Dureza next press secretary

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE– PRESIDENT Arroyo is eyeing presidential adviser on the peace process Jesus Dureza as the next press secretary, one of the few remaining appointments before the ongoing Cabinet revamp ends.

A high-ranking Palace source said Dureza, a former journalist, had emerged as the top choice in the shortlist submitted by Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye.

“He will just wind up his work in the peace process; then he will assume the post,” the official said.

Bunye would neither confirm nor deny Dureza’s forthcoming appointment, but said his replacement was male and an insider with a Cabinet rank.

“I will make the announcement on May 18, and I will also announce his replacement,” the outgoing spokesman said in an interview during the Newsstand Forum held at the Ambassador Hotel in Manila.

“He will assume the post of press secretary on June 16, while I will remain as presidential spokesman and interim presidential adviser on political affairs until July 3,” Bunye added.

Bunye is set to move to the Monetary Board, the central bank’s policy-making body, on July 3 and will have a fixed-term of six years or until July 2014.

Dureza, who also heads the Mindanao Economic Development Council, once served as the official spokesman of former President Fidel Ramos.

The former congressman also previously served as president of the Davao Press Club and editor of The Mindanao Times.

He graduated cum laude from the Ateneo de Davao University and placed 10th in the 1973 Bar examinations.

Bunye was not sure whether his replacement as press secretary would also serve as presidential spokesman, but said the ongoing revamp was set to end once the vacancies were filled up.

“The President explained that when she said there will be a revamp, she was referring to me and Ric [Saludo]. My understanding is that the candidates who lost in the 2007 elections will no longer be appointed,” Bunye said.

Dureza said “nothing is final” until he saw his appointment papers.

“That is the sole prerogative of the President and we cannot preempt her. I have not been informed of anything yet,” he said in a telephone interview.

Outgoing Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo has been appointed head of the Commission on Human Rights to replace Karina David, who retired.

Saludo will be replaced by former presidential adviser on new government centers Silvestre Bello III.

Bello aside, the other Cabinet officials affected by the revamp were Robert Dean Barbers, who was replaced by Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano as head of the Philippine Tourism Authority in a concurrent capacity, and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, who was relieved of his other post as presidential adviser on political affairs.

Election lawyer Leila de Lima, who represented opposition candidates during the May polls last year, was also appointed head of the Commission on Human Rights.

President Arroyo said a civilian post was also awaiting retired military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr., who was replaced by Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano.

Also yesterday, the President appointed former Socio-economic Planning Secretary Dante Canlas as the contact person for the country’s efforts to obtain a grant under the five-year compact program of the United States Millennium Challenge Corp., which has been giving an average of $344 million to eligible countries.

Mrs. Arroyo met with MCC vice president for compact development John Hewko at the Palace yesterday, where she reiterated the government’s commitment to come up with a concrete proposal for the large-scale financing.

Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said Canlas’ appointment would ensure that the government’s proposal would be approved by the MCC, a foreign-assistance program established by the US to help reduce poverty through sustainable growth in some of the poorest countries in the world.

“The early appointment of a point-of-contact for the Philippines demonstrates the government’s commitment to complete promptly its compact proposal. We are hopeful that the MCC will recognize our efforts to upgrade to compact status where we can avail of a higher grant,” Teves said in a statement.

Canlas, an economics professor at the University of the Philippines, previously served as executive director of the Asian Development Bank and has done consultancy work with the World Bank, the International Labor Organization, and the United States Agency for International Development.

Hewko congratulated the country for being selected as eligible for the five-year compact program.

“This has been a very productive trip. We have had excellent meetings with civil society groups, the private sector, and government officials including President Arroyo,” he said.