Wake Up, Philippines!

Pork barrel is root cause of corruption

Posted in Congress, Graft and Corruption, house of representatives, Pork Barrel, Senate by Erineus on May 22, 2009

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:58:00 05/22/2009

The gold rush area that is Compostela Valley is a disaster waiting to happen. The steep mountainsides are honeycombed with tunnels dug by small-scale miners lured by that yellow mineral that many people are willing to die for. Well, they are dying for it. A landslide during heavy rains last Monday has killed 27 persons so far, and the digging and counting for more bodies have not yet stopped. That was the second fatal landslide in the area in two years.

Even without the tunnels, Compostela Valley is prone to landslides. The steep mountainsides surrounding it are devoid of trees whose roots should have held the soil together. Loggers raped the forests a long time ago. Miners made the soil even looser by digging tunnels into it to look for gold. Then they built their huts on the valley below, at the foot of the mountain. It was like committing suicide.

About 50 miners were taking shelter in these huts last Monday when a loud noise roared like thunder. Then they saw boulders and mud tumbling down the mountainside toward them. They all began to run but the wall of mud and boulders overtook them and buried them. Isn’t it ironic that the miners who took great pains to burrow into the soil looking for gold are now buried under that same soil, perhaps with gold nuggets buried with them?

This is not the first landslide that has killed scores of people in the Philippines. Nor would it be the last. As the typhoon season dumps more rains on the mountainsides, there would be more landslides, killing the people below.

As in Compostela Valley, authorities have identified areas in danger of landslides and have advised people in the path of these potential landslides to move to safer locations. But people are hardheaded, especially those in the gold rush area. Greed has closed their eyes and common sense to danger.

But death also lurks in places away from the gold rush area. Any area below mountains where loggers operated years ago is in danger. For the greedy loggers had stripped the mountains of the forests that held the soil together. We are now reaping the whirlwind that these people started.

Mark my words, there would be more floods and landslides during rainy seasons. With no trees to hold the rainwater soaking the ground, the water would rush down the mountainsides to flood the lowlands. The creeks and rivers would not be able to hold the abundant water. So they would overflow their banks and flood the surrounding countryside.

Worse, the rains would loosen the soil and without plant roots to hold them, the mud, together with boulders, would cascade down the mountainsides and bury the sleeping villages below. It had happened many times before; and it would happen again.

Have you noticed that there are more frequent floods and landslides now with the slightest rain? Those are the handiwork of the loggers, the charcoal-makers and the kaingineros (slash-and-burn farmers).

Local government officials should take great pains to move people living in danger areas to safer locations. If they don’t, there would be nobody left to vote for them in future elections.

* * *

The 2008/2009 Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR), financed by the United Nations, put the blame on the spread of graft and corruption on the executive branch of the government. Congress has abdicated the power of the purse to the executive, the report said.

Wrong. The executive and the legislative branches are actually in cahoots to rob the people of their taxes.

The root cause of all the corruption is the pork barrel hidden in such innocent-sounding appropriations as Countrywide Development Fund and Priority Development Assistance Fund. What is developed is not actually the countryside but the private pockets of legislative and executive officials. Almost half of the appropriation of each and every project goes to corrupt officials. In the process, these officials contaminate private persons who do business with the government such as contractors. Contractors have to kick back about a third of the contract price to government officials or else the contract would be given to somebody else willing to give “commissions.” As a result, the work of the contractor becomes substandard as he has to get back somehow the money he kicked back to officials. There is almost no government project, big or small, that is not tainted with corruption.

Members of the House of Representatives use the sobriquet “power of the purse” in giving themselves the pork barrel allocations. So it has not abdicated this power to the executive. But it is true that Malacañang has an even bigger pork barrel hidden in “intelligence,” “confidential,” “representation” and other high-sounding names. The generic name for all of them is “stolen funds.” They were stolen from the taxpayers.

The executive branch allows Congress to steal the pork barrel funds because Congress also allows it to steal a bigger share. A case of you scratch my back, I scratch yours.

Also, the pork barrel allows Malacañang to control the congressmen and senators by the simple expedient of not releasing the pork of uncooperative legislators. Cooperate and you get your pork; play hard-to-get and you get nothing. That is the Malacañang practice.

Abolish the pork barrel system by obeying the Constitution (it is not in the Charter), and you cut corruption by about two-thirds. Malacañang and Congress will not do that, so it is left to the Supreme Court to overturn its earlier decision that the pork barrel is legal. How can it be legal when the Constitution says that the job of Congress is to enact laws and that of the executive is to implement them? But with the pork, legislators usurp the functions of executive officials such as the secretaries of public works, education, health, etc. Plain common sense.


Graft due to Palace ‘holding power of purse’

Posted in Budget, Congress, Malacanang/Palace, power of the purse, Senate by Erineus on May 21, 2009

By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:30:00 05/21/2009

MANILA, Philippines—Congress has practically abdicated the power of the purse to the executive branch, failing to scrutinize the annual national budget thoroughly and facilitating corruption in the process, a UN-financed study released Wednesday said.

Congress is given four months to debate the budget. But, more often than not, debates—particularly in the House of Representatives—deal not with policy but rather parochial concerns,” said the 2008/2009 Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR).

“Questions about agency performance are asked only intermittently and superficially. Cost estimates of budget proposals are rarely challenged,” said the PHDR, sponsored by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the New Zealand Agency for International Development.

“Weak accountability is facilitated by weak congressional oversight, not only in practice, but in law. In fact, it is the executive and not Congress that wields effective power of the purse,” said Toby Monsod of the NGO Human Development Network, which conducted the study. Monsod is one of the principal authors of the report.

81 excess undersecs, asecs

The 173-page report scored the presidential practice of making “political appointees,” noting 81 “excess” undersecretaries and assistant secretaries as of December 2007 costing the government P58 million a year.

It said 56 percent of the political appointees were “not eligible.”

The Office of the President also accounted for most of the “excess” officials (31), “of whom 89 percent were ineligible,” it said.

The report said Congress, entrusted with control of the purse by the Constitution, had failed to “adequately validate the performance of agencies or the consistency of proposed budgets with state policy.”

“While the budget intends to allocate funds for identifiable deliverables, it pays no attention to whether deliverables from the previous year(s) have been delivered or not,” the report said.

Unused audit reports

“Part of the problem is that audit and accomplishment reports of previous years are not used intensively during the budget preparation and debate,” it added.

The report said agencies were required by law to submit quarterly work and financial reports to Congress, Commission on Audit, Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and Office of the President.

“However, agencies fail to meet this requirement in a complete and timely manner, to the chagrin even of the DBM, the executive’s own budget oversight agency. Congress in turn fails to pursue the matter,” the PHDR said.

The report also scored the “imbalance in the power of the purse” with the executive branch able to “override the mandate of the General Appropriations Act.”

The executive branch does this by not releasing funds, transferring “unused” appropriations to “savings and using this amount for other purposes,” using “discretionary, intelligence, or confidential funds—over which the legislature officially has no oversight—as well as ‘unprogrammed’ funds in the budget.”

By deciding the level of debt service, Malacañang can significantly affect the “total amount of resources in play over the year,” the report said.

Huge Palace funds

Monsod, who presented highlights of the report at its launch, said the amount of presidential funds beyond congressional oversight was “overwhelming,” making the pork barrel of lawmakers “seem almost petty.”

In contrast to the graft-ridden pork barrel that averaged P8 billion from 2004 to 2008, the report said the one-liner appropriations or the “lump sums” under the control of the President amounted to P224.44 billion or 16 percent of the national budget in the 2009 National Expenditure Program (NEP).

“In the spirit of transparency, it is crucial to find out which of these one-liners are actually backed up by plans and programs or which simply serve as discretionary funds,” the report said.

Also “scattered” in the 2009 NEP are P1.12 billion in confidential and intelligence funds used “upon the discretion of the President and are not subject to proper audit.”

“Although one must assume the necessary secrecy in the use of these funds, it is possible to create appropriate oversight mechanisms,” the PHDR said.

Intelligence funds

The report suggested a bipartisan legislative select committee to exercise oversight over confidential, intelligence and similar discretionary funds “with the condition that the details of the use of these funds cannot be divulged to anyone outside of the committee in the interest of national security.”

“Weak congressional oversight over (foreign financial aid) and other funds, combined with inherently powerful spending powers of the executive has, unfortunately, also invited corruption, weakening government institutions even further,” the report said.

49 assistants, consultants

The PHDR also pointed out that the numbers of “presidential consultants/advisers (PC/PAs)” have “significantly” risen from 2002.

There were 22 presidential assistants in 2002, 39 in 2003, 44 in 2004, 37 in 2005, and 49 in 2008, the report said.

“The number has risen significantly since 2002 after a steady decline in the 1994-1998 period (the Ramos administration), a slight spike in 1999 (the Estrada administration) and a sharp decline in 2001. By the beginning of 2008, however, the number of PC/PAs had reached an all-time high of 49,” Monsod said.

Overlapping agencies

Monsod said the report noted that “overlapping bodies cause confusion and demoralization.”

“How, for example, are authorities defined between the presidential adviser on foreign affairs, the special adviser for energy affairs, and two presidential assistants for education, and the official Cabinet secretaries for these same portfolios?” she said.

“Even the designations themselves show confusion, for instance, as between the PA for job generation and the PA for food security and job creation,” Monsod said.

And there are the “task force on anti-smuggling” and the “presidential smuggling group to apprehend, seize, investigate and prosecute acts involving smuggling, unlawful importation and other similar violation,” she added. With a report from Rose Ann Samorin, trainee


No takers for Senate ethics committee post

Posted in Senate by Erineus on April 24, 2009

By Christina Mendez Updated April 23, 2009 12:00 AM

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MANILA, Philippines – Nobody wants the Senate ethics committee.

Senators are not inclined to accept the chairmanship of the panel, amid questions over the credibility of current chairman Sen. Panfilo Lacson who issued an order to investigate Sen. Manny Villar over the C-5 Road Extension controversy.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Joker Arroyo declined the offer of heading the ethics committee tasked to cast judgment on the conduct of Villar.

Santiago said since the two warring senators – Manuel Villar Jr. and Lacson — “are both my friends” she would not accept the offer to head the committee.

Each senator had developed political colors and their “political complexions” do not subside when they are appointed to the ethics committee, Santiago said.

Estrada said he does not want to judge a fellow senator because it does not seem proper.

Sen. Arroyo underscored the need for the ethics committee and its members to be impartial in their views before a case against a colleague is even heard.

“What is more important now is whether the ethics committee is (going to be) impartial in its decision,” Arroyo said.

“The question here is that due process is simply a case of fair play, and fair play means the judge is impartial. The moment the judge is not impartial, nothing – the body loses its jurisdiction,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo also countered efforts of the majority to decide the issue by getting the consensus of the majority.

“We are not talking of numbers here. This is not a bill. It is the character of the members, the character of those who will judge because the one that judges should be as clean as a whistle. No amount of numbers can prevail over a discredited committee,” Arroyo told reporters.

Arroyo expressed doubt whether the Senate can still constitute a credible ethics committee.

“I wonder whether the ethics committee can create a membership that is not partisan. Everything we do here is partisan,” said Arroyo, adding that everything they do “naturally” has “political color.”

After an emotionally charged privilege speech on Monday, Lacson brought the resolution ordering Villar to answer allegations over the P200-million double insertion on the C-5 Road controversy within five days.

Villar did not accept the document, but Lacson maintains that it was “deemed served.”

Lacson also took exception to Villar’s accusation that the ethics committee has become a “kangaroo court.”

Minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. explained that the heated debates at the Senate have nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of Villar but on the need to follow strict procedures at the chamber.

“This has nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of Manny Villar. We are talking about procedures because if we allow a tainted ethical procedure to go unrebutted then the probabilities are the ethics committee can go wild and will do everything it wants to do without consideration of the rules,” Pimentel said in an interview.

“We are not covering up for Sen. Villar. That’s what I want to say. We are only asking that if he must undergo an ethics committee investigation, he must be accorded all the rights and even the protection of the rules adopted by the committee itself among others,” Pimentel added.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile maintained that Villar could still be summoned by the committee, adding that there could be difficulty in succumbing to pressure of the minority to have a new eethics committee.

Lacson insisted that his committee “cannot be held hostage” by the maneuverings of Villar and his allies, including Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.

“If the committee will exercise its power, he can be invited, summoned. It’s up to him to ignore the committee if he does not want to participate. I do not know what the committee will do,” Enrile said.

Enrile said he does not “begrudge” the minority group for insisting that the members of the Senate ethics committee should be changed. “I will have to consult the members of the majority if they will agree. I can not decide that alone,” Enrile said.

Lacson said he is ready to face any senator who would pursue an ethics complaint that would question his integrity after he was implicated in the double murder of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in 2001 as well as his alleged role in the Best World (BW) Resources scam.

“If there is a valid complaint and if he is willing to file that complaint, then the ethics committee (may take it up), thenif I am the one accused in any complaint, then necessarily I would have to inhibit myself,” Lacson said.

Lacson said even Sen. Estrada could be investigated if someone files a complaint against him.

Estrada had admitted last Monday before the plenary that he was the “angel sent from above,” who Cayetano referred to as his source of the antedated ethics committee resolution, which was subject of the heated debates on the Senate floor.

Lacson said the ethics committee’s order, which was adopted last April 15, is deemed “as served” when he personally handed the document to Villar on the floor the other day.

Members of the Senate minority never recognized the ethics committee chaired by Lacson.

Senators say nobody actually wants the job because investigating a fellow senator will not be easy.

Villar declared he would not submit himself to the ethics committee because Lacson and his members were mostly presidential hopefuls.

The vice chairman of the ethics panel is Sen. Richard Gordon and the members are Senators Manuel Roxas II, Loren Legarda and Gregorio Honasan. The ex-officio members are Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

On the other hand, Enrile said he chose these presidential wannabes to become members of the ethics committee because they would be careful not to be accused of bias or prejudice against a fellow candidate for president.

Enrile and Lacson also said Villar must face the allegations of corruption against him squarely rather than complain that he was just being harassed politically. With Aurea Calica
View previous articles from this author.


Council lauds Senate nod on poll fund

Posted in comelec, Election, Legislation, Senate by Erineus on March 6, 2009

By Anna Valmero
First Posted 12:29:00 03/05/2009

MANILA, Philippines—Members of the Commission on Elections Advisory Council (CAC) lauded the Senate’s approval of the P11.3 supplemental budget for poll automation.

CAC chairman Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua III and Henrietta de Villa, chairperson of the Parish Pastroral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and National Movement for Free Elections, said this development sets in motion plans to fully automate the elections in 2010.

“The approval of the bill keeps us on schedule with the preparatory activities needed, especially the start of the procurement process. We are now all systems go,” he said.

If the supplemental budget was not approved before the Holy Week break, Comelec would lose one month and can only proceed with the slated activities after Congress passes the bill when session resumes in April.

Roxas-Chua III expressed gratitude to members of the Senate “for acting on the poll automation budget given a short time frame.”

He cited the Senate only received the House version of the bill Tuesday and was able to work double time to approve it late Wednesday. The House of Representatives approved the bill Monday night.

“I laud Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Edgardo Angara and Richard Gordon for fighting for and winning the approval of the poll automation budget. With this news, we can now start moving with the procurement process,” said De Villa.

Roxas-Chua III said the approval of the bill puts the Comelec in a safer position to pursue the bidding process.

“Although there is a circular by the Government Procurement and Policy Board (GPPB) allowing agencies with general appropriations to proceed with the bidding short of making an award or before a SARO [Special Allotment Release Order] is made, along the line there might be questions on the legalities because there is no mention of a supplemental budget in the circular, only of general appropriations,” he said.

Roxas-Chua III said that while the poll body can proceed with the bidding even without the release of the budget, “there is a risk of legalities down the line” if some parties would challenge the contents and legalities of the circular, as it applies to the poll automation budget.

“We are very happy the bill was approved before the Holy Week break, now it only needs the signature of the President [Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo],” said the official.

The Comelec has requested for the supplemental budget to lease 80,000 precinct count optical scans for the nationwide poll automation project in 2010.

Comelec chairman Jose Melo has been urging Congress to pass the supplemental budget before the Holy Week recess on March 7 so the poll body can proceed with their preparations.

Melo has said the poll body would publish the terms of reference for the bidders on March 25, earlier than the original schedule of April 2.

The terms of reference would define the specifications of the machines and the system to be deployed for the 2010 polls, as crafted by the Comelec in collaboration with the CAC.

By May 22, the poll body would award the contract to a wining bidder for the machines. Activities, such as configuration of the machines, testing and mock elections, staff training and voters’ education, would then follow.

Roxas-Chua III said the terms of refernce is “almost in final form and about 90 to 95 percent complete.

He told INQUIRER.net the terms of reference would be finalized within the week.

Noting the reservations of some lawmakers, De Villa said the people would still determine the success of any elections.

“An automated election system will not guarantee ‘foolproof elections’ rid of fraud and cheating because on the final analysis, it is still the people who vote and get elected who make the decisions if an election is a success,” said De Villa.

De Villa and Roxas-Chua III urged the Comelec to apply the recommendations of the CAC for a transparent bidding process.

In the resolution released in February, the CAC recommended that bids and decisions of the Bidding and Awards Committee (BAC) be published immediately after the awards are made.

It also would like to allow the public to observe the bids committee meetings and bar BAC members from making any contact with prospective bidders after the procurement process has started.

Roxas-Chua III said the resolutions aim to prevent questionable bids and make BAC decisions transparent.


‘Pack of wolves’

A “PACK of wolves” is the apt description, and the crimes of plunder and other criminal acts the proper charges, against those involved in the infamous P728 million fertilizer fund scam.

These are the findings arrived at by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee at the conclusion of its investigation of the infamous case early this week.

That the Senate committee chose the phrase “pack of wolves” to describe the alleged perpetrators of the scam only meant how deeply its members were convinced of the reprehensible guilt of the accused.

Wolves are notoriously known to be ruthless predators that would ravish others’ lives to satisfy their own greed.

“The bigger picture shows us the distressing spectacle of veritable wolf packs preying with impunity on government projects, having access to colossal sums of public money, using power and influence without compunction, and perverting public office into an opportunity for abuse and gain,” part of the committee report said.

What is immediately noticeable in the committee’s harsh words and harsher still decision recommending the filing of plunder and other criminal charges against the personalities it found involved in the case was the total silence, if not the lack of criticisms, over such severe and exacting verdict.

But that may be expected because of the national shame and disgruntlement that such scandal caused the nation.

On the contrary, it could have been met with widespread skepticism and possibly violent street protests if the Senate committee, even just a little, toned down the tenor of its indignation on its findings.

The senators themselves, including some opposition leaders, were reported satisfied with the Blue Ribbon investigation, wishing only that the Arroyo government, in particular the Ombudsman, would act decisively on the committee’s recommendations.

Some of them also favored the committee’s report holding President Arroyo responsible for Bolante’s acts and those of the Agriculture Department officials involved in the fertilizer case, an issue which some House leaders dispute, however.

House Deputy Speaker Simeon Datumanong in a statement has said “the acts of those responsible for the diversion of fertilizer funds are not attributable to the President.”

But just the same, Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee, insists that “the President must explain.”

Even so, Congressman Antonio Cuenco of Cebu, chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, has expressed disappointment over the Blue Ribbon Committee’s decision to link President Arroyo to the scam, however indirectly, despite the total absence of evidence.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon for his part said he was satisfied “that all the people involved in the scam were now being held accountable.”

Now the proverbial ball is on the Ombudsman’s court.

With the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendation, the hope is that the Ombudsman would act speedily on it. While it may be true that the fertilizer scam is only one of the few thousand cases now pending in the Office of the Ombudsman, it is now up to Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to device means to accommodate it for early resolution.



Manila Bulletin

After the Senate probe

Posted in DA, Graft and Corruption, Scandal/Expose/Mess, Senate by Erineus on February 24, 2009

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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.

Philippine Star

Gordon: GMA did not act on fertilizer scam

Posted in DA, Graft and Corruption, Scandal/Expose/Mess, Senate by Erineus on February 24, 2009
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Sen. Richard Gordon shows the Blue Ribbon report on the fertilizer fund scam. MANNY MARCELO

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.

Syndicated corruption

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.

View previous articles from this author.

By Christina Mendez
Updated February 24, 2009 12:00 AM