A new customs chief, DFA chief, spokesman a year for Duterte

Pia Ranada
A new customs chief, DFA chief, spokesman a year for Duterte
Less than 3 years in power, President Rodrigo Duterte has already had 3 BOC commissioners, 3 presidential spokesmen, and 3 foreign secretaries

MANILA, Philippines – Not even at the end of his third year in power, Duterte has had 3 Customs chiefs, 3 presidential spokesmen, and 3 foreign secretaries. That’s one Customs chief, spokesman, and top diplomat for every year he’s been in office.

These are the 3 key government positions that have experienced the most number of leadership changes under the Duterte administration, excluding top positions affected by retirement such as those in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and the Supreme Court.

Customs: Faeldon to Lapeña to Guerrero

Only two days ago, on Thursday, October 25, Duterte announced the latest change  – Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña will be moved to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), to be replaced by retired military chief Rey Leonardo Guerrero, currently Maritime Industry Authority Administrator.

Guerrero will be the third Duterte appointee to hold that position which is critical to the administration’s crackdown on illegal drugs and corruption, and one constantly besieged by controversy.

Before Lapeña, the Bureau of Customs had been helmed by former mutineer and marine officer Nicanor Faeldon. Duterte decided to move Lapeña out of the BOC as Congress probed the missing P11-billion shabu shipment smuggled into the country through magnetic lifters in August. This is similar to circumstances surrounding Faeldon’s exit from the agency last year.

Duterte had accepted Faeldon’s resignation in August 2017 months after the latter was accused of involvement in the entry of P6.4 billion worth of shabu into the country. Senator Panfilo Lacson alleged that Faeldon received grease money from smugglers, which Faeldon denied.

Presidential Spokesman: Abella to Roque to Panelo

In Malacañang, the post of presidential spokesman has seen the most changes in appointments. 

The key communications position was first occupied by tight-lipped pastor Ernesto Abella. A year and 4 months later, a dissatisfied Duterte appointed lawyer Harry Roque, then Kabayan congressman, for the job.

But after a year, Roque too had to be replaced because he went on to chase his dream of running for senator. Duterte appointed his chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, to fill Roque’s shoes.

Foreign affairs: Yasay to Cayetano to Locsin

Duterte has also twice changed his foreign secretary in less than 3 years. 

His first, Perfecto Yasay Jr was rejected by the Commission on Appointments in March 2017 over citizenship issues. Faced with this sudden loss of a critical Cabinet member, Duterte quickly assigned seasoned diplomat Enrique Manalo to be acting Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) secretary. In May, Duterte tapped then senator Alan Peter Cayetano, his running mate in the 2016 elections, as new foreign secretary. 

But like his second spokesman, his second DFA chief had plans for the 2019 elections. Cayetano resigned to run for Taguig City-Pateros 1st District representative leading Duterte to summon the Philippines’ Permanent Representative to the United Nations Teodoro Locsin Jr from New York to become his new chief diplomat. 

Leadership changes in any government office mean upheavals, changes in personnel, swerves in policy direction, and disruption of both bad and good practices introduced by previous agency heads.

Duterte, likely appreciating the critical role these 3 offices play, has been relatively quick to name the successors of their exiting heads. Only time will tell if these offices are in for more leadership changes and what impact these changes will have on Duterte’s key initiatives. –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.


Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at