News analysis

Duterte's Cabinet picks raise concerns

President-elect's choices for administration reflect lack of coherent plan, say observers

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte appears to be putting together a Cabinet team in a haphazard way and without a coherent plan, leading to rumblings even from within his circle.

Two weeks after winning the presidency, Mr Duterte has unveiled some names, but not the full list of Cabinet ministers, which might have reflected a more considered process.

He offered four key ministries to the communists.

He then decided to pick a military chief that the communists dislike, and a foreign minister who will just be warming the seat for someone else, at a time when the Philippines is expecting a landmark ruling in the South China Sea dispute.

He has also appointed lawmaker Mark Villar as public works minister, a move his critics say smacks of political horse-trading.

Mr Villar's family owns the country's largest mass housing developer, and runs the Philippines' third-largest political party - with 23 congressmen - that has pledged to shore up Mr Duterte's own PDP-Laban (Fight), which controls just four seats in Congress.

To be fair, there have been a few well-received choices: a well-connected businessman for finance, a university president for education, two seasoned government executives for transport and energy, a tough-talking former immigration authority chief to oversee casinos, and a United States-educated economist as chief economic planner.

But even some of Mr Duterte's close aides are dismayed over what they see as a haphazard selection process.

"It's just pointing here and there. You be the secretary here, you be in charge of this. There is no process," said Mr Mike Abe, a spokesman for Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, who has been a long-time confidant of Mr Duterte.

Mr Duterte has also been accused of narrowing his choices to a small circle that his critics have dubbed the "KKK" - kaibigan (friends), kaklase (classmates) and kasama (comrades).

Three of his closest friends are assured of key positions, even though two of them would rather play low-key roles. They are businessman Carlos Dominguez, who will be finance minister, Mayor Leoncio Evasco, who is set to become secretary to the Cabinet, and chief peace negotiator Jesus Dureza.

Former market regulator Perfecto Yasay, who is slated to become foreign minister, will just be holding the post for Mr Duterte's running mate, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano.

Mr Cayetano lost the bid to become vice-president and by law, can assume a Cabinet post only a year after his run.

Then there is communist party leader Jose Ma Sison, Mr Duterte's former university professor.

Mr Duterte has offered the communists the labour, environment, social welfare, and agrarian reform ministries, ruffling feathers within the military.

Senator Antonio Trillanes, a former navy officer who led a coup in 2003 against then President Gloria Arroyo, has warned that this could lead to unrest and even a military revolt.

"Do we really believe that Joma Sison will truly give up his communist aspirations?" he said.

University of the Philippines political science professor Prospero de Vera said: "There are some very good appointments but I think what is missing in the Cabinet are really more technocrats and people from academia... That will balance out the criticism."

Mr Duterte said his appointees so far are "valedictorians" and "experts in their fields". He also said that they "are not corrupt".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2016, with the headline 'Duterte's Cabinet picks raise concerns'. Print Edition | Subscribe