignments,” he added.
Based on the experience shared by a recent appointee, the President said the biggest concern of new hires was suddenly being deluged with newfound relatives and friends.
The President said all Cabinet officials wanted to leave public service, but that others were reluctant to take time off even if they had to for health reasons, like Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.
“He [needs] some medical [procedures] done, but keeps postponing these despite the pain he has to go through because of his commitment to the job. But I am also a friend and I asked him to take care of his health,” said the President.
While a number of his Cabinet officials and executives were leaving him, Aquino said in jest that he himself had no plans of resigning as he was looking forward to finishing the last 433 days of his term.
First night home on Times St.
“I’m [already] imagining what it would be like to stay on Times [Street]. On my very first night [at home], what would I do? I am already planning it,” the President said.
Aquino said he was “saddened” by the recent resignation of Customs Chief John Phillip “Sunny” Sevilla, although the latter was quoted as blaming political pressures from some officials who had wanted to appoint someone endorsed by the influential Iglesia ni Cristo. Sevilla also mentioned attempts to use the agency as a “milking cow” for the elections as another reason for leaving the post.
Aquino described Sevilla as a “competent” and “not a politician” who made significant contributions during his 16-month stay at the Bureau of Customs.