Francisco Chavez

Ex-Arroyo adviser heads MWSS

Ex-Arroyo adviser heads MWSS
By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has tapped her former political adviser, Gabriel Claudio, to chair the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) despite his apparent lack of qualifications, a former solicitor general said.

A brother of errand boy Eugenio “Udong” Mahusay, who in 2003 claimed that his erstwhile boss, First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, signed a check as Jose Pidal, was also appointed to the MWSS board of trustees. Udong Mahusay later retracted his statement.

Claudio’s appointment to the board of the water regulatory body on March 5 was among a flurry of appointments made by Ms Arroyo ahead of the ban on appointments starting on March 10, or two months before the presidential election and up to the end of her term.

Claudio replaced Oscar Garcia, who was relegated to board member, and would stay on until Oct. 22, 2014.

With a degree in AB Communication Arts from Ateneo de Manila University, the 55-year-old Claudio appeared to lack the qualifications spelled out in the law creating the MWSS.

Duly licensed professional

Republic Act No. 6234 requires every board member to be a duly licensed professional with competence in engineering, business management and finance, or in law and with at least 10 years’ distinguished experience in his or her field of expertise.

“Obviously, he’s disqualified under the law, and any appointment of a disqualified person is void ab initio. Both the appointing power and the appointee can be held criminally liable,” said Francisco Chavez, the solicitor general during the Aquino administration.

But having occupied several posts in Congress and Malacañang for over 30 years, Claudio believed he was qualified for the job.

Read credentials

“I have been for many years on the board of the highest public corporation—the Cabinet, presided over sensitive policy-making bodies, not to mention as secretary general of the biggest political party. Anybody who questions my management abilities had better read my credentials again,” Claudio said by phone.

Secretary Ricardo Saludo, Ms Arroyo’s spokesperson, agreed: “His decades in government have given him the executive, legal and governance expertise to head an agency providing essential public services.”

This was Claudio’s latest post in the government after he quit as Ms Arroyo’s adviser and Cabinet coordinator for the administration’s emergency livelihood program in Eastern Visayas in December last year for health reasons.

Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza transmitted the appointment letters of Claudio and three new MWSS board members to Public Works Secretary Victor Domingo on March 8, according to a Malacañang document.

The three board members were lawyer Garcia, whom Claudio replaced as chair; accountant Virgilio Angelo, and lawyer Santiago Gabionza. Garcia’s term expires on Oct. 22, 2014, while those of Angelo and Gabionza end on Sept. 23, 2013.

Manicurist, gardener

In early March, Ms Arroyo made at least 15 appointments to executive positions, including those in the revamped boards of the National Museum and the National Historical Institute.

She recently came under fire for appointing her manicurist Anita Carpon to the board of trustees of Pag-IBIG Fund, and gardener Armando Macapagal as deputy of the Luneta Park Administration.

MWSS Administrator Diosdado Jose Allado is the vice chair of the water regulatory body.

Also on the nine-member MWSS board are Ferdinand Mahusay, Albert Balingit, Aurora Arnaez and lawyer Raul Ragandang of the Office of Government Corporate Counsel, who acts as MWSS legal counsel.

Like Claudio, Mahusay, Balingit and Arnaez, who are reportedly friends of Ms Arroyo and her family, are not “licensed professionals,” according to MWSS insiders.

Ferdinand Mahusay, a brother of Udong, was a presidential assistant for the Zamboanga Peninsula (Region 9). Udong’s retraction that Mike Arroyo signed a check as Jose Pidal came after he was picked up from a Tagaytay safe house provided by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who had accused the First Gentleman of stashing away P321 million in campaign funds in banks under the fictitious name “Jose Pidal.”

After the retraction, Udong’s brother Ferdinand was appointed presidential assistant, according to reports.

Son of GMA’s ‘foster dad’

Balingit was a member of the board of Land Bank of the Philippines. His late father Pedro Balingit, and Ms Arroyo’s father, the late President Diosdado Macapagal, were bosom buddies. His father was known as Ms Arroyo’s “foster dad.”

Arnaez, a long-time family friend of the Macapagals, held positions in private banks and in government, including as commissioner of the Social Security System.

Mahusay, Balingit and Arnaez could not be reached for comment.

Presumption of legality

Allado conceded that the law was clear on the qualifications of board members, but said it was not his job to scrutinize the curriculum vitae of the appointees.

There was a “presumption of legality” on their appointments, and after the ceremonial oath-taking, all the new appointees went to work “as part of the collegial body,” the MWSS administrator said.

“I presumed his appointment went through the mill,” Allado said of Claudio. “So we welcomed him with open arms. The same with the other appointees.”

Brickbats of season

Allado said he was not aware of any complaint against the appointments of Claudio and others to the board, saying questions over their qualifications could just be “the continuation of the usual brickbats of the political season.”

Claudio said he didn’t lobby for the position but was offered the job by Ms Arroyo in late February.

“It was a challenge that I found very interesting. And I thought, and I still think, I can provide the kind of leadership that will equip the agency to respond to the need of providing adequate water in the face of increasing environmental challenges,” he said.

While his term ends in 2014, Claudio said he wasn’t the type “to force myself on any position” if he felt the board no longer needed him.