Roxas: 'Highest honor' to be DILG chief

MANILA, Philippines – Almost 6 weeks after he handed in his resignation letter, administration standard-bearer Manuel "Mar" Roxas II finally bid his last good-bye to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

“I really consider it the highest privilege and highest honor to have served the President, to have served Daang Matuwid (Straight Path), to have served my people,” said Roxas on Friday, September 11, during the “ceremonial turnover” of the post to the department’s incoming chief, Western Samar 1st district Representative Mel Senen Sarmiento.

Roxas’ resignation is a long-time coming. He formally announced his plans of stepping down on August 3, days after he was anointed by President Benigno Aquino III as the administration’s standard-bearer.

“I know what's right. And I'm going to do what's right,” said Roxas then, who was criticized by political opponents for supposedly using government funds for political gain.

As DILG chief, Roxas had oversight over the country’s local government units (LGUs), the Philippine National Police (PNP), as well as the fire and jail bureaus.

Its mandate over the first two – LGUs and the PNP – makes it a powerful post, particularly in the lead-up to the 2016 elections. But Aquino did not accept Roxas’ resignation right away, pending the appointment of his replacement. (READ: Using DILG for politics? Roxas says his record speaks for itself)

The Liberal Party (LP) president-on-leave was appointed DILG chief in 2012, after the untimely death of another LP stalwart, the late Jesse Robredo. Prior to taking over the DILG, Roxas was also Aquino’s transportation secretary and in previous administrations, trade and industry chief.

“This is the last time I will be standing here as your SILG (Secretary of the Interior and Local Government). It has been a distinct honor and pleasure to have worked with you,” said Roxas, turning emotional.

Since announcing his plans to run for president in 2016, Roxas has been going around the country for radio interviews and sorties, including appearances before various local government leagues. Just this week, Roxas was the guest speaker at a League of Councilors meeting in Boracay.

During the Friday ceremony, attended by DILG employees and key officials from its attached bureaus and agencies, Roxas handed over to Sarmiento a memento to “remind” him of the people he serves: a collection of used and dilapidated slippers collected by Roxas’ wife, broadcaster Korina Sanchez, in her travels around the country. Sanchez heads a campaign to provide the poor with new slippers.

Trials, successes as DILG chief

Roxas took over the DILG during a highly emotional time for both the department and the Aquino administration. They had just bid good-bye to Robredo, who was killed when the plane he was on crashed into the waters off Masbate.

The hall where the turnover ceremony took place inside the National Police Commission (Napolcom) building in Quezon city is named after the late DILG secretary, the first former local chief executive to hold the position.

During his term as DILG chief, Roxas found himself at the frontlines of the biggest crises to hit the Aquino administration, particularly those that happened in 2013: the Bohol earthquake, the Zamboanga siege, and the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

The DILG chief is also the National Disaster Risk Reduction Council vice chairman for disaster preparedness.

Roxas was in Zamboanga City for over a month when rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) attempted to take over because they were unhappy with how the peace deal with the government was implemented.

He was also at the frontlines of Typhoon Yolanda response, having flown into Tacloban City before the storm made landfall. Both Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin were nearly victims of Yolanda themselves and were cut off in the hours immediately after the storm ravaged Eastern Visayas and nearby provinces.

Both crises are expected to be sore points for Roxas during his presidential campaign. The Aquino administration, Roxas included, have been heavily criticized for their supposed incompetent response.

But Aquino, speaking during a sortie in Mindanao, was all praises for Roxas, whom he credited for risking his life in those crises.

The case of the PNP

Roxas was also an active presence in the PNP, presiding over weekly meetings for “Oplan Lambat Sibat,” its flagship program to curb crime in the National Capital Region. “Lambat Sibat” has since been replicated in Regions 4A and 3, and is set to be introduced to key regions in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Among the accomplishments within the PNP that Roxas highlights is the acquisition of new police patrol cars, mostly for smaller municipalities that cannot afford to buy their own vehicles. The outgoing interior secretary himself led the distribution of these patrol cars in different provinces throughout the country.

But it is also within the PNP where Roxas faced one of his biggest hurdles as DILG chief.

The police force, from 2012 to late 2014, was headed by sacked PNP chief Alan Purisima, a close friend of the President’s. Roxas and Purisima were reportedly at odds with each other, with Purisima bypassing Roxas in some decisions.

In late 2014, Purisima was preventively suspended over a corruption case before the Ombudsman. He was eventually dismissed from the service, but not before he was involved in the controversial “Oplan Exodus,” a bungled police operation that claimed the lives of more than 60 Filipinos, including 44 police commandos.

Roxas was left out of the loop, supposedly for “operational security.”

His exclusion prompted many to urge him to resign from the post, an option Roxas initially mulled over but eventually rejected because it was the “selfish” thing to do, he told Rappler in a previous interview.

With Sarmiento’s pending assumption, Roxas is officially no longer a government official and will likely concentrate on his 2016 campaign. – Rappler.com