Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gov’t must recover LWUA’s P500 million


By Jarius Bondoc 
The Philippine Star
It’s not surprising that the number of families moaning of hunger in the past quarter increased, from 3.8 million to 4.1 million. International agencies have been noting since late 2010 that rising crude costs, rapid urbanization and changing diets have been pushing up food prices. Experts have been warning too of looming shortages of grains, dairy products and livestock. This will result from shifting farm usage from food to bio-fuels, population growth, and weather disturbances. Countries that have huge foreign reserves, like China with $2.8 trillion, can stave off famine by buying up all excess food stocks worldwide. But the Philippines, with $65-billion reserve, can spare only $490 million (P21 billion) for feeding programs. The Nomura Report lists it the 13th most vulnerable of 60 countries in studies in September 2010.
But there is yet no sense of urgency in the government. The energy department has not begun talking energy conservation. Malacañang is to devise food subsidies for jeepney and tricycle drivers, but left out and so envious are bus and taxi owners, farmers and fishermen, and haulers. Local officials are paying no heed to agriculturists’ suggestion to plant veggies in boxes and bananas in small plots, and shift from rice to healthier cassava.
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The rap filed against Local Waterworks and Utilities Authority (LWUA) chairman Prospero Pichay expectedly will drag in court. All do. This complicated one involves graft, malversation, and breach of banking rules.
But the immediate question is, can the government retrieve at once the half-billion pesos in LWUA money that Pichay allegedly gave away? It’s part of scant funds needed to stave off the looming food and water crisis.
From the charge sheet of the finance department, Pichay used P80 million in LWUA money to acquire 60 percent of a small savings bank. He wanted to transform the losing bank into a Water Development Bank. At the time, Express Savings Bank of Cabuyao, Laguna, had a book value of negative P31 million. Two months later in August 2009 Pichay plunked P400 million more of LWUA funds into Express SB.
Finance Sec. Cesar Purisima alleges that the P400 million was a capital infusion; Pichay says it was a savings deposit. Whatever, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas regulations allegedly were violated. BSP approval is needed to recapitalize a bank, or for a government agency to deposit its cash in a private bank. There was no BSP consent for either purpose. The P80-million buy-in also was unauthorized. Any buy-in of at least 20 percent of a bank’s equity requires the BSP’s nod. In this case the BSP specifically rejected the buy-in. It had ruled that the LWUA already was a lending agency to water districts, and so did not need to acquire a bank as conduit for its loans.
The graft allegedly was in Pichay’s signing a transaction grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the government. The malversation was for misuse of the P400 million allotted for LWUA lending.
But where’s the money?
The P80 million must be with the Gatchalian family that owns Express SB. Pichay claims that the investment is now making profit, but has not substantiated it. The BSP has ordered the return of the money to the LWUA because the 60-percent buy-in was disproved.
Pichay at first said the P400 million is “just there,” denoting that the deposit is intact. He has also been quoted as saying that it has been lent out to various water districts. A quick accounting is needed.
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Reportedly junkshops will soon be prohibited from and penalized for buying scrap vehicle batteries. The government is about to require the return of used batteries to manufacturers. This will enable regulation of the export of the most profitable extract from the scrap: lead. The P11-billion battery industry will not have to scrounge around for the metal that is also their costliest raw material. Junkmen, informal recyclers and exporters will resent it. But their workers, communities, and waterways, will be spared from toxic lead filings.
Anyone who’s been to a junkshop knows how harmful it can be to everyone’s health. To pull out the metal, youths openly burn electrical wires, stolen from the neighborhood cable-TV connection and definitely defiling the air. For larger metal parts, unshielded laborers cut away at busted contraptions with acetylene torches and mallets, minding not the risk to their eyes or the ear-splitting racket. From scrap batteries, they wring out the lead with no care for the filings that fly about. At the end of the day they sweep and hose the dirt into sewer drains that empty into rivers, lakes and seas.
And that’s just the light part. Hardly anyone of them has heard of three laws pertinent to their trade. All violate the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, and the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Waste Disposal Act. Too, the provisions of the Labor Code on industrial safety and health.
Returning used car batteries to fabricators could be the start of a major cleanup. The government can require household battery makers as well to recover their scrap and reuse the lead, mercury, cadmium and lithium. Processors of food, health and bathroom products must also be told to retrieve their bottle and plastic containers.
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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ombudsman submits resignation to PNoy

Posted at 04/29/2011 12:01 PM | Updated as of 04/29/2011 2:43 PM

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez signs her letter of resignation in the presence of President Benigno Aquino III in a brief meeting at the Private Office, Premier Guest House, Malacanang Friday April 29, 2011. (Jay Morales / Malacanang Photo Bureau)

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 8) – Embattled Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez on Friday submitted her resignation letter to President Benigno Aquino III.
“I am resigning my office effective May 6. Even as a private citizen, I will still support the efforts of government in stamping out corruption,” Gutierrez said in her one-page resignation letter to Aquino.
The letter was dictated by Atty. Tomas Syquia, Gutierrez’s impeachment spokesman, to ABS-CBN correspondent Anthony Taberna.
Syquia confirmed that Gutierrez personally went to President Aquino at around 10 a.m. Friday morning to submit her resignation letter, which the President immediately accepted. Gutierrez is expected to inform her staff about her decision before President Aquino issues a statement.
Syquia said Gutierrez thanked the President for accepting her at his office even on short notice.
News of the Ombudsman’s resignation came less than a week before Congress resumes sessions. Gutierrez has been impeached by the House of Representatives through an overwhelming 212-46 vote and was scheduled to face an impeachment trial before the Senate.
She is accused of protecting former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her allies from prosecution.
‘Resignation won’t absolve her of liability’
Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, House justice committee vice-chairman, was the first to confirm news of Gutierrez’s resignation on ABS-CBN News Channel.
“It is a welcome move in that it would spare the nation a lot of trouble,” he said.
Fariñas said Gutierrez’s resignation does not necessarily mean the end of the impeachment trial against the Ombudsman.
“It depends on leadership of the House or Senate if they want her to be convicted because if she is convicted, she will not get any benefits from the government,” he noted.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile lauded the news, saying “it is the best move that the Ombudsman ever did.”
“It will spare the nation the expense of conducting a long drawn case against the Ombudsman.”
He said it is doubtful that Gutierrez’s impeachment trial would still push through. “I don’t know how we can make it go through when the person involved is already resigned. The purpose of impeachment is to remove her.”
He, however, added that Gutierrez’s resignation “will not free her of any criminal responsibility.”
Impeachment, a painful process
Senator Francis Escudero said the resignation of Ombudsman Gutierrez had always been a distinct possibility because any impeachment is a painful process not only for the person being impeached but for the country as well.
Escudero said the process may have bore heavily on the Ombudsman and pushed her to resign.
“If confirmed, I commend the Ombudsman for her statesmanship in relieving the country of this painful process of impeachment and at the same time for relieving also the Senate of this burden of going through the trial. Now we can concentrate on important pieces of legislation needed for nation building and the development of our country,” Escudero said.
The Ombudsman’s resignation rendered the impeachment trial moot and academic, the senator said.
“However, it does not give her immunity from cases that may be filed by other groups,” he added.
New Ombudsman
Public interest lawyer Harry Roque, one of the first to call for Gutierrez’s impeachment, said he hopes President Aquino will appoint an Ombudsman who “will make the office relevant in upholding public accountability.”
“I hope the new Ombudsman will also heed the Alston report and embrace the challenge for the Ombudsman also to deal with human rights violations,” he added.
The Black and White Movement said that while it wanted a conviction through the impeachment trial, it still joins the country in welcoming the Ombudsman’s resignation.
“The threat of justice must have been too much for Merceditas Gutierrez to bear…We are pleased that a major obstacle on the ‘daan na matuwid’ has been removed,” it said in a statement.
The group said it expects the Ombudsman’s resignation to “chill the hearts of Gutierrez’s former boss, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her family and her allies accused of corruption. There will now be fewer places for them to hide, less opportunity to thwart accountability.”
The group urged Aquino to appoint an “impartial, credible person of unquestionable integrity” to the Office of the Ombudsman as soon as possible. It said Gutierrez’s subordinates should resign to give the new Ombudsman the latitude to appoint fresh, enthusiastic and competent legal eagles.
“We pray that the new Ombudsman will work with haste to restore honor to the office and grant justice to those who yearn for it – Jun Lozada, the family of Ensign Philip Pestano, the farmers bilked by the Fertilizer Fund Scam, the complainants in the Mega Pacific Deal, the AFP in the matter of the Euro Generals Scandal, among so many others. Now, indeed, justice and fairness will prevail,” the group said.
Bayan: Evidence was strong
Militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), one of the complainants in the impeachment case, said Gutierrez’s resignation shows the “strength of the allegations and evidence against her.”
“It is a development most welcome. The option to resign has been a valid one from the day the impeachment complaints were filed. The challenge now is for the Aquino government to appoint an Ombudsman that will file the necessary plunder charges against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. GMA should be next to be held accountable,” said Bayan secretary-general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
“We would have wanted to present evidence on how the Ombudsman not just delayed but in fact sabotaged the investigation on the fertilizer scam. In a way, her resignation shows the strength of the allegations and evidence against her,” he said.
Reyes, along with Sister Mary John Mananzan of Pagbabago, Danilo Ramos of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Ferdie Gaite of COURAGE, Atty. Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’ Lawyers, and Terry Ridon filed the second impeachment complaint in 2010.
The Bayan complaint included as bases for the impeachment the Ombudsman’s inaction on the fertilizer scam, inaction on the Euro Generals case and whitewash of the Mega Pacific scam.

Marcos a hero? Not for Ninoy

By Jarius Bondoc
The Philippine Star
Bonifacio Gillego was among the first of political foes to debunk Ferdinand Marcos’s World War II heroism. In 1982 the retired Army officer researched the sitting martial ruler’s past. Gathering from primary sources that Marcos was a bogus hero, Gillego spread the news.
At that time Marcos had convinced Filipino voters that he was their most decorated soldier of all time. In For Every Tear a Victory: The Story of Ferdinand E. Marcos (1964), biographer Hartzell Spence credited him with 28 Philippine and US military awards. Supposedly when Gen. Omar Bradley in 1947 saw Marcos’s six rows of ribbons headed by 22 medals, he saluted him.
Col. Uldarico Baclagon hailed Marcos, in Filipino Heroes of World War II (1980), for guerrilla exploits. His section on “Heroes of Kiangan” listed the outstanding fighters of the 14th Infantry Regiment, US Armed Forces in the Philippines-Northern Luzon (USAFIP-NL), in the jungles of Panupdupan, Ifugao. The bravest of the brave supposedly was Col. Ferdinand Marcos. Baclagon recounted:
• On March 17, 1945, though ill at the Regional Command Post (RCP) infirmary, Marcos left his sickbed and single-handedly held at bay an attacking enemy battalion. When counterattack failed, Marcos with one enlisted man penetrated the enemy lines, forcing them to withdraw with “two loads of dead and wounded.” Saving 200 women and children and 20 patients, he earned the Distinguished Conduct Star.
• On March 25, 1945, Marcos, as head of the 14th Infantry’s combat and engineering companies, repelled a Japanese attack on Hapid airstrip. The several days of seesaw battles, marked by hand-to-hand fighting, saved the RCP from routing, meriting Marcos the Silver Star.
• In April 1945, Marcos with one enlisted man on patrol spotted enemy forces in well-camouflaged trucks only a kilometer away from RCP. Sending back the enlisted man to report the sighting, Marcos, with a Thompson submachine gun, forced the Japanese to retreat after 30 minutes of fighting. For that he got the Gold Cross.
• Also in April 1945 Marcos allegedly participated in the Battle of Bessang Pass. He intercepted a Japanese suicide force tasked to capture the USAFIP-Northern Luzon supply depot. Baclagon did not specify what awards Marcos earned that time; the latter claimed during the 1986 snap presidential election to have been the reason for General Yamashita’s subsequent defeat.
Gillego noted that Baclagon had culled the Marcos stories from belated Philippine military citations alone. These were prepared not by the commanding officer (CO) right after battle, as is usual, but by a politicized General Headquarters in 1963 nearly 20 years later. It was so unlike the US Court of Claims, Gillego wrote. That court in 1947 had rejected as unfounded Marcos’s claim for $594,900 war reparation for the US Army’s alleged commandeering of 2,366 heads of cattle from a nonexistent family ranch in Mindanao.
Gillego learned that 27 of Marcos’s 28 medals were awarded between 1948 and 1963. Spence’s account of General Bradley saluting Marcos’s 22 medals in 1947 was baseless.
Gillego sought out Marcos’s COs, Col. Romulo A. Manriquez and Capt. Vicente L. Rivera, 14th Infantry commander and executive officer respectively. Both by 1982 had retired from the service and taken up law in America. Manriquez was working at the US Veterans Administration in Washington, Rivera a Detroit Filipino community leader and author.
Shown the general orders for the issuance of the Marcos medals, Manriquez belittled these as “typewriter decorations.” These were based solely on affidavits made long after the events. Angrier was Manriquez when given General Willoughby’s book, The Guerrilla Resistance Movement in the Philippines. For there he is listed as one of the officers of Marcos’s “Ang Mga Maharlika” guerrilla force with the nom de guerre “Pigsa (Carbuncle).” He called the group fictitious.
Manriquez said Marcos had reported to him in December 1944 months after the Leyte Landing. Given his lawyer training, Marcos was posted as S-5 in charge of civil affairs. Marcos never was assigned to any combat mission or fired a shot at the enemy, Manriquez swore. One day a sergeant came running to RCP to report the sighting of an enemy patrol a mile away. Whereupon Marcos “ran to a nearby creek raising his .45-caliber pistol with a quavering hand.”
Rivera recalled helping incorporate the USAFIP-NL into a veterans association, and serving as chairman for awards and decorations. Never did he recommend Marcos for citation. On March 17, 1945, the day Marcos supposedly held at bay the attacking enemy, there was not much action. Except that, as recorded in Rivera’s memoirs, Marcos as Officer of the Day left for duty around the RCP perimeter. At around 3 a.m. the men were awakened by gunfire. Investigating, Maj. Arturo Dingcong reported that it was Marcos firing at rustling leaves he had thought to be Japanese snipers. A phantom force had earned him the Distinguished Conduct Star, Gillego exclaimed.
Rivera averred that Marcos never participated in the Battle of Hapid, where he gained the Silver Star, or the Battle of Bessang Pass. As for the sighting of camouflaged Japanese trucks a mile away from RCP that ensued in a firefight and the Gold Cross, Rivera cited geography to belie Marcos. The RCP in Panupdupan was half a day’s hike from the nearest road.
Gillego ended his research with a dig at Spence: “For every medal, a fakery?” He signed it under the title, “Marcos: the Hero of Kiangan Who Never Was.” The manuscript was cleared by first-hand sources Colonel Manriquez and Captain Rivera, who signed each of the 11 pages.
On September 2, 1982, Gillego met with opposition leaders Ninoy Aquino, Raul Manglapus, and the latter’s son-in-law Benjamin Maynigo. Over coffee at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, they reviewed the piece, with Manriquez and Rivera clarifying certain points. Then, Aquino and Maynigo too signed in concurrence.
Gillego entrusted the original to Manglapus. Manglapus’s son Francis rediscovered it two years ago in the father’s files.
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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).
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