The Aquino Cabinet: Winners and losers of 2014
MANILA, Philippines – Within every team, there are highlights and headaches, assets and weak links – and it was no different for President Benigno Aquino III's Cabinet in 2014.
While some appeared to fulfill their mandates without a hitch, others just couldn't seem to get a break either from the controversies surrounding them or their seeming failure to successfully complete their work.
Here are this year's achievers, in no particular order:
Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson
When Singson took over the Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary (DPWH), he wanted all bridge projects that had taken years to complete to be finished under Aquino's term.
Singson has delivered, completing old projects, particularly in Mindanao. Earlier in July, DPWH reported that 28 projects were completed in Regions X, XI, XII, and Caraga in Mindanao – spanning a combined length of 101.98 km. The Basilan Circumferential Road, which had been under construction since 2000, is also nearing completion, while a bulk of the 2015 DPWH budget will be for Mindanao.
Singson's department has about P270 billion ($6.05 billion)* worth of projects for 2015, and is also set to roll off billions of pesos worth of projects in 2015 not only in national roads, but also priority projects concerning the water sector: drainage, water supply, and flood control.
Also known for instituting more transparent bidding, Singson has vowed to resign if proven that a single centavo of the Iloilo Convention Center went to the wrong hands. There has been no evidence of such so far. During Aquino's visit to Guiuan, Eastern Samar, on the anniversary of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the President himself praised the secretary, citing Singson for not making promises he can't keep, and for usually finishing projects ahead of schedule.
Education Secretary Armin Luistro
The magic number is 66,813. This is the number of classrooms completed by the administration in February, thanks to the leadership of Luistro, officially removing the backlog in classrooms left by the previous administration.
There was a need for 66,800 classrooms when the Aquino government took over. Luistro not only met the target but exceeded the number of needed classrooms. He has promised that all classrooms affected by Yolanda will be constructed by June 2015.
The Department of Education (DepEd) under his leadership has also recently implemented the National Inventory of DepEd Public School buildings, mandating all public schools to report both the inventory and condition of their resources to ensure these pass standards. The new mechanism will take effect in December 2014.
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima
Three senators have been detained and a high-profile arrest made in her watch. Few will argue that, although a controversial figure, De Lima was a bright star this year, as she remained on top of the country's biggest crimes and controversies.
With the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) under her watch, the NBI arrested retired general Jovito Palparan, tagged as “the butcher” by human rights activists.
This was also the year lawmakers connected to the multi-million-peso pork barrel scam – namely senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla – were put behind bars as they await their plunder trials. The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed complaints against them before the Office of the Ombudsman, and these have since been elevated as plunder cases before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.
Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez
Since Jimenez took the helm of the Department of Tourism (DOT), tourism in the Philippines has increased steadily and continued to do so in 2014. The DOT recorded 3.27 million tourist arrivals in the first 8 months of 2014 – a 2.72% jump year-on-year. Tourism revenues booked P144.4 billion ($3.29 billion) for the same period. Additionally, the DOT's “It's more fun in the Philippines” campaign was recognized as one of the world's best marketing campaigns by Warc 100 in July.
The campaign helped increase awareness. Palawan upped its their global fame as a tourist site after it was named the most beautiful island in the world by the 2014 Conde Nast Traveler's Readers' Choice Awards. The Philippines has been recognized in the tourism industry, and awarded the Destination of the Year at the 25th Annual TTG Travel Awards.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario
After a rough year with China in 2013, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) finally saw a decrease in tensions between the Philippines and the superpower, with President Aquino himself admitting relations are improving.
The statement came months after the Philippines submitted a memorial to a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal to stand up against China and fight for the Philippines' claims over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Also this year, the 4-year-old bus hostage issue between the Philippines and Hong Kong was finally resolved earning the country's top diplomat some plus points.
Nothing but better relations can be expected for the following year, especially after Aquino's countless trips this year from Asia to Europe to the United States, so expect Del Rosario to keep shining through 2015.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II
While Roxas still is a favorite target by critical netizens, the interior secretary laid low this year from the usual controversies and kept unusually quiet, and this appeared to have helped his image.
As the 2016 elections draw near, the potential Liberal Party standard bearer has refused to talk politics, unsurprisingly helping his numbers. The latest 2016 poll on presidential preferences shows a rise in his ratings from 7% in June, to 13% in September.
He also ends the year with a bang as the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) shows off a drop in crime incidences in the National Capital Region, thanks to a system Roxas put in place that demands accountability from police chiefs in the region. Ongoing plans for the improvement of the police force include the digitization of police records and blotters, mandatory installation of CCTVs in public places, and spreading his crime-drop operation to the rest of the country.
While 2014 was smooth sailing for some of Aquino's men (and woman), it was clearly a rough year for the others. Here's Rappler's compilation of the not so lucky in Aquino's Cabinet:
Health Secretary Enrique Ona
It all started in late October when news of Ona taking a leave from the Department of Health (DOH) broke. It only went downhill from there for the surgeon. A few days later, President Aquino admitted he asked Ona to take a leave to prepare answers to questions he has on public health and the government's vaccination campaign. By November, rumors were rife that Ona was on his way out for good, although Malacañang said Ona would instead be on “extended leave.”
The National Bureau of Investigation is also looking into the DOH's purchase in 2012 of one million units of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 10 (PCV 10), which some sectors say could have been replaced with a more cost-effective vaccine. The embattled health chief is also facing questions after Acting Secretary Janette Garin's suspension of a department order by Ona to run clinical trials of anti-dengue treatment ActRx Triact in government hospitals.
Some insiders say Ona is merely caught in the middle of politics. Either way, his fate lies in the hands of the President, who earlier said his satisfaction with Ona's performance would depend on his explanation.
Transportation Secretary Emilio Abaya
If any one secretary felt the most wrath from the common Filipino, it may have been Abaya whose year was peppered with consecutive problems with the Metro Rail Transit (MRT). For a time, it seemed that MRT's defects pervaded the headlines, with a different problem being reported every week.
To appease the public over the train's inefficiencies, Abaya himself rode the MRT3 to show it is safe, only to receive the ire of netizens. Abaya was slammed for riding the train with staff members, security personnel, and media coverage during off-peak hours.
He has also since admitted that the upgrade of the MRT3 has been long overdue – but only after the train bulldozed safety barriers, resulting in 36 passengers getting rushed to hospitals. The MRT3 is set for an upgrae with the acquisition of 48 new trains but the first coaches are not scheduled to arrive until 2015.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala
Alcala continues to be hounded by corruption allegations that won't seem to go away. In May, Alcala was part of the list submitted by pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles to the justice department, accusing him as taking part in the Philippines' biggest corruption scandal in recent history involving the misuse of development funds when he was a congressman of Quezon. In October, the Commission on Audit (COA) appeared to agree with Napoles, blaming Alcala for the misuse of P759.1 million worth of lawmakers' funds.
Aside from combatting corruption allegations against himself, Alcala also has to deal with corruption within his ranks, with 200 administrative complaints having been filed against Department of Agriculture (DA) employees suspected of aiding rice smugglers. He continues to deny that he too has benefitted from rice smuggling operations.
Aquino has defended Alcala, although he has also appointed former senator Francis Pangilinan as Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization to help clean up 4 agricultural agencies related to irregularities.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad
No stranger to controversy, Abad may have had his toughest year yet after the Supreme Court declared partially unconstitutional the Aquino administration's Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which he engineered. Critics turned their wrath on Abad after the decision on the economic stimulus package was released, accusing him of graft and plunder.
The lowest point of disapproval shown to the budget secretary came in September, when leftist activists at the University of the Philippines Diliman threw coins and paper at Abad and shouted at him after an on-campus forum on DAP where he spoke. Aquino has continued to defend Abad and DAP with conviction.
Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla
Talks of rotating blackouts in 2015 have been persistent in the news, which has led the administration to ask Congress for a joint resolution allowing the President to purchase or lease additional power to address the crisis.
Right in the middle of it all is Petilla, who has been criticized for not having detected the problem earlier and for allegedly blowing out of proportions the expected power shortage. Petilla has given up hope on a joint resolution as the solution to addressing the problem after the Senate and the House of Representatives said they do not find any reason to fast track it.
Petilla said the Department of Energy (DOE) will instead use the Interruptible Load Program (ILP) to deal with the crisis. It is a program wherein companies will run their own generators to help produce power. This, while Petilla has to deal with brownouts in typhoon-hit areas, most recently Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit).
Housing Secretary and Vice President Jejomar Binay
Did 2014 mark the fall of Binay? Critics think so, as allegations of corruption put Binay and his family in the spotlight. A Senate probe into an overpriced Makati building under his mayorship evolved into revelations of Binay's supposed ownership of numerous properties, including apartments all over Makati and a 350-hectare estate in Batangas.
The allegations so affected the Vice President that he initiated a meeting with Aquino, where the President said Binay asked that the Senate probe against him be stopped. Binay's ratings have dropped double digits due to the controversies in the latest 2016 presidential polls – falling from 41% to 31%. He, however, still leads the race, according to surveys. – Rappler.com
*US$1 = P44.61