MANILA, Philippines (June 9 2011) - Former senator Manuel Roxas II, President Aquino’s personal friend and defeated running mate, has been appointed new secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications and graciously accepted his new positon.
Aquino said he talked to Roxas as “friend and president” and convinced him to assume the post vacated by Jose de Jesus who resigned on May 30. De Jesus’ resignation takes effect on June 30, or a year after his appointment. Roxas was originally being groomed as presidential chief of staff.
Roxas, who had served as trade secretary under the previous Arroyo administration, will also be a senior member of the economic cluster.
“He will continue to fulfill the responsibility that I gave him since I first came into office (which was chief troubleshooter),” the President said in a press briefing yesterday.
Aquino said he would have offered another position to Roxas had it not been for the sudden resignation of De Jesus. De Jesus was the first Aquino Cabinet official to resign.
“He understands the problem and he will be part of the solution,” Aquino told reporters. “He was measured many times and found not wanting.”
Roxas, for his part, welcomed his new job and said he would be at the service of the President in whatever way he pleases.
He also laughed off insinuations that it was the so-called “Samar faction” that had talked the President into naming him to the top DOTC post.
Roxas and other Liberal Party stalwarts reportedly belong to the rival “Balai” faction, which reportedly preferred an advisory job in Malacañang for the former senator.
He also shrugged off the prospect of working closely with Vice President Jejomar Binay who defeated him in the May 2010 elections. Binay, reportedly from the Samar faction, concurrently chairs the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council.
“My parents brought me up to be a civilized person. I will extend my courtesy to anyone as a fellow worker,” Roxas said.
Aquino said he has also directed Roxas to investigate anomalies in the DOTC and “undertake proper action.”
“This agency holds big projects, big ticket items that have been the milking cows of corrupt officials from the past,” Aquino said.
“If you remember, it’s the DOTC that was the first agency involved in the anomalous NBN-ZTE (national broadband network deal between the government the Chinese firm ZTE Corp.) contract. And if you recall too, Mar was among the first ones to stop the contract,” Aquino said.
The President said the government would have lost P16 billion in public funds had the NBN-ZTE deal pushed through.
“There was the fiber-optic backbone that could be fixed and strengthened but they played blind and wanted to establish a new backbone,” Aquino said.
“This was one of the irregularities stopped by Mar, so when I needed a friend who would respond to the heavy needs that we should address immediately, he was the first one that came to mind,” the President said.
As regards the NAIA 3 case, Roxas said he would not allow the government to pay more than what was due the builders of the airport.
He said he could not understand why the Philippine International Air Terminals Co., the consortium that built NAIA 3, was claiming $846 million when the key contract with Takenaka Corp., the builder of the terminal, was only $350 million.
“So why claim (more than) $800 million?” Roxas asked.
“Those are the general principles. I won’t allow that we spend, that the people will spend - whether through taxes or users fee – (more than) what is right,” he said.
Last month, a Pasay court pegged at $176 million or roughly P7.6 billion the just compensation for PIATCO. The court said that the P3 billion the government had paid to PIATCO in 2006 would be deducted from the P7.6 billion.
Aquino said he would like the DOTC to come up with a detailed plan on how to finish the construction of NAIA 3 and correct its deficiencies.
He said the DOTC should get consultants from the Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines to assess the airport’s structural integrity.
The President said he would give Roxas the free hand in choosing his men.
“While Mar’s primary task is to fulfill his mandate at the DOTC, he will continue to be my adviser. I will still give him a lot of assignments; he will look into the grains to see the whole sack of a problem and solutions for the people. Mar’s service for us will continue,” Aquino said.
Roxas said he did not consider his appointment to the DOTC a demotion because he was focused on helping the administration.
“No, not at all. Again, the President’s words speak for themselves and from the beginning, I already said that I was interested in the success of his administration and wherever I would be assigned, even as water boy,” Roxas said.
He said the most important was for the administration to succeed because the people’s expectations were very high.
“I was with him during the campaign, I was with him when we promised reforms, programs and projects that would be implemented if given the opportunity. So on my part, I will voluntarily help his administration,” Roxas said.
He said that like Aquino, the resignation of De Jesus caught him off guard. Over the weekend, Palace sources said it was Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras that was being considered for the DOTC.
But the President, without confirming the report, said it would be better to place someone capable rather than disturb at least two departments just to fill the DOTC portfolio.
“Let me repeat, Mar had another intended role, but the problem here is that, I admit this, I was quite surprised when Secretary Ping resigned and immediately thought who would replace him. The one I thought to replace him, we might have to remove from another current position but this would affect two departments. But here, it is perfect, the ban (on appointments) is over and Mar can already be appointed, with his abilities, to a very important department,” Aquino said.
“So it was a perfect match, Mar’s abilities and the need in a department,” Aquino said.
Roxas said he thought he would no longer be getting the job when the report about Almendras came out.
‘Trains and boats and planes’
Roxas said the DOTC was wide ranging and gamely hummed Dionne Warwick’s “Trains and boats and planes” written by Burt Bacharach.
“That is now the world. The notes are a little bit off but the words convey the same meaning. So we will study that and do everything to meet the expectations of the President,” Roxas said.
“The most important is to be able to deliver on the mandate of DOTC. Although it’s been said in light manner, trains, boats and planes, but that’s the way our people move; that’s the way our economy moves and like the body of a human being, that’s where the blood flows, it’s the veins, arteries, of the body to move,” he said. “So the priority is, I will spare no one. The priority should be the delivery of services to the people,” Roxas said.
De Jesus said Roxas is a “very wise and excellent choice” for DOTC secretary. “And I’m glad that Senator Roxas accepted the job,” De Jesus told The STAR over the phone.
“I think I will leave all of that to him,” De Jesus said when asked if he had any advice for Roxas.
De Jesus said he is confident that the DOTC has become a better agency under his watch.
“I think we have set a tone for honest governance. We established a culture of transparency. I’m sure the new secretary will have no problem there, I know he espouses the same principles,” De Jesus said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. led lawmakers in welcoming the appointment of Roxas to DOTC.
“I’m happy,” Belmonte told reporters. “Mar is really an asset to this government because of his expertise, experience and character and his connections and because of his very close ties with the President.”
He said Roxas’ insights and advice are “invaluable.” “It’s a challenging job, the DOTC. Believe it or not, it’s one of the most important. I’m glad that Mar accepted it and I’m sure he’s gonna do a good job. We in the House, are very supportive of him,” he said.
He said he met Roxas Monday night in a get-together of LP members.
Belmonte dismissed reports of infighting in the LP saying they could be “policy differences if at all.”
“Now that he has a big turf with a lot of problems that he has to tackle there. I guess, if I were in his shoes, my first attention will be on the responsibility that has been given to me and I’m sure that’s the way he looks at it. You can never remove the fact that he’s a personal and trusted friend of the President whom the President knows to be very knowledgeable and experienced,” he said.
Quezon City Rep. Danilo Suarez described Roxas as “the most qualified” official to head the agency.
“All the requirements for the post is answered by Mar,” Suarez said. “He’s the best selection. He’s both pro-business and pro-masa so his decisions will be balanced,” the opposition lawmaker said.
Ang Kasangga sa Kaunlaran party-list Rep. Teodorico Haresco said Roxas will “ensure the improvement in the delivery of services handled by the DOTC and the smooth implementation of big-ticket projects because of his education, expertise, experience and integrity.”
Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay said she hoped Roxas would be able to implement and complete programs in the DOTC to help speed up development.
“I guess his closeness to P-Noy and (Budget Secretary Florencio) Butch Abad, he will not have difficulty in accessing funds for his agency,” Magsaysay said.
Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara called the appointment “a positive development.”
“I hope he is aggressive in connecting our people and our 7,100 islands,” Angara said.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said Roxas is likely to breeze through the Commission on Appointments.
“He can do it,” Enrile said. “He is a Cabinet member, that’s DOTC. He knows his job. He is a banker,” Enrile said.
“His experience, background and track record will give the DOTC the necessary boost to further improve public services to our people,” Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said.
“We saw the performance of Senator Roxas here in the Senate. He was also under my committee. We can help each other. I believe he deserves more than that but I think he can do well,” Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. said.
“He should be welcome in any position,” Sen. Ralph Recto said.
“Whether chief of staff or DOTC secretary, I think he will be an asset to the administration,” Recto added.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said Roxas’ vast experience as former trade secretary would help him in his new job.
“It’s a good appointment. I hope he will be able to put up a good team. Mar is in a good position to deal with it. If we talk about potential, he has all the potential,” Cayetano added.
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, for his part, said Roxas has the expertise to set into motion the Aquino administration’s flagship infrastructure project.
“He has what it takes to make flagship growth strategy of the Aquino administration --the public-private partnership --work because he is well known for his ability and integrity among global investors as well as a healthy grasp of bureaucratic terrain especially with Department of Finance and National Economic and Development Authority,” Salceda said in a text message to The STAR.
“Roxas has also the savvy in packaging and negotiating public-private partnership projects so they won’t turn to monsters such as IPPs,” Salceda said referring to the Investment Priorities Plan.
Salceda also cited Roxas’ “well-earned trust of the public and direct access to President Aquino.”
Militant transport group, Piston or the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide also welcomed Roxas’ appointment.
“We have no problem with that. Senator Mar was our ally when we called for the suspension of the VAT (value added tax) on oil products at the time of GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo),” San Mateo said.
“We are aware and vigilant of the fact that Roxas is an advocate of anti-poor and pro-foreign policies of deregulation, privatization, and liberalization that is now being pushed by Pnoy in his administration’s public-private partnership program,” San Mateo said.