MANILA, Philippines – Placed "under evaluation" by President Benigno Aquino III and bypassed twice by the Commission on Appointments (CA), former Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo died before he could be confirmed as secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
National and local realpolitik played key roles in the delay of his confirmation.
President Aquino held the interior and local government portfolio before naming Robredo as "acting" DILG head in July 2010.
In September the same year, however, the Palace did not seek the confirmation of Robredo and 2 others -- Ramon Paje of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Rosalinda Baldoz of the Department of Labor and Employment -- before the Commission on Appointments, according to a Vera Files report.
Vera Files' sources said the President and Robredo, although allies, had differences that surfaced during Aquino's election campaign.
Aquino later admitted this, telling Palace reporters that he first wants to make sure that he can get along with Robredo, who was in an "evaluation period."
“There are various reasons kung bakit acting. In the case of Jesse, we had some differences during the campaign as to style. We want to make sure we can really work with each other well. It does no good to get him through the whole process of the CA only at the end of the day to find out that there might be difficulties in our working style, among others, our core philosophy, so we did agree na acting na muna,” Aquino said.
“May evaluation period, siguro check ang working style, after two months sigurado na tayo, we still have certain things discussed,” he added. “Dadalawang buwan pa lang kami nagkakasubukan kung talaga nga bang kaya naming mag-mesh.”
Asked about cases of Robredo, Baldoz, and Paje, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said he was not aware why the President appointed them as "acting" Cabinet secretaries.
“Hindi ko alam ano ang katwiran kung bakit sila acting but hindi naman siguro ibig sabihin they are under probation. For all intents and purposes, they have the same powers as an ad interim-appointed secretary,” Lacierda told Palace reporters.
Balay, Samar factions
Robredo was also allegedly caught in the middle of the power play between the "Balay" and "Samar" factions in the Palace early in the Aquino administration, according to Vera Files.
At that time, Robredo did not enjoy the full authority of a DILG secretary, with Aquino retaining direct supervision on the Philippine National Police.
During the August 23, 2010 hostage-taking crisis at the Quirino Grandstand, for example, Robredo said he was "out of the loop" in handling the incident.
It was Undersecretary for Peace and Order Rico Puno, a close friend of Aquino and fellow gun enthusiast, who was receiving "verbal instructions from the President to oversee the PNP."
Sen. Francis Escudero, a member of the Senate panel to the CA, raised concerns regarding the issue.
He said he was confused why the Palace divided the DILG's responsibilities between Robredo and Puno.
“Wala naman sa batas ang hatiang tulad niyan,” he said. “Ang kalihim ay kalihim ng buong departamento.”
'Save Robredo campaign'
The situation prompted hundreds of former campaign volunteers of Aquino to launch a campaign to "save Robredo."
They launched an online campaign to persuade Aquino to submit the Ramon Magsaysay awardee’s name to the CA and pressure the commission into confirming the former mayor of Naga City.
Robredo only shrugged off the uncertainties regarding his position in the Aquino administration.
“Ulitin ko lang, ako po nung inatasan magtrabaho, ang aking konsiderasyon ay yung kontribusyon at magagawa ko (para sa DILG). Hindi po kapangyarihan or turf (ang habol ko sa posisyon na ito). Sa akin ay kung ano yung kakayahan na magagawa ko dito sa posisyon na ito,” he told radio DZMM.
“That’s the least of my concerns. Hindi po ganyan ang aking pananaw sa trabaho,” he added.
He served as acting interior secretary for more than a year before Aquino issued an ad interim appointment for Robredo on June 13, 2011.
It meant that Robredo finally had reins of the PNP aside from local governments.
It also meant the Palace had to submit his name to the CA for confirmation.
Getting confirmed by the CA, however, was another matter altogether.
Robredo was bypassed twice by the CA, once in March and again in June this year.
CA members did not explain why he and 4 other officials -- Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, and Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez -- were not confirmed.
In Robredo's case, 2 local politicians in Bicol where he hails reportedly blocked his appointment.
According to online regional publication Vox Bikol, former Naga City councilor Luis Ortega filed with the CA a written opposition to Robredo's confirmation.
Ortega, a political rival of Robredo, claimed that the former Naga City mayor had pending graft cases and should not be given any position in the national government.
Vox Bikol said another politician and CA member, Camarines Sur 3rd district Rep. Luis Villafuerte Sr. wanted Robredo to explain to the commission the graft cases he faced.
In June, House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez urged the Aquino administration not to reappoint Robredo and other Cabinet members who have been bypassed by the bicameral CA.
Suarez said appointees sometimes fail to hurdle the CA because of "conflicts" with its members and not necessarily because of an official's abilities.
"So hindi tinitignan iyong issue ng capability, the credibility, the capacity to perform as a Secretary hindi nakikita kasi kagalit noong isang Senador o Congressman. Alam naman ninyo pag isang senador at congressman ang tumutol sa iyo talaga namang isi-section 20 ka niyan talagang hindi ka na mako-confirm,” he said.
Robredo would die in a plane crash without being confirmed as DILG secretary.
Golez: CA 'deprived of the honor'
Rep. Roilo Golez, vice-chairman of the CA, said on Twitter Tuesday after Robredo's body was found that the commission was set to confirm him as DILG chief.
"In fact I talked to (Secretary) Robredo last Tues (and) assured him of CA support. We were deprived (of the) honor of confirming one of the best in (the) Cabinet," he said.
He claimed that the CA was allegedly scheduled to confirm Robredo last August 15, but had to postpone the event because of the necrological services for the late Rep. Salvador Escudero.
"Rest in peace, Secretary Jesse Robredo. You served your country and your people well. Your place is secure in the history of public service," Golez said.
He has yet to explain why Robredo was bypassed twice and say who blocked his confirmation.
CA chairman and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile also has yet to explain the delay in Robredo's confirmation.
His office only issued a brief statement on the Robredo's death, saying he "deeply mourns the untimely demise" of the DILG chief and extended his condolences to his family.
"Robredo epitomized genuine commitment to reform and dedication to duty both as DILG Secretary and as Mayor of Naga City for 18 years. He will be greatly missed," Enrile said.
"I join the rest of the nation in grieving over the passing of a well-loved public servant and urge the national government to extend full state honors for him in grateful recognition of his services to the country," he said.
The officials and members of the CA in the 15th Congress are Enrile (chairman), Golez (vice-chairman), House Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Antonino, Senate Minority Floor Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Senator Franklin Drilon, Rep. Rosendo Labadlabad, Senator Joker Arroyo, Rep. Simeon Datumanong, Senator Edgardo Angara, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, Senator Francis Escudero, Senator Panfilo Lacson, Senator Sergio Osmeña III, Senator Ralph Recto, Senator Loren Legarda, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Senator Tito Sotto, Rep. Antonio Alvarez, Rep. Eduardo Gullas, Rep. Antonio del Rosario, Rep. Rex Gatchalian, Rep. Erineo Maliksi, Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, Rep. Pedro Romualdo, and Villafuerte.
One member of the CA, Senator Lacson, is expected to join the Aquino Cabinet after his term ends next year.
Lacson was allegedly being groomed as DILG secretary even before Robredo died.
The Palace has not confirmed the rumor.