MANILA - President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday ordered his Cabinet to do some "housekeeping" to ensure a clean start in his six-year stay in Malacañang.

Inaugural address of President Benigno Aquino III

Aquino, who took his oath as the Philippines' 15th President Wednesday, met with his Cabinet shortly after he inducted them in masse at the Aguinaldo State Dining Room in Malacañang.

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The meeting, which lasted for about an hour, tackled the formation of a commission that will find the truth behind alleged irregularities in the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the fate of government contractual workers, and preparations for the State of the Nation Address on July 26.

In a press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said a memorandum order creating the Truth Commission will be issued soon to investigate corruption allegations against Arroyo and other scandals during her nine-year presidency.

The commission will be headed by former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. but Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the mandate and details of the commission's tasks still have to be crafted.

De Lima said the former President no longer enjoys immunity from lawsuits after stepping down from the presidency on Wednesday. Arroyo's husband, Jose Miguel, is also not off the hook in the allegations against his spouse, she added.

Lacierda dismissed concerns that Davide may not be right person for the job considering that he is a former appointee of the former President.

He said the fact that Aquino appointed Davide speaks of his trust and confidence in him. Davide was Arroyo's former ambassador to the United Nations.

Allegations against the former President include graft, electoral fraud, and shady government deals, among others.

In his inaugural speech, Aquino promised to fight corruption, particularly in the notoriously graft-ridden bureaus of customs and internal revenues, and pledged a new era of good governance, reforms and a bureaucracy sensitive to the needs of ordinary citizens.

"I can forgive those who did me wrong, but I have no right to forgive those who abused our people," said Aquino, who with his mother had previously joined street protests calling on Arroyo to resign.

Aquino ordered new Justice Secretary de Lima to deliver "true and complete justice for all."

To those who are talking about reconciliation, if they mean that they would like us to simply forget about the wrongs that they have committed in the past, we have this to say: there can be no reconciliation without justice.

Contractual workers

In his first order as president, Aquino dismissed officials who are non-career officers to stop the practice of using presidential appointments as rewards.

Lacierda said Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa issued Memorandum Circular No. 1, which declares all non-career executive service positions vacant as of June 30 while it extends the services of contractual employees whose contracts expire on Wednesday.

Contractual employees including cooks, waiters, and housekeepers inside Malacanang are extended for one month.

Lacierda said they have yet to finalize on what to do on contractual employees but they could be retained based on their qualifications.

All positions occupied by presidential appointees will also be vacated.

The most senior career executive service officer will take over as officer-in-charge for continuity of services.

The services of the contractual employees will be compensated in accordance with existing civil service, budgeting, accounting and auditing rules and regulations.

Lacierda said they have come up with the memorandum in order to prevent unnecessary disruption of

government operations.

He said about 4,000 employees are be affected by the change of administration. These are the positions left vacant by the Arroyo administration.

Inventory

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, meanwhile, said the Cabinet members were also asked to conduct an inventory of all assets in their departments and attached agencies to determine what could be privatized in the future to support President Aquino's programs.

He said Aquino ordered the Cabinet to submit in two weeks a status report on the condition of all departments, how much budget is left to spend for the rest of the year, and what are the outstanding programs that need to be reviewed or supported.

He added Aquino also directed the budget department to proceed with the zero budgeting for the 2011 budget cycle. He said all agencies were ordered to help implement the change by identifying the priorities.

"We are not targeting a balanced budget which we believe is not necessary at this point, to support programs like the conditional cash transfer," he said.

Purisima said the Aquino government will also be unrelenting in going after tax evaders.

He said the new government's goal is to reduce the deficit to two percent of the gross domestic product over a three-year period. He said it is "pointless" to impose new taxes if the leaks are not plugged.

"What we need to do is expand the tax base so it is more equitable. The goal is if we succeed in improving efficiency we can see a solution five to six years down the road," said Purisima, who is also tasked to solve the classroom backlog in the country.

Planning Secretary Cayetano Paderanga said he will review the economic figures released by the Arroyo administration and come up with an evaluation perhaps next week.

Aquino ordered the Cabinet to get the "lay of the land" in two weeks and prepare for his first State of the Nation Address on July 26.

Aquino's entire Cabinet will meet once a month, while cluster meetings will be done regularly to have an updated status of each government departments. (Jill Beltran/PNA/AP/Sunnex)