Ebdane is new Defense chief

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is expected to announce today the appointment of Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane as secretary of the Department of National Defense.

All indications point to Ebdane, former director general of the National Police and former national security adviser, as the President’s choice for the Cabinet position.

Without confirming or denying that Ebdane is the incoming defense chief, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said yesterday that he would announce the appointee’s name at 9 a.m. today.

Bunye said the appointee’s name will be contained in a sealed envelope to be handed to him by the President.

He said the President is also expected to designate an officer-in-charge at the Department of Public Works and Highways if indeed Ebdane is the new defense secretary.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita earlier revealed that the President is likely to choose any of the senior officials of public works to act as OIC until she appoints a permanent secretary after the May elections.

Undersecretaries Florante Soriquez and Manuel Bonoan are the leading contenders for the DPWH’s top post, Palace sources said. Vice President Noli de Castro has endorsed Bonoan for the top post, citing the undersecretary’s vast experience and familiarity with the workings of the department.

Bonoan, a 40-year career veteran of the department, said he was prepared to take on the challenge of serving the department in another capacity. He said he would continue to serve the new leadership even if he could not land the top job. “I believe that I will still be able to contribute in my own little way no matter who gets appointed.”

But a related report from the House of Representatives said Ebdane has recommended Assistant Secretary Rafael Yabut for appointment as OIC. This was disclosed by a member of the House committee on public works and highways. Another source said former National Police Chief Arturo Lomibao emerged as another contender for the public works portfolio.

The President herself had given hints that Ebdane would get the defense portfolio by turning to him whenever defense matters were discussed during Cabinet meetings.

Ebdane said that being a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy and a former military officer, he has the preparation and predisposition to assume the post of defense secretary.

The expected appointment of Ebdane is contrary to the recommendation of the Feliciano Commission for the defense department to be headed by a civilian or one with no military background. The commission investigated the failed Oakwood mutiny in 2003.