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Monday, July 04, 2005

Disappointed Biz Leaders

by Ellen Tordesillas, Malaya
BUSINESSMAN Tomas Alcantara has been appointed Malacañang chief of staff, in what is seen as an attempt by GMA to consolidate her forces in this critical time of her presidency.

The appointment of Alcantara is also seen as undermining Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who is known in the Malacañang inner circle to be locked in a quiet but intense power struggle with Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz.

In many issues that divided Arroyo's cabinet, especially in the last two months, Malacañang sources said Cruz and Alcantara were on one side with what is dubbed as the "Doves" as against Ermita, who has taken the hardline position with the "Hawks."

Arroyo first made the announcement of Alcantara's appointment last Wednesday before a group of 15 businessmen she met at her family's home on Cambridge street in Forbes Park immediately after her speech at the Manila Polo Club.

The source said it was funny because while waiting for GMA, they were listening on the radio to Susan Roces' emotional speech at the Club Filipino rejecting Arroyo's apology and accusing her of stealing the election not once, but twice. The source said many of them were impressed with Roces' speech. When they saw GMA coming in, they turned off the radio.

Aside from Alcantara, those in the meeting included Trade Secretary Johnny Santos; Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima; Jaime Augusto Zobel of the Ayala business empire; former Finance Secretary Ramon del Rosario who also chairs the Philippine-US Business Council; Roberto Romulo, presidential adviser on international competitiveness; Bill Luz of the Makati Business Club; Sergio Ortiz Luis, president of the Philippine Exporters Federation; Donald Dee of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and Jose Aboitiz.

The source said after the usual congratulatory remarks about her speech before the Philippine Business Forum where she announced that her husband Mike Arroyo had volunteered to leave the country, it was Luz who started telling her what they think is the real score.

Luz said: "The public's expectations are high. You can't let these expectations outpace your reforms."

The source said the businessmen were disappointed that GMA did not announce at the Manila Polo Club the removal of cabinet members and officials identified with Mike Arroyo and the resignation of son Mikey and brother-in-law Iggy Arroyo from Congress which were included in the recommendation they submitted June 26.

Other sources said Mike is still resisting some of the drastic reforms recommended that adversely affects his protégés in the Cabinet and government corporations.

Among cabinet officials identified with Mike Arroyo are Legal Counsel Merceditas Gutierrez, Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane and Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza.

Other Mike Arroyo boys who are in "cash cow "agencies are Efraim Genuino, chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation; Alfonso Cusi, general manager of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport; Edgar Manda, general manager of Laguna Lake Development Authority, and Jocelyn Bolante, GSIS director who was involved in the alleged use of agricultural funds for GMA's election campaign.

The businessmen stressed to Arroyo the need for transparency in government transactions and sanctity of contracts. Arroyo just listened and promised to carry out the necessary reforms.

They welcomed the appointment in the cabinet of Tom Alcantara, who is known as the most trusted of Arroyo's advisers. "If the Palace official said.

As chief of- staff, Alcantara will also serve as "gatekeeper" in the office of the President, which will give him a degree of influence in Malacañang.

The position of chief of staff was first held by former journalist Rigoberto Tiglao, who is now head of the Presidential Management Staff. Norberto Gonzales, now back as national security adviser, held that position briefly.

The friendship of Alcantara, who, until last Wednesday, held the position of ambassador-at-large, and Arroyo dates back to their days as trade undersecretaries during the Aquino administration. His family business, Alcantara and Sons, is in timber, energy and agriculture. He was involved in fundraising for Arroyo's 2004 presidential campaign.

Alcantara was with a group of advisers and select cabinet members who met with Arroyo on the evening of June 26, the day before her televised apology, also at the Macapagal house in Forbes Park, urging her to speak on her wiretapped conversations with Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano now called the "Gloriagate" tapes. They made a presentation on the issues that have to be confronted. They also submitted a draft for the Monday statement that included the reforms recommended by 12 cabinet members who met with her the day before. "She only used the apology," the source said.

Defense Secretary Cruz and Executive Secretary Ermita were present in that Sunday meeting. "Ermita didn't say anything," the source said.

The day before, Saturday morning, Cruz was part of the 12 "Doves", cabinet members who met with Arroyo and urged her to apologize and three other recommendations which are for Arroyo to "disappear", removal from government service of Mike Arroyo's "boys," and for Mikey and Iggy Arroyo to take a leave of absence from Congress until the end of the year.

Aside from Cruz, the "Doves" were Santos, Purisima, Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, Science Secretary Estrella Alabastro, Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles, Secretary for Government Mass Media Cerge Remonde, Education Secretary Florencio Abad, Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla, and Communications Director Silvestre Afable.

Some of the "Doves" hinted that they would quit if GMA continued to be silent on the Gloriagate tape. With GMA's apology, one of the "Doves" said they are committed to support her.

The source said Arroyo is obviously affected by the controversy. "She's very sad. She can't sleep." At this point, the source said, Arroyo has not yet confronted the idea that she could fall.

Despite official assurance that the whole cabinet is behind her, another source said, Arroyo is conducting a loyalty check. Ermita, reportedly is under suspicion, being identified with former President Ramos, whose other men like former Budget Secretary Salvador Enriquez and former adviser on peace process, Fortunato Abat, are calling for Arroyo's resignation.

With Alcantara's appointment, a source said, "Pay close attention to Ermita's actions."

Email address: ellen@i-manila.com.ph

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