The President's 'termite': Duterte's ex-social media strategist gets 3rd gov't post

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 08 2018 10:43 AM

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MANILA - Agriculture Undersecretary Jose Gabriel "Pompee" La Viña on Friday said he continues to enjoy the trust and confidence of President Rodrigo Duterte as he assumes his third government post under this administration.

"Tatlong appointments 'yan, presidential prerogative. That means may trust and confidence siya sa akin. Ganun lang kasimple 'yan. Unless you are intellectually or morally infirm, you will not see the connection," he told ANC's Early Edition.

La Viña, Duterte's chief social media strategist during the 2016 campaign, said he never lobbied for any of the positions given him. He said he wanted to bid public service goodbye after his SSS appointment was not renewed, but the President told him that "he did not believe any of the accusations" against him.

"Those people accusing me of that, whether inside or outside of government, are the ones wading in a cesspool of corruption," he said, adding that he never pocketed a single centavo from public funds during his tenure at any government office.

La Viña was transferred to the Department of Agriculture this week, even as he admitted not heeding Tourism Sec. Bernadette Romulo-Puyat's call for the courtesy resignation of the department’s undersecretaries and assistant secretaries.

A 'TERMITE'

Prior to his appointment to the DA, La Viña was an undersecretary at the Department of Tourism. He was accused of leaking an audit report that questioned the placement of ads in the television show of then-Secretary Wanda Teo's brothers. He denied the allegation, with Teo backing him up. 

"In a very short time, I was called an 'anay' (termite) by Ben Tulfo of Bitag," he said, referring to Teo's brother who was the producer and host of the show that aired on state-owned PTV channel.

"If I were, I wouldn’t say it. But I’m glad to be an 'anay' for this President," he said when asked if he was behind the leaked reports.

La Viña's first appointment was as Social Security System commissioner after the 2016 polls. He allegedly requested for a P16-million budget for a social media project in the government agency, but he denied this.

"I was the chair of media affairs committee and I advocated for a strong social media program for SSS…They didn’t want that because they were giving away contracts without bidding," he told ANC. 

In January, La Viña filed administrative complaints against 21 SSS officials before the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly anomalous media contracts. He also accused several SSS officials of insider trading.

La Viña’s appointment as commissioner was not renewed in February, along with then SSS chairman Amado Valdez. A Palace spokesman said President Duterte felt the SSS would be more efficient without infighting among its officials. 

NEW TASKS AT AGRI DEPT

As undersecretary, La Viña said he will ask Agriculture Department chief Emmanuel Piñol to assign him to the areas in their department where the chief was most "frustrated." He said his understanding was that he would be replacing Romulo-Puyat in the DA.

Romulo-Puyat was Undersecretary for Administration, Agribusiness and Marketing, and Regional Engagement before she was appointed to the tourism department.

Asked what he would like to focus on as an agriculture undersecretary, La Viña said: "I would like to help as many poor farmers as I can."

La Viña said he believes there are 2 major problems in agriculture, both of which are "holy grail" in the industry.

"We have very low productivity and that’s productivity defined as how much money can a hectare of land produce. We’re very low compared to our neighbors," he said.

"There’s an unjust structure there—the way the profits are divided in the value chain, not the fault of anyone in particular, but the way it’s divided right now, the access to capital, transportation, the farmers are getting the smallest share," he added.