National Museum

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.

GMA replacing officials en masse

GMA replacing officials en masse
By Paolo Romero and Pia Lee-Brago
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – After getting the green light from the Supreme Court (SC) to appoint the next chief justice, President Arroyo has apparently gone on an appointing spree, naming an ambassador, several officials of government agencies, and replacing the entire boards of two cultural institutions with barely three months left in her term and despite the constitutional ban on midnight appointments.

In what some quarters are calling a pre-election “massacre,” the entire boards as well as the heads of the National Museum and the National Historical Institute (NHI), both agencies under the Office of the President, were changed, with most of them not even knowing they had been replaced.

The President also appointed business tycoon Alfonso Yuchengco, 86, as ambassador to Germany, with current Ambassador Delia Domingo-Albert learning about it only when she went to Malacañang last Friday to receive an award from a women’s business group.

Sources said Mrs. Arroyo told Albert, a career diplomat and former secretary of foreign affairs, that she had appointed Yuchengco as the new envoy to Germany when Abert sought confirmation of rumors she had heard. Albert is set to retire from the foreign service in June.

“We have learned of Yuchengco’s appointment but we have not received official copy of his appointment. Ambassador Albert stays so far,” a ranking official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) told The STAR.

The same official pointed out Mrs. Arroyo clearly violated the ban on appointments during the election period.

Article VII Sec. 15 of the Constitution says, “Two months before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, a President or Acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.”

Retired journalist Larry Henares assumed the chairmanship of the National Museum, replacing businessman Antonio Cojuangco, who was not told that he had been replaced. The new National Museum board reportedly met at the Palace yesterday afternoon and elected Malacañang Museum director Jeremy Barns as the new museum director, replacing Cora Alvina.

The other members of the board were not identified, but Senate and House representatives to the museum board, Sen. Manuel Roxas II and Marikina Rep. Del de Guzman, were reportedly not informed of or invited to the board meeting.

The board members and executive director of the NHI were also reportedly replaced, but the names of the new appointees were not revealed. It was not clear whether NHI chairman Ambeth Ocampo was also replaced.

Last December, Mrs. Arroyo appointed Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco and businessman Francisco Benedicto as ambassadors to Italy and China, respectively.

The appointments raised a howl among career officials who pointed out that Cuenco and Benedicto would only serve as envoys for less than six months, co-terminus with the remaining term of office of President Arroyo until June 30.

The Union of Foreign Service Officers (Unifors) also reminded the President that Benedicto is already 65 years old, and his appointment would violate Section 23 of the Foreign Service Act.

Mrs. Arroyo also appointed Assistant Secretary Rommel Garcia, deputy director for operations, to replace Clarence Paul Oaminal as vice chairman of the Dangerous Drug Board (DDB).

Oaminal, for his part, said he was surprised by the appointment but stressed he is not contesting his sudden removal on the orders of the President.

“I know that if the late (Press) Secretary (Cerge) Remonde were alive today, I would not have been replaced the way it was done,” Oaminal lamented.

He said he was so busy going after illegal drugs and drug lords, “I forgot to watch my back.”

Oaminal said he could not explain why he was suddenly replaced. He also learned that upon receiving the letter from Galvante, his removal from DBB was retroactive to March 5, which he said, was before the election ban on appointments that started March 10.

Mrs. Arroyo yesterday also appointed retired Court of Appeals Associate Justice Perlita Tria-Tirona to head the newly formed independent committee that will review all major tax evasion and smuggling cases dismissed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Other members of the Review Committee that were appointed include Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) vice chairman Butch Canoy, Publishers’ Association of the Philippines Inc. president Juan Dayang, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. president Alfonso Uygongco, and Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. representative Oscar Barrera.

Mrs. Arroyo has also promoted Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief Arturo Lomibao as Undersecretary in the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza said on Wednesday that Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) chairman Alberto Suansing was appointed to replace Lomibao at the LTO.

LTO insiders said they were expecting the turnover of office between Lomibao and Suansing to be held yesterday.

Lomibao, however, appeared and immediately presided over a meeting of top officials of the agency.

Lomibao was said to have been able to prevail on the President to reverse the appointment but there were no officials who could confirm the report.

It was not yet clear who would replace Suansing at the LTFRB.

Earlier, former presidential political affairs adviser Gabriel Claudio was named chairman of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, replacing Oscar Garcia, who still retains his board seat.

The President also appointed retired Sandiganbayan justice Raoul Victorino as chief presidential legal counsel, replacing Natividad Dizon, who had held the post for only two weeks. Dizon was moved to the Board of Pardons and Parole.

Another short-lived appointment was that of Rogelio Peyuan, who was replaced as director general of the Technical Education and Skills Authority (TESDA) only a few days after he assumed office. He was moved to the Office of the Press Secretary. Former TESDA deputy director general for operations Pastor Guiao took over as director general.

Another controversial issue involved Undersecretary Ariston de los Reyes, who was relieved as Defense undersecretary, allegedly because his appointment as presidential assistant had lapsed.

Other appointments include veteran broadcast journalist Mario Garcia as member of the board of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) and Civil Service Commission head Francisco Duque III as member of the board of the Pag-IBIG Fund, although there was no vacancy in the Pag-IBIG board. With Jerry Botial