Wake Up, Philippines!

Going after Lozada

Posted in Graft and Corruption, NBN-ZTE Deal, Scandal/Expose/Mess by Erineus on April 28, 2009

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:35:00 04/28/2009

The impending arrest of Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada is not just another of the continuing moves to harass a witness who blew the whistle on the corruption surrounding the $329-million deal for a national broadband network between China’s ZTE Corp. and the Philippine government. It is also intended as a warning to would-be whistle-blowers on other anomalous transactions entered into by the Arroyo administration, perceived by the people to be the most corrupt in the history of the Philippines.

The perjury charge filed by Michael “Mike” Defensor, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s former chief of staff, is just one of 16 cases filed against Lozada, ranging from dishonesty, perjury to theft. Lozada and his family also said they have received death threats as a result of his exposé. For the past year or so, Lozada and his family have been living in seclusion at the La Salle Green Hills, with security provided by nuns.

Contrast this with the freedom that former Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos and former Socioeconomic Secretary Romulo Neri are enjoying. Abalos purportedly said, “Sec, may 200 ka dito.” (This has been interpreted as meaning that there was P200 million for Neri in the deal.) Neri acknowledged that he heard the offer but recommended the approval of the deal anyway. There was a bribery attempt, but the bribe offeror was not charged. Neri, instead of being dismissed for not reporting the bribery attempt, was transferred to another government position.

The courts and the law enforcement agencies are continuously being used to harass Lozada, his wife and other family members. The Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines said that the government’s latest move— the order for the arrest of Lozada—“is a warning to other people both inside and outside the government who have knowledge of important information related to the practice of corruption of people in power to shut up—or else.”

The continuing harassment of Lozada and his family is not going unnoticed by civil society. Former President Corazon Aquino has thrown her support behind Lozada and has urged those “who support the truth” to speak out against his impending arrest on the perjury charge. Former President Joseph Estrada has joined Aquino’s call. Estrada said, “It is not a democracy where those who speak the truth are imprisoned or threatened to be imprisoned while those who abuse the people run free.” Some senators have also spoken out in support of Lozada. The wonder is that the case has not sparked a bigger public outrage. Probably the people are waiting for the actual arrest of Lozada before they speak out and stage protests? Or probably they consider a perjury charge too small a case to get exercised about?

Lozada has said that he is not going to post bail and would not resist arrest as a sign of protest against what he called the government’s continuing harassment through a number of cases filed against him and his wife.

We hope this latest government move is not just a ploy to further isolate Lozada. We hope that the case will be tried soon, so that the people will know the truth about the NBN-ZTE deal, for whose signing Ms Arroyo, according to a Malacañang press release, “left like a thief in the night,” leaving the bedside of her husband who was at that time recovering from a life-threatening operation.

If the trial court will be fair and just, the administration may not get the result that it wants in causing the filing of the perjury charge against Lozada. The case, Lozada said, might provide the starting point for a full-blown court hearing on the alleged irregularities in the NBN-ZTE deal. That would be ironic justice, because it would result in the disclosure of the truth and the exposure of things that the administration would like to stay hidden.

http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/editorial/view/20090428-201823/Going-after-Lozada

Pope against nuke for power

Posted in DOE, Energy, Graft and Corruption, Social Issues/Concerns by Erineus on February 11, 2009

MANILA, Philippines—It appears the pope and another ranking Vatican official were misquoted on the use of nuclear energy by a local politician.

Pope Benedict XVI supports the use of nuclear energy but only for improving the medical field and helping the poor but not for generating electricity, Balanga Bishop Socrates Villegas said Tuesday.

In an e-mail to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Villegas refuted Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco’s claim the Pope and Renato Cardinal Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, supported the use of nuclear energy to produce electricity.

“This is not about nuclear power for electricity generation but nuclear science to promote medicine and help the poor and the sick,” Villegas said.

The bishop highlighted the part of the Pope’s statement made in July 2007 where he said “to support the use of peaceful and safe nuclear technology for authentic development, respecting the environment and ever mindful of the most disadvantaged populations, is always more present and urgent.”

“The statement is not about nuclear power plants but nuclear science for the benefit of medicine. The perennial question about storage and disposal of nuclear waste is still unresolved and poses a threat to the environment which the Pope warns about,” Villegas said.

Vatican statements

Cojuangco is campaigning to have the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant opened and has a bill pending in Congress to do just that.

Villegas, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz and Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo have condemned the plan.

On Monday, Cojuangco visited the Inquirer offices and, quoting Pope Benedict on the 50th anniversary of the International Atomic Energy Agency in July 2007, said the Vatican fully approved and supported the IAEA’s mandate “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.”

The lawmaker also quoted from Cardinal Martino’s statement which followed the Pope’s message: “Nuclear power could be part of a balanced energy mix alongside forms of clean energy. With maximum safety requirements in place for people and the environment and with a ban in place on the hostile use of nuclear energy, why should the peaceful use of nuclear technology be barred?”

Using the statements from the Vatican, Cojuangco said he was able to convince Cruz (but not Villegas as earlier reported) to be open to the possibility of having the BNPP put into operation.

Villegas said Cardinal Martino’s statement was made in the context of the situation in Italy and not in the Philippines.

“The commendation of nuclear power was based on two premises: First, that maximum safety requirements are in place and, second, that the ban on the hostile use of nuclear energy be in place. Is the first premise present in the Bataan nuclear power plant? Geologists and nuclear experts say otherwise,” Villegas said.

“This comment was made in the context of Italy. The Philippine geological context is certainly very different. The corruption situation in the Philippines is so bad that corrupt politicians are very likely to make money again from the rehabilitation,” he said.

By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:03:00 02/11/2009

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

Easy Money

Posted in Crime, Gambling, Graft and Corruption, Poverty by Erineus on February 3, 2009

By Michael Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 11:38:00 01/15/2009

Filed Under: Graft & Corruption, Crime, Poverty, Gaming & Lotteries, Investments

DRIVE around the streets of the Metro and once you see a line, you immediately know it’s people queuing for lotto tickets. And with some 2,000 said to have joined the Lotto Millionaires Club, with winnings ranging from P3 million to P249 million, the number of hopeful lotto buyers will continue to grow.

Do the thriving lotto sales reflect a Filipino tendency to look for an easy way to wealth? Only partially, and I’d say this happens all over the world. People do have a weakness for lotteries, and governments have cashed in, setting up sweepstakes and lottos, with the proceeds purportedly going to charity to calm down people who see this as a form of gambling.

Dreams of instant wealth are shared across cultures, hich is why, besides the lotteries, we have all kinds of swindlers and scam artists offering untold riches from magic boxes (“Put money in this box and I will multiply it for you.”) to pyramid schemes. What does vary is the intensity of these aspirations, and the kind of scams peddled.

In the Philippines, we have a tendency to think of the poor as the most gullible, and attribute this to indolence. But look hard enough and you’ll realize that there really isn’t that much for con artists to take from the poor in the first place. Smart swindlers target the gullible among the middle and upper classes.

If Filipinos often talk about hopes for easy money and instant wealth, it’s because people do have to work so hard in the Philippines, and get so very little. Yet Filipinos also see others who get rich quickly with relatively little effort, so they begin to ask, “Why can’t I do that too?”

Foremost reason for the instant wealth, of course, is corruption. Ask young men from lower or even middle-class families what their dream job is, and they’d most likely answer, “police” or “customs inspector.” Probe a bit more and they will be quite candid in saying “that’s where the easy money is.”

Talk with business people handling government contracts and you’ll encounter two extremes. The honest ones will be talking about how exasperating it can be to chase after government payments, with very small profit margins. Talk with the “smart” ones and they’ll tell you all it takes is one major contract to make money enough to last you a lifetime, as long as you play the game right with commissions—your own as well as the host politicians. And these commissions—as we have been seeing in recent exposés in the Senate—make the lotto multi-million peso winnings look like loose change.

Easy money? Only for those on top of these syndicates. Profits trickle down. Just look at the well-documented jueteng (numbers game) industry showing how huge election spending can be funded by jueteng, while the kubrador or small collectors live in poverty.

Let’s move out of the area of graft and corruption and look at the private sector where get-rich activities thrive as well, often legally. The other day I was driving in one of the side streets of Quezon Boulevard and saw a large sign in front of one of the clubs, offering “up to P100,000 a month” to “attractive ladies.” Some overseas recruitment agencies also lure applicants with these amazing salary offers.

But most promises of instant money involve marketing. There are so many pyramid marketing schemes offering people a chance to earn lots of money selling everything from cosmetics to water purifiers. Initially, the schemes work because you’re able to sell to relatives, friends and neighbors, until you realize there’s a limit to the people in your network. The quick profits evaporate, eventually eating into the capital and people end up the poorer for it, sometimes with over-priced merchandise no one wants to buy.

The last five years or so have also featured another kind of easy money made available to the upper class: giant financial investment schemes in stocks and government bonds, brokered by banks. People were raking in up to 60 percent of their investment within a year, not doing anything except investing in the funds. Word spread and even little old grandmothers eventually began to play the game.

There were some warning signs about two or three years ago when investments began to falter, but the markets recovered… until this year. It turns out now that there was much speculation going on, foreign investors playing with our stock markets and our financial institutions, then withdrawing when the going got bad. The global financial crisis, we know now, came about in part because of all this speculation.

If anything good is going to come out of this global crisis, it might be a sobering of our aspirations, and a return to the old adage about easy money being suspicious money. Radical changes are going to come around the next year, as governments try to clean up capitalism. Meanwhile, lotto sales will remain brisk, maybe even picking up, with buyers taking things philosophically. Because in a way, they shrug, you always win. If you lose, well, the loss can still be seen as a donation to charity.

A matter of view?

THE World Bank (WB) is a specialized agency of the UN system, established in 1944. It encompasses two development institutions and three affiliates focused on worldwide poverty reduction.

Helping poor nations

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) is WB’s main component that provides loans and technical assistance for projects in developing – poor – member countries, like RP, and encourages co-financing for projects from other countries or a syndication of dozens of giant commercial banks in the US and Europe.

Huge loans

Most big infrastructures in RP are funded with loans by the billions of pesos from IBRD, that in turn urges big commercial banks in Europe by the dozens to invest here.

One bridge or highway project here costing R500M needs a long-term loan of .52 million. The World Bank will then encourage other giant banks in Switzerland, Paris, London, Berlin, New York, etc. to share in meeting the loan and its terms.

One or two banks may not loan more than R500M to RP.

Fraud

Disclosures of IBRD that some Filipino contractors and politicians connive or help each other to “corner” contracts via acts amounting to fraud, conflict of interest, influence peddling and other fraudulent means serve as notice/revelation to the lending banks.

The above places RP on the banks’ blacklist of nations notoriously engaged in making net loans result in inferior bridge or road called by honest builders as “matapang sa buhangin.” The same notice or knowledge is not forgotten for years by nations that apply their IBRD loans with unassailable honesty.

Just an image

This was probably the start of RP’s unkind image of having corrupt high officials, national and local, and of wasting loans from IBRD and other sources encouraged by the World Bank Group.

Our high officials and politicians were “splendidly quick” in denying allegations of contract “rigging, fixing and spinning yarns or wizardry.” They – officials and contractors – angrily disputed the lending bank’s official list of shadowy contractors and questioned results of a long investigation by independent experts.

Blacklisting

The bank officials did not answer the rage/anger of blacklisted contractors and their protectors. Neither did it refer to blacklisted contractors considered by DPWH officials/engineers as truly friendly and kind and thoughtful and honest – of all things – all the time.

Unkind words

And all 91.8M of us don’t know what epithets and unkind words are being thrown by lending banks in our way for years.

Let’s not forget that a syndication of banks is like a club and can influence other banks in Europe and in the US not to give RP loans of any kind in years.

But let’s not be too harsh on DoJ investigators and the NBI if they call World Bank investigations without basis or based on unreliable evidence like the findings favorable to dirty little crooks selling drugs.

Lacks ‘audacity’

The two agencies combined, including other good agencies, cannot summon Obama’s audacity to take a closer look at disbursements called pork or view a few bottles of liquid fertilizer (replaced by deepwell water) but commanded a price amounting to 1000 percent (or 10 times) of the normal price tag.

Lender’s view

DoJ and NBI conclusions with respect to PDEA’s arrests of drug traders they considered innocent are now under review by a commission headed by a retired and distinguished Supreme Court justice. (Comments are welcome at roming@pefianco.com)

Author: Atty. Romeo V. Pefianco
Source:
http://www.mb.com.ph/OPED20090203147184.html

WB links government officials, politicians to bid rigging

The World Bank (WB) not only indicted seven contractors for allegedly manipulating three biddings for road projects worth $33 million it had offered to finance; it also linked politicians and government officials to the manipulation.

In its four-page decision on the case of the seven contractors, the WB accused them of engaging in “fraudulent practices,” including “misrepresentation of facts to influence the procurement (bidding) process for one or more procurement packages.”

“In addition, they include participation in a collusive scheme, also involving politicians and government officials, whereby awards were directed to particular contractors in exchange for bribes, kickbacks and payments to designated losing bidders,” the WB said.

Three of the seven contractors are Filipino companies, while four are Chinese firms.

The Filipino contractors are E. C. de Luna Construction Corp., owned by Eduardo de Luna, which the World Bank blacklisted permanently; and Cavite Ideal International Construction and Development Corp. and CM Pancho Construction, Inc., which were each barred from participating in WB projects for four years.

The Chinese contractors are China Geo-Engineering Corp., China Road and Bridge Corp., China State Construction Engineering Corp., and China Wuyi Co. Ltd.

Unlike construction firms participating in biddings for its projects which it can identify and sanction, the WB did not name the politicians and government officials it linked to bid manipulation and who it said were taking bribes and kickbacks.

The officials are presumably from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the agency implementing WB-financed projects that conducted the three failed biddings for the $33-million worth of roads between 2002 and 2006.

The WB withdrew its funding offer after discovering evidence of bid manipulation.

During the second hearing of the House committee on public works on the blacklisting of the seven contractors last Wednesday, Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla suggested that the Philippine government should ask the World Bank for the names of politicians and government officials and its evidence against them.

“We should be interested in finding out who these people are. In fact, we must prosecute them,” he said.

Padilla said it is reports about corruption from international agencies like the WB that give the Philippines the reputation as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Less than two hours after Padilla made the appeal, the hearing panel chaired by Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado cleared the seven blacklisted contractors.

Mercado said his committee found no evidence that the contractors were engaged in fraudulent and collusive practices as the WB had accused them of doing.

Over the weekend, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said a WB official in Washington D.C. has told him that they are willing to furnish the government the evidence they have against the contractors.

“According to him, we can have access to all these pieces of evidence for the purpose of prosecution. At this point, I cannot elaborate, but there is an ongoing process for the World Bank to provide our country with solid and concrete evidence enough for prosecution,” Pimentel said.

The contractors claimed that the bank punished them without giving them a fair hearing.

The WB, however, insisted that it followed due process in deciding to blacklist the seven companies.

In 2006, after the three failed biddings for the WB-financed road projects, President Arroyo approved the recommendation of DPWH Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane for his department to take over the projects and to pursue them using its own funds.

In the succeeding biddings, E. C. De Luna Construction, one of the seven WB-blacklisted firms, won a P100-million contract for a road in the Negros provinces.

DPWH Undersecretary Manuel Bonoan told the Mercado committee last Wednesday that the WB has not yet barred the contractor from its project at the time it won the contract.

“The blacklisting was made just recently,” he said.

However, he admitted that as early as 2002, when the first bidding for the same projects that were to be financed by the WB was held, the bank had already informed the DPWH of its findings and the contractors involved.

Resume investigation

Pimentel, in the meantime, urged his colleagues yesterday to get to the bottom of the scandal and cautioned them against statements that might undermine the investigation.

He said that while Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile might be correct in saying that Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s revelations about the connection between First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and WB-blacklisted contractor Eduardo de Luna might be considered hearsay at this point, it created the impression there was an effort to disparage the evidence.

“What he said may be technically, legally correct. But then its implication is that, let us put a stop to the hearing,” Pimentel said.

He said it was unfortunate that the Jan. 27 hearing lasted only for two hours and Lacson, together with the other members of the Blue Ribbon committee, was not able to pursue his questioning of De Luna and other witnesses-resource persons.

The Senate minority leader suggested that the inquiry be resumed.

“The investigation should be resumed at once to give the persons concerned the full opportunity to produce the necessary evidence,” Pimentel said.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chairperson of the Senate economic affairs committee leading the investigation, said she would call another hearing if Lacson could present his witness on the alleged P70-million bribe given by contractors to a powerful person close to Malacañang holding office at LTA Building in Makati City.

Santiago gave Lacson two weeks to present his witness.

De Luna denied he was the one carrying the bribe in a carton box or that it was for the First Gentleman in exchange for a P1.4-billion road project.

In a statement, Pimentel stressed that the Senate, the Office of the Ombudsman and other investigating agencies concerned must be able to secure from the WB all the documentary and testimonial evidence that served as its basis for debarring three Filipino contractors from its infrastructure projects.

He said it would be through an inquiry that the Senate could validate the findings and conclusion of the World Bank that the three construction companies – E. C. de Luna, Cavite Ideal and CM Pancho – were engaged in “collusive and corrupt” practices in bidding for public works projects that prompted the bank to blacklist them.

Pimentel said it was deplorable that the three contractors blacklisted by the WB were not barred from bidding for projects as long as these were not funded by the bank.

“The World Bank has debarred the erring contractors for life, and we suspend them only for 15 days, it’s as if we are playing around with our laws,” he said. —Aurea Calica

Author: Jess Diaz
Source: Philippine  Star
Updated February 02, 2009 12:00 AM
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=436704&publicationSubCategoryId=63


The hammer of corruption

POLITICAL CORRUPTION is not just harming business; it is damaging the nation. It seeks illegitimate personal gain from bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, graft and embezzlement. It is odious rent seeking where access to politics is organized with limited transparency and competition to promote and protect narrow interests.

Intentional wrongdoing

Consequently, it has sullied society’s integrity and corroded its institutions. Its intentional wrongdoing has derailed the country from performing or conducting itself as envisioned by the Constitution.

Because politics is our country’s daily diet, our social, economic and cultural tattered landscapes testify to corruption’s brutal impact on them.

Last year, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) issued a statement supporting the call of five senior bishops led by CBCP president Archbishop Angel Lagdameo to “combat corruption and rebuild our country economically, socially and politically.”

Out of sight, out of mind

The bishops’ clarion call got the people’s attention. But as soon as a new issue arose, it got out of sight and out of mind.

Before it did, MAP issued a public statement expressing its deep concern that the span and depth of corruption has badly shattered trust and confidence in the country because of the way the government has become. One proof lies in the comparative inflow of foreign direct investments and foreign aid to the Philippines vis-à-vis its Asian neighbors, which is a fraction of what the others get.

The world has been increasingly critical of the thriving culture of corruption in government with near-total impunity. The consequences of corruption are direly affecting the country’s competitiveness; business growth; and capacity to survive. It is worsening poverty; compromising public order and safety; mocking the rule of law; and destroying society’s moral fabric.

And there is no let-up.

Corruption indices from Transparency International and the World Bank, for instance, point to a palpable deterioration from where the Philippines was measured 10 years ago, now just a quarter percentile away from the bottom. Yet, despite the consequences, the government remains oblivious, apathetic or intractable, favoring self-good over the national interest.

Transformation

To stop the spreading malignancy and save itself from a living death, the obvious way out is for society to transform itself into a nation of no-nonsense upright citizens. But then, how can a society wracked with social cancer heal itself? Through radical treatment? By whom? Alternative options? In what ways?

Corporate governance practitioners in the private sector who ensure ethics, transparency and accountability in the workplace, are vital human resources that can be harnessed to help transform the country.

For example, MAP’s growing circle of Management Men of the Year could link up with Ramon Magsaysay, Galing Pook, TOYM, and alumni of other national and international awards to campaign for good governance in their respective fields.

Such an alliance could also reinforce the Coalition Against Corruption (CAC) composed of organizations from the business sector, civil society and the Church. Together they could further strengthen society’s ethical backbone and promote greater public participation in governance in a vigorous bid to stem the creeping tide of corruption, apathy and helplessness.

The absence of effort by society, or vital sectors thereof, to effect self-change invites intervention. Weak societies make iron-fisted rule possible. In cultures where the leadership takes its responsibilities seriously they excise swiftly those deemed to have betrayed the public’s trust like a malignant tumor, more so in bad times when corruption is not only a crime but also an act of treason.

No borders

Corruption respects no borders. Rich and poor societies alike are afflicted, their corrosion differentiated only by the state of their national condition, that is, by the strengths and weaknesses of their leaders, institutions, systems, processes and peoples. But if we inhabit the Hall of Shame, for now, the West merits a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Its bacchanalian orgy of greed and fraud has led to global chaos, inflicting widespread misery and anguish throughout the world. It’s not the first time either that they mess up the planet, to include global warming. Because they enforce the rules that they craft on the weak and exempt themselves when it doesn’t suit them, hell has broken loose time and again. Be it political or financial, the consequences are always deadly.

Black hole

MAP, either alone or as part of a growing coalition, should continually militate against practices that undermine good governance, business excellence and competitiveness. What is good for the nation is beneficial for business. To look askance would be to abet the crime, increase risk and inevitably sink deeper in a black hole that the country can ill-afford.

For the Philippines to have a better quality of life, the line must be drawn on the sand now.

By Rafael M. Alunan III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:07:00 02/01/2009

(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is a member of the MAP board of governors and president of Lopez Group Foundation Inc.. Feedback at map@globelines.com.ph. For previous articles, please visit map.org.ph.)