Apostol appointed chief GMA counsel
() - October 20, 2006 - 12:00am
President Arroyo has appointed former Leyte Rep. Sergio Apostol as her new chief legal counsel, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita announced yesterday.

Apostol, who rose to fame as a member of the prosecution team in the aborted impeachment trial of deposed President Joseph Estrada in 2000, replaced Merceditas Gutierrez, who was appointed Ombudsman last year.

Ermita did not say when Apostol’s appointment paper was signed by Mrs. Arroyo, but his designation was the subject of news reports for several weeks.

Palace officials said one of Apostol’s backers was Solicitor General Antonio Nachura, also a former lawmaker from Samar and a member of the prosecution team during the impeachment trial.

Nachura briefly served as chief presidential legal counsel before his appointment to his current post.

Apostol, an acknowledged legal expert, served as fiscal in Quezon City during the Marcos administration and as president and chief executive of the Philippine National Oil Co. (PNOC) from 2001 to 2004. He was also a member of the defunct Consultative Commission, which was formed by Malacañang last year to come up with proposed amendments to the Constitution.

"I have a high respect for former congressman Serge Apostol. We were colleagues and I believe he has gained the respect also of those who observed how he performed during the impeachment proceedings," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said.

According to Malacañang, Mrs. Arroyo is going to make more appointments to her Cabinet in an ongoing reorganization of her official family to hasten the implementation of her programs.

Ermita and Bunye, in separate interviews, stressed the Cabinet revamp is normal and it is the President’s prerogative to remove, appoint or transfer officials as she sees fit.

"The changes in the Cabinet are meant to follow the strategic pace of reforms and programs she wants to be in place the soonest possible time," Bunye said. "This presidential prerogative is attuned to her goal of growing the economy, rendering it globally competitive and strengthening the fight against poverty."

He said the President’s "guiding principle is good governance through the individual and collective performance of the Cabinet and the national agencies."

Ermita disclosed that among those who may be appointed are former Armed Forces chief retired Gen. Generoso Senga who, after taking a vacation, met with Mrs. Arroyo last week where his possible appointment was discussed.

Mrs. Arroyo apparently offered Senga a post as Ermita said the latter told her that he would have to think it over and discuss the offer with his wife.

Ermita also said the Palace is looking for a replacement for Anneli Lontoc, former chief of the Land Transportation Office (LTO), now undersecretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

There have been reports that LTO-National Capital Region chief Reynaldo Berroya is one of those being eyed to replace Lontoc but Bunye and Ermita said they were not aware of such moves.

Mrs. Arroyo appointed on Wednesday Presidential Management Staff (PMS) director general Arthur Yap as agriculture secretary to replace Domingo Panganiban, who in turn will chair the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC).

Secretary Cerge Remonde, concurrently head of the Government Mass Media Group (GMMG), heads the NAPC. Remonde will take over Yap’s PMS post and will be retained as GMMG head in the meantime.

The President also transferred Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) chairman Ma. Elena Bautista to the DOTC as undersecretary. She was replaced by DOTC spokesman Thompson Lantion.

Ermita has announced the appointments of Cesar Sarmiento and Elmer Soneja both as acting assistant secretaries of the DOTC. Other appointments include: Benedicto Ernesto Bitonio as senior vice president of the Development Bank of the Philippines, Gerardo Benjamin Nograles as acting chairman of the National Labor Relations Commission.

Mrs. Arroyo also promoted Press Assistant Secretary Martin Crisostomo to the position of undersecretary at the Office of the President to handle media affairs.

Ermita denied that there was some disgruntled feelings generated by the revamp, particularly from Panganiban, who was said to have felt demoted by his transfer to the NAPC.

He said Panganiban knew beforehand of his transfer and he was not complaining, as the NAPC post is a Cabinet position.

"The NAPC is very important because plays a very important role in lifting the poor out of poverty and is linked with practically all agencies," he said.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo will soon issue an executive order on the fate of the GMMG. He refused to say whether the group would be disbanded or retained under him or Remonde’s possible successor.

Some Palace officials who refused to be named said the GMMG, which is composed of state-owned broadcast stations, would be disbanded and placed under Bunye.

In a telephone interview, Remonde said the matter of the GMMG, which he formed, was not yet discussed between him, Bunye and the President.

"I hope the GMMG would be retained because of its effectiveness but I leave the matter up to the President," he said. — Paolo Romero

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