Non-pols to replace Roco

- Marichu Villanueva and Sheila Crisostomo -
A university president and a grizzled man of letters — and not politicians — are among the front-runners to be the next education secretary.

Far Eastern University (FEU) president Edilberto de Jesus and STAR columnist Alejandro Roces, two non-politicians and highly qualified educators, emerged yesterday as Malacañang’s choices to replace the resigned Raul Roco as education secretary, The STAR learned yesterday.

sources said President Arroyo disclosed during a dinner reception she hosted for several newspaper columnists on Friday at Malacañang that her "first choice" as education secretary was De Jesus.

De Jesus was a former Cabinet member during the presidency of Corazon Aquino and later returned to the private education sector.

Mrs. Arroyo was quoted as saying by the source that De Jesus was her "original choice but apparently he was no longer available at the time it (DepEd post) was offered to him because he was already the president of FEU."

Roces was an education secretary during the presidency of Mrs. Arroyo’s father Diosdado Macapagal. He was also chairman of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board under the present administration, and has been a moving force of the Philippine chapter of PEN (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) International.

"Roco said he wanted the position. So I gave it to him," Mrs. Arroyo was quoted as saying.

Roco’s Aksyon Demokratiko party supported Mrs. Arroyo during the EDSA II uprising that toppled then President Joseph Estrada in January 2001.

Meanwhile, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said, "Only two names were mentioned in that order and... both I think enjoy the respect of the education community."

Bunye said that the two contenders were actually in the original "short list" that the Malacañang search committee submitted to Mrs. Arroyo when she was looking for her first education secretary.

"She (Mrs. Arroyo) had this list, basically, the top contender is an educator and he’s not a politician and she has authorized that this candidate be sounded out," Bunye told Palace reporters.

"I’d rather not mention the name. He is a he. He’s not a politician. He’s an educator. He will be sounded out and if he’s available, then I think an announcement would be made as soon as possible," Bunye said.

On Friday, Mrs. Arroyo accepted the resignation of Roco who decided to vacate his post hastily on Aug. 13 because of what he claimed to be a presidential bid to humiliate and oust him by publicizing alleged graft charges filed by the Department of Education (DepEd) Employees Union.

The DepEd union alleged that Roco committed graft by using DepEd funds to publish posters that featured his photograph in what appeared to be a move to further his presidential ambitions.

Mrs. Arroyo said she was saddened by "the loss of a good public servant."

Bunye said that if the President "has given the go-signal to sound out that candidate, then I guess the President believes in the qualification of the candidate."

"If he says he’s available, then he is in," he said.

On the Roco resignation, sources said it was not Mrs. Arroyo’s "style" to make marginal notes when she refers documents to certain government agencies.

This contradicted Roco’s complaints that a supposed "marginal note" was made by the President on the graft complaint filed by the DepEd union which was endorsed to the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) headed by Dario Rama.

"I don’t refer to the PAGC verbally. When something is written, I just write an arrow or the name of an agency where it is referred. Usually without comments. That is my style," the President reportedly said. "There is no such thing as marginal note. All I did was to refer it to PAGC chairman Rama."

There was a "cordial" parting of ways between the President and Roco during Friday’s meeting at the Palace. He said the President noted that "it really cleared the air."

During the meeting, Bunye said there was an assurance from Roco that he was not leaving the pro-administration People Power Coalition (PPC).

Roco "is not bolting" the PPC and that "if and when he makes a political move, he would advise the President," Bunye said.

"As to whether it was the President who asked for it or it was volunteered by Secretary Roco, I’m not in a position to say," he said.

Mrs. Arroyo reiterated her earlier call that she and Roco hopefully could still work together "in another capacity," but no specific position was discussed, Bunye said. There was no immediate response from Roco.
PNU’s president Rosas also in the running?
A source in the education community said that Philippine Normal University president Nilo Rosas, former Economic Planning Secretary Solita Monsod and Miriam College president Patricia Licuanan were also in the running as education secretary.

The Federation of Associations of Private School Administrators (FAPSA) urged Malacañang to select Rosas because of his strong education background.

"Rosas in the most apolitical contender. He is an educator who really rose from the ranks and he knows the ins and outs of DepEd and has no political ambitions," said FAPSA president Eleazar Kasilag.

Rosas, 56, was DepEd director for Metro Manila for eight years before becoming a DepEd undersecretary for regional operations during the Estrada administration.

Rosas availed of DepEd’s early retirement in 2000 and was elevated as PNU president recently.

"Rosas is homegrown and has greater edge over other contenders. He is a veteran of the education department for 27 years. We need someone who really understand the intricacies of basic education," Kasilag said.

Roco was the second Cabinet member to resign in little over a month.

Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., who was perceived to have been pressured by Mrs. Arroyo to resign, vacated the post of foreign affairs secretary on July 3 after repeated public and private quarrels with Mrs. Arroyo on policy issues, notably the return of US troops in the country.

Roco, head of Aksyon Demokratiko that draws in the youth and women’s vote, made a strong showing by placing third in the 1998 presidential elections despite the absence of a well-funded political party.

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