President-elect Rodrigo Duterte is on a roll. Even before assuming office as the 16th President of the Philippines, his administration is off to a good and fast start. Verbal pyrotechnics and media controversies aside, the initial decisions have been encouraging. In particular, with a few exceptions, I find the Duterte cabinet to be by and large solid— impressive, in fact.
There are individuals in the Duterte cabinet that stand out right away —among others, Sonny Dominguez, Ernie Pernia, Ben Diokno, Jun Evasco, Bebot Bello, Jess Dureza, Salvador Medialdea, Art Tugade, Rodolfo Salalima and Liling Briones—for their experience and seniority. Their professional records in and out of government assures us that at the helm of the most critical departments are people of the highest caliber.
Finance secretary-designate Dominguez does not just know money. He also understands rural and sustainable development, having performed excellently in the Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources during the time of Cory Aquino. His stewardship of the La Fayette mining company in Rapu-rapu, Albay also saw the reversal of the bad environmental and social development record of that company.
Forming the core of Duterte’s economic team are two world-class economists from the University of the Philippines —Diokno and Pernia. Diokno’s understanding of the budget is unparalleled. Together with Pernia’s insight on poverty, it complements the vision of inclusive development articulated by Dominguez. I must add that Ramon Lopez, the new Trade and Industry Secretary, while younger than his peers in the economic team, brings with him the success of the innovative program Go Negosyo and could provide impetus for new thinking on the economic challenges (particularly poverty) we face.
I can say the same of Jess Dureza and Bebot Bello, both of whom I worked with during the administration of Fidel V. Ramos. Dureza and Bello are seasoned consensus builders – people you would like to be with in a foxhole (literal and figurative) during conflict situations. They are trusted by the constituencies they are now responsible for. I must say that I am optimistic that we will finally be able to forge permanent peace with all the major revolutionary movements the country has to contend with.
The personal history of Jun Evasco is well-known. His leadership role in the Duterte campaign has also been recognized. He will be a strong advocate for the poor and for local governments in the new administration. The Cabinet, and more importantly, the country, is fortunate to have Evasco as Cabinet Secretary.
Salvador Medialdea is highly respected in legal circles. His family name of course is an admired brand in law, his father being a former Supreme Court Justice and long-time Court Administrator. Bingbong, as he is called, has been described a lawyer’s lawyer—as straight as an arrow on legal and integrity issues. This assures us that the rule of law will not be set aside in an administration that could be daring in many issues.
Finally, among the senior officials, Art Tugade and Rodolfo Salalima come to their positions in the Department of Transportation (for Tugade) and the newly formed Department of Information and Communications Technology (for Salalima) with stellar reputations in the private sector. They have challenging mandates but I am hopeful that finally, the government will deliver on the areas in which the Aquino administration failed so miserably.
The Duterte administration is not impressive only at the Cabinet level but also at the sub-Cabinet level. To cite one example, I am very happy that Martin Delgra, from Davao City, will be the new Chair of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board. Chuck or Chuckbong, as we call him, is totally incorruptible, extraordinarily competent, and absolutely patriotic. He is pro-poor and an advocate of good governance. I should know because we have been friends for 35 years since we were batch mates as Jesuit Volunteers in 1981. Chuck served as a high school teacher in Kadingilan, Bukidnon and then took up law in Ateneo de Davao. He then became a human rights lawyer, basing himself in Basilan for a number of years, before returning to law practice in Davao City. The transportation sector and public is well-served to have someone like Delgra overseeing the public interest.
I am very happy of course that many Mindanawons are in the Duterte government. The Department of Agriculture, for example, will now led by Manny Piñol from North Cotabato. He brings to that position the experience of someone who has actually been a farmer and a governor of a province dependent on agriculture. I am also proud to claim that two of his undersecretaries are people with my surname. Evelyn Laviña will be undersecretary for high-value crops while Pompee La Viña will be undersecretary for agricultural enterprises. Evelyn, who happens to be the spouse of my cousin Peter, has extensive experience as a planter herself of high value crops, while Pompee, my brother, is a business entrepreneur with degrees from both Ateneo de Manila and the Asian Institute of Management.
I also welcome into the highest ranks of government those personalities coming from progressive organizations. I really admire President-elect Duterte for appointing Paeng Mariano, Judy Taguiwalo, and Joel Manglungsod in the Departments of Agrarian Reform, Social Welfare and Development, and Labor and Employment. With the chairmanship of the National Anti-Poverty Commission also going to another militant, this will be a historic moment for our country. I look forward to these colleagues to show that consistency in principles can be translated into results in the ground which they can politically defend from attackers. In the end, they will unify all stakeholders (not just their usual constituencies).
Finally, reserving the best for the last, I enthusiastically support the appointment of Gina Lopez for environment secretary. Among others, Lopez understands what is at stake in the many fights going on all over the country over coal-fired power plants. It is time for the country to transition to clean and renewable energy. That policy shift starts by making sure that the environment and health impacts of coal-fired power plants are properly internalized and accounted for in pricing electricity. As a study the Ateneo School of Government produced last year has pointed out, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources can enable this shift by imposing a gold standard in approving coal-fired power plants. We should approve only those plants that can perform according to the highest global pollution standards and deny permits to those that can only comply with lower standards.
While I personally believe that responsible mining is doable, its principal enabling condition is strong environmental governance. Lopez will assure us that the government will always be on the side of planet and people; she will require the highest standards of performance from her own colleagues in government and from the private sector. If such standards were followed, then indeed only mining consistent with sustainable development will be operating in the Philippines.
Change is coming. These individuals definitely will bring positive change. Let’s welcome that.
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