PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo named Agriculture undersecretary Bernie Fondevilla as the replacement of outgoing Secretary Arthur Yap, who is stepping down to run for congressman of Bohol.

Arroyo made the announcement during the inspection of the Casecnan Multi Purpose Irrigation and Power Project (CMIPP) in Guimba, Nueva Ecija where both Yap and Fondevilla were present.

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“I am just awaiting the papers to sign for Yap’s replacement. Anyway, he will be replaced… we all know by his undersecretary, Bernie Fondavilla,” she said.

Fondevilla, a native of Semirara in Romblon, was the former executive director of the National Agriculture and Fishery Council (NAFC).

He also headed the Agriculture Competitive Enhancement Fund as its executive director.

Fondevilla, as DA undersecretary, now chairs the El Nino Task Force.

He was likewise named acting secretary of the DA late in February, during Yap’s trip abroad.

Yap is expected to step down from his post after the Supreme Court (SC) ruled that appointive officials are considered resigned upon filing their certificates of candidacies (COCs).

Yap is running for congressman of the third district of Bohol where his wife, who belongs to the Varquez clan of Loboc, hails from.

Yap and Fondevilla accompanied Arroyo in the inspection of the CMIPP in Guimba in Nueva Ecija as she kicked off the North Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle (NLAQ) Super Region Monday.

The President said NLAQ covers Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).

She said the CMIPP was one of the reasons Nueva Ecija, despite the El Niño dry spell affecting parts of northern and Central Luzon, continues to be green and productive.

The project includes the rehabilitation of the Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation System (UPRIIS); the development of new areas for irrigation totaling 16,879 hectares; the repair, upgrading and modification of deteriorated irrigation facilities and structures to improve irrigation delivery and distribution efficiency in the 102,000-hectare service area of the UPRIIS.

The service area includes the cities of San Jose and Munoz, part of Talugtug and Licab including this municipality in Nueva Ecija and a portion of Victoria in Tarlac.

Glorya sa Bagong Milenyo Irrigators Association President Francisco Tolentino on the other hand assured, that Nueva Ecija will not be affected by the dry spell because there is enough water in the Canseca Dam, which supplies water to the irrigation system.

The first phase of the CMIPP was inaugurated by Arroyo in January 2007 which helped supply water to the first 10,000 hectares of farmland from Munoz to Guimba that led to a palay production by 269,200 metric tons in that year.

Names for DOJ head

Outgoing Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, another Cabinet member affected by the High Court ruling, said that acting Solicitor General Alberto Agra is “most likely” to succeed her as head of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Devanadera made the disclosure Monday despite a statement of erstwhile DOJ secretary, now chief presidential legal counsel Raul Gonzalez that former Undersecretary Ernesto Pineda should replace her.

In an ambush interview after the farewell ceremonies given to her by DOJ employees, Devanadera confirmed that President Arroyo has already chosen her replacement, which will be announced very soon.

Aside from heading the Office of the Solicitor General, a position that he also inherited from Devanadera, Agra is holding the position of government corporate counsel in concurrent capacity.

Devanadera, who is eyeing the congressional slot in the first district of Quezon province, has submitted her letter of resignation to President Arroyo last week.

She is set to step down from DOJ within the week following the SC decision.

Even if the High Court did not reverse its ruling in the case of Quinto vs Comelec on appointive officials, Devanadera she said she has no intention of staying in her post until the Election Day.

The SC, in its recent resolution, reversed its December 2009 ruling that allowed appointive officials to stay in their respective posts even upon filing their respective COCs.

The new ruling of the SC said allowing the appointive officials to stay on would give them undue advantage against their opponents in the May elections.

“Whatever happens to the case is something that will not make me change my mind because I want to abide by some of the points in the decision. The public perception may work against me so why get in to that situation. I don’t want it to affect the image of the department. That’s the last thing I want to do,” said Devanadera.

Gonzalez earlier recommended to the President the appointment of Pineda as justice secretary.

“Undersecretary Pineda has proven his worth during his stint as undersecretary of the DOJ with his loyalty, intellect and dedication to the service,” Gonzalez said.

Pineda’s appointment to the DOJ was also endorsed by the Prosecutors’ League of the (PLP) headed by Prosecutor Edward Togonon and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Pampanga Chapter.

Pineda was forced to retire from the DOJ last December. Other contenders for the DOJ portfolio are World Trade Organization Permanent Representative and former DOJ Undersecretary, Manuel Teehankee.

Reconsider SC decision

Meanwhile, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal on Monday asked the SC to reconsider its decision, while Senator Mar Roxas, who is an intervener in the petition, filed a motion to clarify the SC ruling.

Macalintal likewise asked the SC to rule that the effective date of resignation of appointive officials running for elective office is “at the start of the campaign period,” which is on February 9 for national candidates and March 26 for local candidates.

Macalintal is representing petitioners Environment Undersecretary Eleazar Quinto and Land Management Bureau director Gerino Tolentino, who were both seeking to run for public office in the 2010 elections.

Quinto will run for a congressional seat in Pangasinan while Tolentino is running for councilor of Quezon City.

“If a person who files his COC is not yet considered a candidate, it would be absurd to rule that an appointive official should be deemed resigned once he files his COC when the law says that the filing of such COC does not yet make him a candidate,” he said.

Roxas, for his part, asked the Court to issue a resolution clarifying that the second provision in the 3rd paragraph of Section 13, RA 9369 (Poll Automation Law); Section 66 of the Omnibus Election Code; and Section 4 (a) of Comelec Resolution No. 8678 which bar appointive officials from staying in their posts are still in force and effect pending the resolution of the motion for reconsideration filed by affected appointive officials.

He said that despite of the Court’s February 22 ruling, there are a number of incumbent appointive officials who had already filed their COCs and had not yet resigned from their respective positions.

The senator, who is eyeing the position of vice president under the banner of the Liberal Party, said that despite being considered by law to have ipso fact resigned, these officials are still discharging the powers and prerogatives of their respective offices.

“Considering that the December 1, 2009 decision did not attain finality and was, in fact, completely nullified and reversed in the February 22, 2010 resolution of the Honorable Court, it is most respectfully submitted that the current state of the law as regards incumbent appointive officials, i.e. Section 13 of R.A. 9369 and Section 66 of the Omnibus Election Code, is still very much binding and in force and effect,” he added. (JCV/Sunnex)