The initial list of appointments to the Cabinet of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is a mix of old and new names and faces. Many of them have previously served in the bureaucracy in various capacities with good public service records; a few were tainted by personal scandals.
Two of them carry the surnames of longtime ministers in the Cabinet of his deposed father and namesake, Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Susan “Toots” Ople is a daughter of the late senator Blas Ople, who was Marcos Sr.’s labor secretary for 18 years (1967 to 1971, 1972 to 1986). Conrado Estrella 3rd is a grandson of Conrado Estrella Sr., who was Marcos Sr.’s agrarian reform minister for 15 years.
Both nominees to the Marcos Jr. Cabinet are not new to the sectors they have been assigned to serve. Ople, an advocate of migrant workers’ rights and a Labor undersecretary under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presidency, has been tasked to handle the newly created Department of Migrant Workers (DMW). Estrella 3rd, a former Pangasinan district and party-list congressman, will take on the same position that his grandfather occupied from 1971 to 1986.
How will Ople, 60, and Estrella 3rd, 61, be similar or different from their father and grandfather, respectively, in carrying out their Cabinet tasks? Will they be better, or worse? The challenge is upon them. The two were not yet in their teens when Marcos Sr. appointed the elder Ople and Estrella Sr. But they should have already finished a collegiate course in 1986 when the elders vacated the Cabinet posts following the EDSA “people power” uprising.
While Susan Ople’s name has not been tarnished by allegations of corruption or any other irregularity, Conrado 3rd was among several congressmen implicated in the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam in 2013. Cases involving malversation, direct bribery and other corrupt practices were filed against him in the Office of the Ombudsman.
Ople may very well be qualified to serve as secretary for migrant workers, given her longtime advocacy of OFW rights and her experience with the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, a nongovernmental organization she had organized to assist OFWs by giving them training and help them land better jobs abroad. However, a group of migrant workers staged a small rally at Marcos Jr.’s campaign headquarters recently, expressing concern over her physical capacity to carry out her task.
Ople disclosed in 2020 that she had been diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, for which she has been undergoing chemotherapy and PET scans. The DMW is not yet operational as its budget still has to be appropriated in the 2023 General Appropriations Act.
Vice President-elect Sara Duterte-Carpio is, of course, another next-generation appointee in the Marcos Jr. Cabinet. It will be the first time for the daughter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte to handle a national office as the next Education secretary, a huge bureaucracy, involving the primary and secondary school system in the Philippines.
Although the younger Duterte has held local positions for several years, handling the government agency with the biggest annual budget (P630 billion for 2022), for someone who is not a graduate of any degree related to education, will be a daunting task.
The most controversial among the appointees are lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles as head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, and broadcaster Erwin Tulfo as head of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Cruz-Angeles was suspended by the Supreme Court for three years in 2016 over a complaint filed against her in 2003. The court found her guilty of violating the Code of Professional Responsibility for accepting P350,000 in legal fees despite failing to render legal services to a former client who had engaged her services to get an annulment. Several of her posts on social media before and during the campaign period for the May 9 elections were flagged by fact checkers as inaccurate, misleading, or out of context.
Tulfo, on the other hand, was implicated in a P120-million advertising contract granted by his sister, former Tourism secretary Wanda Teo, to Bitag Media owned by their brother Ben.
What could be the saving grace for the Marcos Jr. administration is his choice for the economic team, given the gravity of the country’s economic problems brought about largely by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Benjamin Diokno, Felipe Medalla and Arsenio Balisacan may have been recycled from previous administrations, but their good public service records have been cited for their capability to resuscitate the economy and keep the country out of the pandemic.
Diokno, currently governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), will soon be replacing Carlos Dominguez III in the Department of Finance. Medalla, former Economic Planning secretary and National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) secretary general, will take over Diokno’s BSP post, and Balisacan will return to NEDA, a post he held under the presidency of the late president Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III.
On the surface, the Marcos Jr. Cabinet is a “unity” of old and new names and faces, some competent and some of dubious character. Now that the next set of government leaders is preparing for assumption into office come June 30, we can only pray that the 31 million voters made the right choice.