Panfilo Lacson

Enrile is Senate President again

Enrile is Senate President again
By Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — A survivor of many political wars is keeping his grip on the Senate presidency, after all.

Earlier thought to be on his way out, reelected Senator Juan Ponce Enrile clinched the Senate leadership Sunday night by obtaining the support of 21 senators — a powerful majority in the 23-member upper chamber of Congress.

Senators said the 86-year-old lawmaker from Cagayan was assured of his continued hold on his position following a series of meetings and sudden developments during the weekend.

The most dramatic was Sunday’s last-minute announcement by Senator Francis Pangilinan, the erstwhile candidate of Malacañang, that he was withdrawing from the Senate presidential race in order to unify the chamber.

“It’s a truly united Senate,” Senator Edgardo Angara told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, saying that all blocs in the chamber have come together to support Enrile as their chief.

It was the second time in the Senate’s recent history that all parties and blocs have backed a common leader, Angara said.

Curiously, both cases involved Enrile and both happened while an Aquino was at the country’s helm — the first during the presidency of the late Corazon Aquino and now, during the rule of her son, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

“In the first Aquino administration, it was Senator Enrile who was the lone minority member in the Senate. Now under the second Aquino administration, he is the head of the unity Senate,” Angara said.

“He [Enrile] has come full circle,” he added.

In a phone interview, Angara credited the sudden turn of events to efforts of the Liberal Party (LP), Nacionalista Party (NP) of Sen. Manuel Villar Jr., and other blocs — including Angara’s — to come together and agree on a Senate President by the time the 15th Congress opens this Monday.

Since late last week, Pangilinan had been the frontrunner in the fight for the Senate leadership.

Enrile of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino only loomed as an alternative candidate after the NP and LP candidates failed to get the 13 votes needed to win the Senate presidency.

“Since neither side [Villar and Pangilinan] were able to make it, we agreed with Villar and the others that we need to elect one because it would be embarrassing for the Senate if we can’t rule even ourselves,” Angara said.

All different blocs “contributed” to the unity of the Senate, according to Angara.

He said Enrile was “the best option” because neither Pangilinan nor Villar was able to secure the 13 votes.

Angara said Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada would remain as Senate President pro tempore, while Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto would be the majority leader.

But with a unified Senate behind Enrile, Angara conceded that the question of who would be the minority leader was up in the air.

“We don’t know yet who would want to stand on the opposite aisle,” he said.

The Senate has 23 members with Aquino’s rise to the presidency. Only 21 of them can vote in Monday’s Senate presidency election.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV remains detained while Senator Panfilo Lacson has yet to surface after he left the country six months ago while facing charges for the double murder of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and Dacer’s driver.

Estrada, like Enrile, committed to support Pangilinan but Estrada made it clear to the LP senator that he would only support him if Enrile did not make a bid for the Senate leadership.

Pangilinan lost support for his bid after party and administration allies late last week confronted him on whether he could secure the necessary numbers and later pushed Enrile to go for the presidency himself.

Enrile had said he would do so if the senators would be able to get him the numbers.

In a statement on Sunday, Pangilinan said he gave up his bid for the top Senate post because he “realized there are political realities and developments that prevent us from securing the needed 13 votes resulting in a deadlock or stalemate.”

“Much as I would like to go down fighting, I realize that to continue with my bid would keep the Senate fragmented and disunited. The disunity must now end. I believe I can help make it happen by voluntarily stepping aside,” he said.

“It has been a very difficult experience for me and my family, but if I had to do this all over again for the cause of genuine change and reforms for our nation, I would. I would like to thank our people for their prayers and support. We fought a good fight,” Pangilinan said.

Senators were meeting on Sunday to deal with the committee chairmanships. There are 27 chairmanships up for grabs.

Drilon and Estrada said they did not think Enrile’s leadership in the Senate would be a problem for President Aquino.

Drilon said that Enrile from the very start had supported Pangilinan’s bid until the latter was unable to get the needed votes.

Likewise, he said Enrile would support the administration’s legislative agenda because not only was the Senate “an institution which will respond to the needs of the country” but one was inclined to support a “popular” President such as Mr. Aquino.

Estrada agreed that Enrile would not be a problem for Mr. Aquino since the two men were very much in good terms in the Senate before.

Malacañang said on Sunday it still expected to deal with a Senate “friendly” to President Aquino despite the withdrawal of Pangilinan from the Senate presidential fight.

“We look forward to working and cooperating with a friendly Senate,” the President’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, said. “It’s important that we have a friendly Senate [for] our legislative agenda.”

Lacierda said that in hoping for a friendly Senate, Malacañang was not fearing that the senators might scrutinize the Aquino administration for possible corruption.

“The Aquino administration has promised not to engage in any corrupt practices that’s why we are not afraid of that,” he said. “What we are more concerned of really is the legislative agenda the President has in mind, which will require cooperation from the Senate.”

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.

Congress won’t end reign of political dynasties

Congress won’t end reign of political dynasties
By Tony Bergonia
Philippine Daily Inquirer

(First of four parts)

MANILA, Philippines—Congress’ refusal to pass an anti-dynasty law could just be one more proof that, quoting Henry Kissinger, “power is an aphrodisiac,” says former Sen. Rene Saguisag.

No anti-dynasty bill ever reached the floor of either chamber of Congress for voting.

“Your search yielded no result,” went the reply on the House website when a search on the subject of political dynasties was made.

It might as well be the epitaph on the tomb of the anti-dynasty measure.

“Delicadeza,” Saguisag says, is the single most important ingredient lacking in the continuing process to stop political dynasties, “but it is long dead and gone.”

The 1987 Constitution left no room for interpretation in Article II, Section 26: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties …”

However, it left the task of defining dynasties and putting flesh into the prohibition to Congress, one institution teeming with legislators who are either patriarchs or products of clans or families that maintain fiefdoms in regions, provinces, towns or cities.

“The 1987 Constitution made it impossible to serve long so families just spread the bounty,” Saguisag says.

When the late President Corazon Aquino restored Congress and its two chambers, the task of writing a law that would enforce the constitutional ban on dynasties took the life span of a Stage-4 cancer patient.

“Resistance was natural,” Saguisag recalls those days at the Senate when he and other supporters of measures to implement the anti-dynasty provision argued their case before colleagues, who had other priorities than to help kill their own emerging dynasties.

Subtle, strong opposition

The attempt to pass a law didn’t go very far, he says. Opposition was “subtle but strong.”

Saguisag’s episode in public service could be a good example of how power should be handled—reject it outright or simply succumb to it. Except in two instances at the prodding of Ms Aquino, he has made the first choice.

“I don’t know, but it was easy for me (to reject power),” Saguisag says.

One instance, when he had to give in was on Feb. 25, 1986, “when at dusk, I was asked to serve (by Aquino).”

“’Ne (his term of endearment to Ms Aquino), you’ll continue to be my spokesman,” Saguisag recalls Aquino as telling him that day. “I was speechless, looking down at my shoes a long, long time.”

When he tried to resist, Saguisag says, “I got an earful, along with Joker (Arroyo).”

“You were among those who pushed me to run. Now you won’t even help me,” Saguisag recalls Ms Aquino telling him and Joker. “I was an accidental public servant privileged to serve a providential president.”

The temptation, however, didn’t stop there. Soon after agreeing to help Ms Aquino during the transition period, Saguisag recalls, a bigger offer came his way.

“In January 1987, I was given a signed Supreme Court appointment,” Saguisag says in written replies to questions e-mailed to him by the Inquirer. “I said no to it.”

In his foray into public life, Saguisag made himself noticeably scarce only twice—when he ended his term as senator and faded into the background, and when an accident claimed the life of his wife, Dulce, and wounded him for life.

Finding time to reply in writing [he begged off from a face-to-face or phone interview] to the Inquirer request, Saguisag recalls his brushes with power as temptation.

“My wife and I said no to various offers,” he says. “Offered one Cabinet position, she said to me ‘argument over.’”

Speakership fight

Saguisag’s ability to resist power is easy as the struggle to enable the constitutional ban on dynasties is tough.

Journals of the House of Representatives, which keep records of daily sessions, are replete with this passage on anti-dynasty bills: “To the committee on suffrage and electoral reforms.” It simply meant put it on the back burner.

One instance when the dynasty issue became big at the House, however, was during the 2007 speakership fight between Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr. of Pangasinan and Rep. Pablo Garcia Sr. of Cebu.

Struggling to keep his hold on the top House post, De Venecia raised the dynasty issue against the Garcias.

On Aug. 13, 2007, at the height of the fight, De Venecia’s ally, Rep. Arthur Defensor, filed House Bill No. 783, “Anti-Political Dynasty Act of 2007,” that would outlaw “alarming situations where the father is the governor, the mother is the congresswoman, while the son is the mayor.”

A House press release on Aug. 13, 2007, quotes Defensor as saying that political dynasties are “anathema to our democratic life and characteristic of the patronage system of politics that has been a hindrance to our development.”

Defensor’s bill, however, won’t bar relatives from handing power over like they do pieces of property in inheritance proceedings. It isn’t as ugly as “unpleasant situations” of several relatives occupying government positions all at the same time, Defensor was quoted as saying. “This bill is different.”

De Venecia, another House press release says, “deserves to be reelected to a fifth term (as Speaker) after showing unflinching support for the anti-dynasty bill.”

Nothing was heard of again of the anti-dynasty bill after De Venecia won. The journal passage continued: “To the committee on suffrage and electoral reforms.”

The bill went nowhere even if it, according to Defensor himself, meant to exempt from the dynasty prohibition officials holding positions “where decision-making is made through deliberations and consensus,” like seats in Congress.

Level of priority

Another bill, this time filed by Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo, was consolidated with Defensor’s work.

When he was Senate President, now presidential candidate Manuel Villar was asked what level of priority he was giving the anti-dynasty measure.

“We can prioritize it depending on our colleagues,” Villar says at a November 2006 press conference with reporters at the Senate.

“But we all know that we’re running out of time,” he says.

“What we are giving priority to now are the ones that already passed the committees. There’s still hope for those that haven’t passed the committees. But, of course, they’re not top priority because it’s just normal for us, it’s just logical for us to act first on those that are already on the floor.”

Sen. Francis Escudero, chair of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws, says in a press conference three years later that his committee has reported out an anti-dynasty bill filed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

“But as one of those who would be affected by the bill,” he says in a press conference in June 2009, “I inhibited myself although I first reported it out.” Escudero’s father is currently a congressman in Sorsogon.

The younger Escudero says Congress really has no choice but to pass an anti-dynasty law because it was clear in the 1987 Constitution.

Conflict of interest

“The problem,” he says, “is for each senator and congressman to look closely at themselves in the mirror and ask if they have conflict of interest.”

“Because if they do,” Escudero continues, “they should inhibit themselves and not participate in deliberations on this bill to leave those who do not have conflict of interest in relation to the anti-dynasty bill.”

In a transcript of that press conference, a reporter asks Escudero how many legislators he believed would be left if everyone with conflict of interest on the anti-dynasty issue inhibited themselves.

“No matter how many are left, the configuration and definition of a quorum could be adjusted to pass this bill,” he replies.

Villar firm’s high-end project sits on land for poor

Villar firm’s high-end project sits on land for poor
By Aries Rufo

LAST of 3 parts

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential aspirant Manuel Villar may have built his P25-billion wealth on providing low-cost homes, but the practices of acquiring properties where real estate projects now stand showed a pattern of deceipt and corruption.

How land was acquired in Norzagaray in Bulacan, Imus Estate in Cavite, and for the Portofino project in Alabang are case studies of this pattern.

Related Content:

PART 1: Villar built business empire with deceit, corruption: ex-lawyer

PART 2: Villar firm faked titles through ‘layering’: ex-lawyer

PART 3: Villar firm’s high-end project sits on land for poor

PROFILE: The man who turned his back on Villar

SIDEBAR: Imus Estate land key to Villar-Ayala deal

SIDEBAR: Villar firms bribe and forge? The case of the undervalued crane

INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: How Villar company obtained titles to contested land

VILLAR CAMP’S REPLY: Land grabbing allegations mere black propaganda: Villar

Portofino, a flagship project of Britanny Corp., the Villar Group’s unit aimed at the luxury residential communities and upscale leisure developments, now sits on land meant for the poor.

Portofino was cited in a complaint by Restituto Mendoza, a former lawyer of the Villar Group, as one distinctive example of the corrupt practices of the group.

Mendoza, in a damning complaint before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC ), said the real estate businesses of Villar pull strings in government agencies—like the Registry of Deeds and Land Management Bureau, the Department of Natural and Environment Resources, the Bureau of Customs to judges and justices, including in the Office of the President—to get their way.

In an interview with Newsbreak last April 7 in Mandaluyong City, Villar’s chief legal officer Ma. Nalen Rosario-Galang vehemently denied Mendoza’s allegations.

She said Mendoza had sought to blackmail Villar and his companies with his allegations of corruption “after he got slighted when told of his poor performance as an employee.”

She said Mendoza is only taking advantage of the political season to get attention. She pointed out that Mendoza “tried to sell his story” to Senators Jamby Madrigal and Panfilio Lacson, who both spearheaded the C-5 road extension inquiry. Advisers of the two senators rejected his “story,” Galang said, “since they know it cannot be used as evidence.”

Meant for low cost housing

Portofino is a 300-hectare community of different enclaves where houses and commercial areas have sun-drenched colors and high arched windows and archways. The architecture and design are inspired by a seaport town in Southern Italy named Portofino, meaning “fine gateway.”

But before the property became a gated subdivision and an enclave of the rich, Portofino was originally meant for low-cost houses .

The land was originally an agricultural land. The heirs of Conrado Potenciano owned 113 hectares.

In 1988, the Potenciano family and the National Housing Authority (NHA) entered into an agreement to develop the site for low-cost housing. The NHA is the government agency mandated to provide shelter to the lowest 30% of the urban population, most of them living in slums.

The NHA filed before the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) a request to convert the property from agricultural to non-agricultural. In 1989, it was granted.

The 1989 DAR conversion order gave Potenciano and the NHA 10 years to develop the site. The land’s tenants, who would have been the beneficiaries of the property had it been covered by the Comprehensive Agricultural Reform Program, were paid with disturbance compensation.

However, for some reason, the NHA backed out of the project.

With the NHA out, Potenciano and his heirs entered into a “Land Development Agreement” in 1993 with Adelfa Properties Inc. and Britanny Corp, both owned by the Villar Group. At the time, Villar, who has already made a stamp in the real estate industry, was a newly elected congressman and was starting a political career.

Daang Hari Road

In 1999, prior to the expiration of the 1989 DAR conversion order, Adelfa Properties and Britanny Corp. filed for an extension of the development period. It cited as grounds the construction of the Daang-Hari road, among others.

The Daang Hari road traverses Las Piñas and Bacoor, Cavite, in effect providing access points to Pontefino from existing major roads, including those that serve posh Ayala Alabang Village, and the Madrigal Business Park. (Newsbreak previously reported that the construction of Daang Hari was funded by the congressional allocation of Senator Villar in 2003 coursed through the Department of Public Works and Highways.)

Adelfa Properties also sought a new order granting the conversion without any limitation to any specific use and development.

That same year, two groups of petitioners who are heirs of former tenants, asked the DAR to revoke its 1989 order and revert the property to agricultural land. The petitioners argued that the conversion plan was violated since the 10-year period has lapsed.

The DAR rejected the petitions of the two groups of petitioners, prompting them to separately appeal before the Office of the President and the Court of Appeals.

In March 2004, the Office of the President issued a resolution reclassifying the Potenciano property into agricultural land. Adelfa Properties filed a motion for reconsideration but was also denied.

The decision of the Office of the President, however, was short victory for the former tenants.

Connection to the president?

Mendoza, who was then hired by Adelfa Properties as in-house counsel, filed a second motion for consideration at the Office of the President. In October 2004, the Office of the President reversed itself and junked the tenants’ petition.

The Court of Appeals also junked the tenants’ petition.

Mendoza wrote on his labor complaint that he was elated for winning. It was his first big case. He was the one who insisted of filing a second motion for reconsideration, which is not generally entertained, but he argued it could be allowed be in exceptionally meritorious cases.

Mendoza thought he won the case through merit. He would have a rude awakening.

In the succeeding years of working with Villar’s lawyers and senior officers, he wrote that he found that the Potenciano case was won “through a connection within the Office of the President.”

SIDEBAR: Villar firms bribe and forge? The case of the undervalued crane

MANILA, Philippines – Customs officials were peppered with calls in 2009 to release a shipment that was confiscated because they were undervalued.

In an interview with Newsbreak, they said they were not aware that the confiscated shipment belonged to “people connected with a high official.”

They were referring to callers from companies associated with presidential aspirant Manuel Villar, Jr.

The shipment contained a tower crane, an equipment used in the construction of tall buildings. Real estate spawned the much-touted wealth of Villar, the only billionaire among elected officials. READ MORE

When he found this out, “it took complainant months to get over his guilt by knowing that he was instrumental to what he realized later as an injustice to hundreds of farmers hoping to regain their lost land,” Mendoza narrated.

Mendoza said that, when the farmers initially won at the Office of the President, they were seeking P25 million as settlement. He opposed the move, but curiously, Villar’s senior officers were willing to compromise. He bargained for P200,000, which the tenants at first accepted and later rejected.

He wrote that he would later realize Villar’s trusted men were getting kickbacks from settlement payments. The P200,000 settlement he was pushing apparently also angered Villar’s senior officers.

A separate source, who was privy to the case, said the conduit who secured the Office of the President reversal was a Villar associate, who got a juicy position when he was named Senate President. The associate was replaced when Villar was ousted as Senate chief in 2008. At the time, Sen. Lacson was pushing for the investigation of the C-5 road controversy.

Business ethics

Villar’s “Sipag at Tiyaga,” a catchy slogan that makes an emotional connection with the poor that they, too, can make it big, resonates the message that industry and perseverance, guided by ethics and principles, will make dreams come true.

But ethics and principles may not be among Villar’s strongest traits in business, Mendoza noted in his labor complaint.

Mendoza said the irregular practices of Villar’s lawyers were not so secret among themselves. He said Galang, Villar’s chief legal officer “was quite at ease with the knowledge that extra legal means were being done with the cases they were handling.”

When he confronted Galang about his moral dilemma, he was told that he “should act first as an officer of the company and not as a lawyer.” Mendoza said Galang reminded him “to just focus on the legal aspect and just let (Villar’s senior officers) and Adelfa’s engineers do all the ‘dirty’ work.”

Galang, in a separate interview, said that Mendoza has a problem with authority. “He thinks he is too good. That is why he did not last long with his previous employers.”

Villar told ABS-CBN News on April 13 that all their lands have titles and were acquired above-board. He added that negatives stories about his businesses, especially those on alleged land grabbing practices, are mere black propaganda– With reports and additional research from Ma. Althea Teves and Purple Romero,

Editors’ note: We previously reported that, when Adelfa Properties was pursuing the reclassification issue with the Office of the President in March 2004, Villar and Arroyo critic Senator Alan Peter Cayetano aligned themselves with the opposition. We were wrong. Villar’s Nacionalista Party was not active during the 2004 national elections where both Villar and Cayetano supported President Arroyo’s bid. Cayetano joined calls for President Arroyo to resign in mid-2005 following the “Hello Garci” wiretapping scandal, but Villar did not. Villar later became Senate President.

Noynoy: Palace impounding my 'pork'

Noynoy: Palace impounding my ‘pork’
By Jess Diaz
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III said yesterday Malacañang has been impounding his P200-million annual pork barrel fund allocation since he was elected to the Senate in 2007.

“My last was in 2005, which was a SARO (Special Allotment Release Order) for hospitals. None afterwards. Mar (Roxas), I understand, is also not getting any,” he said when asked if he and Roxas received their annual pork barrel allocations.

Aquino, Liberal Party’s presidential candidate, was still a Tarlac congressman in 2005. Senate colleague Mar Roxas is his running mate.

Reached for comment, Sen. Francis Escudero said he, too, is not receiving his allocation, while Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said most of his funds are withheld by Malacañang.

Two other senators – Panfilo Lacson and Jamby Madrigal – have not been availing themselves of their P200 million in annual pork barrel funds. They deducted their combined P400 million from this year’s P1.5-trillion national budget.

President Arroyo has been releasing funds to her allies in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to boost their election campaign. The releases include the regular pork barrel allocations and congressional initiatives or budgetary insertions.

Unlike Aquino, his Nacionalista Party rival, Sen. Manuel Villar, has apparently been receiving his funds and had in fact been able to make insertions in the budget.

Last year, he got into trouble for his “double insertion” of a P200-million appropriation for the controversial C-5 road extension that a subsequent Senate investigation found to be traversing some subdivisions owned by his companies.

The controversy cost Villar the Senate presidency. His successor, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who was finance committee chairman, revealed that Villar had asked for the P200-million insertion.

Aquino’s revelation that he has not been receiving his funds belies the statement of Budget Secretary Joaquin Lagonera that there are no political considerations in the release of pork barrel funds.

Lagonera made the statement after at least two congressmen – former Speaker Jose de Venecia of Pangasinan and Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City – complained that Malacañang had impounded the money allotted for their districts.

“I have been following up the release of our funds, but Secretary Lagonera and Palace liaison officer Undersecretary Bernie Sayo have been giving me the runaround. Lagonera would not even talk to me. They don’t like my face because I belong to the opposition,” Rodriguez said.

“Obviously, Mrs. Arroyo chooses to play politics with the welfare of our people even while she is about to leave office” he said.

Rodriguez, a neophyte congressman, is a member of former President Joseph Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino.

In the wake of Aquino’s revelation and the congressmen’s complaints of discrimination, Liberal Party senatorial candidate Ralph Recto urged Malacañang not to “color-code” fund releases.

“The Palace cannot subject one group to pork abstinence while ordering a pork feast for its friends. Nowhere in the budget law does it state that pork distribution be color-coded, that servings for the Greens, Orange, Yellows, and Reds vary in size” he said.

By Green, Orange, Yellow, and Red, Recto, a former senator, was obviously referring to Gilberto Teodoro Jr. of Lakas-Kampi, Villar, Aquino, and former President Estrada.

He said if pork barrel funds were equally distributed, they would “not become a handicapping tool that will provide electoral stimulus to only a few.”

At the same time, Recto urged Mrs. Arroyo to “obey her own rule” in dispensing funds, which is “that the release of congressional insertions be contingent on the availability of revenues.”

He said there is no justification for the reported release of insertions since the government has just posted a P110- billion budget deficit for the first quarter.

He said if so-called congressional initiatives are funded through borrowings and not tax collections, that would bloat the deficit from P293 billion to P358 billion, should the full P65 billion in insertions be released.

Before approving the 2010 budget, senators and congressmen diverted P65 billion in debt payment funds to their pork barrel.

According to a member of the House appropriations committee, one-third of that huge amount or P21.6 billion is allocated for senators and P43.4 billion for congressmen.

“This means that if all insertions are released, the 23 senators will have an average of more than P1 billion each in pork this year, including the annual regular allocation of P200 million. That is an unprecedented amount of pork,” the lawmaker said.

DBM on pork release: No political consideration

DBM on pork release: No political consideration
By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Budget Secretary Joaquin Lagonera yesterday maintained that there were no political considerations in the release of pork barrel allocations to lawmakers because it was compliant with the standards set by the 2010 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

Lagonera was responding to allegations made by Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr. that President Arroyo has advanced congressional allocations to her allies in Congress apparently to boost their campaign and retain their support for the administration.

De Venecia complained that his pork barrel, euphemistically called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), has not been released since last year. De Venecia had a falling out with Mrs. Arroyo when he was still Speaker of the House of Representatives.

“The releases were made not along party lines, but (project) priority lines,” Lagonera told The STAR. “This issue always crops up every year, when there are releases (of PDAF.)”

He, however, said that he will check on De Venecia’s concerns.

Newly installed Lakas-Kampi-CMD party secretary-general Ray Roquero, on the other hand, denied that the administration party had a hand in the recent pork barrel releases.

“It’s the DBM that releases the fund, the party has nothing to do with it,” Roquero said.

He said the release is made every quarter as provided for by law.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Charito Planas said one major constraint in the release of PDAF is the lack of funds.

Lagonera pointed out that many administration congressmen have been angrily complaining to him that their requests have not been processed or approved by the DBM because of certain standards and constraints, mainly lack of funds.

“There are piles of requests in my office and many of them (administration lawmakers) are not happy,” Lagonera said.

He said the administration has set rules under the law that only economically beneficial projects, like farm-to-market roads, agricultural and irrigation projects, and education, among others, are allowed to be financed by PDAF.

“The projects must be consistent with the priorities called for by our economic situation,” Lagonera said.

He, however, admitted that lawmakers are also allowed some “soft” projects like giving scholarships and direct assistance to hospitals for dialysis and chemotherapy of their poor constituents.

He said it was normal that there would be a deluge in the filing of requests for pork barrel fund releases once the national budget is signed into law.

What compounded the situation, according to Lagonera, is the ban on projects set by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) owing to the coming elections on May 10. So congressmen, both administration and opposition, rushed to secure the release of their respective pork barrel allocations.

However, he said the lawmakers could have sought exemptions from the Comelec or just wait until after the elections and file their requests again.

“After May, we’ll see what we can do. Like if we have enough cash or expedite those already in the process,” he said.

Senators also get their ‘pork’

Meanwhile, sources at the House of Representatives said the senators are getting their share of billions in pork barrel releases.

“Yes, they are receiving their share, which is definitely a lot bigger than ours,” a member of the House committee on appropriations told The STAR yesterday.

“They are getting a large part of their P200-million a year regular allocation, plus their initiatives or insertions,” he said.

He said before Malacañang makes releases, the House, in the case of a congressman, or the Senate, in the case of a senator, certifies that certain amount of funds is included in the budget for the concerned member’s projects.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Edgardo Angara, finance committee chairman, sign certifications for the Senate; while Speaker Prospero Nograles and Quirino Rep. Junie Cua, appropriations committee chairman, sign such documents for the House, he said.

The certifications are accompanied by a listing of projects from a senator or congressman requesting for the release of his or her allocations, he added.

The congressional pork barrel dispenses P70 million for each of the more than 250 House members and P200 million for each senator. On top of those huge amounts, lawmakers have the so-called congressional initiatives or budgetary insertions.

The appropriations committee source said of the P65 billion in debt service funds that the Senate and the House diverted to the pork barrel, one-third or P21.6 billion is allocated for senators and P43.4 billion for congressmen.

“That has always been the sharing formula for insertions – it’s one-third, two-thirds. This means that if all insertions are released, the 23 senators will have an average of more than P1 billion each in pork this year, including the annual fund of P200 million. That is an unprecedented amount of pork,” he said.

Of the P65 billion diverted to the pork barrel, P30.3 billion, or almost half, was added to the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways, where most congressional insertions are hidden.

Subsidies to government corporations were augmented by P3.3 billion to P24.3 billion. Among the recipients is the two-year-old Aurora Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA), whose 2010 budget was increased by P650 million to P800 million.

Angara authored the law creating ASEZA, which has barely taken off and is facing a land dispute with farmers. The Angaras are from Aurora.

Another recipient of additional subsidy is Enrile’s Cagayan Economic Zone Authority.

Not all senators, however, are receiving even their regular P200 million fund. Reached by The STAR, senators Benigno Aquino III and Francis Escudero said they are not getting their allocations.

Aquino, who is Liberal Party (LP) presidential candidate, said his running mate, Sen. Mar Roxas, is also not getting his share.

Senators Panfilo Lacson and Jamby Madrigal have deducted their combined P400 million allotments from the P1.5-trillion 2010 budget.

In the wake of reports that Malacañang is releasing not only regular pork barrel allocations but budgetary insertions as well, President Arroyo’s former economic planning secretary Ralph Recto urged her to “obey her own rule.” – Jess Diaz, Perseus Echeminada

Easter greetings in an open letter to Kumpareng Manny Villar

Easter greetings in an open letter to Kumpareng Manny Villar
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star

My dear Kumpareng Manny:

First of all, I sincerely wish you the blessings and the emancipating effects of the TRUTH OF EASTER. Easter is the ultimate confirmation of the TRUTH of Jesus Christ — the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Messiah shall rise three days after death.

We miss the essence of Easter if we fail to live in the light of truth. Our nation is in this sorry state because many Filipinos do not know the truth, especially the historical truth. Thus it becomes the hallmark of a great Filipino leader to enlighten his benighted nation, not exploit it.

Because ours is a benighted nation, it all the more makes it a sacred duty for a serious, sincere writer to use his talent to share the truth with the people who are exploited because they do not know the truth.

When Senator Panfilo Lacson prosecuted you in the Senate for alleged DOUBLE INSERTION in the C-5 Road Project, I defended you. I defended you not because we were Kumpadres (Godfathers) for standing as sponsors in the wedding of Paolo and Carmina Saycon — but because I saw that the charges against you were false and baseless. True enough, the Finance Committee headed then by Senator Juan Ponce-Enrile absolved you.

Then when Senators Lacson and Jamby Madrigal charged you before the Senate Ethics Committee, a move which I saw as forum shopping and particularly unjust because your political rivals were going to sit in judgment over you — I again raised a howl and denounced it.

But when crusading lawyer Ernesto “Jun” Francisco started presenting the evidences against you in the Ethics Case Hearing, I was compelled to stop defending you. Just like what CSI lead characters Gil Grissom and Mac Taylor would always advice, follow the evidence more than the statements. I did and the evidences that were presented — all 900 documents of them — formed an ugly picture of my Kumpadre.

As a crusader for bridging the information and education gaps in our country and also as a former advertising professional, I could not help but challenge your assertion in that TV commercial of yours where you made a panata (advocacy). Having challenged your claim of being dirt-poor once upon a time in my February 7, 2010 column (“Was Manny Villar really ever poor?”) — I decided to check out your latest claim that your younger brother Danny died because your family did not have the money to provide him proper medical care (“mamatayan ng kapatid dahil wala kang pera pangpagamot”).

Two authenticated public documents — Danny’s death certificate and the land title transfer certificate (TCT) of your place of residence when Danny died — indicated that your family could afford proper medical care. Those points were well discussed in my March 28, 2010 column (“How Manny Villar lied and used the death of his brother Danny”). As it turned out, Danny died from leukemia, an incurable disease in 1962 which killed both the super rich and super poor.

Did you confront the issue squarely? No, you did not. Just like what you did in the Senate, you employed all the methods of obfuscation and diversion in order to avoid and cover up the inconvenient truth. Among the cheap stunts you resorted to were the following:

1. You attempted to link the issue with your political opponent in order to justify branding it as politically motivated and as black propaganda. The issue emanated from writers who doubted your truthfulness (not from the Liberal Party) and the challenge was based on authentic public documents and therefore cannot be considered as black propaganda.

2. You diverted the issue to a house in Tondo from that damning 560 square meter (sqm) lot in upper class San Rafael Village in Navotas where your family resided when Danny died. The point is focused on the financial capability of a family living in a 560 sqm lot in a Navotas upper class subdivision.

3. You tried to make San Rafael Village look like a stinking place beside Smokey Mountain when in fact there was no Smokey Mountain when Danny died. I have a good friend (from a rich Filipino-Chinese family) who lived in San Rafael Village in the 1960s and one of our Kumpadres who resided near San Rafael Village in the early 1960s and they both attested to its being an upper class subdivision, gated and secured.

4. The issue was very factually and logically presented, based on what the two documents and the ocular inspection of your old place revealed. You avoided the facts and instead opted to resort to cheap emotional diversionary tactics like “haciendero” versus “poor me” — when the alluded haciendero had nothing to do with raising the issue.

5. The issue was solely focused on your claim about not being able to provide Danny proper medical care but what you did was to divert the issue to include so many other aspects and circumstances that were irrelevant.

6. You even had the gall and temerity to demand that we who wrote about the issue should apologize to you! For what — for doing our job and duty as writers to present the truth and expose what convinces us, based on evidence presented, as untruthful representation and advertising?

My dear Kumpadre, I can understand the stress that you’re now undergoing. Your sharp drop in the latest SWS (Social Weather Stations) and Manila Standard Today polls plus the “Money Villarroyo” issue which found impetus with the April 1st Inquirer assertion that First Gentleman Mike Arroyo ordered administration party kingpins to support you — could easily cause your ratings to go lower than 20% in the April polls, putting you in third place.

I certainly do not wish to add to what stresses my Kumpadre Manny Villar. But when values that are very dear to me — the truth, our country and the economic emancipation of our people — are threatened then I am compelled to subordinate a cherished friendship to a higher ideal.

May the truth of Easter serve to guide you to your greatness, my dear Kumpadre. In any capacity, you can still do a lot of good for our country and our people.

*      *      *

Chair Wrecker e-mail and website: [email protected] and www.chair

Senate special session eyed

Senate special session eyed
By Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Senate leaders Tuesday said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has to call for a special session of Congress in order to elect a new Senate President who could act as the interim president should the May elections fail.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon said he has prepared a bill that provides for the election of an acting or caretaker Senate President from among the 12 senators who will remain serving until 2013.

But of this latter group, Biazon has proposed the exclusion of three senators—Manuel Villar Jr., Benigno Aquino III and Loren Legarda—because they are running for election in May.

This means that the choice for a new Senate president will come from these nine senators—Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Edgardo Angara, Joker Arroyo, Francis Escudero, Panfilo Lacson, Gregorio Honasan, Francis Pangilinan, Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV.

Biazon said his proposal is based on a constitutional provision that authorizes Congress to provide for the selection of an acting president in case the line of succession is broken.

While he considered the possibility of an election failure “remote,” Biazon said he was proposing a measure “that will cause the election of an acting president or caretaker president.”

His bill provides that immediately after a declaration of a failure of election by the Commission on Elections, Congress must convene and proceed to elect an acting president from the senators whose mandate will expire on June 30, 2013, he said.

Biazon said that if Ms Arroyo refuses to convene a special session, Congress can tackle the election of a Senate president when it convenes on May 31 to canvass the presidential and vice presidential votes.

“We can enact that law and immediately proceed to elect a caretaker president,” he said.

In separate interviews, Zubiri and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the election of a new Senate president can only be done if the Senate is in session.

But because Congress is on a break for the election campaign, the President would have to call a special session for this purpose.

“The decision should be made in plenary. We have to put it on [the] record,” said Zubiri, who chairs the Senate rules committee.

Pimentel said senators could not just meet in a caucus to elect a Senate president.

Earlier, Angara called for the election of a new Senate president, preferably before the May 10 polls, so there would be someone to act as president in case there should be a failure of elections.

Angara said the line of succession would be broken at midnight of June 30 because the terms of office of Ms Arroyo, Vice President Noli de Castro, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Prospero Nograles will expire then.

He proposed that all 23 senators elect a new Senate president from among the 12 senators who will be serving until 2013.

Enrile said on Monday that he was willing to step down but only after May 10 when the country will know for sure that the polls had failed. Though he does not think the elections will fail, Enrile said if they do, he himself would take the initiative and call senators to a meeting to decide whom they wanted for the post.

However, Pimentel doubts it would be possible to muster a quorum for a special session with the election campaign already in full swing.

He also agreed that the country’s first automated polls ending in failure was a “far-fetched scenario.”

Scandals that hounded Arroyo admin

Scandals that hounded Arroyo admin
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Scandals hounded President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo almost immediately after she took power in 2001.

The following are some of the major controversies:

Hello Garci (2005): Wiretapped phone conversations purportedly between Ms Arroyo and Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano revealed, the opposition claimed, that she stole the 2004 presidential elections. She denies the charges.

NBN-ZTE project (2007): Losing bidder Joey de Venecia said a $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) contract with China’s ZTE Corp. was overpriced by $130 million to cover kickbacks and involved First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo. Ms Arroyo later scrapped the deal.

Jose Pidal (2003): A Senate panel looked into charges that First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo had amassed over P200 million from campaign contributions and put the money in secret bank accounts, some under the name of “Jose Pidal.” Mike Arroyo’s brother, Ignacio, claimed he owned the accounts, but invoked his right to privacy.

Fertilizer fund scam (2004): Following charges that Ms Arroyo engaged in “virtual vote-buying” by authorizing the release of P728 million to favored officials weeks before the 2004 presidential election, a Senate panel concluded that she should be held accountable. Plunder and other charges were recommended against Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante and nine others.

“Jueteng” (2005): Testimony at a Senate inquiry on the illegal numbers game jueteng revealed that operators had given protection money to Mike Arroyo, his congressman-son Juan Miguel and brother Rep. Iggy Arroyo.

Cash handouts (2007): Ms Arroyo had breakfast in Malacañang with over 100 congressmen and around 200 local officials who later were given paper bags containing between P200,000 and P500,000 in cash, described by critics as a bribe to quash an impeachment case against her.

World Bank loan (2007): The World Bank put on hold a $232-million loan for national road improvement projects after bid rigging was uncovered. Sen. Panfilo Lacson said witnesses in a World Bank report implicated Mike Arroyo in the irregularity.

NorthRail (2003): Former Sen. Franklin Drilon described the $503-million NorthRail project “the greatest train robbery in history.” Experts said the mass transit project from Caloocan City to Malolos was simply an upgrading of the old railway system.

SouthRail (2007): Critics said the $932-million SouthRail project funded by a Chinese loan to link Laguna to Bicol provinces was overpriced by 22 percent, or about $70 million. Inquirer Research