Updated March 20, 2009 12:00 AM
The rating of the Department of Public Works and Highways as the most corrupt government agency in a recent survey was not surprising. Every survey on corruption shows the DPWH in competition with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs for the top slot.
What was new, and disheartening, in Pulse Asia’s February 2009 Nationwide Survey on Corruption was that among the respondents who said they had personally experienced corruption, a high 81 percent opted to keep silent about it. Pulse Asia said keeping silent could be “the most reasonable action to take in light of the experiences of whistle-blowers in publicized cases” such as Rodolfo Lozada Jr.
Lozada and his family are still living on the kindness of nuns and priests of De la Salle University. He faces charges in connection with his former government job. The charges were filed only after he defied the administration and told the Senate what he knew about the national broadband network deal between China’s ZTE Corp. and the Department of Transportation and Communications. He is out of a job, while most of those implicated in that deal have kept theirs or have been promoted, including those he said were involved in the effort to keep him silent.
Other whistle-blowers have suffered worse fates. And after suffering those fates, the worst part is that nothing happens to the corruption cases that they have denounced. After the ZTE deal was scrapped, the administration has tried to wish away the corruption controversy and revive the broadband deal in a new version. Amid bribery allegations, Benjamin Abalos was forced to quit as chairman of the Commission on Elections, a few months short of the end of his fixed term, but he now seems to be enjoying his retirement.
With recent developments, you can’t blame Filipinos who think that blowing the whistle on corruption is an exercise in futility. Who is rewarded in this country, and who are the losers? In the next survey, the number of Filipinos who decide to keep silent in the face of controversy will likely be higher.
Nearly five years after agricultural funds meant for fertilizer were allegedly misused, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee has come up with its findings. The committee headed by Sen. Richard Gordon recommended yesterday the filing of charges against former agriculture under-secretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante, his purported runner Marites Aytona, alleged bagman Jaime Paule and six others for plunder, technical malversation, money laundering, tax evasion and perjury. A 10th individual, Joselito Flordeliza, who headed the foundation used in the alleged P728-million scam, may face prosecution for money laundering.
There are three things that must be done to ensure that the Blue Ribbon probe does not go to waste. The most immediate task is to prevent any of the individuals recommended for criminal prosecution from leaving the country. If there is no legal basis to prevent their departure, the government should at least keep track of their whereabouts. Under the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, signatory states are duty-bound to extradite individuals wanted for corruption.
The second task is to effectively prosecute and punish the guilty. This scandal has dragged on long enough. Gordon said his committee has enough evidence to build an airtight case against the people recommended for prosecution. There is no reason to delay their indictment.
The third task is to implement measures to prevent a repeat of the fertilizer scam or any other diversion of public funds to private war chests, especially with general elections approaching. The Blue Ribbon committee is seeking amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act, the Bank Secrecy Act and the Procurement Act as well as the Senate’s rules of procedure on direct contempt.
Amending those three laws can also help prevent a repeat of other anomalies such as the rigging of bids for infrastructure projects and the collection of fat commissions for brokering deals with the government. Congress can get to work immediately on those amendments for approval before lawmakers become too busy with their election campaigns. Even if government prosecutors drag their feet on this case, something positive should come out of this scandal.
MANILA, Philippines – The Senate Blue Ribbon committee found no direct evidence linking President Arroyo to the P728-million fertilizer scam in 2004 but inferred that she “acquiesced” to the acts of former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante and other government officials implicated in the scandal by her inaction.
Blue Ribbon committee chairman Richard Gordon told reporters yesterday that the corollary rule to the control powers of the President was called the “doctrine of qualified political agency.”
In a 130-page report, the committee concluded: “Since there was no reprobation or disapproval coming from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regarding their actions, it can easily be inferred that President Arroyo acquiesced to such acts.”
“Does anyone really believe that Bolante, et al would have been able to malverse such a gargantuan amount and continue to evade all sorts of liability without acquiescence of Malacañang?” said Gordon.
The Blue Ribbon committee wrapped up the fertilizer fund scam probe at the Senate with the 130-page report citing only 10 personalities, including Bolante, who face charges ranging from plunder to money laundering.
In his report, Gordon also noted that Mrs. Arroyo’s knowledge of the fertilizer scam was alluded to by former Department of Budget Management (DBM) secretary Emilia Boncodin in her testimony during the 13th Congress.
The Gordon report quoted a portion of the first committee report made by then Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., which said: “When asked if the fertilizer fund request made by Usec. Bolante for the DA was upon the instruction of the President, Sec. Boncodin replied with: ‘I would imagine so.’”
Gordon said the doctrine of qualified political agency provides that all executive and administrative organizations are adjuncts of the executive department.
“The President is the chief administration office of the government. While the Constitution is not explicit about this position, by reason of her being the chief executive and the head of government, she exercises and wields all administrative powers inherent in her position,” said a portion of the executive summary of the committee report.
“Thus, while the Committee found no evidence directly linking the President to the fertilizer scam, the acts of the former undersecretary of the DA, Mr. Jocelyn Bolante, and his cohorts, now Usec. Belinda Gonzales and now GSIS Vice President Ibarra Poliquit, are deemed acts of the President since they acted within the scope of their authorities given by then Sec. Luis Lorenzo,” the committee report said.
Plunder, other charges
In the 12-page executive summary of the committee report, the Blue Ribbon panel had recommended the filing of plunder charges against Bolante.
Aside from Bolante, those recommended to be charged for plunder are former DA assistant secretary Poliquit, Leonicia Llarena, Feshan Philippines president Julie Gregorio, Feshan Philippines vice president Redentor Antolin, Marilyn Araos, Marites Aytona, Jaime Paule and DA Usec. Gonzales.
Gordon’s committee made the recommendation after it conducted hearings from Nov. 13 last year until Jan. 26.
Gordon cited evidence which showed that the personalities personally took part in the execution of the “act acquiring ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt or criminal acts in the total value of at least P50 million.”
Apart from plunder, the committee also recommended that Bolante be slapped with technical malversation, money laundering, false testimony/perjury; Poliquit, technical malversation; Llarena, malversation and false testimony/perjury in solemn affirmation; Gregorio with tax evasion, money laundering, and disobedience to summons by the National Assembly; Antolin, money laundering; Araos, money laundering; Aytona, money laundering, tax evasion, false testimony/perjury and disobedience to summons; Paule, money laundering, false testimony/perjury; Gonzales, technical malversation; and Joselito Flordeliza, money laundering.
‘Pack of wolves’
In a press conference, Gordon likened Bolante and his companions to a “pack of wolves operating in the government.”
He did not discount the speculations that the funds were used “to help those who will run under the administration party including myself” in the 2004 elections.
While Gordon readily admitted to have been part of the administration coalition in 2004, the senator said he did not benefit from the fertilizer fund scam.
According to him, the Senate is also recommending amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Law by extending the period of freeze order from an additional six months to two years.
The freeze order on the assets of Bolante was lifted last December at the height of the Senate’s reopening of the inquiry.
There is also a proposed revision to the AMLA Rules and the Bank Secrecy Act to exempt public officers charged before the courts for violations of sections 3(b) and (c) under the Corrupt Practices of Public Officers.
The amendment of the procurement act would focus on the inclusion of private institutions, non-government organizations, people’s organizations and private entities that receive government monies in the coverage of the Procurement Act.
Amendments were also recommended to the Rules of Procedure governing inquiries in aid of legislation on direct contempt and the suggested standard provision to be added to the General Appropriations Act every year.
Gordon also scored the Office of the Ombudsman for dragging its feet on the issue.
The Blue Ribbon chair called for the amendment of the Constitution to make the Ombudsman an elective rather than an appointive position.
He noted that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez is known to be close to First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, as both were reportedly schoolmates at the Ateneo de Manila University.
“We need an Ombudsman beholden to the people,” Gordon said.
The Gordon report is the second committee report dished out by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee which had recommended the filing of charges against former agriculture secretary Lorenzo, Bolante, Poliquit, Gonzales, Asec. Felix Montes, and all regional directors of the DA who participated illegally in all the transactions related to the scam.
This was in the 13th Congress when the Blue Ribbon was still headed by Sen. Magsaysay.
The Magsaysay report also cited for contempt Lorenzo and Poliquit as well as Bolante, who then fled to the United States, which was “deemed to be a deliberate attempt to escape the jurisdiction of the Senate.”
“His flight was a clear indication of guilt,” Gordon said.
It was only when Bolante came back to the country last November that the Senate reopened the fertilizer scam inquiry.
Then Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. directed the Senate Sgt-At-Arms to enforce the arrest order against Bolante upon his return/deportation from the US where he lost his appeal for political asylum.
Meanwhile, Sen. Mar Roxas said the Senate Blue Ribbon committee report on the P728- million fertilizer fund scam illustrates the system of syndicated corruption within the government that flourished under President Arroyo.
“We have proven again and again corruption in government, and the fertilizer scam showed how officials manipulate the system to rob the coffers of the government,” Roxas said.
Roxas said Gutierrez should resign for failing to prosecute Bolante for allegedly masterminding the diversion scheme.
He stressed that overwhelming evidence – both direct and circumstantial, and documentary and testimonial – have been gathered by the committee against Bolante, giving no space for Gutierrez to claim that her office needs additional proof to pin down the former DA official.
By Christina Mendez
Updated February 24, 2009 12:00 AM
THE appeal for concern for the world’s poor aired at the just-concluded World Economic Forum at the mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland continues to resonate with such urgency as to touch peoples and governments everywhere to contribute to the alleviation of poverty wherever it may be found.
At the same time, the “cancer of corruption” that is widespread in most of the Third World countries was denounced as a major cause of backwardness and impoverishment of the people.
United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in a statement, referred to the “poorest people who live on less than a dollar a day who are vulnerable to every stock that comes.”
He called on leaders of government and society to stand by them.
Bill Gates, known worldwide as a generous benefactor to good causes has called for “creative capitalism” to do a better job of serving the world’s poor as well as the rich.
He expressed alarm that capitalism, while so good for so many, is failing much of the world.
Ban Ki-Moon and Bill Gates were only two of the 2,500 business and political leaders who gathered in Davos for the Forum’s first meeting this year.
As you may well know, the World Economic Forum is the “Geneva-based non-profit foundation best known for its annual meeting in Davos, that brings together top business leaders, international political leaders who are known for their commitment to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional, and industry agenda.”
That United Nations’ Ban Ki-Moon and Bill Gates should concern themselves with the “bottom billion,” in reference to the poorest of the poor of the world, is understandable precisely because of the current economic meltdown sweeping countries worldwide.
Obviously, they wanted to remind rich countries represented in the Davos gathering that they have tough obligation to perform for the world’s poverty-stricken citizens, particularly at this time of spreading crisis.
In a recent report carried by the International Herald Tribune it was noted that a new sub-class of Japanese workers were finding themselves literally cast into the streets as the economy sours.
Also, it was reported that some advertisements were beginning to appear in newspapers and online that offered lumber for food or medicine.
Gates, in particular, urged business establishments to devote a larger percentage of their resources for the rescue of Third World countries from hunger and extreme poverty.
It is recalled that at various times he urged business to work hand in hand with government and non-profit organizations in a new level of participation with the objective of reversing the onrush of poverty, and embarking on technological innovations for those left behind.
At one time, his foundation gave 6 million for a green technology project and farming techniques to save millions of people from hunger and extreme destitution.
At one point of the discussions, it was noted what has been the experience in corrupt societies: People being cut off from access to public services such as provisions for clean water, health care, credit, and good education, among other public benefits.
The cancer of corruption, it was pointed out, was as endemic as the rampant practice of “making payments for non-existent public works projects, money disbursed to fictitious persons; employed personnel are paid only a fraction of the stipulated wages with the rest appropriated by officials…”
Of course, they all sound familiar – and so basic and too elementary compared to the rascality of some of our own corrupt officials – as if you didn’t know.
By HERN P. ZENAROSA