No politics TESDA man
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - June 7, 2019 - 12:00am

What is it at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) that has seemingly become a staging ground for its head, the Director General, to quit later in order to run for elective post? The most recent example is erstwhile TESDA chief now Senator Joel Villanueva. After his stint as CIBAC party-list representative for three consecutive terms, Villanueva was appointed as TESDA head in 2010 during the previous PNoy administration.

Villanueva quit several months before the May 2013 mid-term elections to run under the Liberal Party-led coalition senatorial ticket. With “TESDA man” as his campaign vehicle, Villanueva won a Senate seat.

Another former Congressman who later became TESDA Director General was ex-Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco who served during the Arroyo administration. Before the holding of the May 2010 presidential elections, Syjuco resigned from TESDA to run anew in his congressional district in Iloilo.

When the new administration took over in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Guiling “Gene” Mamondiong as his TESDA chief. Like his two fellow ex-TESDA chiefs, Mamondiong resigned a few months before the mid-term elections last May 13 this year to run as Lanao del Sur Governor. But he lost.

When Mamondiong resigned in October last year, President Duterte appointed then Bureau of Customs commissioner Isidro Lapeña to become his new TESDA chief. “General Lapeña will move to TESDA. I will promote you to a Cabinet position,” President Duterte announced.

“It’s a way of instituting reforms in the Bureau of Customs and I respect that,” Lapeña told reporters after the presidential announcement. He was replaced by former Armed Forces chief of staff retired General Leonardo Guerrero as Customs commissioner.

Fast forward. When I first met Lapeña in our Tuesday Club breakfast group at the EDSA Shangri-la in Mandaluyong City, there was a common question to him in our coffee shop banter: “Are you running for elections?” To which the incumbent TESDA chief replied with a wide grin: “Politics is not in my veins.”

A TESDA director general carries the rank of a Cabinet member. It is a line agency that is mandated to provide direction, policies, programs and standards toward  quality technical vocational education, and skills development. For this year, it has P12.5-billion budget approved by Congress.

 Actually, TESDA is the third government office that Lapeña was appointed to in the past three years of the Duterte administration. Before his stint at Customs, he was first assigned to lead the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), now headed by former police General Aaron Aquino.

Lapeña was a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 1973. He and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana were “mistahs.” After graduation, Lapeña joined the defunct Philippine Constabulary while Lorenzana went to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). They were the first batch of young 2nd Lieutenants that were deployed to Mindanao battlefields after the declaration of martial law in September 1972.

According to Lapeña, he has served more than 20 years of his uniformed service being assigned to various hotspot provinces in Mindanao. It was during those years he was able to work with President Duterte who was still then a young fiscal and later became Davao City mayor.

So when the President reassigned him to become his TESDA director general, Lapeña noted it was like putting fish in the water. With his former military training and background in the anti-insurgency campaign, Lapeña explained, TESDA is now directly in the frontline of the government’s continuing war against poverty.

“The insurgency problem (of the country), its root cause is poverty,” Lapeña told our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum at the Cafe Adriatico in Malate last Wednesday.

To which I say, poverty has been the “breeding ground” of communist rebels in the Philippines.

Lapeña, along with Department of Education Undersecretary for operations Jesus Mateo, were my featured guests who discussed the start of school year 2019-2020 as our conversation topic for this week’s Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum.

During our news forum, Lapeña said, by promoting technical-vocational education and training (TVET) in the countryside, TESDA would be able to empower former rebels to go back to gainful jobs in their communities. Or even to work abroad using the TESDA acquired skills they can get from such state-funded job training courses.

 Under TESDA’s mandate of job creation through TVET, he cited, is a strategy of curbing insurgency by enticing members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples’ Army (CPP-NPA) in far-flung areas in the provinces to peacefully lay down their arms and become productive members instead in their communities.

One of the newest functions of TESDA is its designation as lead government agency of the Livelihood, Poverty Reduction and Employment Cluster.

The TESDA-led Cluster is part of the Whole Nation Approach in Attaining Inclusive and Sustainable Peace as spelled out in Executive Order (EO) 70 that President Duterte signed on Dec. 4 last year.

A National Task Force – chaired no less by the President as Chief Executive and Commander-in-chief of the AFP and the PNP – was created to direct the National Peace Framework. This would, hopefully, end the more than five decades old local communist armed conflict in our country.

Based on their own data from January to May 29 this year, TESDA had served a total of 1,290 former communist rebels who have graduated from TESDA assisted skills training courses all over the country, while a total of 3,718 former drug pushers and users have also finished the training programs for various skills they availed of.

 Lapeña believes communist rebel returnees as well as former drug dependents need all the help they can get from the government. This will give them a second chance to start a new life.

That’s how a “no politics” TESDA man can do the job. And how he does it in his third job will define the remaining three years of this administration.

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