TECHNICAL Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Director General Joel Villanueva on Sunday disclosed that a group of Liberal Party (LP) stalwarts identified with Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd wants to ease him out of the Cabinet and from the ruling party’s Senate slate.
In an interview with The Manila Times, Villanueva said he was disappointed by the machinations of the group that could also be behind his inclusion in the latest batch of former and active lawmakers charged in connection with the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.
The TESDA chief, described by Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. as one of the most “conscientious” officials of the Cabinet, suspected that “jealousy” may have driven some members of the administration camp to pressure him into leaving.
“It’s a complaint submitted based on fake documents and signatures as affirmed by the NBI [National Bureau of Investigation]… My contract is with our people and our President [Benigno Aquino 3rd] not with my detractors or with the DOJ [Department of Justice] that is proven to be not always right,” Villanueva said, referring to the graft case filed against him by the NBI.
Charged along with the TESDA chief were Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan 3rd, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, Manila Rep. Amado Bagatsing, La Union Rep. Victor Ortega and Abono party-list Rep. Conrado Estrella 3rd.
The NBI is under Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who also has plans to run for senator under the LP in next year’s elections.
Villanueva was accused of received P2.33 million in kickbacks from his pork barrel allocations.
On Saturday, the TESDA chief issued a statement denying that he profited from his PDAF.
He maintained that the documents that supposedly implicated him in the scam referred to Mike Velarde’s Buhay party-list, not his CIBAC party-list.
CIBAC, he added, never had an office in Cotabato.
Neither did it fund a P10-million project, according to Villanueva.
When asked if he would consider taking a leave of absence or resigning from TESDA for his inclusion in the latest pork barrel case, Villanueva said no.
“If I am taking a leave or resigning, it [will be]for a different reason,” he pointed out.
Villanueva enjoys the full trust of the President and is one of the most lauded Cabinet officials.
Aquino, in almost all of his speeches, boasted of Villanueva’s efficient handling of TESDA and credited the latter for the unprecedented growth in the number of poor people who found jobs here and abroad.
When also asked how he is handling his predicament, the son of evangelist Eddie Villanueva of the Jesus Is Lord Movement, he replied that he “prays really hard.”
“I am praying harder. Grabe jealousy sa atin inside. Grabe talaga they want me out of the slate as well… I am praying for God’s intervention [The jealousy is unbelievable, it’s too much],” he said.
Villanueva pointed out that the only time he is seen with LP bigwigs is whenever Aquino is also present in a particular event.
“Have you seen me with them [Roxas camp]? Only if [the President]is with me. Let’s pray harder. Cabinet members are all aware of this,” he said.
The Manila Times asked Coloma if he knew about Villanueva’s situation but the Palace official claimed he has “no information.”
“PDAF-related cases pertain to actions taken by respondents when they were members of Congress or before Secretary Villanueva was appointed to TESDA. He is given an opportunity to answer the allegations, is entitled to due process and to presumption of innocence,” Coloma said.
Villanueva is perceived to be among the stronger candidates for senator if he decides to run next year.
He said it pains him to know that while the President heaps praises on him, some people within their camp are working to discredit him.
“Wherever the President goes here and abroad he speaks of the successes of TESDA and its contributions to his administration. To me, that is a testament that I did not fail our people as a public servant,” Villanueva noted.
But Coloma expressed confidence that Villanueva will weather the storm.
“We are certain that he will make the right decision and that he will take into consideration the interest of the public,” the Palace official said.