Wake Up, Philippines!

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

Executive privilege: SSS after ZTE-NBN

There was public outrage when Mr. Romulo Neri, of the ZTE-NBN notoriety, was named by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to head the Social Security System (SSS). The appointment was seen as Neri’s reward for his silence on the ZTE-NBN deal and blind loyalty to Ms Arroyo. It was feared that Neri would also play deaf and dumb should the Arroyo administration decide to raid the pension funds, for political purposes.

It has been reported that P12.5 billion (yes, billion!) of SSS funds is being eyed “for infrastructure,” as part of the “stimulus package” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2/3/09; read story) which would be placed at the disposal of Ms Arroyo.

Given Malacañang’s track record in misspending tax money with shameless abandon and buying loyalties with generous “cash gifts” and other perks, we shudder at the thought that all this SSS money could end up being used (read: diverted) to ensure Ms Arroyo’s continued stay in Malacañang beyond 2010 — as earnestly, if shamelessly, prayed for by her trusted drumbeater Jesus Dureza.

And the worst part is, she may not have to account for all that profligacy in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on “executive privilege,” which virtually strikes down any attempt to hold her and her underlings accountable for any act of malversation and corruption. God help the Philippines!

STEVE Y. VESPERA, Esq. (via email)
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:23:00 02/12/2009

Arroyo foreign trip cost taxpayers P123M

Posted in Foreign Trip, GMA/Pres. Arroyo by Erineus on February 11, 2009

MANILA, Philippines—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s last foreign trip, which took her to Switzerland, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United States over eight days, cost taxpayers P123 million, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

But Ermita said the bill was “worth it” since the President secured “pledges” for multi-million dollar investments, including $200 million for agriculture from Saudi Arabia, $300 million for agriculture and between $350-$400 million for a Makati City hotel from Bahrain, and $1.2 billion for textile exports to the US.

“How much is the trip? If I’m not mistaken, P123 million,” Ermita told reporters at the Palace.

“It’s worth it. Can you imagine if the P1.2-billion [in] exports pushes through?” he added.

Arroyo was criticized for making a side-trip to Washington to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, in what her critics called was an attempt to secure a meeting with US President Barack Obama.

Obama did not meet with Arroyo, who instead, met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and a group of Senators to press for the passage of a bill that will increase the benefits of Filipino World War II veterans.

Ermita said 61 people were on the President’s official party, excluding security personnel, of which, only 20 went with her to Washington from Manama, Bahrain.

By Joel Guinto
First Posted 18:10:00 02/11/2009

Triumphs, disappointments mark GMA’s seventh year

Posted in Presidency by Erineus on February 1, 2009

President Arroyo is ending her seventh year in office with triumphs and disappointments, her presidential armor seemingly still intact but has already showed signs of trauma.

Mrs. Arroyo survived another turbulent 2008 that is probably stuff of nightmares, from nearly being impeached over charges of large-scale corruption and human rights abuses to facing public unrest over high oil and food prices.

Although there were relentless mass protest actions calling for her to step down, the widely unpopular President was spared this year from any military mutinies and coup threats. The President also reveled in the economy’s continued expansion, her biggest achievement this year, in the face of the global economic downturn.

Tougher tests however lie ahead for the President in the final one and a half years of her presidency as she attempts to banish the specter of a recession in a country where many Filipinos continue to complain about the perennial ills of poverty and corruption.

The President has professed little worry about her legacy or plummeting popularity, promising to focus on the economy and the people.

Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde said the government endured a “challenging year” in 2008 after being threatened by surging world oil and fuel prices, global economic recession, and political squabbles, and will keep its full attention on the economy and the people, not politics, in 2009.

“While there may be various setbacks for this year, the administration still performed considerably well,” he said.

President Arroyo has been working overtime to avoid the gloom of recession that darkened other countries, even at the extent of discarding government fiscal targets to pour billions of pesos to expand infrastructure and social protection.

While many nations fell into recession, the Philippine domestic economy remained resilient last year, sustaining an economic growth of 4.6 percent albeit much slower than the 7.1 percent in 2007. The buoyant economic growth, widely flaunted by the President, has been attributed to politically unpopular economic reforms, including the 12 percent value-added tax on goods and services.

Ignoring calls for its suspension to ease the burden of consumers, the President staunchly defended the hugely unpopular VAT. Government revenues, she argued, are used to pay the country’s debt, expand social services, and improve infrastructure to boost investment and generate funds for pro-poor programs.

As the people demanded relief from the surging consumer prices, the government rolled out the multibillion-peso program that provided cash doleouts and subsidy programs on power, education, transportation, among others, using revenues from the controversial value added tax. The “Katas ng VAT” program however was largely criticized for providing short-term relief rather than long-term benefits for the people.

The government’s successes on the economic front however did little to boost the President’s public approval ratings or appease critics.

Allegations of corruption surrounding the broadband project between the government and ZTE Corp. of China were revived early this year. The President also had a bitter falling out with her key ally, Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr. after his son, a rival bidder of the botched broadband project, accused administration officials of bribery in the deal.

When corruption charges implicated her own family members, the President defended that none of them are engaged or involved in any government transactions or deals.

The controversial Executive Order 464, which prohibited officials from attending congressional probes, was also thrown out by the President. The move came after Catholic Church leaders demanded for truth in the light of latest allegations of corruptions hounding her administration.

The bribery-tainted broadband project and the P728 million-fertilizer fund scam came to hound the President anew when opposition groups included these in the fourth impeachment complaint filed against her in Congress. The complaint was junked by congressmen.

Adding to the President’s problems this year were the stinging public opposition against Charter change revived by her congressional allies, that spawned speculations she was out to extend her term.

Anti-Charter change sentiments were further fanned when Press Secretary Jesus Dureza prayed for the President’s extension in power during a cabinet meeting. Malacañang scrambled to explain that the President has endorsed fresh moves to amend the Constitution only as far as political and economic reforms, and not any term extension for incumbent officials beyond 2010.

Even though she promised to follow the Constitution and step down in 2010, government critics continue to doubt her sincerity especially since she has turned back her words when she ran for president in 2004.

Intense fighting between government troops and Muslim separatist rebels in Mindanao also erupted anew this year and further stalled peace talks, after the Supreme Court blocked the signing of a proposed ancestral domain deal due to unconstitutionality.

Upset by the treacherous attacks by rogue Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in restive south, the President recently reconstituted the government peace panel in a bid to jumpstart the staled peace negotiations with the rebel group.

Government peace efforts have shifted from talking to rebels to authentic dialogues with communities following the attacks of rogue MILF commanders in civilian communities in Mindanao. All government engagements with rebel groups would now be limited to the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration.

“We are committed to pursue peace talks and implement peace agreements which include an enhanced reintegration, rehabilitation and amnesty program for former rebels and development projects aimed at conflict-affected areas,” Remonde said.

Hunger incidence and corruption are up based on recent opinion surveys, which the government has promised to bring down next year.

As disasters accumulated, the approval ratings of President Arroyo further sank this year, earning her the reputation of the least popular president since Marcos on public surveys. She has received many hostile rhetoric from her critics this year, from being called a lame duck President, liar, lucky bitch, to an evil person.

Remonde said the President was not affected by her low performance rating or waning political capital, adding the Chief Executive is building the country’s defenses against the global financial crisis.

“The President does not pay any attention to the political noise generated by her critics, as she remains focused on the immediate needs of the country such as the implementation of pro-poor programs, providing food on every table, jobs generation and economic reforms to provide a better future for the people,” he said.

He explained that the President lasted this long despite attempts to undermine her administration “because she is able to translate economic gains to improved quality of life for the Filipinos.”

“Her social and economic measures have contributed to a better situation of the country compared to neighboring countries in this time of crisis. These accomplishments have strengthened the integrity and credibility of her administration that any attempt to question her leadership remains unsupported,” he said.

The President got a break from vicious name-calling from her opponents when a new potato variety was named after her in Benguet State University. The variety, sourced from the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, was named “Gloria Kamaptengan,” after “mapteng” meaning “good” in Ibaloi and Pangasinan dialects.

The diminutive Mrs. Arroyo was also ranked 41st most powerful woman in the world, a 10-slot improvement from 51st sport, in the Forbes Magazine’s annual list of World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.

To escape the edgy political bickering in Metro Manila, the President often retreated to the provinces where she is relatively respected and adored by people, inaugurating new highways, roads, bridges, among others. She also embarked on more than 10 foreign travels this year, mostly to promote the country’s interests on trade and investments, security, as well as the welfare of overseas Filipino workers.

When Democrat candidate Senator Barack Obama won the US presidency last November, the President attempted but failed twice to call the first American Black President to extend her congratulations. A week later, Obama found time in his hectic schedule and called up Mrs. Arroyo in the Palace.

Obama’s apparent snub of President Arroyo was earlier shown when he missed a meeting with the Philippine leader during her visit in Washington DC last June.

Despite her plunging ratings, the President kept most of her cabinet members this year, except for Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye who moved over to the Monetary Board. He was replaced by Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza while retired military chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. assumed Dureza’s old job.

The other new faces in the cabinet are five defeated administration senatorial candidates when the ban on candidates to join government posts expired in May. They are former Sen. Ralph Recto as socio economic planning secretary, former Sen. Vicente Sotto III as acting chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board, former Rep. Prospero Pichay as administrator of Local Water Utilities Authority, former Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson as deputy national security adviser, and former presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor as acting chairman of the Philippine National Railways Corp.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the President is satisfied with the Cabinet’s performance, as he squelched speculations a revamp was in the offing.

Unlike her husband First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo who had a health scare aboard a plane to Peru, the President, a 61-year-old grandmother, had few medical troubles this year. She underwent a number of medical checkups and stress tests, including one after suffering an upset stomach in August.

A devout Catholic, the President claimed her strong faith in God and discipline have kept her looking young and full of energy despite the burdens of being a leader of the nation. She also gets seven hours of sleep, exercises thrice a week, takes vitamins and “heart’s delight” diet of low calorie and low cholesterol, and keeps her “disciplined” daily schedule.

Another development in the First Family was the private simple wedding of the President’s youngest daughter, Evangeline Lourdes, to a nephew of former constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas. The President and the First Gentleman said they look forward to having more grandchildren.

Keeping the economy resilient this year may be its biggest accomplishment this year, Remonde said it will also be its biggest challenge in 2009.

Although some international financial institutions predicted the Philippines will not fall into recession, the government plans to continue to pump prime the economy through investing in infrastructure, supporting local industries and micro-, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), generating jobs, putting money in people’s pockets.

Revenue collection will also be reinforced to ensure that the government shall be able to spend more for its priority programs and maintain prudent levels of deficits and debt.

Remonde said various contingency measures have been put in place for returning overseas Filipino workers who may lose their jobs from the sluggish world economy. Government interventions includes close monitoring of job orders, identification and development of new market niches, expansion of livelihood assistance and business formation program, business counseling and strengthening of reintegration services, and massive skills upgrading and retooling services.

The President will also step up the government’s social welfare programs and Katas ng VAT Projects, including cash assistance familiy beneficiaries, government stores selling low priced food products, food for school program livelihood and emergency work programs, and proper distribution of NFA rice through family access cards.

“The government remains optimistic that the economy shall continue to overcome the effects of the global economic crisis and maintain economic growth. During this troubled time, the role of government is to help insulate the Filipino people from the price shocks and economic pressures,” Remonde said.

With a divided opposition, public exhaustion of political upheavals, and her alliance with the military, legislature, and local officials, the President is so far secure in her mandate. In 2009, she is expected to rush her ambitious 10-point legacy program, which includes fiscal discipline, job generation, wider education access, reconciliation of Edsa forces, before the sun sets on her administration.

Author: Genalyn D. Kabiling
Source: Philippine Star
Date: February 1, 2009