In this Dec 7, 2016 photo President Rodrigo Duterte accepts the report on urban poor from then Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor Chairman Terry Ridon during the Urban Poor Solidarity Week celebration held in Mandaluyong City. PPD/Rey Baniquet
MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte confirmed yesterday that he had fired all the commissioners of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP) because of alleged unnecessary trips and their supposed failure to hold meetings.
PCUP is headed by Terry Ridon, a former representative of the left-leaning Kabataan party-list group in the House of Representatives. The other commissioners are Melissa Aradanas, Joan Lagunda, Manuel Serra Jr. and Noe Indonto.
“Today I fired the whole Commission for the Urban Poor. One is because it’s a collegial body and I have heard that they never had any hearing except for one or two,” Duterte said.
“(I have) no personal reasons really to fire him except that he had too much too soon,” Duterte said, referring to Ridon, during the awarding of the most child-friendly municipalities and cities yesterday in Malacañang.
Ridon traveled seven times since being appointed in September last year, Duterte said.
“To think the office is an urban poor agency, I don't understand why you have to be there at every pow wow in the international scene,” he added.
Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
Duterte said government personnel are now required to secure his approval before going to another country.
“Henceforth, everybody must get a permit from my office and I’ll see if it’s really worthwhile,” the President said.
Duterte said he has also received information that PCUP has not had any meeting “except one or two.”
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte’s decision to axe the PCUP commissioners “prove beyond doubt that the President is very serious in his anti-corruption campaign.”
“According to him they (PCUP officials) have not met as a collegial body. And number two, that the commissioners are notorious for junkets abroad,” Roque said.
PCUP, which was formed in 1986 through Executive Order No. 82, is tasked to coordinate with other agencies to ensure the speedy implementation of pro-poor policies and programs.
Roque initially announced that Duterte would abolish the PCUP. He corrected himself later on, saying the President would just fire its commissioners but the agency would not be abolished.
Roque could not provide specifics on the alleged misdeeds of PCUP commissioners. He denied that the dismissal of Ridon was related to Duterte’s crackdown against communists.
“Even if Terry Ridon is left-leaning, he is not aligned with the leftist groups because he was not chosen as a nominee of the Kabataan (youth) party-list for the second time,” the presidential spokesman said.
Duterte terminated the peace talks with communists last month because of the rebels’ continued attacks against civilians and their supposed demand to establish a coalition government.
Asked if charges would be filed against erring PCUP officials, Roque replied: “Perhaps that would be a logical conclusion. But let us await the official memorandum in this regard.”
Ridon thanked Duterte for giving him the chance to serve the public but maintained that PCUP officials did their best to perform their mandate.
“We thank the President for the opportunity to serve the nation. The public record of the agency can speak for itself: we had implemented with full integrity the presidential promise of no demolition without relocation,” Ridon said in a statement.
“We performed our mandate to the best of our abilities, with integrity and competence, despite the heavy burden of undertaking genuine reform,” he added.
Ridon said PCUP officials had represented the government and had given voice to the urban poor in international conferences on public housing, poverty alleviation and climate change.
Duterte earlier announced a plan to fire an entire commission during the 84th anniversary of the labor department in Bulacan last Dec. 8. The President said corruption in the commission would not have existed without the knowledge of its officials.
Roque revealed that Ridon had suspicions that Duterte was referring to PCUP when the President made the announcement.
“He (Ridon) confirmed that he had suspicions that the President was referring to PCUP. But he himself was not personally notified by the President. I had to tell him,” the presidential spokesman said.
Ridon denies junkets
Ridon said that all foreign trips made by officials of the agency were authorized by Malacañang and that they did not take part in so-called junket trips.
“All trips were covered by travel authorities by the Office of the President and recommended by the Office of the Cabinet Secretary involving international conferences relevant to the urban poor: poverty alleviation, public housing and climate change,” Ridon told The STAR.
“Further, these conferences involved a multi-agency delegation, of which our agency was among our members,” he added.
Ridon was referring to his attendance at the United Nations Habitat Conference in Quito, Ecuador in October 2016; the UN Climate Conference in Marrakech, Morocco in November 2016; and the Asia Pacific Conference on Housing and Urban Development in New Delhi, India in December 2016.
The PCUP chair was the head of delegation in the New Delhi conference and was part of the Philippine delegations in the two other conferences.
In a separate statement, Ridon stressed that the record of the agency speaks for itself, noting that their representation of the government is unprecedented in previous administrations.
Ridon was among those affiliated with leftist groups who were appointed in the Duterte government upon recommendation by the National Democratic Front (NDF).
Other appointees from the left who have already left their posts were former social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo and former agrarian reform secretary Rafael Mariano, who were both rejected by the Commission on Appointments.
Still with the administration are Labor Undersecretary Joel Maglunsod and National Anti-Poverty Commission chair Liza Maza.
Duterte – who previously pledged to mend ties with the NDF, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army – earlier ordered the termination of peace talks and declared the groups as terrorist organizations.
Duterte has been strict against top government officials and heads of agencies traveling on junkets abroad, Roque explained.
“Well, it was made in a very public manner. And I’m sure the President will investigate this particular complaint,” he said when asked if the Palace will be acting on reports of junkets by some officials from DAP.
“As you can see, the President does not take issues of corruption sitting down,” Roque said.
In his speech last night, Duterte reiterated that he is not tolerating corruption during his term.
Duterte said all government officials should get permission from the Office of the President before going abroad, referring to travel orders which are compulsory for government officials. – Janvic Mateo, Christina Mendez