Aquino taps seasoned execs for Cabinet
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED)- A combination of seasoned government officials and names from the private sector are expected to be part of President-elect Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III's Cabinet.
The list of the incoming Cabinet officials, which has been the subject of speculation over the past few weeks, will be released on Tuesday, the eve of the Aquino inaugural.
Interviewed after a briefing by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Camp Aguinaldo, Aquino said he may temporarily serve as concurrent secretary of a government agency as some of the candidates are still weighing whether to join the new government.
“I might be taking one of the Cabinet portfolios in the interim. We are still doing background checks on a very important department which up to now has two candidates. There should be one (secretary). There is no clear choice,” said Aquino.
“Some of the Cabinet members have agreed and some are having second thoughts. They could not leave the institution where they belong so we are scrambling just to fill it up,” he said.
If they do not join the government, Aquino said some of them may help him "in a private sector capacity.”
Aquino is also reportedly still mulling who to appoint to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). He initially wanted Ramon Magsaysay awardee and Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo, but Vice-President-elect Jejomar Binay also expressed his desire to head the department.
For the Department of Health (DOH). Aquino is still choosing among former Health Secretaries Alberto Romualdez, Jaime Galvez Tan, and current Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral.
Galvez Tan served under President Ramos while Romualdez was health chief of the Estrada administration.
All Cabinet officials will take their oaths on Wednesday after Aquino's inaugural.
They will also have their first Cabinet meeting after being sworn in.
For the most part, the list of Cabinet members has been kept a secret. However, some of those mentioned have already accepted the offers.
Corazon "Dinky" Soliman will return to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
One of outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's longest-serving Cabinet members, Alberto Romulo, a long-time ally and supporter of the Aquino family, will stay in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
De La Salle Brother Armin Luistro will head the Department of Education.
Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa Jr. is the incoming executive secretary.
Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima is expected to head the justice department.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) will be involved in any investigation into allegations of corruption against President Arroyo and her administration, as well as cases such as the election-related massacre of at least 57 people on Mindanao last year.
"At least the justice secretary can be his partner in pursuing some of the initiatives he wants to take. The president and his new Cabinet are very encouraging signs," Ramon del Rosario, a former finance secretary and head of the lobby group Makati Business Club, told Reuters.
Aquino's Presidential legal counsel will be Ed de Mesa.
More confirmed appointees
Sources in the Aquino camp gave ABS-CBN News more names on the list.
Former Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima will return to the Department of Finance.
Aquino campaign manager and former Batanes Rep. Florencio "Butch" Abad will become budget secretary.
Alberto "Bertie" Lim, executive director of the influential Makati Business Club (MBC), will be appointed secretary of Department of Tourism (DOT).
Lim was president of Ten Knots Development Corporation, owners and managers of El Nido resorts, before he became executive director of the MBC in 2006.
Ex-PSG chief to DND
Former Philippine Army commanding general and former Presidential Security Guard (PSG) chief during the Cory Aquino administration, Voltaire Gazmin, will be the secretary of the Department of National Defense (DND).
Gazmin was with Aquino on Monday in Camp Aguinaldo where he was briefed by the military leadership on various issues, including threat groups.
Aquino also rehearsed for the military the honors that will be provided him by the military at the Quirino Grandstand on Wednesday.
Aquino's Senate chief of staff Julia Abad, daughter of Butch Abad, will head the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) office.
Maynilad Water Services, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rogelio "Babes" L. Singson will be the secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
Singson joined Maynilad after its reprivatization in 2007 under new owners, DMCI-Metro Pacific Consortium.
Prior to joining the country’s largest water concessionaire, Singson was the chairman and president of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA).
He was also involved in the conceptualization and implementation of the country's biggest property privatization—Fort Bonifacio.
He also helped monitor foreign-assisted Official Development Assistance (ODA) projects during the transition from the Marcos government to the first Aquino administration.
Trade, energy, agriculture
Former Trade Undersecretary Gregory Domingo will handle the trade and industry portfolio for a year until Aquino's defeated running mate, Senator Mar Roxas can take over.
For the Department of Energy, Aquino is tapping Manila Water Co. President Jose Rene Almendras.
Before joining the Ayala Group, Almendras was treasurer of Aboitiz & Co., and Aboitiz Equity Ventures. The Aboitiz Group has been involved in the country's power sector since the 1930s.
Aquino is reportedly considering two names for the Department of Agriculture: Dr. Aris Alip and Quezon 2nd district Congressman Proceso Alcala.
Alip, a former staff member of the Philippine Business for Social Progress, founded the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually Reinforcing Institutions. He promoted micro-financing in rural areas similar to the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.
Alcala, on the other hand, established a foundation for farmers and fishermen in Quezon province.
Reducing budget deficit
Former Bureau of Internal Revenue official Kim Henares will head the BIR while Guillermo Parayno Jr. will return to the Bureau of Customs.
Outgoing Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said he met with Purisima on Monday and talked about how to reduce a budget deficit expected to be around 3.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) this year.
"We talked about the general situation on fiscal sector and what needs to be done. But Mr. Purisima was there as a member of the transition team because we're not sure if he already has the appointment paper," Teves told reporters.
Aquino's Cabinet appointments are seen as an indicator of policy priorities as he faces a large budget deficit, a need to rebuild investor and public confidence in institutions and governance, reduce poverty and resolve long-running insurgencies.
"We may expect more dramatic approaches in the fight against corruption in the next 18 months as Noynoy will focus more time, energy and resources into it," said Earl Parreño of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, using Aquino's nickname.
"But what I am really afraid of is that this anti-corruption agenda would end up as a big government propaganda, because it's really difficult to get it off the ground due to our slow and problematic justice system," Parreño added.
Aquino has promised a break from the allegations of corruption that dogged the previous two administrations, and his family's reputation for honesty was a factor in his big win.
Purisima, Abad, Soliman and Teresita Quintos-Deles were among the "Hyatt 10", members of Arroyo's Cabinet who resigned in 2005 over allegations she was involved in electoral fraud in the 2004 polls.
When asked who will be his first chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Aquino said: “You will know it tomorrow.”
The next AFP chief will reportedly either be Northern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo David or Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer. Both are graduates of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1977.
The current AFP chief, Lt. Gen. Nestor Ochoa, also a graduate of PMA Class '77, is serving in an acting capacity.
Aquino said he was informed by the military that there are “glitches or hitches” in the preparations for the inauguration.
“Everything is going very, very smoothly. The inaugural speech is very, very important and I want to be able to convey all the messages in the clearest manner possible," he said.
Aquino also said he mentioned a number of “areas of concern” in the military, “what we want to see in changes in the way the AFP is serving the people.” -- reports from Ces Oreña Drilon, ABS-CBN News; Manny Mogato, Reuters