Almendras is Secretary to the Cabinet

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Outgoing Energy Secretary Rene Almendras will soon be appointed Secretary to the Cabinet, President Benigno Aquino III told reporters in a media briefing in Sydney, Australia.

The President also confirmed earlier reports that Leyte Gov Jericho Petilla will be named Energy Secretary to replace Almendras. Julia Abad, the present head of the Presidential Management Staff, will stay in her post, according to the President. (Read Rappler's October 16 story on Petilla's appointment.)

"Si Governor Petilla is the incoming Secretary of Energy. I haven’t signed his papers (yet)," the President said. "He has to finish certain commitments in the province of Leyte. Secretary Almendras, I think the title is something like Secretary to the Cabinet which is a Secretary position also, which is a position previously occupied by Ping de Jesus during my mother’s incumbency."

The President is referring to his former public works and highways secretary, Jose "Ping" De Jesus, who had served as Secretary to the Cabinet under the Cory Aquino administration.

Almendras is a close friend of the President. They were classmates at the Ateneo de Manila University, and Almendras helped in Aquino's presidential run in 2010.

Almendras took over in July 2010, after Aquino became president. Almendras himself was a banker and a top executive of major utility companies in the country.

Aquino did not say when Almendras and Petilla would assume their new positions. He said he has to consult Petilla first.

Powerful post

The position of Cabinet Secretary, based in Malacañang, has been in the organizational chart of the Office of the President (OP). A Cabinet Secretary heads a group within the OP that organizes Cabinet meetings and makes sure that directives made in these meetings are implemented.

But Palace sources told Rappler that what is envisioned for Almendras is a position more powerful than what's been designed. Almendras will most likely be tasked to ensure the delivery of the strategic action plans set out by the administration up to 2016, when the President steps down from office.

The President some of Abad's functions in PMS might also be "transferred to Secretary Almendras."

The President has been convincing Almendras to move to Malacañang.

Petilla, a member of the Liberal Party and member of a political clan in Leyte, is on his last term as governor.

Shared values

Asked why he chose Petilla, Mr Aquino said: "Well, number one, doon muna tayo sa ideology, ano. Simula nang nakilala ko siya mukhang palagay ko pareho ang pananaw namin." (We share the same values and perspective.)

The President said he needed someone in the energy department who's "astute with the aspect of finance" but did not come from the power industry.

"The way he has run Leyte tells me that he is very capable not only for the energy portfolio...but there was an immediate [vacancy] in the energy portfolio. I asked him and he said ‘Sir, whenever you need me I’m ready," the President added.

Petilla's background in politics is generally a deviation from the finance-heavy experience of previous energy chiefs. After all, the energy portfolio remains in a years-long system overhaul that involves financial restructuring and deal packaging.

Starting with investment bankers Jose Isidro Camacho and Vincent Perez Jr. in 2001, the energy department has been supervising the mandated radical restructuring of the electricity industry from one dominated by the government sector (in generation and transmission) to a fully privatized industry.

Raphael Lotilla later assumed the position armed with the experience of heading PSALM, the government unit tasked to privatize state-owned power assets, as well as managing the financial obligations of generation firm National Power Corp (Napocor).

Petilla will have to enforce the remaining phases of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), a landmark law passed in 2001. EPIRA's promise of lower power costs and stable supply is still being pursued. –