MANILA, Philippines - The non-appearance of Cabinet members at a Senate investigation on former Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno was a decision of President Benigno Aquino III himself.
This was revealed by Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, who was summoned in the probe along with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, incoming DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and other Cabinet officials.
Paje made the revelation after Santiago gave her letter to Senator Vicente Sotto III, informing him of her plan to veto Roxas’ confirmation on Wednesday, September 19.
In her letter, Santiago said she has “nothing personal” against Roxas, whom she considers as “more than qualified in honesty, competence and efficiency.”
Still, she said she will have to make good an earlier announcement that “I shall oppose the confirmation of any Cabinet member whom I invited to the Rico Puno hearing but who all declined to appear.”
She said she only wants to stand by the principle of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches.
Paje explained their non-appearance was unfortunate, but they have to abide by a directive. “Kami’y susunod lang. Di sinasadya. I was trying to re-schedule (my appointments) but there was an executive decision to make a query first.”
Paje clarified that this does not mean they will snub future hearings. “There was an executive decision to make queries first. Di sinabing hindi a-attend. That was the decision at that time. There was an executive decision to make queries before attending.”
Drilon to the rescue
Senator Franklin Drilon, an Aquino ally, helped Paje make the clarifications.
Drilon said Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. wrote Senator Santiago to ask for questions in advance, the validity of which Santiago disputed because it supposedly applies only to the privilege hour of the Senate.
Drilon, for his part, urged the Commission on Appointments to already confirm Paje’s position.
Paje was at the Senate today for the hearing on the agency’s 2013 national budget proposal.
Asked about the country’s garbage problem, Paje reported that about 800 tons of Metro Manila’s garbage is uncollected and makes its way to Manila Bay. About 10,000 tons of the 37,000 tons of garbage generated daily are not collected.
He said this has a great impact on the flooding.
Paje also reported to the panel that Metro Manila’s water concessionaires, Manila Water and Maynilad Inc., do not comply with the Clean Water Act requirement of wastewater treatment before being discharged into the Pasig River.
He said the enforcement of penalties, worth around P246 million, is now pending with the Supreme Court.
Paje was also asked about reports of a Cabinet revamp, which he outright dispelled.
He said Cabinet members serve at the pleasure of the President, but he has not been informed of any changes in the President’s official family. “Wala pang sinasabi. We’re not aware of any revamp.”
On Monday, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad Jr. told ABS-CBN News that there may be no basis for a revamp now.
“I am not aware of any Cabinet member running for the Senate in the 2013 elections so that should preclude any Cabinet reshuffle. The only cabinet change so far is due to the death of DILG Sec. Jesse Robredo,” he said.