MANILA, Philippines—There’s a new face in President Macapagal-Arroyo’s Cabinet, the Department of National Defense in particular.
What had been bruited about for some time happened yesterday, with the appointment of outgoing Tarlac Rep. Gilbert Teodoro as the new defense secretary.
Teodoro, 43, is said to be the favorite nephew of business tycoon Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco. He headed the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC)—of which Cojuangco is the chair and founder—in the House of Representatives.
Teodoro just ended his third term as representative of Tarlac; his post has been won by his wife, Nikki Prieto-Teodoro.
Ms Arroyo quietly appointed Teodoro to the post currently held by Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. She named Ebdane to his old post as head of the Department of Public Works and Highways, according to an announcement made by Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye.
Ebdane took over effective yesterday from his former deputy, Undersecretary Manuel Bonoan, who held the DPWH portfolio as officer in charge.
Teodoro’s appointment takes effect on Aug. 3 because he is still on vacation with his family in the United States, said Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. Until his return, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales will serve as OIC.
Ermita said he told Teodoro the news by phone on Friday, and that the latter was “humbled and honored” by the appointment.
Palace officials, including Ermita, had earlier denied that a Cabinet reshuffle was in the offing. Ermita said yesterday he was not aware of any other coming appointments.
New civilian blood
Ermita who has served as defense secretary and vice chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, described the soft-spoken Teodoro as “a very good addition” to the Cabinet.
“He is very qualified and he is prepared for the job. He has a very impeccable record as a public servant, [having been] congressman of Tarlac for three terms,” Ermita said in a phone interview.
Ermita also said Teodoro would infuse new blood into the defense and military establishments.
“You need a more dynamic personality in the defense department who can push reforms,” he said, adding that Teodoro’s appointment also followed the recommendation of the Feliciano Commission that a civilian head the DND.
The Feliciano Commission was formed to look into the roots of the daylong Oakwood mutiny in July 2003.
Teodoro, a lawyer by profession, follows in the tradition of former Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz, another prominent lawyer who vigorously pushed reforms in the DND until he resigned over differences with some members of the Cabinet.
Ermita said Teodoro was not entirely a greenhorn in defense and military matters. He said he had no doubt Teodoro would be acceptable to the military, and even to the business community.
Teodoro is also a graduate of the National Defense College of the Philippines, with a master’s degree in national security administration. Graduates of the course earn the rank of colonel in the AFP.
He is an adopted member of the Philippine Military Academy’s “Magilas” Class of 1976.
Ermita said the clamor for reforms in the military would be a test of Teodoro’s leadership.
“Let’s see how he will be able to address the call for reforms of the new senators, [Antonio] Trillanes and [Gregorio] Honasan. It’s a challenge to him. I’m confident he can deliver,” Ermita said.
Trillanes was one of the leaders of the Oakwood mutiny, which denounced alleged corruption in the government and the military. He is detained at Fort Bonifacio.
Honasan was accused of being the mastermind, but the Department of Justice dropped the case shortly after the former coup leader won a Senate seat.
Ermita said Teodoro might even have a say in the yet unresolved matter of Trillanes’ custody because the new senator’s custodian, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, would be under Teodoro in the government hierarchy.
Ermita said there was nothing political in Teodoro’s appointment despite his relation to Cojuangco.
“It only means that the President taps the best and brightest, not merely [on the basis] of party affiliation,” said Ermita, a stalwart of the ruling Lakas-CMD.
As NPC head, Teodoro led in 2003 the impeachment case against then Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. over the alleged misuse of the P3-billion Judiciary Development Fund.
The case against Davide was seen as a proxy war for Cojuangco, who has ill-gotten wealth cases pending at the Supreme Court.
Teodoro’s appointment to the DND had been talked about for more than a year already. He even turned down Malacañang’s offer for him to run for the Senate under the administration ticket in the May 14 elections.
Thus, Ermita said he was “not at all” surprised when the President told him on Thursday that she had decided to appoint Teodoro.
“When the President told me, I said he is a good choice,” Ermita said.
Sad and happy
General Esperon said he was both sad and happy to see Ebdane leave the DND.
“On a personal note, I’m sad. He is my namesake and we have been friends for a long time. He was like a big brother to me. We understand each other because of our military background,” Esperon said in a phone interview.
He added that they had attended intelligence school together as young lieutenants.
The military chief also said he was happy to see Ebdane return to the DPWH to finish what the latter had started.
Bonoan, the former DPWH OIC, welcomed the President’s decision to name Ebdane to his old post.
“I knew from the start that my designation [as OIC] is not permanent. It is the prerogative of the President to appoint somebody,” Bonoan told the Inquirer.
Speaker Jose de Venecia, the Lakas president, hailed Teodoro’s appointment.
Said De Venecia in a statement:
“He brings to the job a remarkable work ethic with which he distinguished himself in the House of Representatives as the silent workhorse of the NPC, who discharged his duties with utmost humility.
“He is a quintessential constitutional expert with an abiding respect for the rule of law; he is upright and has shown a deep understanding and appreciation of the values of reconciliation and peacemaking, both of which are of paramount importance in our time. From the very beginning he has always supported President Arroyo’s peace initiatives and a policy of reconciliation with all insurgents.”
Esperon also said he was not one to question Teodoro’s qualifications for the defense portfolio:
“He is very qualified, was a bar topnotcher, and had a good track record in Congress. His experience … will help us greatly.”
Esperon also disclosed that Teodoro was a top contender for the defense post in the past.
“He is well aware of the problems in the Armed Forces and is responsive to our needs. He knows a lot of congressmen, and we need the help of Congress. The whole AFP will support him,” Esperon said. With reports from Alcuin Papa and Edson C. Tandoc Jr.