DAVAO CITY—In fighting over Cabinet posts in the incoming administration surfaced Friday, after the spokesman of an influential religious leader complained that he was being shut out of the discussions about who should serve in the new government led by president-in-waiting Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
A spokesman for Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, a long-time friend and campaign financier of Duterte, expressed disappointment Friday about being eased out of the transition, and being rejected several times when he offered to help select members of the new Cabinet.
“There are many instances that [Quiboloy] wanted to talk with the mayor, but it seems that the message isn’t reaching the mayor,” said Mike Abe, Quiboloy’s spokesman during a TV interview.
“We tried to reach out, but we cannot reach out to the mayor. [In the past], Pastor [Quiboloy] and the mayor would often talk, but there’s already an apparent gap now.”
At the center of the controversy is Christopher Go, Duterte’s top aide, who vets all incoming communications.
“Somebody is blocking him,” Abe said. “Everyone knows that Duterte’s aide, Mr. Bong [Christopher] Go is the only one who’s holding the cellphones,
all incoming and outgoing communications for the mayor. That’s the problem.”
Abe said Quiboloy only wanted “to help the mayor.”
Quiboloy and Duterte’s friendship go back to 1988, when the former was the latter’s vice mayor.
Two days after his landslide finish in the May 9 polls—Duterte had formed a five-man team consisting of former Agriculture secretary Carlos Dominguez, lawyers Salvador Medialdea and Loreto Ata, Maribojoc Mayor Leoncio Jun Evasco, Go and his spokesman, Peter Laviña, to handle the transition to his assumption of office on June 30.
Duterte has been in marathon meetings every day with well-wishers and people looking for one of 400 positions up for grabs.
Since last Sunday, Duterte and the people around him have named members of his prospective Cabinet.
Duterte’s spokesman, Laviña, acknowledged that some people who helped the mayor were not happy after being eased out of his inner circle.
“There has been negative reactions on the nominees and the appointments, and we welcome them. Some have expressed their disappointments, we have been receiving [reports]. It is unfortunate that some people did not like the nominees and maybe the process. We welcome their suggestions yet we have not completed our work. Certainly we are open, democratic and participative,” Laviña said at a press briefing at the Royal Mandaya Hotel.
Laviña, a former Davao councilor who also served as Duterte’s campaign spokesman, played down that there were splits in the Duterte camp.
“There’s no rift [within the team.] But I’m not in constant touch [with the others],” he said.
Laviña also apologized to Quiboloy and assured him that he was not being eased out, but said the pastor was never part of “the selection process.”
Laviña said Duterte has been entertaining “all possible guests” since last Sunday, but due to the volume of the well-wishers, many of them could not be accommodated.
Since 2014, Duterte has been engaging in so-called “listening tours” around the country explaining his position on federalism and its advantages along with some close supporters who were actively convincing him to run as president.
Sources within the Duterte camp, however, said some politicians who were not even part of the listening tours were being accommodated.
One recently announced Cabinet member, a source said, was given a post because a Manila politician close to Duterte had lobbied for him.
“Depending on your level of access, [you can get earmarked for a position], but some were being kept out,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Many well-wishers, including present Aquino Cabinet members, some politicians, and even showbiz personalities have sought audiences with Duterte in marathon meetings held at Davao hotels such as the Royal Mandaya Hotel, Mandaya Enclaves and the Dominguez-owned Marco Polo Hote. But many returned home with nothing, the source said.
On Sunday, Duterte said he would be picking the “best and the brightest” to form his Cabinet.
But even his spokesman, Salvador Panelo, has been criticized because he served as the lawyer of the Ampatuan clan, which was accused of the Maguindanao massacre in which 58 people—including 34 journalists—were slaughtered.
Speaking to ANC on Friday, Panelo confirmed that Duterte tapped former Civil Aviations Authority of the Philippines chief Alfonso Cusi as Energy secretary, and former Justice secretary Jose Calida as solicitor-general.
But Panelo said none of the appointments were official until Duterte took his oath.
Laviña confirmed on social media that a four-man team had flown to Manila to meet with Malacanang officials led by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa to arrange for the transition.
“A four-person team from the Davao City mayor’s office is now on its way to Malacañang for an initial ocular inspection and briefing from the Palace protocol office. Godspeed!” he wrote on his Facebook page.
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