Duterte’s Cabinet a year later: Who remain, who have gone out of mixed bag
At the center of President Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency are the men behind him in calling the shots, helping him decide on every small detail that has to be settled, and ensuring that his programs and policies are carried out.
During the elections, seven men were pivotal in helping the then controversial mayor in ensuring he wins the race to Malacañang.
BACKSTORY: Who’s who in Duterte’s inner circle
But a year after his landslide victory, who remained and who were fired?
At the start of his term, Duterte promised to get only “the best and brightest” for his Cabinet. A year after, his Cabinet became a mix of friends, political allies, military men, campaign supporters and left-leaning individuals.
Christopher “Bong” Go remains to be the most trusted aide of Duterte who manages his personal and political affairs.
Beyond being dubbed as a national photobomber, nothing happens in the day to day activities of Duterte that Go does not know about as he described himself as the all-around “utility man” of the President.
Aside from Go, Duterte has appointed his childhood friend Salvador Medialdea as his executive secretary and his national campaign manager and former rebel priest Leoncio “Jun” Evasco as Secretary to the Cabinet.
He gave the finance portfolio to another childhood friend and class valedictorian Carlos “Sonny” Domiguez III while his San Beda law school classmate Arthur Tugade was appointed as transportation secretary.
The President has also appointed former chief of staffs and ex-military men to his cabinet. This includes Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Local Government Secretary Eduardo Ano, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, and National Irrigation Authority (NIA) administrator Ricardo Visaya.
An Inquirer report said Duterte hired 59 former military and police officials to hold various positions in the government.
But aside from the military, the President has also appointed leftist members to his Cabinet, which include Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano.
The President also made controversial appointment like the appointment of former sexy starlet-turned-formidable pro-Duterte blogger Mocha Uson who bagged a powerful position in government as assistant secretary for social media of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).
“The members of the Cabinet are men and women of competence and integrity. They may have come from different backgrounds but they share a common passion for service to the nation to usher in the great change the President wants for the nation,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella told INQUIRER.net in an interview.
Asked about the apparent militarization in the Cabinet, Abella said Duterte wanted disciplined men and most of them he said were military men.
“The President has never made secret his intention of putting disciplined and focused men and women of integrity in the bureaucracy—regardless of their background. He is after people who are efficient, people who are not corrupt, people who will do things according to what they have been commissioned to do. Many of them incidentally are men uniform,” he said.
Where are the best and brightest?
Political analyst Maria Fe Villamejor-Mendoza, professor at the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG), weighed in on Duterte’s appointees.
She said Duterte’s Cabinet appointees have five classifications—those from Davao, from Mindanao, from San Beda, his supporter, and if you are good.
She commended the President’s economic team, which she described as “experts in their own fields.”
“Sad to say, hindi marami and prominent ‘yung best and the brightest (the best and the brightest are not that many and prominent),” she said.
The President, he said, should have a “more holistic evaluation of the qualifications” of his appointees.
On the issue of the apparent militarization of the Cabinet, Mendoza said Duterte wanted more military men in his cabinet because of his campaign on drugs and criminality.
“He wanted military men to be in his Cabinet in order to be more safe and he is more confident that his campaign against criminality maybe more successful,” she said.
He explained that appointing military men in the Cabinet was not unique to Duterte. Former Presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Fidel Ramos also named military men as government executives.
She said Duterte’s appointing of former and current military officials in his Cabinet was a “symbolism.”
“If you have more military in government, the military hierarchy will follow him. Because the culture in military is they look up to the seniors and the officials. So parang ang ano niya, o andito na ‘yung mga officials niyo sa akin so dapat, susunod kayo sa akin (So, he is like telling the military that ‘you’re officials are with me, then you must obey me’),” she said.
Mendoza said Duterte believed that the military discipline could influence the civilian appointees in his Cabinet.
“Pero bakit, kailangan ba ‘yun (Why, is that necessary)?” she said. But she added that the Constitution does not limit how many military appointees in the government.
She, however, said she was “uncomfortable” having too many military in the Cabinet.
“The problems of government today are beyond military solution. So you would need people who are more holistic and who are more competent in so many ways. Kaya medyo may problema kung akala niya ang (there’s a problem if he thinks) criminality will be solved only by having discipline ‘yung mga ganun (and things like that),” she said.
No sacred cows
In his inaugural speech, Duterte said he had “seen how corruption bled the government of funds, which were allocated for the use in uplifting the poor from the mire that they are in.”
“Even a whiff, or a whisper, of corruption and you’re out,” Duterte warned government officials barely a week before he assumed the presidency in July last year.
In another speech in his hometown Davao City in September 2016, again threatened corrupt public officials.
“Stop that. I will really skin you alive,” he said.
Indeed, Duterte was unforgiving when it comes to corruption allegations that even his longtime allies and closest aides were fired from the Cabinet.
Peter Laviña, who served as spokesman for Duterte during the 2016 national elections, was fired in February following corruption allegations at the NIA. Laviña allegedly received 40 percent kickbacks from contractors.
Prior to serving as NIA administrator and campaign spokesman, he also served as Duterte’s aide before becoming a Davao City councilor.
The President, in an interview in Cebu City, admitted he was hurt firing Laviña.
This was followed by Duterte’s sacking of former Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno in April due to corruption allegations over the irregular purchase of the Rosenbauer firetrucks from Austria.
Sueno said Duterte may have been misinformed but the President was firm in his decision.
“I’m a lawyer and I know what I am doing,” the chief executive said in an interview in Palawan.
Duterte had succeeded Sueno, a former South Cotabato Governor, as the chairman of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP-Laban).
Even Duterte’s fraternity brothers at Lex Talionis were not spared from his firing spree.
The President fired Michael B. Robles and Al C. Argosino, associate commissioners at the Bureau of Immigration (BI), after allegedly extorting money from Chinese gaming tycoon Jack Lam.
Both Robles and Argosino were members of Duterte’s campaign legal team.
Duterte has been vocal in his disgust over corrupt officials that he even berate his Cabinet members allegedly involved in corruption during Cabinet meetings.
Abella explained that the firing of government officials close to the President were a proof Duterte was serious in his anti-corruption campaign.
“There are no sacred cows in the Duterte administration. All Cabinet members know that even a whiff of corruption, you are out,” Abella said.
For Mendoza, Duterte was simply “sending a message that he wanted a clean government.”
While all the Cabinet officials serve at the pleasure of the President, sometimes the information received by Duterte was not balanced.
She cited the case of Sueno who was fired but was not given due process.
“He was not given a day in court,” she said. “Kung sino lang y’ung malakas mag-feedback, ‘yun lang yung nakikita niya (He only sees those who give feedback often).”
Controversial Cabinet members
The first year of the Duterte administration went rough for some of his Cabinet officials.
In March, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. was rejected by the powerful Commission on Appointments amid questions about his citizenship.
Yasay was the first Duterte appointee whose appointment was rejected by the CA.
Former environment secretary Regina “Gina” Lopez also faced heavy opposition from CA members following her controversial crackdown on mining firms in the country.
Duterte then said that he stood by Lopez but also made clear that he would not intervene in the decision of the CA regarding the fate of his Cabinet nominees.
Aside from Yasay and Lopez whose nominations were rejected, the appointment of Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano and health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell Ubial remained in limbo after the CA also bypassed their nominations.
The resignation of Vice President Ma. Leonor “Leni’ Robredo from his cabinet post was another big issue that rocked the administration.
Robredo resigned from the Cabinet just 150 days after she took her oath as chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC). She was earlier asked by Duterte to stop attending Cabinet meetings.
“We have a President who has a vision for the country and would not tolerate opposition,” Mendoza said.
Robredo has been vocal about her opposition in some policies of Duterte.
“(Duterte) has low tolerance for opposition. If he set his mind ‘yun na ‘yun (then that’s it),” she said.
The President, she said, has the tendency to stick to only what he believed.
“Duterte will not settle for anything less of what he earlier preconceived,” she said.
But Mendoza said Cabinet officials “are not a puppet.”
“They have their mind of their own and he should welcome independent minds. That would be for the advantage of the administration and for the good of the county,” she said.
“Kasi kung pare-pareho sila ng pag-iisip tapos palpak sila e di pare-parehong palpak ‘yun (Because if they think the same way, and they fail, then they will all fail). We need alternative views and opposition,” she said. “Healthy contradiction will be more useful to the country and to him.”
Mendoza said Duterte “should transform himself from a mayor to a President.”
“Many of his decisions, parang he hasn’t transformed to be the President of the country,” she said.
“He’s a good mayor trying to be a President but he has not succeeded yet to become the President of the country. But he is trying and we hope that he becomes the President that he is,” she added.
But despite these circumstances, Abella said Duterte was still “satisfied” with his Cabinet members.
“The President is satisfied with the overall performance of his Cabinet unless he says otherwise,” he said. IDL