MANILA, Philippines - Above all, newly appointed Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio "Jun" Abaya is used to getting orders, a good soldier.
At 46, he's one of the youngest Cabinet Secretaries in the Aquino administration. He spent 16 years in the Philippine Navy, took an early retirement in 2003 to run for representative of Cavite's 1st district in the 2004 elections, studied law, and then passed the bar in 2007.
A graduate of the United States Naval Academy (USNA), Abaya's training is to follow orders. Told that President Benigno Aquino III was looking for him on Thursday, August 30, Abaya called the President who then informed him about his appointment. Abaya accepted.
A few days earlier, when rumors floated that he was being eyed to replace the late Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo, Abaya told reporters he would follow orders. "I am a good soldier," he said.
When he received feelers that he would be appointed energy chief, Abaya was also open to it. "Of course, there were some discussions [before my appointment]. The post in the Department of Energy was also there. Whatever the President says, I will adjust. I'll accept his decision on who is best for what," Abaya told Rappler.
We earlier reported about the President's plan to transfer Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras to Malacañang either as Presidential Management Staff head or chief of staff. But the President has yet to find a suitable replacement for him.
Political pedigree, impressive resume
Abaya has the political pedigree and an impressive resume.
He is the great grandson of the first Philippine President, Emilio Aguinaldo.
He attended the Philippine Science High School, received a Bachelor of Science degree major in Mathematics from the United States Naval Academy (USNA), and took his Masters in electrical engineering from the Cornell University also in the US.
Abaya was studying engineering in the University of the Philippines when he took and topped the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) entrance exam. He spent one year at the PMA before going to the USNA.
A member of PMA Class Maringal (1988), Abaya served as aide-de-camp of the late President Corazon Aquino from 1991 to 1992. His last assignment in the Navy was with the naval intelligence. Abaya's batch mates in the PMA are now full colonels.
President Aquino said he trusts Abaya. They previously worked together in the House of Representatives from 2004 to 2007. During that period, the President was on his last term and Abaya was on his first.
In his announcement speech on Friday, August 31, the President said he appreciated how Abaya then risked his political career when he joined the impeachment move against then President Joseph Estrada although it looked impossible then. President Aquino's mother Cory led the ouster calls versus Estrada.
"Ang ganitong katangian ang kinakailangan natin sa DOTC. Alam nating kung mapupunta sa maling kamay ang liderato ng ahensyang ito, madaling pagsamantalahan ang mga proyektong napakalaki, at napakateknikal kaya madali ring itago sa publiko. Kumpiyansa tayong maipagpapatuloy ni Jun ang mga proyekto sa DOTC. Hindi malilihis ng landas ang ahensya, at magsisilbi pa siyang mabuting ehemplo para sa lahat ng kawani nito," Aquino said.
Abaya often downplays the powerful positions he had been given. He is the secretary-general of President Aquino's Liberal Party, chairman of the powerful House appropriations committee, and manager of the impeachment team that prosecuted dismissed Chief Justice Renato Corona.
As LP secretary-general, he is tasked to make sure that the new coalition among LP, Sen Manuel Villar's Nacionalista Party (NP), and businessman Danding Cojuangco's Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC) for the upcoming 2013 midterm elections, would work. The National Unity Party, a breakaway from Lakas-NUCD, is also set to coalesce with the LP.
As head of the House appropriations committee, Abaya's tasks include accommodating and rejecting requests for funding from fellow representatives. In the past two years, Abaya had been able to successfully steer the House to pass the budget on time.
Abaya said he was instructed not to assume as DOTC Secretary until the House approves the budget on 3rd reading. This means the earliest he can assume the post is in October.
As the manager of the House impeachment team, Abaya was in charge of the secretariat that assisted the prosecution panel in the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona. He served as one of the links between the Palace and the impeachment team.
There was one instance when Abaya found himself in hot water. In 2011, Zambales Rep. Milagros "Mitos" Magsaysay circulated an SMS message that supposedly came from Abaya.
It read: "From Cong. Abaya - Favor kindly disseminate to all representatives - LP (Liberal Party) and non-LPs. This should be made clear to all. Those who will vote no or absent/abstain on impeachment will get zero as in zero. At least walang sisihan that there was no forewarning."
This was the time the House was collecting signatures to impeach former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. Abaya and fellow LP members dismissed it as a form of intrigue against the ruling party. (The House impeached Gutierrez but she would resign before her impeachment trial.)
House Majority Leader Neptali "Boyet" Gonzales II said Abaya is a great addition to Aquino's Cabinet. "He has the character, integrity, and administrative capability to handle the job," Gonzales said.
Impeachment spokesperson and LP member Marikina Rep. Romero "Miro" Quimbo believes Abaya can handle DOTC well. "He has solid management skills, studious, quick learner and never a complainer. His unquestionable integrity makes him another perfect team member in the Aquino Cabinet. I've personally seen his outstanding leadership skills during the impeachment of Corona where he was our manager. Coolest person under pressure," Quimbo said.
Abaya is Aquino's 3rd appointee to the DOTC. But no major change between Roxas and Abaya is expected. Both LP stalwarts, Roxas and Abaya are close allies.
"I will continue what Secretary Roxas has started. We intend to continue with the current team of DOTC. They have a high caliber team," Abaya told reporters after his appointment.
Also on Thursday, August 30, Roxas and Abaya had a "lunch meeting" at the DOTC. But Abaya said they only discussed "LP matters."
Abaya said he will prioritize projects to upgrade airports, road networks such as the North Luzon and South Luzon expressways, and the ongoing investigation on the plane crash that killed Robredo.
On his third and last term in the House of Representatives, Abaya's appointment can't be more timely. But as DOTC Secretary, he can no longer just be a good soldier. How he will assert his own brand of leadership remains to be seen. - Rappler.com