DAVAO CITY – The appointment of former South Cotabato Representative Luwalhati Ricasa-Antonino as the new chair of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) was antedated to August 9 but announced only on September 3, with then incumbent MinDA chair Jesus Dureza verbally told he was out just minutes before the announcement.
The announcement of the new MinDA chair was made by former Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas, the defeated vice presidential running mate of President Aquino who was the President’s representative to the Tuna Congress in General Santos City, the Antoninos’ bailiwick, last Friday.
Antonino’s husband served as city mayor and representative while her daughter Darlene Antonino-Custodio, who succeeded her in representing the first district of South Cotabato for three three-year terms, is now the incumbent mayor.
Known more for supporting Estrada, having belonged to the Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino/Partido ng Masang Pilipino for quite some time, the Antoninos allied with President Aquino’s Liberal Party only in the run-up to the 2010 May polls.
Despite the Antoninos’ support for Aquino-Roxas, however, Commission on Elections records show that Estrada won 284,494 votes against Aquino’s 126,682 votes in South Cotabato. Estrada also won in the Antonino bailiwick of General Santos City with 81,994 votes against Aquino’s 56,491. Roxas himself lost to Estrada’s running mate Jejomar Binay at 210,132 votes against his 194,508 in South Cotabato and in General Santos City, Binay won 72,340 votes against Roxas’ 72,107.
A list of appointments made by President Benigno Aquino III since he assumed office on June 30 shows that of 31 appointments signed on August 9, 30 were released to the MARO (Media Affairs Relations Office) on August 11 or two days later, while Antonino’s appointment was released to the MARO only on August 26.
It is not clear exactly when Antonino’s appointment was signed. But a marginal note beside the transmittal date to the MARO said: “date of appt should be August 9 per Atty. Nelia.”
At least ten other appointments released to the MARO on August 26 were actually signed on August 24.
Within this period – from August 9, the supposed date of appointment of Antonino, to the transmittal to MARO on August 26 – and from August 26 to September 3, the date of announcement of Antonino’s appointment by Roxas – no official communication about the appointment of Antonino was sent to Dureza.
Dureza had written two memos for the President, through Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa. The first was on July 29, offering to relinquish his chairmanship of the MinDA purportedly to give President Aquino “a free hand and full opportunity” to choose the chair who will carry out the mandate of the office under his administration.
Dureza said he would “voluntarily relinquish the position upon the assumption of the new Chair of your choice,” to “ensure a smooth and seamless transition and avoid any hiatus in the Authority’s operations.”
“If I may, please allow me to immediately point out the fact that my offer to relinquish the position is not because I am turning my back on my work in Mindanao. I have exerted my best for Mindanao all these years starting with President Ramos and then with President Arroyo. There is a lot more to do for all of us. Neither am I trying to undermine the rationale behind the ‘fixed term’ clause of the MinDA law. Nor am I setting aside the honor and trust given to me by President Arroyo who appointed me and to whom I am most grateful,” Dureza wrote.
He said the “most important consideration now” is that the birth of this “institutionalized agency, which is a fulfillment of Mindanaoans’ long dream and Your Excellency’s assumption into office, provide an opportunity for a fresh start.”
In an open forum with Northern Mindanao journalists in Malaybalay City on August 14, Dureza said he had received no response to the first memo and that he sent a second memo.
In the second memo, dated August 10, Dureza withdrew his July 29 offer to “relinquish the position upon the assumption of the new Chair of your choice,” claiming the President’s Executive Order No. 2 issued August 4, had “clarified the status of my appointment as Chairman of the newly created MinDA.”
“I was appointed Chairman with a fixed term of six (6) years by former President Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo on March 6, 2010 and I assumed office on March 8, 2010. Hence, such appointment per EO No. 2 is valid and outside the ambit of so-called ‘midnight appointments’ whose occupants were forthwith ordered to vacate,” Dureza wrote.
continuity of our work in Mindanao, I shall continue, with Your Excellency’s support, “In view thereof and in order to uphold the mandate of Republic Act 9996 and to ensure to serve as Chairman of MinDA as mandated by said law,” Dureza said.
Dureza apparently did not get Aquino’s support. And while there was enough time to officially inform him, no one in Malacanang did. Instead, he was informed verbally that he had been replaced, about an hour before Roxas, a non-government representative of the President, announced Antonino’s appointment at the Tuna Congress.
In the early morning of September 3, MindaNews asked Dureza, already in General Santos City for a meeting at the ACT 4 Peace office and for the presentation that afternoon at the Tuna Congress, if it is true Antonino had been appointed. Text messages and e-mails had been going on since midnight about Antonino’s alleged appointment.
“Maybe. Not officially informed yet,” was Dureza’s reply.
Mid-morning of the same day, MindaNews asked Dureza if the President had answered his memos. Dureza’s reply: “P-Noy wrote thanking but no word on accepting my offer to relinquish.” He did not say when the President wrote the reply but it must have been after August 14, when he told Northern Mindanao reporters that there was no response to the first memo and that he sent a second memo.
Sources in General Santos City told MindaNews Roxas went to see Dureza at the ACT 4 Peace Office in the same city mid-morning Friday and there held a brief closed-door meeting. This must have been when Roxas informed Dureza about Antonino’s appointment.
A press statement from MinDA that afternoon, datelined General Santos City, said Dureza “met with former Sen. Mar Roxas here who informed him that President Aquino has chosen the former Gen Santos solon to replace him. He said he appreciated the efforts of Sen. Roxas who went out of his way in seeking him out to discuss the matter.”
At 10:38 a.m. Dureza told MindaNews in a text message that he “just had a talk with Mar Roxas just now. Told him he can announce at Tuna Festival (actually Congress) Lu’s appointment.”
Roxas announced Antonino’s appointment at the Tuna Congress at the Family Country Homes at 11:19 a.m.
Dureza no longer showed up at the Tuna Congress for his scheduled presentation in the afternoon.
Antonino told reporters after Roxas’ announcement, “my appointment was signed last week….it came as a surprise.”
It is not certain who “Atty. Nelia” is, the lawyer who gave instructions, according to the marginal note, that Antonino’s appointment be dated August 9. Dureza’s second memo for the President withdrawing his offer to resign and saying he would continue to perform his duties as MinDA chair was dated August 10.
In the same memo, he said his status had been clarified by Executive Order 2 issued by the President on August 2 and that his appointment did not fall under “midnight appointments.”
Antonino’s appointment, however, is being hounded by questions on qualifications.
Republic Act 9996, the law creating MinDA, said the chair should have the following qualifications: “that he/she be a holder of a degree in law or a masteral degree in any of the following fields: economics, business, public administration, law, management, or their equivalent and have at least ten (10) years relevant experience in said fields: provided, further, that he/she shall be a resident of Mindanao for at least (5) years before the appointment; Provided, finally, that he/she shall also be the Philippine Senior Official for BIMP-EAGA and shall likewise be an ex officio member of the NEDA Board and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority Board.”
Antonino, who is turning 68 on October 22, served as Representative of the 1st district of South Cotabato from 1992 to 2001. In 1996, she and two other representatives – Daisy Avance-Fuentes (now back to being representative of the second district of South Cotabato after having served three terms as South Cotabato governor) and the late Zamboanga City Rep. Maria Clara Lobregat – rose to national prominence for having led protest actions against what would be the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), the transitory mechanism agreed upon by government and the Moro National Liberation Front.
According to the congressional website, www.congress.ph, under the list of members of the 11th Congress, the last Congress where she served as representative, Antonino’s profession was listed as “Engineer” and her membership in House Committees as follows: chair of Foreign Affairs, vice chair of Muslim Affairs, and member of the Committees on Games & Amusement, Good Government, Women, Agriculture and Food.
“Engineer” is not the equivalent of a lawyer or master’s degree.
Aside from educational qualifications, however, questions as to Antonino’s other qualifications as the highest ranking official of Mindanao tasked with coordinating peace and development efforts are hounding Antonino even before she could formally assume the post.
Sources at the MinDA office said Antonino will report to the Davao City office in mid-September. The future seat of MinDA is in Maramag, Bukidnon. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)