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Cabinet revamp soon?

Abaya to Defense, Purisima to . . . Binay?
IN a “last-two minutes” effort to energize his unraveling administration, President Aquino will be revamping his Cabinet to mark his fifth year in office July 30.

Sources disclosed that Department of Transport and Communications Secretary Joseph Abaya would be moved to head the defense department. While Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has been told that he would be Transport Secretary in order to appease him, but Liberal Party leaders are still lobbying for somebody else to replace their trusted man Abaya.

They might as well start an executive search for somebody to replace Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who has volunteered himself, my sources say, to join the “future” Cabinet of Vice-President Jejomar Binay, whom most polls show is leading the presidential race of 2016.

Purisima has even told Binay’s advisers that he is willing to resign anytime to distance himself from Aquino, and work in the next two years as a fund-raiser for the vice president’s presidential bid.

But the public scenario would unfold this way: In his exit statement, Purisima would say that given the stresses of his office he has decided to retire to a quiet, private life. Just like the statement of Margie Juico, who was recently sacked as chairperson of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes so that the Liberal Party can have their trusted man in that cash cow government agency.

Hyatt 10, Part II? When they were rebels, photo in 2005: From left, admitted former lawyer for Janet Napoles, Rene Villa; Pres. Aquino’s finance secretary Cesar Purisma who reportedly now wants out; President Aquino’s budget secretary Florencio Abad, who Napoles claims taught him the ropes of the pork barrel scam; and three women Cabinet members who were close and trusted co-workers of former president Arroyo before they betrayed her.

Hyatt 10, Part II? When they were rebels, photo in 2005: From left, admitted former lawyer for Janet Napoles, Rene Villa; Pres. Aquino’s finance secretary Cesar Purisma who reportedly now wants out; President Aquino’s budget secretary Florencio Abad, who Napoles claims taught him the ropes of the pork barrel scam; and three women Cabinet members who were close and trusted co-workers of former president Arroyo before they betrayed her.

Purisima would tell Aquino that he’s done his job, that he has been able to fool the global investment community that the Philippines is the “Next Asian Miracle.”

In reality, sources said, Purisima has become unhappy in the Aquino administration. He is said to be resenting the intense pressure on him from business people close to Aquino, and others from the yellow clique, for certain financial “accommodations” that only the powerful Finance department can provide.

Purisima is packaging himself to the Binay camp as someone who can help boost a post-Aquino government’s stability via the continuity of leadership in the Department of Finance.

Hyatt 10, Part 2
“Hyatt 10, Part 2?” said a Binay adviser who claims he is personally averse to the idea.

“Hello, Garci to Arroyo, pork-barrel to Aquino?” he said only half in jest. He was referring to the eight Cabinet members and two other officials that included Purisima and Abad during the past administration who thought they could topple Arroyo by resigning en masse.

Our sources also reported that Aquino has been under intense pressure from his sisters and other close advisers to let go of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala who have been under a huge cloud of suspicion for their involvement in the pork-barrel scam.

“We just can’t have the two pull down the administration at this time when we just have two years left,” a source quoted an Aquino adviser, “and nothing really can be done to clear their names at this point.” Even Abad can’t concoct an explanation why Napoles tagged him as her mentor in the pork-barrel scam.

Alcala already has been set up for the “kill,” our sources said, as former senator Francis Pangilinan has been “prepped” in media and in the bureaucracy to take over the agriculture post with his recent appointment as Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, which would allow a smooth transition of sorts.

Abad though is a big problem. He is not only Aquino’s budget secretary but is also practically Aquino’s brain trust, and his firing would leave the president only with half a brain, that of Senate President Franklin Drilon’s.

Another argument for Abad’s termination is to reduce, even by only a bit, the huge fall-out on this administration when the Supreme Court rules as unconstitutional the Disbursement Acceleration Program fund that was Abad’s bright idea. If the Court rules the DAP illegal and unconstitutional, Aquino would have to give him the boot.

One big problem is who would replace Abad in what is a very technical position. Career executive Mario Relampagos, who has been undersecretary in the DBM under four presidents, would have been an ideal replacement for the next two years.

However, Abad reportedly has been backbiting Relampagos, telling Aquino that he suspects that without Relampagos the pork barrel scam could not have flourished.

Career officers and staff in the budget department staff claim that Abad has been setting up Relampagos as the scapegoat for the involvement of the budget department in the massive pork barrel scam.

To counter Abad’s intrigue against someone they respect, they even circulated a month ago a clandestine manifesto expressing full support for Relampagos. They decried the administration conspiracy to set him up as a fall guy by portraying him as the contact of pork scam queen Janet Napoles in the budget department.

Abaya’s solid qualifications
Meanwhile, in the defense department, reports have been circulating since April that Abaya would be its new head. It will be “sold” as a better fit for him given his 20-year experience in the Philippine Navy, where he reached the rank of Lt. Commander until he retired to run for congressman in 2004 in his home province of Cavite.

Liberal Party leaders have also told Aquino that Abaya’s solid academic credentials (an M.A. in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University) as well as his being a lawyer are perfect for the task of modernizing the armed forces, or at least start an irreversible process for that.

In contrast to the 48-year old Abaya, Gazmin is turning 70 in October, with many around Aquino saying of Gazmin that if not completely over the hump, he is incapable of managing the huge and crucial defense department.

An unexpected lobbyist against Gazmin has been Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who has been complaining to Aquino that the defense secretary’s mouth should be zippered, that he must not comment on our territorial dispute with China, as this would only worsen the country’s belligerent image.

Gazmin’s belligerency over the territorial dispute had become an embarrassment for the country since September 2013 when at a Congress budget hearing, he suddenly pulled out photos of what he alleged were concrete structures being built on Panatag Shoal off Zambales.

He claimed these were foundations for a fortification to be constructed by China. The DFA issued a press release protesting the alleged concrete structures, saying that this development would be included in the country’s suit at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

About a month later, Aquino himself would debunk Gazmin’s claim, pointing out that the structures couldn’t have been recently built, as they were thick with barnacles. “It’s too risky if, as some say, Gazmin becomes too talkative when he’s had several shots of brandy,” a foreign affairs official said. When Gazmin recently raised alarm over structures in Johnson Reef in the Spratlys, DFA officials didn’t take his word, and had to ask another foreign nation to verify that report by our own defense secretary.

Opposition sources, however, have become very worried over reports that Abaya would be moved to head defense.

“Abaya’s intelligent and he has the personality being an ex-navy commander to command the armed forces, “ a top defense source said.

“At this stage of the game, Aquino’s anointed one will have a slim chance of winning only if he massively cheats—and that’s possible only with the support of key armed forces commanders,” the source said.