Escudero confirms Palace infighting
By Angie M. Rosales
A key ally of President Aquino yesterday practically confirmed unending bickering among two major “factions” within Aquino’s inner circle in the Palace after reports the other day that former Sen. Manuel Roxas II, Aquino’s losing vice presidential running mate, had started moves to ease out Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. to pave the way for his assumption of the post.
Sen. Francis Escudero called on the staff and supporters of Aquino to set aside personal and political differences as it is getting in the way of the administration’s effectivity.
Roxas was guaranteed by Aquino of a Cabinet post once the one-year ban on losing candidates to assume a government post ends on May nextyear.
Reports said that Roxas, also Liberal Party (LP) president, is bent on ousting Executive Sec. Paquito Ochoa Jr. from his position as he is allegedly eyeing the said post and that Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ricky Carandang was allegedly behind the floating of the news on Ochoa’s removal from his post.
Escudero noted that while everything seems to be already going smoothly among Pres. Aquino’s staff, they even had the traditional “exchange gifts” during a recent Christmas party, the senator expressed belief that there remains the issue of “factionalism” within the core group.
“I think it will take some time before they could patch things up and establish a better working relationship. I hope they will set aside their personal and political differences and attend to their respective tasks with the interest of the country in mind,” he added.
“They should bury the hatchet. I think all of them, most of them if not all are growing in the office or have already grown in the office and I hope we can see a better working Cabinet come 2011 because I’m sure they’re already well adept with their position, title, influence and control of their respective offices,” he said.
Among the prominent factions in the Aquino administration are the so-called “Balay” and “Samar” groups.
Escudero, who supported Pres. Aquino’s candidacy in the last elections, is said to be part of the so-called “Samar” group that backed up the Noy-Bi (Aquino-Binay) tandem during the campaign.
Balay group” was coined from the Visayan word “Balay” as the Roxases house in Cubao is called, while “Samar group” originated from a street named Samar in South Triangle in Quezon City where the so-called “Noy-bi” (Noynoy-Binay) group held their campaign headquarters.
Among those identified to belong to the “Balay group” are the members of the “Hyatt 10” that included among others Social Wefare and Development Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman, Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima. Carandang, who is considered to be with the Roxas Balay group claimed he has nothing to do with the rumor on Ochoa.
Carandang, in a message relayed to Palace reporters, denied reports that he was the one who has been spreading such rumors which has been the subject of idle talks for quite a long time now even before Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Jose Melo announced his early retirement by next year.
“Someone is just trying to sow intrigue, as you know, people have been operating in the media against me since I began this job,” Carandang said.
Carandang’s statement was backed by his closest associate in the Communications Group, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, who explained that it is only logical for Aquino to tap the services of Roxas in his government but belied rumors over so-called plans to transfer Ochoa so he could achieve such aim.
“I remember President Aquino said something to that effect [appointing Roxas in government]. But, again, we don’t know what position he will give him. Remember, during the campaign they carried the same platform. They campaigned on the same promise so it is just logical for the President to ask Senator Mar Roxas to join his [official] family. In what capacity, I do not know,” Lacierda stressed.
Lacierda claimed it would be up to Aquino whether he would give Roxas a free hand to choose whatever position in his government once the one-year mandatory ban on losing electoral candidates expires next year.
Aquino, in previous interviews, has time and again denied that he is considering a major Cabinet revamp by next year.
Ochoa, for his part, has earlier stated that he was not inclined to believe on these rumors which, he said, might have been circulated by his detractors who were not satisfied with his performance as Executive Secretary.
At a pre-birthday he hosted with the media last November 9, Ochoa expressed that while Aquino sometimes complains about his efficiency, this doesn’t really get him to that point where he would consider his termination from duty because they have always managed whatever issues they have with each other in terms of working relationship at the end of the day.
When asked if he shares the observations held by many that the source of these rumors came from the Balay faction, Ochoa said he wouldn’t know but his quick denial failed to convince the media as he himself hinted that divisions inside Aquino’s Cabinet persist no matter how hard the administration tries to conceal it.
“Like I always tell my colleagues, my staff, my deputy executive secretaries and other coworkers in government, there is always going to be intrigues, mudslinging—you would always have someone from another group who dislikes you. Sometimes you would think that the one sitting next to you likes you and you thought you also feels the same but later on, you’d realize you were wrong. So it’s like a sort of part of the normal [life] in government service,” Ochoa was quoted saying that time.