CALLS for the resignation of a growing list of Cabinet members mounted Wednesday amid accusations that some officials were using public funds to bankroll their election campaigns while others were simply deemed incapable of doing their jobs.
The leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan on Wednesday dared Cabinet and appointed officials led by Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II to resign irrevocably for early campaigning using millions of pesos of taxpayers’ money.
Aside from Roxas, the standard bearer of the ruling Liberal Party in the 2016 presidential elections, Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. issued the challenge to PhilHealth director Risa Hontiveros, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Francis Tolentino, all of whom were in a Cebu sortie with President Benigno Aquino III and ranking leaders of the Liberals.
De Lima, Tolentino and Hontiveros were strongly rumored to be part of the administration’s senatorial slate in 2016.
Reyes questioned the timing of their sorties and commercials, which the Palace claimed were being done to educate the public about the efforts being undertaken by their respective agencies.
“Delicadeza demands that those in appointive positions seeking posts in 2016 and already engaged in early campaigning, should resign,” Reyes said. “They should not abuse their positions and public funds to advance their political interests.”
Reyes took potshots at Hontiveros, who claimed the funding for her PhilHealth ads did not come from the taxpayers, contrary to Malacañang’s admission that her ads was paid for by PhilHealth funds.
He also said Tolentino had no business being in Cebu because his job description of minding the traffic covers only Metro Manila.
Reyes also hit De Lima for singing “That’s What Friends Are For” at an event called “A Gathering of Friends.”
“I just hope that the song is not a reflection of the kind of justice advanced by the regime,” Reyes said.
“If Mar Roxas won’t stop his early campaigning, he should submit his irrevocable resignation from his appointive position in the DILG. Now. The same goes for members of Aquino’s Cabinet and other appointive officials who have plans for 2016 and who are now going around the country together with Roxas and Aquino,” Reyes said.
“Why is MMDA chairman Tolentino going around provinces if not for early campaigning? Why is PhilHealth director Risa Hontiveros placing TV ads and joining pre-election sorties?
“Malacañang thinks the public is too stupid to notice early campaigning using public funds. [Communications Secretary Herminio] Coloma should stop insulting our collective intelligence by saying these officials are alter egos of the President trying to touch base with the people. Such work could be done quietly, no fanfare, no media hype and no huge expenses,” Reyes said.
Reyes said Malacañang and Hontiveros have issued conflicting statements on her recent PhilHealth TV ads.
Earlier, Hontiveros claimed that no public funds were used for the ads but that the PhilHealth board approved the use of the ads, he said.
However, Reyes said, Coloma on Wednesday said Hontiveros was conducting a public information campaign through TV ads, using PhilHealth funds, and insisted this was not against the law.
“So which is it really? Who is telling the truth? Did she or didn’t she? The problem with early campaigning using public funds is that it is really hard to hide the obvious,” Reyes said.
Reyes said Hontiveros’ paid ads started to come out barely a few days after she was appointed to the PhilHealth board.
He said PhilHealth funds were public funds, not the campaign kitty of politicians who wish to project themselves.
A series of paid ads for Roxas also came out barely 24 hours after President Aquino endorsed him as the LP standard bearer on July 31.
After the President’s endorsement, Roxas offered to resign but the President did not accept his resignation.
“It is improper to use your position and government resources to advance your own political interests. Isn’t this government supposed to be advocating the straight path?” he said addressing the administration’s potential candidates.
As for promoting the agency and educating the public, Reyes asked why was this being done only now, a few months before the elections.
“Why did the agency not pursue their promotions in the past, without being tainted by partisan politics?”
Reyes also demanded that Roxas explain why he was claiming credit for the supposed achievement of the Department of Social Welfare and Development on the purported success of the 4Ps and the controversial conditional cash transfer program.
Reyes said that in one of Roxas’ paid TV commercials, Roxas boasted that the Daang Matuwid, through the 4Ps and CCT programs, had managed to have 300,000 student-recipients graduate in high school.
“It is indeed strange that it is the DILG secretary doing public awareness for programs of the DSWD. Is it because of the lack of so-called achievements by the DILG that Mar has to claim credit for DSWD programs?” Reyes said. “And which department pays for the infomercial?”
“MMDA chairman Tolentino has no business going around provinces because his work is in Metro Manila. He has no official function in Cebu, unless he considers nationwide pre-election sorties as part of his job description,” he added.
Malacañang defended the Cabinet officials and said they were free to endorse candidates but that they should not be remiss in their duties and responsibilities.
Coloma said Tolentino and De Lima were in Cebu as “the President’s alter-ego.”
“We all serve the President, and if there is an official function of the President, it is right that the members of the Cabinet are there as witnesses at the official function and to render their support,” Coloma said in Filipino.
He said these officials could also talk to employees of regional offices.
Hontiveros, he added, was part of the governing body of PhilHealth that was assigned to do public education and public information.
“She was explaining the benefits and services of PhilHealth and the funds that were used came from PhilHealth, which is allowed by law,” Coloma said to defend Hontiveros’ paid ads.
Coloma also defended Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina and the MMDA’s Tolentino from calls for their resignation, saying the two had big responsibilities that they were carrying out in the best way they can.
Although not all that they do is supported by those affected by their decisions, it was not right to demand their resignation every time this happened, Coloma said.
“What I am aware of is that the President continues to trust in the capability of the two,” said Coloma.
Tolentino came under fire Wednesday in social media networks which dismissed his act of directing traffic along EDSA as a political gimmick that did nothing to solve Metro Manila’s growing traffic problem.
Tolentino said he would not resign, and urged his critics to help the government by suggesting solutions to the traffic problem.
Also on Wednesday, Coloma said the inability of National Historical Commission chairman Maria Sereno Diokno to defend the Rizal Monument was “not a basis for her to resign if her personal position is contrary to the position of the government as stated by Solicitor General Florin Hilbay in the Supreme Court case regarding the Torre de Manila case.”
He added: “The official stand of the republic is being presented by the Solicitor General.”
The NHCP is a respondent in the September 2014 petition filed by the Knights of Rizal against the controversial Torre de Manila, a 49-story residential building which heritage advocates have slammed for ruining the sightline of the Rizal Monument.
However, the building’s developer, DMCI Homes, insisted that the Torre de Manila did not violate heritage or zoning laws, as it has been given clearances by the Manila city government and the NHCP itself.
The Supreme Court is now hearing oral arguments on the case.
The NHCP used to be represented by the Office of the Solicitor General, but the OSG has dropped the cultural agency as its client over differences in their position on the issue.
In a reversal of its earlier stance in January, the OSG last month declared the Torre de Manila illegal, and said there was legal basis to stop the construction of the condominium project because it violates constitutional provisions on the preservation of cultural artifacts.
In a July 29 letter, Diokno criticized Hilbay for backtracking, claiming that the OSG had assured the NHCP that it will be “cleared of responsibility” because there was “clearly no sufficient legal basis” to compel the NHCP to stop the project.
But Senator Pia Cayetano said she found it “extremely strange” for the NHCP to insist that it cannot defend the Rizal Monument.
Cayetano, chairman of the Senate committee on education, arts, and culture, led Senate inquiries last year into the controversial high-rise project.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, said the senatorial ambitions of De Lima could be thwarted by her department’s failure to serve justice to the 44 police commandos killed in the Jan. 25 Mamasapano massacre.
Magdalo party-list Rep. Ashley Acedillo said the gruesome incident would hound De Lima’s political campaign in 2016.
Acedillo, a member of the Philippine Military Academy and former mutineer, said criminal complaints should be filed against the suspects at the soonest possible time.
“If Secretary De Lima steps down from office to pursue political plans and the issue remains...this is going to be an election issue in 2016 because this is about the search for justice,” Acedillo said.
De Lima had earlier announced that the Justice Department would be filing charges against the Mamasapano suspects “in a month’s time.”
Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop, a stalwart of the ruling Liberal Party, also expressed disappointment that the filing of charges against the Mamasapano suspects has not been done. With Joel E. Zurbano
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