No rush to name Cabinet replacements

Delon Porcalla, Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - There’s no rush on the part of Malacañang to name replacements for Cabinet officials who have resigned to run for senator next year, including the controversial former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Francis Tolentino.

“You don’t fill a post just because it’s vacant. You fill a post because it will benefit the agency. And that decision belongs to the President, and the President does take a look. It is not just place filler,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a press briefing yesterday.

The Palace, through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., said it has accepted Tolentino’s resignation.

Secretary Joel Villanueva of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority also tendered his resignation yesterday to join the Senate slate of the administration. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has also announced her plan to quit the department to join the Senate race, but has yet to file a resignation letter.

Valte said it’s the administration’s policy to thoroughly screen nominees for vacant posts. “There are many considerations,” Valte pointed out.

Valte assured the public there would be no interruption in government services with the trio’s resignation. “The next in rank normally becomes officer-in-charge. The bureaucracy is such that it has a natural progression,” she said.

“That being said, the instructions of the President really are to continue the work of these agencies with the least possible downtime,” she added.

Ochoa, meanwhile, told Tolentino in a letter dated Oct. 8 of the President’s gratitude for the former MMDA chief’s “valuable and dedicated service to the government.”

Before getting enmeshed in a controversy over a raunchy performance by all-female dance group Playgirls at a Liberal Party event in Laguna, Tolentino had signified his intention to quit to run for senator in 2016.

When he announced his resignation after drawing flak for the Playgirls stunt, Tolentino said he was also asking the LP to drop his name from its list of senatorial candidates.

He was accused of inviting the dancers as a gift to Laguna Rep. Benjamin Agarao, who was celebrating his birthday on that day, which coincided with the swearing in of new LP members.

He denied the accusation but apologized for failing to stop the controversial performance despite his being the highest official present.

Meanwhile, Villanueva said he submitted his resignation letter to Ochoa yesterday afternoon and recommended deputy directors general Irene Isaac or Ted Pascua as replacement.

But he said it would be up to Aquino or Ochoa to appoint an officer-in-charge for the agency.

Villanueva also made clear there was no rift between him and administration presidential candidate Manuel Roxas II despite rumors it was the Balay group of Roxas who was behind the filing of charges against him in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel scam.

The TESDA chief said he and Roxas were together in Laguna for an LP event on Thursday and denied reports that he was still talking to the camps of other presidential candidates – Sen. Grace Poe and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the latter undeclared.

Villanueva said he preferred to stay with Aquino after serving in TESDA.

Villanueva said that while he might have had differences with some LP members or even with De Lima over the pork barrel scam issue, he still would like to be part of Aquino’s team.

Aquino earlier described as “intrigues” reports that Villanueva is now with the camp of Poe due to the filing of charges against him.

Villanueva had said he personally finds it awkward to run with De Lima but that there is still work to be done and any differences with the outgoing justice chief should not distract them from their goals.

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