MANILA, Philippines — Angelo Reyes’ march to his fourth Cabinet post in six years faced a major setback Thursday with Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago declaring she would block the former general’s appointment to the Department of Energy.
Calling Reyes a “sentimental bric-a-brac,” a “Cabinet surplus” with “zero” knowledge of energy matters, Santiago said she would use her veto power in the Commission on Appointments (CA) to stop his replacement of Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla, a former law student of the senator.
“I respectfully submit to President (Gloria Macapagal) Arroyo that Reyes is simply the wrong, maybe the worst, choice. As an ex-general, he has lorded it over the various departments of defense, local governments, and environment without a demonstrably deep grasp of the issues involved in those offices. For him to continue in the Cabinet would be to indulge the incompetent,” the senator said in a statement.
Santiago is confident of retaining her seat in the CA after receiving an assurance from Senate President Manuel Villar. Santiago expects Villar to retain his Senate post, including an ex-officio CA chair, in the 14th Congress.
A barrage of criticisms has greeted the President’s appointment of her most loyal allies — Reyes and former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza who has been named environment secretary.
The 62-year-old Reyes withdrew support from President Joseph Estrada in the midst of the EDSA II “people power” revolt in January 2001, forcing Estrada to quit and allowing Ms Arroyo, then the vice president, to take over.
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye expressed confidence that both Reyes and Atienza would be able to fully discharge their duties and responsibilities as members of her official family.
Santiago cited Reyes’ “unforgivable fiasco” at the DENR that allowed a Korean company to build a tourist spa on Taal Volcano in Batangas province as an example of an “incompetent administrator” and evidence of “a crime against the environment.”
She also rejected Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita’s statement that Reyes “did good” in his previous posts.
“If he was doing good in all those departments, why was he kicked around like a political football? It only means he is (a surplus) in the Cabinet. Why is it so important to accommodate him? There are dozens of available younger, brilliant civilians with expertise. Reyes is sentimental bric-a-brac who was washed ashore because of the turbulence of people power.”
For Santiago, the bottom line is Reyes lacks the background and qualifications for the job, unlike Lotilla whom the senator described as “one of my best students in UP (University of the Philippines) law.”
“He (Reyes) knows zero about energy. As a lawyer acquainted with energy law, I had to educate myself for three years before I became familiar with this sunrise industry. I don’t recall that Reyes shone as a college student, or that he has the makings of a polymath, a person who knows everything about everything,” said Santiago.
While she wanted to “expose” Reyes’ incompetence, Santiago said she would not grill Reyes but immediately invoke Section 20 of the CA Rules, which allows one member to veto any nomination.
“He is unfit and his latest appointment will send the unfortunate message that the partisan military are automatically entitled to Cabinet posts as sinecures,” Santiago said. “He should only hold a position that calls for military knowledge and training,” she said.
Santiago also warned that while she was an avid supporter of the President, she would not think twice about criticizing her administration’s moves “if it is subjected to unconscionable pressure.”
“I only have three years left in politics. I am going head-to-head against anybody who does not do right by the public. Let the games begin,” Santiago said.
Although not necessarily stunned by Reyes’ appointment, industry players, including consumer and militant groups, are also questioning his competence and wondering what he can contribute to the sector.
“Now on his fourth Cabinet posting since 2001, Reyes seems to have yet to find his place in the Arroyo government. What credentials does Reyes have to be appointed as the DoE chief?” said Giovanni Tapang, national chair of the Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Sambayanan (Agham).
“We don’t expect a significant change in energy policy under Reyes,” he added. With a report from Abigail L. Ho