Odd (wo)man out in Digong’s Cabinet

Vice President Leni Robredo, one of the defeated presidential candidates, has urged her supporters to accept the voice of the electorate, an indication she has conceded although she hasn’t said so yet.

In a “thanksgiving” event at the Ateneo de Manila University campus, Robredo said that she was setting up a volunteer network whose mission is to help “those in the fringes of society.”

She did that – connect with volunteers and donors from the private sector – at the start of her term in 2016 but got sidetracked when she was appointed to the housing and urban development coordinating council.

However, President Digong Duterte kicked her out and later appointed her as co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs. She was also given the boot in that position.

From where I sit, the “Davao Group” in Malacañang drove a wedge between her and the President.

Pinag-away sila (They were pitted against each other).

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Yes, Leni was an odd man (or woman) out in the Duterte Cabinet, but that could have been solved by having open dialogues with her. After all, she was doing what a member of the opposition was expected to do: check and balance.

If the President didn’t want any opposition within his circle, why did he give her positions of trust in the first place?

What happened to Robredo also happened to the late Gina Lopez, who was secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The Davao Group influenced the Commission on Appointments (COA) to give Lopez’s appointment the thumbs down.

The powerful commission, composed of selected senators and congressmen/women, was influenced by the Davao Group and presidential cronies who have interests in mining, which was anathema to Lopez, an environmentalist.

Needless to say, I could not go directly to Digong even if I was performing my job as a special envoy to China. The Davao Group blocked me at every turn from seeing Digong who, I learned from some insiders, would sometimes ask for me. He was told that I could not be reached even if I am always available to chat with my bosom friend.

I could only see the President when I persisted, which was few and far between.

The Davao Group isolated Digong from the rest of the world.

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Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman and former Mandaluyong mayor Benhur Abalos would make an excellent secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

The impending appointment of Abalos as DILG chief has been announced by presumptive president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos.

Abalos is an astute politician and excellent leader.

“We have seen how he ably steered the COVID-19 pandemic response in the National Capital Region which has resulted in the downward trend of coronavirus cases and the successful rollout of the vaccination program in Metro Manila,” said Eduardo Año, the guy he would replace at the DILG.

Let’s hope Benhur Abalos makes the ill-disciplined Philippine National Police (PNP) toe the line.

The PNP is under the supervision of the DILG chief who is also ex-officio chairman of the National Police Commission, a policy-making and disciplinary body.

A disciplined police force leads to a reduced crime rate.

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If less and less water flows out of the Angat Dam, blame it on illegal quarrying in its watershed.

The dam supplies water to Metro Manila.

Illegal quarrying in the Angat Dam watershed straddling the towns of Angat and Norzagaray in Bulacan has led to the erosion of the areas around the dam.

Trees that hold the soil in the watershed have been cut to give way to illegal quarrying.

The mayor of one of the towns in Bulacan is reported to be the quarry operator.

Corrupt personnel of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have not stopped the quarrying because they receive bribes from the mayor.

Presumptive congressman Salvador Pleyto is the source of the information.

Pleyto, who won over his five opponents in the newly created sixth district of Bulacan, said the illegal quarrying has complete disregard for the environment.

Nobody is stopping the quarrying. “The police, military and DENR people look the other way while Mother Nature is being violated,” said Pleyto.

Pleyto’s sixth district is composed of the towns of Sta. Maria, Norzagaray and Angat.

Norzagaray has a big indigenous Dumagat tribe settlement in Bgy. San Mateo.

Pleyto said it is ironic that despite their accessibility to the Angat Dam, the Dumagats have no water.

The presumptive congressman said his first order of business would be to plead with the provincial or national government to provide clean water to the tribe.

Pleyto has a heart for the indigenous people. I’ve known him since his days as a district engineer of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Mindoro Oriental in the early 1980s.

I was hunting wild game – which is now illegal – in 1983 when I first met Pleyto, who employed Mangyans, indigenous people in Mindoro, on a road construction project.

He was the first district engineer in Mindoro to employ Mangyans on a rotation basis.

When members of a Mangyan tribe received their weekly pay every Saturday, they would not report for work on Mondays, prompting him to hire another tribe to do the roadwork.

The Mangyan tribesmen that went absent would report the following week to replace the tribesmen that replaced them. This would be repeated every week, said the former district engineer Pleyto.

“I’ll spend the remaining years of my life serving the less fortunate among my constituents, and they include the Dumagat tribes,” the 80-year-old newly elected congressman of Bulacan said.

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