Roco snubs Palace meet

- Marichu Villanueva and Sheila Crisostomo -
Resigned Education Secretary Raul Roco failed to show up at Malacañang yesterday for reconciliation talks with President Arroyo whom he blamed for an inquiry into anomalies he allegedly committed at the Department of Education (DepEd).

But Roco said he did not intentionally snub the breakfast meeting — announced by Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye on Wednesday — that was meant to patch up differences with the President.

"There’s no such meeting. I learned about that from (reporters). I was never formally informed," Roco told reporters as his aides finished packing their belongings at the DepEd secretary’s office at the University of Life (ULTRA) compound in Pasig City.

Palace sources told The STAR that Roco and the President are set to meet sometime today on "neutral ground," possibly somewhere in the plush La Vista subdivision in Quezon City where they are neighbors.

"As far as I’m concerned, I am no longer a member of the Cabinet because I resigned on a point of honor, effective immediately. I cannot ask my honor to wait," Roco said.

Bunye said efforts were still underway for a one-on-one meeting between the Pre-sident and Roco "to clear the air and possibly explore how they can still work toge-ther."

"It will depend on the availability of Secretary Roco," Bunye said. "The President is really trying to reach out."

But "slighted honor" was also the primary concern at the Palace, with First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo slamming Roco as "unethical" for resigning from the Cabinet without notifying the President first before announcing it to the media.

"Roco is unethical. He resigned in the press without telling the President first," the First Gentleman said. "He has no delicadeza (sense of propriety) to go up first to his boss to say he was resigning."

The First Gentleman was particularly irritated at Roco’s claim that the President also be investigated for spending public funds for the advertisements and posters she has ordered done for herself.

"Those posters were made through donations," he fumed. "We can prove that ourselves because we’re very careful on those things. Why is he talking about other things?"

"He should prove that he’s not guilty of the charges (against him). He should have proven himself innocent to the PAGC instead of resigning just like that," the First Gentleman added.

Arroyo said that Roco had no reason to be "too onion-skinned" if he was not guilty of the charges and accused Roco of pursuing another "agenda."
Different agenda
"The problem is, I think he has a different political agenda. Salita siya nang salita (He keeps on talking). Let him make a fool of himself," he told The STAR.

Roco, head of the Aksyon Demokratiko party that drew the youth and women’s vote and placed him a strong third in the 1998 presidential elections, resigned on Tuesday after the President endorsed an inquiry against him by the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) on a complaint by the DepEd Central Employees Union.

Roco’s sudden resignation took the Palace by surprise and top government officials and congressional leaders scrambled to patch up the worsening rift between Roco and the President.

Palace officials claim the presidential endorsement of the PAGC probe was only a ministerial action and the information was not released by the Palace but by PAGC chairman Dario Rama.

The Palace also maintains that the probe was "routinary" and two other Cabinet members, Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit and Justice Secretary Hernando Perez, also went through the same investigation.

But Roco complained that in the cases of Dayrit and Perez, the probes were only announced after the conclusion of the investigations but his case was leaked to the media even before the investigation began and hinted that he was being eased out because of the 2004 elections.
‘Mend your fences’
But administration Sen. Robert Barbers urged the two to "mend fences" and "not to allow the issue to become bigger as certain quarters are just waiting to exploit it for their own ends."

"It would be very unfortunate for the country if matters will not be settled between the President and Secretary Roco," Barbers said.

"Undoubtedly, Secretary Roco’s resignation would be a big loss to the government and it will not be easy for the DepEd to have another secretary who is as principled as him," he added.

Opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., for his part, said Roco’s resignation placed the President in a "no-win" situation.

"Gloria is in a fix. I’m afraid she is faced with a problem that cannot be fixed because if she orders the withdrawal of the complaint against Secretary Roco, her drive against graft and corruption will lose steam," Pimentel said in a statement.

"If she proceeds with the investigation and it turns out that there is no evidence against Roco, she will turn out to be vindictive.

"If she succeeds in painting Secretary Roco as a corrupt official, obviously she will lose his political support and that of his followers. In short, she is in a no-win situation," Pimentel added.
Loan sharks in the water
Rep. Rolando Andaya (Lakas, Camarines Sur), chairman of the House appropriations committee, said that the DepEd officials and employees behind the complaint against Roco would still not be able to collect service fees from loan sharks even after Roco’s resignation.

Andaya reminded DepEd personnel that the General Appropriations Act of 2002 bans service fees from being deducted from teachers’ salaries.

Andaya said Roco’s critics at the DepEd were salivating at the prospect of resuming the collection of millions in service fees and sharing the funds.

When Roco was appointed secretary more than a year ago, Roco stopped the collection of service fees, depriving unscrupulous DepEd officials and employees from a lucrative racket. But Andaya said the ban embodied in Section 36 of the budget law would remain in force.

Meanwhile, in Pampanga, the President made an unannounced visit to Clark Field, fueling speculations that Clark Development Corp. president Emmanuel Angeles, a noted Central Luzon academician, would be named Roco’s replacement.

Angeles refused to comment on the speculation, saying only he had "many tasks to do at the CDC."

Angeles had been president of Angeles University Foundation, one of the biggest and most modern universities in Central Luzon. He was voted one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men in the country sometime in the 1970s.

The President’s late father, President Diosdado Macapagal, was chairman of the AUF’s board of trustees until his death in 1997.

As a senator, Mrs. Arroyo herself was chairman of the AUF board until she was elected vice president in1998.

But a source from the Presidential Management Staff told The STAR the President would only sleep over at the presidential "white house" at Clark on her way to La Union today to attend the swearing in of newly-elected barangay officials.

"She would proceed to Clark after dinner at Malacañang and sleep there, so that she could proceed to La Union by land before daybreak," the source said. - With reports from Efren Danao, Jess Diaz, Ding Cervantes

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