Renato Reyes

Impeach raps vs Ombudsman found sufficient in form

Impeach raps vs Ombudsman found sufficient in form
by RG Cruz

MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) – In just one meeting, the House of Representatives Committee on Justice voted on Wednesday to declare as sufficient in form 2 impeachment complaints filed against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

The first complaint, filed by former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros, was declared sufficient in form, 39-1.

The complaint accuses the Ombudsman of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for failing to provide prompt action on issues such as the botched National Broadband Network-ZTE deal, the lavish P1 million dinner of former President Arroyo and Filipino lawmakers at Le Cirque restaurant in the US, and the mysterious death of Philippine Navy Ensign Phillip Pestaño. Read more

Comelec asked to disqualify nominees of 49 party-list groups

Comelec asked to disqualify nominees of 49 party-list groups
By Shiela Crisostomo
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Electoral reform group Kontra Daya has asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to disqualify the nominees of 49 party-list groups they claim have “questionable” agenda.

Comelec has accredited 175 part-list organizations to participate in the May 10 elections.

Renato Reyes of Kontra Daya noted that the nominees of the 49 party-list groups do not come from the marginalized sectors for which the party-list system was created.

They are mostly administration allies, incumbent officials, retired military and police officials, and individuals belonging to wealthy and politically influential families

Kontra Daya wants the nominees of these party-list groups disqualified motu propio, or without a petition for disqualification.

The group complained that the P5,000 disqualification fee charged by the Comelec discourages the filing of complaints against party-list groups that allegedly abuse the system.

“If the Comelec will not do anything despite the reports watchdog groups give them, it is up to the public then to be more discerning and vote only for those groups with a proven track record of serving the marginalized,” Reyes said. “ But if Comelec does not act now, what can arrest the steady destruction of the party-list system?”

On top of the group’s list of party-list nominees they want disqualified are Pampanga Rep. and presidential son Juan Miguel “Mikey”Arroyo, the first nominee of Ang Galing Pinoy which claims to represent security guards.

Another is former Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes of 1-Utak, which supposedly represents the transport sector.

The brother of National Security Adviser Chavit Singson, Jose Singson Jr., is the second nominee of 1st Kabagis party-list, which promises to “widen the segments of economic development.”

The Alyansa ng Media at Showbiz, which claims to represent media practitioners, has celebrity cosmetic surgeon Dr. Manny Calayan as its second nominee.

Anak Party-list, which claims to represent the urban poor, has listed former Police Senior Superintendent Eduardo Octviano, Jr. as its first nominee and retired police general Eliseo de la Paz as its second nominee. De la Paz had been tagged in the so-called “euro generals” scandal in 2008.

Charge culprits in P700-M overprice, bishop urges

Charge culprits in P700-M overprice, bishop urges
By Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—“That’s a mortal sin.” And there have been reportedly others before that.

A Catholic bishop called for the filing of charges against the people behind the scuttled purchase by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) of ballot secrecy folders for the May elections because of the huge amount that would have cost taxpayers.

“P700 million! Wow! Prosecute the culprits. That’s a mortal sin,” said Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan called for the resignation of Comelec Executive Director Jose Tolentino, who reportedly endorsed the award of the contract to OTC Paper Supply for the purchase of the secrecy folders at P380 each.

The senator said Tolentino should step down for the latter’s alleged “continued involvement in different electoral anomalies.”

It was the Comelec’s bids and awards committee (BAC) that recommended the awarding of the contract to OTC.

BAC chair Maria Lea Alarkon said the recommendation was based on the specifications approved by the poll body’s en banc.

The BAC members are Allen Francis Abaya, Maria Norina Tangaro-Casingal, Martin Niedo and Antonio Santella.

The Comelec had initially planned to buy 1.8 million ballot secrecy folders worth P380 each, a contract worth nearly P700 million.

But on Monday the Comelec en banc scrapped the purchase of the folders after finding the price of each folder to be extravagant.

The Comelec has decided that it would just use the less expensive regular folders to help voters shield their ballots from prying eyes.

It has ordered an investigation of the case.

In a statement, Pangilinan cited two other controversial cases in which Tolentino had alleged involvement—the “scandalous” Mega-Pacific consortium and his “puzzling refusal to purge zombie registrants.”

“And his name figures prominently in this recent fiasco regarding the P700 million folders,” the senator said.

Mega-Pacific won the P1.2-billion contract to supply counting machines for the 2004 elections. The Supreme Court nullified the contract, but the Comelec had already paid the company a huge amount for the machines which remain unused.

Pangilinan said it was a wonder why Tolentino was still with the Comelec.

“Too much is at stake for our country to entrust its hope for a better future in inept leadership within the Comelec. This is precisely the kind of corruption that we’d like to put an end to after the elections. Let’s start now. Tolentino should resign. Our people deserve better,” Pangilinan said.

He said the Comelec could not afford to have lapses of judgment “this late and crucial part in the ball game.”

“The Comelec’s handling of the country’s first ever automated election leaves a lot to be desired based on what we’ve seen and heard. The last thing the Commission needs is to be embroiled in a graft and corruption controversy,” Pangilinan said.

The Comelec should also disclose the amount it had paid for other election paraphernalia, according to Renato Reyes of the election watchdog group Kontra Daya.

Reyes said the poll body might have bought overpriced items in the past based on the reasons that one of its officials gave for the initial approval of the purchase of the secrecy folders.

Reyes said the statement of the BAC chair that the P380 price tag was “reasonable,” because the Comelec had bought P320 binders in the past, just exposed its penchant for buying costly items.

Alarkon had noted that the binders were half the size of the ballot secrecy folders, and that P380 was the median price.

“This shows that the overpricing of paraphernalia has been going on for a long time under the nose of the Comelec,” Reyes said.

In the interest of transparency, the Comelec should also disclose how much it is paying or will be paying for other election paraphernalia, such as the indelible ink, ballots and ballot boxes, Reyes said.

The Comelec’s citizens’ arm, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), said there should be a thorough probe of the processes that led to the initial decision to buy the expensive secrecy folders.

“Each resolution and each recommendation of the different departments must be examined very well because it could have been an oversight, but still the fact is it will cost the government so much,” PPCRV chair Henrietta de Villa said in an interview over Radio Veritas.

De Villa also said reports that there was incomplete staff work on the documents for the purchase of the folders should also be looked into.

“Any kind of staff work must always be efficient and complete. The commissioners, they rely on the work of the staff that when it’s presented to them it has already been fully prepared and scrutinized,” she said.

Malacañang said it would monitor the result of the investigation by the Comelec.

“Let us not distrust the Comelec just because of this issue. There are bigger issues that the Comelec is attending to and I think they’re doing very well,” Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza told reporters. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño

Millionaires to represent ‘balut’ vendors in House

Millionaires to represent ‘balut’ vendors in House
By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—They properly belong to the party set, not to a party-list representing a so-called marginalized sector.

Among the nominees of Ang Kasangga, the party-list group of First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo’s sister, are multimillionaires and influential people, not balut vendors and other micro-entrepreneurs, administration critics said yesterday.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said the first two nominees of Ang Kasangga—Teodorico T. Haresco and Eugenio V. Lacson—are multimillionaires linked to the Arroyo administration.

“They do not fall within the category of micro-entrepreneurs,” he said.

“The law and Commission on Elections guidelines are clear: A party-list nominee must not only be an advocate of the sector it is representing,” Bayan and the poll watchdog Kontra Daya said in a joint statement.

“The nominee must belong to the marginalized sector,” it said.

In its website, Ang Kasangga claims it represents micro-entrepreneurs.

In the House of Representatives, it is represented by Maria Lourdes Arroyo, sister of the First Gentleman.

Her “entry into Congress drew heavy criticism because it was alleged she did not represent small business. It was during this period that Ang Kasangga defended her, saying she represented small businessmen, including balut vendors,” noted Reyes.

The party-list group defines micro-entrepreneurs as “those with individual capital of P3 million and below.”

‘Bridges to nowhere’

“If Ang Kasangga’s nominees are allowed to stand as nominees, what will prevent big business interests to seek or even buy a seat in Congress in the future?” said Reyes.

Haresco is a member of the board of directors of the state-run Philippine National Oil Co., said Reyes. He was reportedly involved in the President’s controversial Bridge Program which has drawn criticism for allegedly being the “bridges to nowhere.”

Among many other things, Haresco is chair and chief executive officer of Winace Holdings Philippines, which is involved in the acquisition and sale of stocks, bonds and investment securities, Reyes said.

Lacson is a three-term city mayor and is ranked No. 79 among the top 100 stockholders of Fidelity Stock Transfers Inc. Others in the list are businessman Luciano Tan and several members of the Ortigas and Villonco families, all of whom are not considered micro-entrepreneurs, Reyes also said.

Lacson was being considered by the administration party Lakas-Kampi-CMD as a vice gubernatorial candidate in Negros Occidental for the May elections before he decided to run under the party-list system.

Arroyo-linked groups

There are at least 14 other party-list groups with links to the Arroyo administration, according to Reyes:

• Ang Galing Pinoy, whose first nominee is Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo. The group’s other nominees are Mayor Dennis Pineda of Lubao, Pampanga, and Mayor Romeo Dungca of Bacolor, Pampanga. The party, formerly known as Guardians Anti-Crime, Pro-People Organization, claims to represent security guards, tricycle drivers and vendors.

• 1-Utak, party-list of the transport sector, whose nominees include former Energy Secretary Angelo T. Reyes and lawyer Vigor Mendoza, ex-official of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.

• Batang Iwas Droga, BIDA, which says in its website it was the “brainchild” of Efraim Genuino, chair of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor). Its nominees include Efraim’s daughter Sheryl Genuino-See; businessman Johnny Tan and Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio, currently a nominee for the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

• Kabayan, which claims to represent transport sector workers, farmers and fisherfolk, persons with disabilities, senior citizens, anticrime crusaders, and overseas Filipino workers, among others. Its nominees include Ron Salo, former subordinate of ex-Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

• Pacyaw, which claims to represent urban poor youth, has tourism assistant secretary Janet Rita Lazatin and former consul Reynaldo Pineda as nominees.

“Also in the list are Association of Labor and Employees, Abot Tanaw, APO 1, Bantay True Marcos Loyalists, Aangat Tayo, Abono, Abante Tribung Makabansa, Alliance of People’s Organizations, and Anad, an “anticommunist group believed to be supported by the Armed Forces,” Reyes added.

Comelec: Mikey can run

Comelec: Mikey can run
By Mayen Jaymalin
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Despite the controversy over government-backed party-list groups, there is no reason to disqualify Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo from the party-list race, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said yesterday.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said President Arroyo’s eldest son has served as a representative in Congress and is competent to become a nominee of the party-list group Ang Galing Pinoy (AGP).

“He (Arroyo) is qualified to be a member of Congress,” Melo said, noting that his decision to give way to his mother in the congressional race in the second district of Pampanga could not be a basis for disqualification.

The young Arroyo, incumbent representative of the province’s second district, is the number one nominee of AGP while the group’s second nominee is Dennis Pineda, outgoing mayor of Lubao, Pampanga. Pineda is the son of alleged jueteng lord Bong Pineda.

The President is running for representative of Pampanga’s second district after Mikey gave way to her.

Melo explained that the law does not require a sectoral representative to be a member of that specific marginalized sector.

“For example, a group of tricycle drivers need not be represented by a tricycle driver. They can be represented by operators or advocates,” Melo pointed out.

“No offense, but a tricycle driver, who probably has not completed elementary or high school education, may not be able to represent the interest of their group in Congress,” Melo added.

He lamented that the voters have become personality-oriented in choosing their candidates.

“Sometimes, we are against a certain person not because he is not qualified, but only because of things he said or did,” Melo stressed.

Melo said he is personally in favor of allowing qualified people to be nominees of party-list organizations.

Melo admitted that there are some people in the administration that might be using the party-list system as a backdoor to enter Congress, adding that it had happened in the past.

He said the government-backed party, which he declined to identify, was eventually disqualified from the party-list elections.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) asked the Comelec to disqualify Arroyo as a party-list nominee.

Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. said if the Comelec accepts Arroyo’s nomination, it “will be a serious test of the credibility of the poll body.”

“The inclusion of Mikey Arroyo as the first nominee of party-list group Ang Galing Pinoy marks a new low for the party-list system. We maintain that Mikey Arroyo is not eligible to become a party-list nominee,” he added.

Reyes claimed that Arroyo does not come from the ranks of the marginalized, thus violating the party-list system.

Comelec drafts party-list guidelines

Melo said the Comelec is now drafting guidelines in the selection of party-list nominees but it would still be difficult to screen the organizations and their nominees.

“Those who completed three terms, but would try to seek a congressional seat through the party-list, will definitely be disqualified, but other than that there is really no hard and fast rules,” Melo explained.

Melo said the Comelec is expected to come out with the guidelines by next week and seek written comment from sectors concerned.

But in the absence of strict regulations, Melo said, the Comelec is allowing the voters to make the proper choice.

Liberal Party presidential candidate Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III urged the Comelec to adopt tighter rules on the party-list nominees.

Aquino said Rep. Arroyo obviously does not belong to the marginalized sector based on his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

Aside from Mikey, his mother President Arroyo and brother Dato are also seeking seats in the House of Representatives. Mrs. Arroyo’s second son Dato is seeking to represent the newly created second district of Camarines Sur.

Aquino expressed hopes the Supreme Court would act on his petition to nullify the creation of the new district in Camarines Sur due to the violation of the population requirement.

“The party-list system is reserved for marginalized sectors, which are not represented. If he (Mikey) were going to represent the security guards, we must remember that he had been a congressman for sometime now, but I never heard him become part of that industry. I can’t understand why he has to be the representative of that group,” Aquino said.

He said it must also be established first whether security guards were being abused in terms of salaries and number of working hours so as to be considered marginalized.

Malacañang appealed to its critics not to single out the Arroyo family on the issue of political dynasties.

Presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo emphasized that a lot of political families have multiple representatives in Congress and so the President’s family should not be the sole target of criticism.

Saludo pointed out that there is nothing illegal about having more than one family member in Congress.

Criticisms about the President and her family being part of a political dynasty recently came up following the disclosure that Mikey Arroyo is the principal nominee of the AGP party-list for Congress.

Other members of the Arroyo family seeking reelection in Congress are Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio Arroyo, the brother-in-law of the President; Maria Lourdes Arroyo, the sister of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, again as nominee of Kasangga party-list.

If they all succeed in their respective bids, there would be five members of the Arroyo clan in Congress.

Former President Joseph Estrada expressed dismay over the abuse of the party-list system.

Estrada, presidential bet of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), said the objective of the party-list system to ensure that the marginalized sectors would have a voice in the House of Representatives enshrined under the 1987 Constitution has been consistently violated.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay expressed support for the Comelec’s move to impose stringent guidelines and disqualify party-list nominees who are exploiting the system to earn House seats.

Binay, PMP vice presidential bet, said the Comelec should ensure that party-list nominees belong to marginalized sectors and “do not own plush houses in Pampanga and California, splurge on horse races and feast on Black Angus steaks.”

“How in heaven’s name can Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo represent the poor and dispossessed security guards? Or why would Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes qualify as a representative of harried bus and jeepney drivers long burdened by frequent oil price increases that Reyes himself had been justifying?” Binay asked.

Liberal Party senatorial candidate Rep. Risa Hontiveros accused the Arroyo family of exploiting and insulting the party-list system to benefit the clan.

“The Arroyos and their allies are using the party-list system to populate Congress with GMA-friendly legislators. They want to make a GMA-voting bloc in Congress,” Hontiveros said.

The labor party-list group Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) announced that the party would file disqualification cases against alleged bogus party-list groups once the Comelec officially releases the list of nominees on March 27.   With Michael Punongbayan, Sheila Crisostomo, Aurea Calica, Jose Rodel Clapano, Marvin Sy

‘Emperor’ as AFP chief raises fears of poll fraud

‘Emperor’ as AFP chief raises fears of poll fraud
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Members of both sides of the political spectrum are antsy over President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s appointment of the “Emperor” as Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff.

Retired Maj. Gen. Ramon Montaño Tuesday said ex-officers like himself who were “in touch with the still idealistic elements” of the military were apprehensive that the AFP under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Delfin Bangit would “again be used to frustrate the people’s will.”

In the 2004 presidential election, Ms Arroyo “skillfully used her cabal of blindly loyal military officers and political running dogs to destroy the political opposition,” according to Montaño.

It was a reference to the purported involvement of ranking military officers in ensuring Ms Arroyo’s victory over her then rival, actor Fernando Poe Jr., as revealed in the “Hello Garci” tapes.

The tapes contained supposed conversations between Ms Arroyo and then Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano during the counting of the votes, for which the President later apologized.

“We pray that this desperate plot of this administration to cling to power shall be stopped by the might of the Filipino people and the idealistic, honorable members of the AFP,” Montaño said in a statement.

Avid loyalty

Presidential candidates Benigno Aquino III (Liberal Party) and Joseph Estrada (Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino) also expressed dismay at Bangit’s appointment.

“We were hopeful that [Ms Arroyo] would be magnanimous in her exit from power by appointing someone who is beyond reproach. But she chose someone who is avidly loyal to her,” Aquino said in a phone interview.

Aquino said Bangit’s appointment had sent alarm bells ringing over the military’s role in the May elections considering that Ms Arroyo had not fully explained the “Hello Garci” scandal in 2004 and the 12-0 score in Maguindanao in favor of administration senatorial candidates in 2007.

He said that he expected the President, in another controversial move, to name the replacement of Chief Justice Reynato Puno with or without a nomination from the Judicial and Bar Council. (Puno retires on May 17.)

From Davao City, Estrada said Bangit was more loyal to Ms Arroyo than to the Constitution.

“The bottom line is that he’s a true-blooded man of GMA. He’ll risk his life for GMA,” Estrada said by phone, adding:

“There are rumors that General Bangit and his men would be used to manipulate the outcome of the elections. It’s a recipe for unrest. [But] let’s give Bangit a chance to disprove all the allegations against him.”

In case of power vacuum

Through its secretary general Renato Reyes, the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said Bangit’s appointment as AFP chief of staff “creates greater uncertainties” for the May elections.

“The biggest question in Bangit’s appointment is his perceived closeness to the President, which, in the event of a failure of elections, may be useful in keeping Ms Arroyo in power indefinitely. He may be [Ms] Arroyo’s ace up her sleeve should there be a power vacuum,” Bayan said in a statement.

It said Bangit had yet to show whether his loyalties lay with the Constitution or with Ms Arroyo, “his adopted classmate” in the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).

Suspect appointments

Bangit is to take over from Gen. Victor Ibrado, who turns 56, the mandatory retirement age for the military, on Wednesday.

But activist priest Fr. Jose Dizon, a convenor of the election watchdog Kontra Daya, said Bangit’s appointment could bring about a reprise of the “Hello Garci” election fraud controversy.

Bayan said the uproar over Bangit’s appointment could have been avoided had Ms Arroyo let her successor choose the next AFP chief of staff.

“All of Ms Arroyo’s appointments at this point are suspect. No one trusts her. No one believes she will quietly step down when her term ends [in June]. Everything she is doing is for political survival beyond 2010,” it said.

Bayan said Bangit, who had variously headed the Intelligence Service of the AFP and the Presidential Security Group, should issue “a categorical statement” that in the event of a failure of elections, he would “not move to install Ms Arroyo in power indefinitely.”

“He should pledge to uphold civilian supremacy and he should not let the military stop peaceful mass protest actions,” it said.

Bayan also said that as AFP chief of staff, Bangit should uphold human rights, especially in relation to the 43 health workers detained at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, since early last month.

Professional soldier

Malacañang took pains to douse the uproar.

In his first news briefing at the Palace, Leandro Mendoza, the newly named executive secretary, said Bangit was a “very professional soldier” loyal only to the Constitution and the people.

Mendoza, a PMA graduate who once served as director general of the Philippine National Police, assured reporters that the military was “a professional organization.”

“Once you’re appointed, your focus is not personal anymore. [It’s] not on the appointing authority anymore but, particularly, on your institution,” he said.

Press Secretary Crispulo Icban went on RMN radio to dismiss fears that the administration would use Bangit to help its presidential candidate win in May.

“Those are just fears … And the President has shown that she is not active in the presidential election and is just focused on her candidacy [for representative of the second district of Pampanga],” the press secretary said.

According to Icban, Ms Arroyo chose Bangit over other candidates for AFP chief of staff because he met the criteria that included loyalty and trust.

“And he has shown that he is a good general,” Icban said.

No restless soldiers

The AFP itself, through its spokesperson Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, downplayed rumors that Bangit’s appointment was intended to disrupt the elections.

“We want to tell the public that there is no need to worry about the designation of General Bangit as the next chief of staff,” Brawner told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo, the AFP’s general headquarters in Quezon City.

“The AFP is a professional organization,” Brawner said, adding that even Ibrado was confident of Bangit’s abilities as military officer.

Brawner said that during the Army’s testimonial parade for Ibrado at Fort Bonifacio on Monday, Bangit himself declared that he would be “nonpartisan.”

“He vowed that the AFP will not be used to protect the interest of some groups, or for any [kind of] cheating in the elections,” Brawner said.

Mendoza said he saw “no connection” between Bangit and speculation of rigging in the May elections.

But he pointed out that the military should play a “very important” role in elections, particularly in providing security in areas “where government is scarce,” to ensure the success of the polls.

He also said talk that Bangit’s assumption to the top AFP post would generate unrest among the soldiers was “not an issue.”

Arroyo’s prerogative

Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Manuel Villar acknowledged that it was Ms Arroyo’s prerogative to appoint the AFP chief of staff even in the waning days of her presidency.

“I really don’t know [Bangit] that well. But I understand that in our system of government, it’s the President that makes the appointment, and I understand that that is consistent with our laws,” Villar said in Filipino at a press conference in Davao City.

“So how can we [oppose Bangit’s appointment]? We can’t assume that it’s not proper [on the mere assumption] that he will create chaos,” Villar said.

He said he had his “personal choices” for the post, but did not name them.

“I always sleep soundly regardless of whoever is the AFP chief of staff,” he said.

Villar also said what was crucial for the nation was for the AFP chief of staff and all citizens to “safeguard the institutions of democracy at all times.” Reports from Fe Zamora, Alcuin Papa, Leila B. Salaverria, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Christine O. Avendaño, Norman Bordadora, Marlon Ramos, Michael Lim Ubac and TJ Burgonio