*written for the office of Kabataan Party-list Rep. Mong Palatino as part of its assessment/critique of Arroyo’s 9th SONA. this is one of the reasons to say no to con-ass and other schemes to perpetuate Arroyo in power. my contribution to today’s Blog Action Day.
just got back from the EB event at the EDSA shrine steps sponsored by Bloggers’ Kapihan and Pilipinas Kontra Con-Ass. sayang at umulan, we had to retreat to Krispy Kreme inside Robinson’s Galleria. ang dami pating pulis! still, kudos to the organizers. we were able to meet up with PKC administrators karl and andre, also present were BK’s ederic, tonyo and cong. mong, journalist dana batnag was also present. standby for a repeat performance!
In 2005, on the same day that she delivered her State of the Nation Address (SONA) with the declaration to ‘start the great debate on charter change,’ President Arroyo awarded a million-dollar contract to an American lobbying firm ‘to secure grants and US congressional earmarks’ for her administration’s moves to transform government ‘…into a parliamentary federal system.’
The said controversial contract with Venable LPP, one of US’ top law firms, cost $75,000 a month, or $900,000 (P50.4 million) for 12 months. This amount did not include ‘costs for travel, telephone, fax, and copying, etc, and professional services’ of up to $720 per hour for Venable’s senior associates.
The Venable LPP contract did not state why US support for charter change was needed at all, or what specific charter amendments the government needed the firm’s support for. It, however, stipulated the inclusion of lobbying for loans and grants from the US government, particularly assistance to improve the capabilities of the Philippine military and police.
What was most disconcerting, however, was the nature by which the contract was approved. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, whose job is to know and manage contracts authorized by the president, initially denied knowledge of the deal. Instead, it was National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales Jr. who signed the three-page agreement as the authorized representative of the president.
The contract also did not specify which government agency would be paying for Venable’s services. Gonzales’ National Security Council’s budget for 2005 was just P49 million and the agency’s approved intelligence fund was a mere P2 million. Congress did not appropriate funds for it and, according to critics, “charter change does not fall under national security.”
Also, apart from Gonzales, few knew about the existence of the contract. Even Gonzales’ deputies and staff, as well as senior foreign affairs officials, were kept in the dark about the deal.
The contract, done and approved in such haste and secrecy, was signed at a time when the government, which itself admitted, was reeling from a fiscal crisis brought about by an enormous budget deficit and was calling on the public to enforce belt-tightening measures.
Four years later, and with another SONA coming, the Venable LPP contract deal has just become another case of the Arroyo administration getting tangled up in blatant corruption and misuse of public funds but the officials involved escaping accountability by immersing themselves in self-imposed obscurity.
This tactic, with the government admitting to an extent of there being a crime but always with no criminals held accountable, has caused youth disillusionment with the Arroyo administration in the last nine years.
Tongpats and kickbacks
The government has lost its moral ascendancy to govern due to the long list of scandals, electoral fraud and corruption issues that have mired its rule. The Arroyo administration has long ceased to perform as a role model government for the youth. It has caused the widespread disillusionment among young people and has been a disappointment to the youth’s desire to instill reforms in government.
Among the most high-profile of controversial deals and overpriced projects were the ZTE Broadband deal, the Joc-Joc Bolante fertilizer scam, the IMPSA (Indistrias Metalurgicas Pescarmona Sociedad Anonima) Hydro-Electric Power Plant deal, the overpriced Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard, the CyberEd project, PAGCOR cash cow, Jancom Environment Contract overpricing, the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani Agricultural Fund which was allegedly used for Arroyo’s election campaign funds, and the distribution of Philhealth cards as Arroyo’s campaign paraphernalia.
These do not yet include misused or unaccounted charity funds, donations for victims of calamities, and other funds of the Office of the President, as attested by the Commission on Audit. Among them:
Cost of undistributed textbooks by the Department of Education – P329 million
Cost of undistributed/unaccounted cash advances for government officials, employees and local government units – P615 milyon or
P77 million for officials
P29.5 million for employess
P508 million for ‘other receivables’
Cost of unaccounted loans disbursed by the Presidential Social Fund (from profits of the Philippine Amusement ang Gaming Corporation or PAGCOR) – P269 milyon or
P216 million for the “Isang Bayan, Isang Produkto, Isang Milyon” project of the Office of
P53 million of disbursed loans unaccounted for
Cost of donations and charity funds received by the Office of the President – P65 million or
P7.1 milyon for victims of the Southern Leyte landslide
P35.6 million for the Office of the President’s Socio-Economic Projects
P20 million for relief and rehabilitation of Albay
But, these, according to COA were diverted to:
Burial expenses – P795,000
Hotel expenses – P815,000
Beautification of the Malacanang Golf Course – P900,000
Summit conferences – P3 million
Donation to an undisclosed foundation – P4 million
Other questionable transactions include:
Cost of ‘improperly recorded’ funds earmarked for LGUs, government corporations and pro-administration non-government organizations – P112 million
Cost of the President’s trust fund named the President Social Fund-Livelihood Assistance Program in the Land Bank of the Philippines – P48.9 million Cost of unaccounted expenses for office supplies acquired by the Office of the President – P70 million
Cost of expenses of the Office of the President submitted as inventory to the COA – P14 million or
P726,339.39 – merchandise
P264,155.15 – drugs, medicines
P152,286.56 – medical, dental, and laboratory supplies
P3,511,843.18 – gasoline, oil, lubricants
P8,788,899.79 – other supplies
P52,474.00 – livestock
Cost of Malacanang’s expense accounts for property, plant and equipment (that do not match with COA records) – P950 million
But according to COA –
• “There was no physical count of the Merchandise Inventory and Livestock Inventory since the balances of these were carried in the book s of accounts and non-moving since 2000.”
• “Drugs and Medicines Inventory have been immediately issued upon receipt.”
• “Gasoline, Oil, and Lubricants Inventory had never been inventoried semi-annually or annually.”
• “In the absence of the physical count, the reliability of the balance of inventories is doubtful.”
Junior military officers and some military groups have also long expressed discontent over anomalous procurement deals and arrangements which have led to numerous coup attempts and military breakaway groups.
Aside from overpriced projects, the First Family, especially First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, has also figured in numerous questionable and immoral businesses such as alleged money-laundering under the Jose Pidal bank account, hidden wealth of the Arroyo family in San Francisco according to Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, connections to jueteng operations through Jueteng Lord Bong Pineda and other shadowy connections.
The latest of which would be the Smartmatic-TIM poll automation deal approved by the Commission on Elections which is off to tainted start because of the players’ being linked to FG. The FG connection has established a conjecture and instilled public distrust in the players involved.
Comelec should immediately divulge the terms of TIM and Smartmatic’s reconciliation. How did they finally come to terms with the nature of their deal? Until these details are not revealed, all other succeeding processes will remain suspect.
Critics now fear of a ‘cyber-Garci’ as it now appears that Comelec does not have complete control of the system for automation. Comelec should ensure that all steps for automation should be consistent with the Omnibus Election Code, should be compatible with geographical requirements and that safeguards be immediately enacted.
Furthermore, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) has recently reported that the modems, memory cards, and even pens listed by Smartmatic-TIM have higher prices compared to the market price, according to a 21-page financial proposal that the two entities submitted to the Comelec.
The overpriced P7.2 billion price tag of the Comelec’s new poll automation system adds another scratch to the transparency of the poll preparations. Apart from possible manipulation due to the FG connection, there is also the issue, yet again, of corruption.
Perhaps the most blatant forms of corruption involving Arroyo are the cases of bribery in efforts to white-wash investigations and inquiries to quell public dissent.
The most scandalous of these would be exposès by the late Anakpawis Rep. Crispin ‘Ka Bel’ Beltran and Pampanga Gov. Among Ed Panlilio at the height of the third impeachment case against Arroyo. These allegations were further validated by photos of congressmen and officials emerging from Malacanang toting brown paper bags which allegedly carried “cash gifts”:
Cost of bribe attempt to Anakpawis Rep. Crispin ‘Ka Bel’ Beltran – P2 million – P5 million
“Cash gift” given to Pampanga Gov. ‘Among Ed’ Panlilio – P200,000
“Cash gift” given to Manila Rep.Bienvenido Abante – P500,000
“Cash gifts” to 196 other congressmen, governors, mayors (distributed in brown paper bags): P200,000-P500,000
ZTE whistleblower also accused former presidential chief-of-staff Mike Defensor of bribing him with P50,000 to cancel his scheduled press conference exposing the broadband deal.
Lately, Arroyo is once again the in hot seat due to her numerous unaccounted for and questionable foreign trips which are reported to have exceeded P3 billion in costs. According to Sen. Chiz Escudero, since 2001, Arroyo has had more than 50 foreign trips which have not been justified in purpose and agenda.
After insisting that Arroyo had no reason to explain her foreign trips, Malacanang immediately released a paid advertisement defending her foreign travels by stating that these junkets bring the country economic gains. Statistics show, however, that foreign direct investments are on a huge decline, from 79.2 percent in the last quarter of 2008 to 85 percent during the first quarter of 2009. Investments in the first quarter of 2009 amounted only to P2.1 billion, still P90 million short of the total amount spent on the junkets.
Arroyo’s foreign trips, at most, have only resulted in more shady dealings and questionable use of public funds, as they are often clandestine, overly lavish and with numerous hand-picked pro-administration solons.
Nine years have cost the country enough
These have done nothing but display the Arroyo administration’s lack of moral ascendancy in imposing sanctions to corrupt wrongdoers. They demonstrate the Arroyo administration’s practice of political expediency in legal and judicial decisions that come as a threat to its tenure.
The Arroyo administration has survived this long precisely for its dependence on treachery and syndicate-like tactics. This government is clearly being run by an administration of bribes, betrayal and blatant corruption.
With the ZTE scam, for instance, we have witnessed thus far how the President employs her Cabinet members and party allies to do the dirty work for her. If these scams and controversies proved anything it is that the Arroyo administration cannot hope to continue with clandestine acts of corruption without eventually being exposed, rotten eggs will surely stink.
And continue to fester. These attempts at bribery prove that however President Arroyo tries to escape involvement, the pure shamelessness of her ilk will eventually catch up with her. The foul smell has reached Malacanang and no amount of denial, flowery declarations of progress and all sorts of white-wash can drive away the stench.
The Arroyo administration is paying a high price for survival but in the process digs itself into a deeper grave. Such is also a characteristic of an administration frantically holding on to power.
Nine years have cost the country enough. ##