Philippine Daily Inquirer

Just call me

- By Amy R. Remo

HE WANTED to be simply called “Rene.”

Newly-appointed Energy Secretary Jose Rene D. Almendras, who typically shied away from the limelight during his stint with the private sector, tells the INQUIRER that the “biggest problem of people is they can’t refer to me by my first name.”

“During my first day here, one of the directors started his sentence by ‘Mister Honorable Secretary ...’ and I didn’t realize he was talking to me because I was looking the other way. Then I noticed that he was looking at me, and he started all over againwith ‘Mister Honorable Secretary,’” Almendras starts off with a jest.

But more than just the flashy titles and honorifics accorded to him, Almendras admits that a number of things in his life have more than changed—they have completely turned around, after he accepted the post.

Almendras relates that it was very difficult for the family to make the decision and to accept the role that he was about to take—as this meant a complete change in lifestyle.

“We’ve always enjoyed the privacy of living a very quiet life even when I was a CEO of the Ayala companies. I don’t even think you even heard of me. I was one of the more low key CEOs and the time you only hear about me is when there’s a water leak or something like that,” he says.

“I shied away from a lot of exposure not for anything else—my family and I, we’re all very private people and that was the biggest, most difficult portion and it took us a quite a while to discuss it,” he adds.

Eventually, it was the call to serve the country that put a finality to his decision.

“I guess it’s shared dreams, shared aspiration­s. Maybe it’s partly about growing old. (President Benigno Aquino III and I) both just turned 50, and at the end of the day, as the president himself would say, it would be all about ‘para sa bayan,’” Almendras explains.

Preparing for the job

Since he took on the post last July 1, Almendras has done his share of homework as he had already completed his rounds among the attached agencies and had met with the heads of key agencies. Within the first three days alone, Almendras had gone through over 18 briefings with different energy officials.

“I’m very happy with what I see, there’s a lot of profession­alism here,” he adds.

Almendras, however, has yet to meet with the private sector. “In the interest of keeping it pure, I’m keeping it homebound

for now. I’m sure the private sector will have a lot to tell me. My point is, I will hear out my energy family first so I can understand their perspectiv­e and then I will go out there,” he says.

Retaining his personal style

To take on his new role as the country’s energy chief, Almendras acknowledg­es the need for change, but stresses that he will still bring with him his personal style as he was with his people when he was still with the private sector.

“I think I have a lot to change myself. I acknowledg­e the fact that this is a very different medium, For example, I cannot be as decisive as I have been in the private sector. In here, there are certain rules, there are certain protocols that need to be followed,” he says.

Among the things he won’t change, he says, is being warm and genuinely interested in people and his openness to comments. He likewise opened his office doors to anyone who would need to have a dialogue with him.

“I have given instructio­ns to the office, which is we accept anyone who wants to come in and talk to us. If it is hard to set an appointmen­t with us, it is not because we don’t want to talk to you. In fact as of (Wednesday last week), we already have about 67 appointmen­t requests,” Almendras relates.

“When I was in the private sector, my calendar was always full at least seven working days ahead. Here as energy secretary, it’s already full in the first two months, so it’s not about me being inaccessib­le or hard to talk to—it’s really just the sheer volume of people who want to talk to us,” he adds.

Taking on the challenge

“So what can people expect (from me as energy secretary)? One, you can expect accountabi­lity. I will have to say the bad news for what it is. I know I will get the flak, we will be criticized but there’s nothing I can do. What I can promise is we will only do the right thing, and if we have to take the heat for it, then we’ll take the heat for it,” Almendras boldly says.

As he takes on this huge challenge, Almendras admits that he cannot solve everything, given the magnitude of problems being faced by the Philippine energy sector, nor can he please all concerned sectors. As such, the new energy chief has begun his appeal to the public to help the government by doing its share through energy conservati­on.

“The energy problem is not unique to the Philippine­s. The whole world is facing an energy problem ... This is not just the problem of the Department of Energy—it involves everybody and we need people to understand that there are changes that will have to happen in our lifestyles,” he says.

Almendras vowed however that for as long as the president wants him at the DOE, he would try to resolve “as many (problems) as I can, to address the ones that are most heavy so it will have to be a combinatio­n of immediate low lying fruit solutions and medium term solutions. But we also have to address the long term issues as well.”

And this is a challenge, he seems to be more than willing and prepared to take.

 ??  ?? Jose Rene D.
Jose Rene D. Almendras
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 ??  ?? ALMENDRAS with former Energy Secretary Jose C. Ibazeta
ALMENDRAS with former Energy Secretary Jose C. Ibazeta

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