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.

Search committee found manicurist, gardener qualified for gov’t jobs

Search committee found manicurist, gardener qualified for gov’t jobs
By Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—It was neither favoritism nor whim. Believe it or not, a search committee did it.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s manicurist and gardener were scrutinized by a Palace search committee and the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) prior to their appointment.

Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza made the disclosure on Friday when asked who looked into the bio data and background of the President’s manicurist Anita Carpon, who was appointed to the board of the Pag-Ibig Fund, and Palace gardener Armando Macapagal, who was named deputy of the Luneta Park administration.

Look at qualifications

“There was a search committee and the PMS [also looked into their qualifications],” Mendoza told reporters.

But the executive secretary said he did not know and he would not know who recommended the pair. The appointments had raised eyebrows and continued to draw much criticism.

No info yet

Pressed by reporters to release details on Carpon and Macapagal, Mendoza said there was no information pending the taking of their oath of office before the President.

He said the President’s appointments of Carpon and Macapagal were “based on their qualifications and probably, need and trust as well.”

He stressed that the appointment was discretionary on the part of Ms Arroyo.

‘President knows best’

Likewise, he shrugged off questions about their qualifications, and refused to comment on criticisms that the President made the appointment as a special favor to them.

“There are many appointments said to have been made as special favors to former politicians. But the President knows best,” Mendoza said.

He also brushed aside reports of Carpon’s hefty compensation—rumored to be P130,000 monthly—saying the amount was an exaggeration.

The executive secretary said board members did not have salaries; they only get allowances. They included a P1,000 fee for attending a board meeting and another P5,000 for being a board member, he said.

Too harsh, too crude

“No one earns P130,000 in government,” Mendoza said.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Charito Planas decried as “too harsh and rude,” the criticisms heaped on the President for appointing her “longtime and trusted manicurist” to the Pag-Ibig Fund board.

“Despite earlier statements made to explain the appointment of Ms Carpon, people seemed to ignore that simple trust and the lowliness of a person’s state in life can be the bases for one’s appointment to a senior position in the government,” Planas said in a statement.

Represents the lowly

She assailed Ms Arroyo’s critics for questioning Carpon’s appointment and “ignoring the fact that who else could rightfully and honestly represent the lowly government employees if not the person who belongs to that bracket, and who shares the same sentiment, plight and problems.”

“Appointing a manicurist to a senior post in the government is neither debasing the country’s career system nor insulting the intelligentsia. We all know what the President has done to professionalize and upgrade the bureaucracy,” Planas said.

Just like manicurist, GMA gardener gets sinecure

Just like manicurist, GMA gardener gets sinecure
GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc
The Philippine Star

Professionals among Malacañang’s housekeeping staff are outraged. Not only did Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appoint her personal manicurist to the board of trustees of Pag-IBIG Housing Fund. She also earlier named her gardener as deputy of the Luneta Park Administration. Both postings are improper sinecures, Palace aides murmur.

One insider feels disgust that beautician Anita Carpon and gardener Armando Macapagal were placed in positions in a departing admin. As Pag-IBIG trustee Carpon will make P130,000 a month in per diem, plus perks, for a fixed two-year term. Macapagal’s seat as Luneta deputy earns less. But his appointment can be as dubious if he and the President happen to be related. The Constitution and anti-graft laws prohibit government officials from appointing or transacting with kin.

Another source laments that the postings were made on the sly. Carpon was sneaked into the Pag-IBIG board along with three others after the terms of four trustees lapsed in recent weeks. But she was unable to join them in last week’s oath taking and first board meeting as she accompanied Arroyo to the US and Spain. Macapagal’s appointment surfaced only after Carpon’s hit the headlines (Gotcha, 19 Apr. 2010). A Palace reporter says the offices of Executive Sec. Larry Mendoza and Press Sec. Cris Icban are mum about the appointments, likely made during the election ban.

A third insider doubts the two appointees’ credentials. Macapagal supposedly landscapes Malacañang lawns but does not manage people. Carpon is not known for financial expertise to oversee the multibillion-peso housing mutual fund of all employees. Nicknamed Nitz, she is often scolded by Arroyo for mismatching presidential handbags and shoes.

In 2005 Arroyo named her personal dentist Leonor Rosero as head of the Professional Regulation Commission. Soon after, widespread cheating rocked the nursing licensure exams.

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Withdrawing from an automated teller machine, we don’t just rely on how much the ATM gives and receipts us. We manually count the cash — to check if it got our transaction right. The ATM is the electronic gadget we Filipinos are most familiar with. But on Election Day we 50.7 million voters will face for the first time the automated balloting machine. It will make the voting process faster, one in two voters say in polls, as the ATM does depositing or withdrawing. But we need to ascertain tally accuracy. That’s why info-tech experts’ idea of a parallel manual count (PMC) is catching on.

The Comelec and its Venezuelan automation supplier are against a PMC, conjuring the flimsiest excuses. They want us to blindly trust them to make a 99.995-percent accurate count. But how can we, when all they’ve shown are sinister alterations in the voting machine and process, and ill preparations for the big day.

The on-screen vote verification feature has been switched off, leaving us no way to check if the machine is scanning our votes right. The built-in reader of secret ultraviolet ballot marks has been shut off, riskily giving to precinct officers the job of verifying ballot authenticity. Ballot boxes have been altered from transparent to opaque, hiding the insides. Scuttled too are the precinct officials’ electronic signatures before transmitting tallies to canvassers, opening the count to fake transmissions. Nobody has read the machine’s source code. Comelec and Smartmatic refuse to show the study done by US certifier Systest Lab. They’re behind most schedules too. The machine conked out in one of 20 advanced voting sites in Hong Kong, for a 5-percent error rating. Meanwhile, Comelec is preoccupied with multimillion-peso rackets (Gotcha, 14 Apr. 2010).

The only way at this point to have credible results is thru PMC. In resisting it, Comelec and Smartmatic only fan suspicions of massive poll fraud in the offing.

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In Manila talk is rife that Malacañang wants ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan out of prison to assist in rigging election results. In Mindanao the suspicion is that Gloria Arroyo needs Ampatuan to fast break a second Memo of Agreement-Ancestral Domain. Arroyo reportedly believes she can buy immunity in America if she delivers this to a faction in Washington.

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Retrouvaille has helped many couples in marriage disillusionment or misery. It can help you too. Retrouvaille (pronounced re-tro-v_ with a long i, French for “rediscovery”) is a program designed to help troubled couples overcome failing relationships, so they can address communication breakdown and erosion of love, acceptance and trust.

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It’s the show that happens only once every six years: “Presidentiables Gut Talent.” Inimitable Willie Nep impersonates candidates for the highest post in the land, on Friday, Apr. 23, 8:30 p.m., at Music Museum, Greenhills Mall, Metro Manila. For ticket reservations and free delivery: 0918-9054580.

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“You cannot be genuinely serious about life if you cannot see its light side.” Shafts of Light, Fr. Guido Arguelles, SJ

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E-mail: [email protected]