(An excerpt from my still-to-be published book I WALKED WITH PRESIDENTS)
I was in Tripoli, Libya meeting Col. Moammar Khadafi’s son SAIL AL ISLAM working on an enhanced implementation of the 1996 MNLF peace agreement as presidential peace adviser of President Gloria M. Arroyo when I got word that again, I was being moved to another Cabinet office as Malacanang Press Secretary. It was a surprise but nonetheless a welcome development as I had always been a journalist almost all my professional life.
That was to be a start of another challenging task of being available to media and to the Philippine President almost on a 24/7 basis.
Press Secretary Ignacio “Toting” Bunye wrote on May 18, 2008 his recollection how it transpired:
“Since I announced my transfer to the Monetary Board effective July 3, to fulfill a wish of resuming my ‘interrupted’ banking career, I have been besieged by questions as to who would succeed me as Press Secretary. I responded by saying that I have shared my thoughts with President Arroyo on the matter but everything is all up to the President.
“When pressed by the Malacanang Press Corps, (almost daily) I revealed my preference for an insider, meaning a present member of the Cabinet.
“Now, with the concurrence of all concerned, I am pleased to announce that Jess Dureza, currently the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, will succeed me effective June 16.
“Jess has requested President Arroyo additional time to wind down his affairs, which was granted. As of now, Jess is still in Libya, on the invitation of Col. Khadafi’s son, Sail Al Islam, who has been brokering among MNLF leaders to ensure enhanced implementation of the 1996 Peace Agreement with the MNLF.
“From Libya, Jess sent me a copy of the following message which he earlier sent to President Arroyo after being offered the position: “I humbly accept the new task and I thank the President for the honor and privilege of serving her and the country as Press Secreary. I consider this as a progression of my work and commitment for peace and development, this time perhaps with a bigger, wider platform. I will give it my best shot. I hope I can fit in the big shoes Sec. Toting Bunye is leaving behind with distinction.”
“The next question now is who will replace Jess Dureza as Presidential Adviser of the Peace Process?
“Just last Monday, he was about to start his well deserved vacation after a long brilliant military career. But soon, he will be back in harness, this time in civvies. When I advised Hermogenes “Jun” Esperon that I would be announcing his appointment and he may have to cut short his vacation, his reply, without batting an eyelash, was “I am awed, humbled by the big task. But the challenge is by itself the incentive and the inspiration. I’m ready, Sir.”
“So there you are, the revamp is complete”. (End of Sec. Toting Bunye’s post.)
That was to be another milestone of my career in public service. I was a journalist almost my whole career in life. So, I felt like “ a turtle being thrown into the water”!
(Remember that parable? One day a turtle was threatened to be thrown into the water by someone who didn’t know that turtles could swim. The turtle, pretending to be afraid said: “please no, please don’t”! But the turtle was nonetheless thrown into the water. And the turtle swam happily ever after! End of parable.)
I felt like that turtle when I was thrown into that job as press secretary of the Palace!
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