MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino is set to appoint Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel Roxas II as the next chief of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), replacing Jesse Robredo who died in a plane crash last Aug. 18, reliable sources said yesterday.
To take over Roxas’ post at the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) is Liberal Party colleague Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya, sources also said.
The sources said the President himself called Roxas yesterday morning to tell him about his decision.
They said Roxas had been Aquino’s first choice all along as Robredo’s replacement.
Abaya had also been informed of Aquino’s decision but had not yet met with the President as of press time yesterday.
According to sources, the President wants Roxas to take over Robredo’s post because the DOTC chief has the capability and integrity to continue the reforms in the DILG.
Like Robredo, Roxas has never been involved in anomalies, sources said.
“It’s easy to make money in DOTC,” one of the sources said.
They said Abaya was “like-minded” and could be trusted to carry out reforms.
“We need someone with integrity. Jun (Abaya) has the credentials, even on the technical aspect. Honest people who will push for reforms, (we need people) on the same page,” one of the sources said.
They said there was no lobbying from the LP, headed by Roxas and the President himself, since it was Aquino who had the final say anyway.
Roxas was appointed to the DOTC in June 2011 after the resignation of Jose de Jesus.
Roxas was originally being groomed as Aquino’s chief of staff.
Abaya is currently the LP secretary-general and earlier reports said Roxas was pushing for the appointment of the Cavite congressman to the top DILG post.
Roxas and LP were also said to have backed Robredo’s appointment as DILG chief.
Roxas is seen as the LP’s presidential candidate in 2016.
Roxas’ perceived opponent, Vice President Jejomar Binay, also the current housing czar, was reported to be interested in the DILG post but he denied this.
At present, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. is officer-in-charge of DILG.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson was considered a shoo-in for Robredo’s post, being a close friend of the President. But the former police chief is not an LP member and the midterm elections are drawing near, sources said.
An unimpeachable source revealed that Aquino had to remove Lacson from the list of candidates for the DILG post because the LP has to strengthen its hold in the grassroots level or in local government units.
“Lacson was among the DILG candidates, but LGUs have to be strengthened,” the source said.
“That (DILG post) has been reserved for LP. There’s nothing we can do about that,” the source explained.
A party source said the Wednesday meeting among LP leaders had turned out to be an occasion to push for Roxas’ takeover of the DILG and for Abaya’s assuming the top DOTC post.
Another source said LP officials are wary of an outsider taking over DILG, because the Aquino administration might lose its support from LGUs.
“It’s not about the presidential ambition of Roxas, it’s about the need to further strengthen the hold of the ruling LP in the local government arena in time for the 2013 elections,” the source said.
Abaya, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, is a retired naval officer of the Philippine Navy who graduated from the US Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, Maryland with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. He obtained his law degree from Ateneo de Manila University in 2005 and was admitted to the Bar in 2007. He is also an engineering graduate from the University of the Philippines, and has a master’s in electrical engineering from Cornell University in New York, and topped the entrance examinations at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) before going to the USNA. He served as aide de camp of the late President Cory Aquino.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone and House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said LP members considered for the top DILG post were all qualified for the job.
“The LP is the ruling party so it is logical and right to appoint someone from the ranks,” Gonzales said.
Evardone said earlier Roxas and Abaya were among the most qualified to head the DILG.
“I think the President must not be pressured in making appointments,” he said.
“Anyone of them can be a good DILG secretary,” Mindoro Oriental Gov. Alfonso Umali, an LP member and president of the League of Provinces, said, referring to Roxas and Abaya and three other LP members considered for the job.
The three others were Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, and former Isabela governor Grace Padaca.
Umali said the five were “excellent choices.” Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda earlier said Aquino had not discussed his choice for Robredo’s replacement with any of his officials.
He said a new DILG chief would be named before Aquino’s departure for Russia on Sept.7 to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
He stressed that what’s important is for the next DILG chief to “continue to do the reforms and implement reforms that the President has envisioned for local governance and the police, and that’s his main consideration.”
Earlier yesterday, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara Jr. said it is important for the next DILG chief to have experience in local governance.
“I prefer someone with experience in local governance,” Angara told reporters after delivering a speech on the occasion of 162nd birthday of Marcelo H. del Pilar.
He stressed he is not endorsing anyone for the position.
Meanwhile, it’s back to normal at the DILG two days after Robredo’s burial.
“We’re back to normal,” said Undersecretary Austere Panadero. “Secretary Robredo will be an inspiration not only to us but to everybody.” – With Dino Balabo, Paolo Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe