Newly appointed Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto vowed to push for more transparency at the National Economic and Development Authority, saying there would be “no ZTE in NEDA.”
Recto issued the statement as administration allies and officials welcomed his appointment to the NEDA.
Recto said he would make sure that NEDA’s work would be immediately felt by Filipinos even as he sought cooperation from various sectors to make pro-poor programs as well as the budget of the government effective.
“I’d like to assure the Filipino people that we will promote transparency in the affairs of NEDA,” Recto told The STAR. “Don’t expect any ZTE here.”
He was referring to the scandal that rocked the Arroyo administration involving the $329-million national broadband network project with ZTE Corp. of China that was reportedly attended by massive corruption involving top government officials, including former poll chief Benjamin Abalos, who was forced to resign.
The crafting of the project involved then NEDA chief, now Social Security System chief, Romulo Neri.
Neri tagged Abalos as trying to bribe him to approve the deal with ZTE but refused to disclose other details of the project, invoking executive privilege.
Mrs. Arroyo scrapped the deal last year.
Recto said he will also consult with former NEDA chiefs as well as with other concerned sectors.
Another pressing concern that he said he would address is the low absorptive capacity of agencies on their budgetary allocations, leading to underspending on urgent projects.
“If we fast-track the spending of resources, there will be creation of more many more job opportunities,” he said.
Meantime, administration Sen. Joker Arroyo is ready to defend Recto from criticism, stressing “he is qualified for the job.”
“I will ask those who are opposed, ‘Are they the ones who should be at the National Economic and Development Authority?’ He (Recto) is qualified for the job. He is the author of the VAT (value added tax) and he never regretted it,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo, who is Recto’s fellow “Wednesday Group” member in the Senate, said he is even willing to help Recto during his appointment hearings at the Commission on Appointments.
“What Recto wants is the position because he knows he can do the job well, he is not concerned with the appointing power,” Arroyo said. “For me, he is one of the very few who can go to NEDA. He is a former chairman of the Senate ways and means committee.”
Earlier, Senators Francis Escudero, Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Francis Pangilinan also wished Recto, a losing candidate of the administration Team Unity in the 2007 senatorial elections, good luck in his new post.
Sen. Jamby Madrigal is also optimistic that Recto will give an impressive performance.
“I hope my ex-colleague Senator Recto, now newly appointed NEDA Director-General, will not allow himself to be used as another free ticket to China like his predecessor and that he may be man enough for the job,” she said.
Pangilinan had said he is hoping that Recto can help the Senate in securing vital documents in relation with the Senate inquiry into the NBN deal.
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, who is also Mrs. Arroyo’s economic adviser, said the former senator was a hardworking chairman of the Committee on Economic Affairs.
“He (Recto) has excellent credentials in economics and brings to NEDA the expertise in how a policy becomes law, secures budget and gets executed,” Salceda said in a statement.
“Ate Vi spices that with a local government perspective,” he said referring to Recto’s wife, multi-awarded actress and Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos.
He said: “We get two-in-one: Ate Vi for home economics, Ralph for political economy.”
Press Secretary Jesus Dureza and Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo in separate statements said Recto’s appointment should be viewed as a gain for governance.
Even Speaker Prospero Nograles yesterday vouched for the competence of Recto.
The House leader said “there is no doubt about his sterling record both as congressman and senator,” who has always been knowledgeable in his field, as economic issues have always been his cup of tea.
“While he paid a political price for sponsoring what was then perceived to be the unpopular VAT law, this law saved our country from economic perdition and buoyed up the economy when we needed it most,” Nograles stressed.
Nograles said Recto was also “one of the best choices of the President to run the government’s main economic think tank.” House Deputy Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II also made the same assurances.
But the usual critics of the administration still question the appointment.
Opposition members at the House of Representatives, particularly those from the militant bloc, warned that Recto’s new post could cost him his political career once more.
“Anything can happen. It could end his political career knowing the GMA administration. He should have resisted the appointment,” said Rep. Luz Ilagan of the women’s group Gabriela.
As far as Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo is concerned, Recto’s appointment to the NEDA “and his acceptance places him in a challenging situation to recommend alternative policy measures to address the crises in food, fuel and power.”
Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano titled his statement on Recto’s appointment, “VAT-man appointment to NEDA spells more burden.”
The peasant leader said Recto would only bring “more economic burdens to come.”
“Mrs. Arroyo’s appointment of the ‘Dark Knight’, who is no superhero for the poor, spells more economic burdens for the poor,” he said.
Heart for the public
Nograles also welcomed the possible appointment of former Surigao del Sur congressman Prospero Pichay as head of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). He pointed out that Pichay is qualified for any job that requires dedication to public service.
“You cannot put my tukayo anywhere else but public service. His heart belongs to public service and I cannot imagine him doing anything else,” he said.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz offered unsolicited advice to the recent appointees of President Arroyo, particularly Recto: not to allow themselves to be pawns of Malacañang in its graft and corrupt practices.
Cruz told newsmen in Dagupan yesterday that it is ridiculous to claim that the recent appointments of Recto, former senator Vicente Sotto III as chairman of Dangerous Drugs Board, as well as former presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor as head of the Presidential Task Force on the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3, are not partisan political consideration.
Notwithstanding this, Cruz said these appointees should do their best to achieve the respective goals of their offices so that they will prove those who think they are incompetent wrong.
with Christina Mendez, Delon Porcalla, Evelyn Macairan, Eva Visperas
The Philippine Star