MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte has drawn flak from lawmakers for “recycling” appointees like Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapena and Maritime Industry Authority Administrator Rey Leonardo Guerrero.
Lapena, who is under fire over illegal drugs that slipped past Customs under his watch, was named Director General of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority. He will be replaced by Guerrero.
In a statement, ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said reassigning Lapeña to TESDA was meant to insulate him from possible charges due to the shabu smuggling controversy.
“President Duterte's recycling of Customs chief Lapeña to TESDA is meant to put an end to further investigation into the smuggling of Php 11 billion worth of shabu and insulate the latter from possible charges. Once again, the President is engaging in theatrics rather than in actually rooting out corruption and stemming the flow of illegal drugs from abroad," he said.
Tinio noted that the Congressional investigations show the links between officials of the Bureau of Customs and PDEA and the foreign drug syndicates behind the importation of massive amounts of shabu.
"The President responds by reshuffling his deck of retired military officers while refusing to hold anyone accountable. It's becoming clear that Duterte's vaunted war on drugs is a scam meant to protect the drug smugglers at the cost of the lives of thousands of drug users," he added.
ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, in a separate statement, said Lapeña's transfer to TESDA is similar to being given a reward for a "job well done."
“Una dapat kasuhan si Lapena sa pagiging incompetent at seemingly.. pagpapabaya sa tungkulin. Pangalawa mukhang binigyan pa ng reward si Lapena sa" job well done," he said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the transfers also show Duterte's militarization of the bureaucracy.
"Guerrero would be the 61st military appointee to the civil government and strengthens the de facto military junta now in placed in the country," said the progressive solon.
"Having no proven competence nor knowledge on the agencies they are assigned in, these former military men just follow orders from the top. Yet, they just remain silent when corruption is exposed in their department then they are reassigned to another agency like what happened to Faeldon and Lapena," Zarate added.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano also said merely transferring officials to other agencies encourages corruption in government.
"This increasingly shows that the war on drugs is fake and a sham. Papaano magiging makatotohanan ang war on drugs kung hinahayaan naman ang pagpapalusot ng tone-toneladang shabu?" he said.
The president's allies, on the other hand, came to the defense of his appointments.
AKO Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe, said Guerrero "will handle Customs well and that the public should trust Duterte's "good judgment."
House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, herself known for giving positions to retired military men when she was chief executive, insisted Duterte knows what he is doing.
"Let me just say that I've been president and I know more or less that the President has to consider so many things when he makes his decision so I'm not going to be a part of the peanut gallery making comments on his actions. As I've said I'm not going to make any comments because the President knows what he's doing," she said.
Arroyo agreed with Duterte’s decision to appoint military men which she said was an advantage.
“They are literally good soldiers that's why," she added.
'NOT A VERY GOOD TREND'
Meanwhile, University of the Philippines political science Professor Ranjit Rye believes the president should widen his pool of choices for his official family.
He also believes Lapena "should not have been appointed."
“Recycling of government officials has now become trend under the Duterte administration and its not a very good trend. It crowds out all those other more competent members of the bureaucracy and civil society who can take over this top management job," he said.