Licuanan: Vitriolo has 'track record' of undermining past CHED chairs

MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairperson Patricia Licuanan said some officials in the Commission were "pressured" to sign a manifesto that asked President Rodrigo Duterte to appoint an officer-in-charge in place of her.

"I think this is really an initiative of the Executive [Director] Atty [Julito] Vitriolo. I understand that some of other officials were in a sense pressured to sign, others did not know what they were signing, but this is not the first time that Atty Vitriolo has done this to a head of his agency," Licuanan said in a News To Go interview on Friday, December 16.

She added that the move for her resignation is "really the work of the executive director and a very small group of his soldiers." She said the rest approached her, "regretful" about signing the manifesto.

"I think Atty Vitriolo is really acting as he normally does, he has a track record of, as I say, of undermining the past chairs," the chairperson said.

But she's still "grateful" that Vitriolo has been "relatively peaceful" for the past 6 years.

"He has been okay, he hasn't given me problems, so in a sense I thought we had reached a modus vivendi. But anyway, I guess he saw this as his opportunity to strike, to move."

On Commissioner Prospero de Vera III – Vitriolo's choice for CHED officer-in-charge – Licuanan said that while he has categorically denied he is behind calls for her resignation, he and Vitriolo "are, independently or in collaboration with each other, kind of working towards the same thing."

Breaking her silence, Licuanan finally addressed issues in the Commission, including the supposed "irreconcilable differences" between her and the President – the reason cited by Malacañang when it asked the chairperson to stop attending all Cabinet meetings of the Duterte administration.

"I am very circumspect, very proper, and I realize that once you're a member of the Cabinet, you do have certain responsibilities and roles as member of the official family of the President, and I was always aware of that, so no, we have never had any public differences, so that's why I was surprised," she said.

'I want to talk to the President'

Licuanan recounted that meeting with Duterte where the President told her "very amicably" that she should continue doing her work and that he will respect her term.

"So I really took that very seriously and as an assurance that I would continue. He doesn't have to be friendly with me but it was a very fair, I thought, decision on his part, so I continued," she said.

She maintained that CHED is not disadvantaged with Duterte's order, since many other agencies are not part of the Cabinet. (READ: CHED in limbo after Duterte order to Licuanan)

"Equating that with my tenure at CHED is the flaw in the logic, I believe, of people, and particularly of Atty Vitriolo, who should know better because he was right there when the law was being framed, and he himself, according to the other fathers and mothers of the law, he was also there defending the fixed term of the CHED chair."

Asked if she serves at the pleasure of the President, Licuanan answered no.

"No. We have a term. Of course the pleasure of the President is a very desirable thing, but it's not necessary, and in our case, as I said, I don't have to be part of his inner circle as long as he respects my term, I will do my job, I will be cooperative and be part of the official family, I will pursue the 10-point socioeconomic agenda, which incidentally we have been very aware of and adjusted our own higher education reform agenda to."

Licuanan said she has not yet spoken to the President since the incident, but she will try hard to meet Duterte.

"I want him to talk to me and tell me what happened since the time he assured me that he would respect my term, and when he instructed me to continue doing my work. Because I am a good member of the official, of the bureaucracy, and I'm very committed to CHED's mandate."

She also reiterated that she will continue her work as CHED chair. (READ: 'No demoralization in CHED' despite Duterte order – commissioner)

"I really feel that it is my responsibility to those who framed the CHED law for me to continue in office, and I want to ask them, have I been doing a reasonably good job, have I been doing such a horrible job that you want me to resign?" – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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