Atienza assumes DENR

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza yesterday took his oath of office as secretary of environment and natural resources before President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in Malacañang.

His induction belies report that outgoing Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes may be allowed to stay longer at the department supposedly to complete some projects. Reyes has been transferred to the Department of Energy.

The President also administered the oath of office of Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman.

Atienza debunked reports that Reyes was “resisting” his transfer to the energy department and had requested the President for an extension of his stay at the environment department.

In fact, he said he met with Reyes Monday evening and they agreed on a simple turnover ceremony at the Office of the DENR Secretary today.

“He even extended a friendly, helping hand. I told him I would like to continue his programs, especially the tree planting and reforestation,” the new environment czar told newsmen before taking his oath.

Defining his priorities, Atienza said he will pay special attention to programs that will address the problems of climate change and declining water supply caused by the drying up of lakes and rivers.

“We will have to coordinate with all government agencies concerned and map out our program of action,” he said.

Atienza laughed off criticisms that he is not cut out for the job due to his alleged poor environmental record during his stint as Manila mayor.

In fact, he said he was instrumental in carrying out the cleanup and beautification of the Manila Bay area as a showcase of the government’s environment protection campaign.

“Hopefully, now that I am the DENR secretary, I could lead the program to revive Manila Bay. That will be one of my main concerns,” Atienza said.

He said he does not think that his powers as environment secretary have been emasculated by the transfer of the Philippine Mining Development Corp. from the DENR to the Office of the President. Former Senator Heherson Alvarez, who also served as environment secretary under the Aquino Cabinet, has been named chairman of the PMDC.

“I don’t look at it that way. I look at it more as part of the streamlining of the DENR. There may be some gray areas in the operations of the department that should be corrected. Or it is possible that the DENR secretary is overloaded with functions,” Atienza said.

Downplaying the impression that his appointment as environment chief was some kind of “political accommodation,” Atienza said: “It is the prerogative of the President to choose the people whom she trusts. I am honored for the privilege of occupying this position.”