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Recruiting new Cabinet officials

Do you know that almost half of the Cabinet officials of President Rodrigo Duterte are currently out of the country?

As I gathered, all of them are together in an international road show for the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program. The Philippine delegation, of course, also included the respective undersecretaries and support staff they brought along with them on these official trips.

Finance Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez headed the Cabinet delegation that flew over the weekend to Japan. From Tokyo, they will fly later this week to China.

The other Cabinet officials included in the official delegation are, namely: Department of Transportations (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade; Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark Villar; Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Benjamin Diokno; National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director-general Ernesto Pernia; Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Alfonso Cusi; National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.; and, Presidential Communications Office Secretary Martin Andanar. Also part of the roadshow entourage is Bases Conversion and Development (BCDA) president Vince Dizon.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea followed later to join the opening yesterday of the 3rd Philippines-Japan Joint Committee on Infrastructure Development and Economic Cooperation held in Tokyo. The so-called “little president” flew back to Manila last night.

I stumbled upon this information based from the Twitter posts, with accompanying photos of them posted by Dominguez himself, the DBM, and by DPWH Undersecretary Karen Jimeno who also is obviously part of the official delegation to Japan.

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“We thank the Japanese government for another round of productive dialogue on the flagship infra projects of the Duterte admin. We are delighted to see the Japanese government’s openness to explore our suggestions and recommendations in line with the Fast & Sure principle,” Dominguez posted in his Twitter account yesterday, accompanied with official photos of the delegation with their counterpart Japanese Ministers.

In the official DBM Twitter account, it stated: “Officials of the Duterte Administration present the priority infrastructure projects to be implemented. The priority projects (among others) are the railway and subway projects, flood management projects, and road and bridge projects.”

A total of nine Cabinet officials are on official mission to Japan and China. It is no exaggeration though to note that almost half of the 21-man Duterte Cabinet team was out of the country. Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano is on his own trip to New York City attending the United Nations General Assembly.

On the other hand, three Cabinet posts remain unfilled as of this writing. One vacancy is the newly vacated Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) whose Secretary Rodolfo Salalima resigned last week on still unconfirmed reasons. The two other vacancies were the result of the Commission on Appointments (CA) rejection of Duterte Cabinet officials closely identified with left-leaning groups.

The CA rejected one after the other the nominations of Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and of Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano. Given the last two rejections, a little birdie chirped to me, President Duterte is still reserving the two posts for left-leaning groups.

Much earlier, two Duterte Cabinet officials first failed to hurdle the CA confirmation process at the CA. They were, namely: DFA Secretary Perfecto Yasay and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez.

With President Duterte sticking to his declared policy of not meddling with the affairs of Congress, his Cabinet members are at the mercy of the powerful bicameral body.

The powerful 25-man confirmation body is composed of 12 Senators and 12 Congressmen, headed by Senate president Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III. Ironically, Duterte administration allies control both chambers of the 17th Congress and the CA as well.

Another nomination of a Duterte Cabinet official, Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Paulyn Ubial, hangs in the balance at the CA. The CA adopted earlier the “three-strike” rule to reject a nominee who gets bypassed three times in plenary session. Ubial still has two weeks left to secure her confirmation from the CA. She is considered bypassed – for the third time – if her nomination is not taken up before the 17th Congress adjourns for a two-month break from Oct. 14 to Nov. 12.

Incidentally, new DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu is scheduled to go through the CA wringer today.

According to President Duterte himself, Salalima resigned out of delicadeza (sense of propriety). Salalima is among former classmates of President Duterte who recruited several of them and appointed them to his Cabinet and other key government positions. Salalima reportedly explained to DICT employees his decision why he resigned after being in his post for 14 months. Before he accepted the DICT post, Salalima recalled his talks with President Duterte about “no interference, no corruption” in how he would run his Department.

When I bumped into chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo last Tuesday night in a diplomatic reception, I asked him about Salalima’s alleged disappointment that led the DICT Secretary to resign. ”He (Salalima) should talk and come out with evidence,” Panelo quipped.

Panelo disclosed President Duterte might be able to resume one last official trip abroad later this year. Now that the military has almost recovered all areas in Marawi City previously overtaken by Maute terrorists, Panelo believes the President might be more comfortable to leave for this short trip to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit to be held in Vietnam in November this year.

The last foreign trip done by President Duterte was his interrupted state visit to Moscow which he abruptly cut short when the July 20 siege of Maute terrorists erupted in Marawi City.

The flamboyant Panelo is a fixture in all trips abroad so far undertaken by President Duterte since he assumed office last year. While being Cabinet members enjoy foreign travel perks, President Duterte seems to find difficulty recruiting new Cabinet officials. Going through the CA wringer, with inherent hazards of public service, perhaps, is not worth it.

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