Mix of old, new faces in Aquino Cabinet

Posted at 06/29/10 5:22 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A mix of old and new faces were named to the Cabinet of President-elect Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, with Aquino himself taking over the portfolio of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), at least, until next week.

Aquino said some of those appointed to his Cabinet had to get significant pay cuts just to be able to serve in the new administration. He said he asked the new Cabinet officials to serve in his new family for a minimum of 2 years but added that he expects them to stay at their posts for at least a year.

The president-elect said he is eyeing 3 people for the important DILG portfolio but declined to identify them.

He added that he did not offer the post to Vice-President Jejomar Binay despite the latter's initial statement that he preferred the post. Binay later said he did not ask for the Cabinet position and declined offers from Aquino to join his official family.

The new Cabinet appointments confirmed earlier reports on who will join the President-elect's official family.

Confirmed names

Among those named were Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa Jr.  as executive secretary; Edwin Lacierda as presidential spokesman; Corazon "Dinky" Soliman as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development; Cesar Purisima as secretary of the Department of Finance; Leila de Lima as secretary of the Department of Justice; De La Salle University President Rev. Armin Luistro as secretary of the Department of Education; and, Teresita Quintos-Deles as presidential adviser on the peace process. (Click here for list.)

Aquino said he chose Ochoa as his executive secretary because their relationship stretches back on a second generation basis, noting that their parents were allies in the Liberal Party.

"He has given me the most sound advice on so many matters pertaining to my work as a legislator. I am very confident that his role as the guardian of my pack, he is more than qualified," he said.

The President-elect said the credentials of some of the new appointees such as Purisima, Soliman and Deles "speak for themselves."

Purisima is a former finance chief while Soliman and Deles are both members of the so-called "Hyatt 10" government officials who bolted from the Arroyo administration at the height of the "Hello, Garci" wire tapping scandal in July 2005. 

Senior Cabinet member

Aquino said he asked Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, a long-time family friend and supporter of the Aquinos, to remain at his post. "We are very fortunate to have him as a senior member of the Cabinet," he told reporters.

Romulo was the late former President Corazon Aquino's budget minister before he ran and won a seat in the Senate in 1987. He was the first Arroyo Cabinet member to express his support for the younger Aquino's presidential bid last year.

He said he chose de Lima for the DOJ post because everyone is "very familiar with the quality of her work."

"We are very fortunate to get her to consent to carrying the burden primarily for judicial reform in our country," he said.

Aquino named former Philippine Army commanding general and former Presidential Security Guard (PSG) chief Voltaire Gazmin as secretary of the Department of National Defense (DND).

"He is one of the key people in giving me the opportunity to be present before you because he took good care of us during the numerous coup attempts during my mom's incumbency," he said.

Father-daughter team in Aquino Cabinet

The President-elect also chose the father-daughter team of former education chief, Florencio Abad, and his daughter, Julia, to join his official family.

Aquino appointed the older Abad to the Department of Budget and Management, which he described as a very important position.

"The budget is the enabler for all policy decisions. He is the best person to assist us in judiciously spending the people's funds," he said.

On the other hand, he chose the younger Abad to serve as director-general of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS). He said that as his chief of staff for the past number of years, "(Abad) has my absolute trust."

New faces

There were a few surprises in the naming of the new Aquino Cabinet members.

Aquino named Dr. Enrique Ona, currently executive director of the National Kidney and Transplantation Institute (NKTI), as the new secretary of the Department of Health. He said he chose Ona because he saw in the NKTI director the potential to become a complete alter ego in the health sector.

"He [Ona] has been instructed to expediting universal coverage of PhilHealth, which is one of our campaign promises," he said.

Aquino also chose engineer Mario Montejo of the UP College of Engineering as secretary of the Department of Science and Technology.

He described Montejo as "a man of many titles," and said the new DOST chief is among a group of academicians who translate all their scientific studies into practical and applied technology for Filipinos.

The president-elect also chose Miriam College president Dr. Patricia Licuanan as chairman of the Commission on  Higher Education (CHED).

He said that under Licuanan, he expects CHED to do its job as an overseer of the country's higher education institutions, and crack down on "fly-by-night" nursing schools that have yet to produce a single board-passer.

Aquino said he chose a close friend, Manila Water Co. president Jose Rene D. Almendras, to head the Department of Energy.

He said he specifically chose a DOE secretary who is currently not part of the industry because "there will be many dealings with the energy industry and we would not want to fall into a trap of regulatory capture."

Old faces from Aquino gov't

Some of the new Cabinet officials are old faces from the term of President Cory Aquino.

Current Meralco president and former Aquino public works secretary Jose "Ping" de Jesus was appointed secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications.

In the press conference, Aquino described de Jesus as "one of the most hardworking members of my mother's Cabinet."

"As DPWH secretary, he slept 3 hours a day to ensure government projects are done on a timely and a correct manner...His first assignment is to make sure he sleeps more than 3 hours a day," he said.

"[De Jesus] is a work-driven individual who will oversee the transformation of the DOTC, characterized by the NBN-ZTE deal, into an agency that truly serves the interest of the people," he added, referring to the botched P329 million national broadband network deal with China's ZTE Corp.

For the Department of Public Works and Highways portfolio, Aquino chose Maynilad Water Services, Inc. president and CEO Rogelio "Babes" L. Singson as secretary.

Singson, a former chairman and president of the Bases Conversion Development Authority, helped monitor foreign-assisted Official Development Assistance (ODA) projects during the transition from the Marcos government to the Cory government.

Finally, Aquino chose Ramon Paje, currently DENR undersecretary for field operations, for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) portfolio, and lawyer Eduardo de Mesa as chief Presidential Legal Counsel.

Paje is believed to just be warming the seat for Nereus Acosta, former Bukidnon congressman and one of the Liberal Party bets who lost in the May 10 polls.

Economic team

Members of Aquino's economic team were also composed of old and new faces.

Aside from Purisima, the other members of the economic team are: former Board of Investments chief Gregory Domingo as secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry; Quezon 2nd district Rep. Proceso Alcala as secretary of the Department of Agriculture; lawyer Kim Jacinto Henares as head of the Bureau of Internal Revenue; former Philippine Overseas Employment Administration administrator Rosalinda Baldoz as secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE); University of the Philippines economics professor Cayetano "Dondon" Paderanga as director general of the National Economic and Development Authority; and Makati Business Club executive director Alberto "Bertie" Lim as secretary of Department of Tourism (DOT).

Aquino said he chose Domingo to handle the DTI portfolio since it is a position that will handle the necessary trade and investments in the country.

On the other hand, Aquino said he expects the agriculture department under Alcala to be the main agent in job generation during his presidency, Alcala has established a foundation for farmers and fishermen in Quezon province, raising their incomes.

Aquino said he chose Paderanga as socio-economic planning secretary "so that we will have a NEDA that will give us sound advice due to economic considerations and not political considerations."

Paderanga headed the same agency in the last 3 years (1990-1992) of the first Aquino government.

Aquino said the new labor chief, Baldoz, is expected to initiate very strong reforms in the DOLE as well as National Labor Relations Commission, which is an adjunct agency.

"We find in her the capabilities to make this agency truly responsive to the needs of a working man," he said.

He said he chose Lim to handle the tourism department because of his experience in setting up top tourist destinations in the country such as El Nido and Amanpulo in Palawan.

Finally, he said he chose Henares to handle the all-important BIR post in the hopes that the bureau will recover the efficiencies that were first demonstrated by the Ramos administration.

Aquino said he has yet to designate new appointees for the Bureau of Customs and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).