YEARENDER: BANNER YEAR FOR COA WITH EXPLOSIVE 'PORK' SCAM REPORT

From a rather dull government office, the Commission on Audit (COA) served notice in 2013 with its explosive pork barrel fund scam report last August. Pulido-Tan hinted COA is not yet done with its investigation particularly on the Malampaya Fund scam. This was after the release of its first special audit report on how the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) gave some P900 million in government money again to bogus NGOs in 2009. She said more will be revealed in 2014. It was in July that Morales first created a panel to investigate pork barrel scam and directed the indictment of former PNP officials in the light armored vehicles repair anomaly as more cases were decided while the Sandiganbayan secured more convictions from August to December 2013.

ALSO: YEARENDER: PNP faces the good, the bad and the ugly in 2013

It was a roller-coaster ride for the Philippine National Police (PNP) in 2013 as it had to deal with abusive and incompetent members and bask in public adulation at the same time for achievements including its role in assisting victims of recent disasters. “The performance of the police force in 2013 is good. We have done so many things (in terms of) transformation programs,” said PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima. He said the police force remains committed to improving the peace and order situation in the country this year.

ALSO: YEARENDER: Midterm polls fortify success of first automated elections

This year’s May 13 elections fortified the success of the country’s first automated elections three years ago. “There were improvements in 2013. While the 2010 elections was already a qualified success, the 2013 elections, while it is not perfect, is actually more than improvement,” Brillantes said. While there were still some glitches, particularly on the transmission of electronic results, Brillantes said people hardly contested the results, pointing out that there were a few electoral cases filed with the Comelec unlike in the past. And for the first time, there was no failure of elections declared in any area in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in the May elections. The region has been tagged as the “cheating capital of the Philippines” primarily because of violence and coercion during elections.


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YEARENDER: Banner year for COA with explosive ‘pork’ scam report


COA chief Ma. Gracia Pulido-Tan holds the audit report on the pork barrel scam at a press conference in August. BOY SANTOS

MANILA,
DECEMBER 30, 2013
(PHILSTAR) By Michael Punongbayan - From a rather dull government office, the Commission on Audit (COA) served notice in 2013 with its explosive pork barrel fund scam report last August.

Its findings, coupled with other events and exposes in relation to how hundreds of millions in public funds were pocketed by lawmakers and bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) from 2007 to 2009 eventually led the Supreme Court to declare as unconstitutional the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers three months later.

The results of state auditor’s investigation as revealed by COA chief Ma. Gracia Pulido-Tan herself showed how the people’s money was misused and stolen.

Her “kahindik-hindik”(gross) description of the system caused a ripple effect of mass protests and actions, taking the fight against graft and corruption in government and the advocacy for transparency to new heights.

Lawmakers led by no less than former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. were eventually charged for plunder before the Office of the Ombudsman along with other ranking government officials now in danger of being indicted before the Sandiganbayan for serious offenses.

Looking back, Pulido-Tan said 2013 was a banner year for COA, “in the sense that all the things that we were able to do had an impact on the people and the country which is probably how it actually should be.”

She said the country’s supreme audit institution is no longer a body that just reports without anything happening, which is why state auditors are now more inspired in doing their jobs.

Asked about how she apparently made a lot of enemies, Pulido-Tan told that she is not looking for enemies and is not one who wants to make enemies.

“If there is anyone who hates us for doing our job, we could do nothing about that. I mean it’s part of the job. I don’t take things like this personally,” Pulido-Tan said.

“I don’t want to call them enemies, they’re not enemies. It’s just part of the job,” she said.

Pulido-Tan stressed COA simply wanted to make things right in the matter of how the people’s money is being spent.

As for next year, Pulido-Tan vowed to continue the work “as relentlessly, as courageously and competently.”

Asked if she ever thought that she should have not accepted the task, Pulido-Tan said she did talk about how her life “would have been so much more quiet and peaceful.”

“I would have been anonymous and ordinary but at same time... and maybe the reason why I am here is to see to it that if there are things like this happening, I will have to report them. Maybe this job is the cross that I have to carry and bear to Calvary. But it’s okay,” she said.

On being called one of President Aquino’s three “furies” along with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Pulido-Tan said it’s just a label.

“What is important to us is that we were given the opportunity, we did the best we can, it made an impact, the public support was with us and I’m very thankful for that, and I hope the public would still support us,” she said.

Pulido-Tan hinted COA is not yet done with its investigation particularly on the Malampaya Fund scam.

This was after the release of its first special audit report on how the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) gave some P900 million in government money again to bogus NGOs in 2009. She said more will be revealed in 2014.

According to Pulido-Tan, the first report is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg since other government agencies are being probed for what could be a P30-billion anomaly insofar as the amounts involved are concerned.

“Hopefully we could finish it this 2014,” she said.

Pulido-Tan revealed the DAR report is just a drop in the bucket and state auditors are doing their best to complete their probe.

Whether she will make even more enemies next year, Pulido-Tan assured it’s just part of the job and nothing personal.

“I have always endeavored to be fair in all my dealings with anyone and as far as the COA is concerned, we go by the records, we go by what we see. I am a lawyer by training and experience so what is important to me is what evidence do we have,” she said.

Indications

Body language and the little bit of information from Ombudsman Morales indicated she would pursue the filing of cases against the three senators next year.

With only a few days left in 2013, all are kept waiting anxiously for the results of the preliminary investigation that will determine if Senators Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla will join the ranks of high-ranking government officials facing plunder charges in their alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam.

Morales shared the information before the public since the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed the complaints in September this year.

The issue of how lawmakers and officials of government agencies allegedly conspired with non-government organizations (NGOs) linked to businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles was one of the biggest stories to hit the headlines this year.

And after all the noise, it is now up to Morales to decide on whether she will make history by sending three incumbent members of the Senate to jail where they will be held without bail.

The retired Supreme Court magistrate still kept her distance from the media in 2013 but occasionally granted quick interviews and answered questions in public forums.

In a talk before a roomful of foreign and local businessmen at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City shortly after plunder charges were lodged against the three senators, Morales willingly let the audience in on how she was surprised at the evidence she now has.

“I had a field day going over the first batch of documentary evidence submitted by the NBI and I assure you, you’ll be in for a surprise, it’s going to take much less,” she declared, referring to how soon the preliminary probe will be completed.

In a recent and rare television appearance, Morales admitted to Winnie Monsod’s Bawal ang Pasaway public affairs program that she spent millions of her intelligence funds for the investigation.

Based on her little hints, media expected the Office of the Ombudsman to announce the results of its pork barrel fund scam probe before 2013 ends but the public will apparently have to wait until 2014.

The anti-graft agency also had its hands full handling other big cases this year starting with an order to file graft cases against three officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) along with charges of homicide and obstruction of justice against a mayor in Sulu in January.

In February, Morales directed the filing of criminal charges and administrative sanctions against 11 ranking officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) over the purchase of rubber boats.

The Ombudsman also found former Cebu governor Gwendolyn Garcia guilty of grave misconduct for a land deal.

The following month, the Ombudsman announced the arrest of a former employee of Bureau of Internal Revenue for extortion, suspended one of its own employees for unlawful disclosure of confidential information and preparing fake resolutions, and ordered the filing of graft and malversation charges against former officials of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.

In April, 11 counts of perjury were filed against former military comptroller Jacinto Ligot and charges were ordered filed against former PNP officials for their alleged involvement in the so-called Euro generals scandal.

The Office of the Ombudsman somehow became occupied with its anniversary month activities in May but in June it continued the fight against graft and found a former deputy ombudsman liable for tampering with official documents.

It was in July that Morales first created a panel to investigate pork barrel scam and directed the indictment of former PNP officials in the light armored vehicles repair anomaly as more cases were decided while the Sandiganbayan secured more convictions from August to December 2013.

YEARENDER: PNP faces the good, the bad and the ugly in 2013 By Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 30, 2013 - 12:00am 0 1 googleplus0 0


Police inspect the bullet-riddled vehicles in Atimonan, Quezon where 13 men were gunned down by police in January. AP

MANILA, Philippines - It was a roller-coaster ride for the Philippine National Police (PNP) in 2013 as it had to deal with abusive and incompetent members and bask in public adulation at the same time for achievements including its role in assisting victims of recent disasters.

“The performance of the police force in 2013 is good. We have done so many things (in terms of) transformation programs,” said PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima. He said the police force remains committed to improving the peace and order situation in the country this year.

The PNP chief is spearheading a transformation program in the police force dubbed Serbisyong Makatotohanan (true service).

The past year began on a bloody note when a stray bullet hit and killed seven-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella in Caloocan City. The victim and her family were outside their home watching the New Year’s Eve revelry when a bullet from nowhere hit Nicole. The shooter remains unidentified.

A week later on Jan. 6 in Atimonan in Quezon, 13 men lay dead after a reported shootout with policemen. The incident was initially thought to be an accomplishment for the PNP against guns-for-hire.

But after an autopsy on the victims’ corpses, it became clear that only one of them had managed to shoot back at the group of policemen and military personnel. Authorities would later rule the incident a “rubout.”

Investigation would later show that Superintendent Hansel Marantan, the head of the police operation, had planned the incident to eliminate Vic Siman, an emerging rival in the illegal gambling business. Marantan insisted it was “a legitimate police operation.”

Another group of policemen raided the house of Siman’s aide, who ended up dead in San Juan, Batangas a few days after the Atimonan rubout.

Purisima relieved all police officers involved in the incidents. The Department of Justice (DOJ) recommended the filing of multiple murder charges against the suspects.

In the middle of the year, police recaptured Ozamiz robbery group leader Ricky “Kambal” Cadavero and his trusted aide Wilfredo “Kulot” Panogalinga Jr. Both Cadavero and Panogalinga were jail escapees tagged in numerous robbery cases and assassinations.

The two were said to have helped Chinese drug lords Wang Li Na (alias Jackson Dy), his wife Li Lan Yan, and Li Tian Hua escape from detention in Cavite.

After his recapture, police said Cadavero helped recapture the Chinese couple in their hideout in San Juan.

Cadavero and Panogalinga were later killed by policemen after allegedly trying to escape while on their way back to jail after an inquest.

The recapture of Jackson Dy and his wife also took another twist after arresting officers were accused of pocketing some 80 kilos of shabu and P20 million in cash from the couple.

While the PNP was busy with the Cadavero case, a blast rocked a commercial center in Cagayan de Oro City, killing eight and wounding 40 others.

Further tarnishing the image of the PNP were more reports of policemen in Metro Manila getting involved in extortion, robbery, rape and named protectors of criminals.

As if the negative reports were not enough, a survey conducted recently by Transparency International showed that a majority of Filipinos perceived policemen as the most corrupt in the government.

In the face of criticism, Purisima said they remain committed to transforming the police force into capable, efficient and effective public servants.

“We sympathize with the victims and their families but along with our sympathies is our strong condemnation and concrete action to bring the perpetrators to justice and prevent these attackers from striking again,” Purisima said in a press conference.

Purisima said he understands the public’s frustration but that he won’t hesitate to punish scalawags. The PNP chief said he had relieved 56 policemen involved in crimes to prove PNP’s commitment to weed its ranks of misfits.

The PNP chief also ordered the relief of almost 40 police chiefs for under reporting crime statistics. Doctoring police blotters, he said, is an attack on PNP’s “Serbisyong Makatotohanan” commitment.

“They should not be imitated by other policemen,” the PNP chief said of erring officers.

Purisima’s resolve to purge the PNP of scalawags was acknowledged by no less than President Aquino in his State of the Nation Address.

“We know what happened to the Ozamiz robbery gang leaders who were caught, only to be killed. As with our investigation of the Atimonan massacre, we will ensure that those at fault will be held accountable – regardless of their rank,” Aquino said. “Whoever masterminded all of this: prepare yourselves. I am close to learning who you are.”

Heroes

Despite the bad press, the PNP has enough heroes in its ranks to boost the morale of its members. Aquino cited three of them in his SONA last July.

One of those cited in Aquino’s speech was policewoman Police Officer 3 Edlyn Arbo who bravely fought and arrested a jeepney robber in April, despite having wounds in the leg and hand. Another police officer, PO3 Felipe Moncatar, was cited for arresting several criminals despite not being issued a service firearm. He was relying for protection on a used 9mm pistol that he bought.

Police Officer 2 Dondon Sultan was cited for assisting a motorist in distress and turning down a P1,000 “thank-you gift.”

President Aquino said the three cops were proof that honest and capable policemen were not an endangered species. He instructed Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to ensure that those in the uniformed services like Arbo, Moncatar, and Sultan reap just rewards.

With much expected from police officers, the PNP leadership said it is striving to give them needed equipment, training and benefits.

In June, President Aquino personally led the distribution of 74,879 brand new units of 9mm Glock 17 Generation 4 pistols to policemen. Purisima said the delivery of the weapons was completed in December.

The PNP, meanwhile, drew plaudits for the generally peaceful local and national elections in May and the barangay elections in October.

In the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda, many policemen from Metro Manila and nearby provinces were deployed to Visayas to help maintain peace and order.

The PNP has also initiated a program to help police officers affected by Yolanda to get back on their feet.

The President had also ordered the immediate completion of housing projects for policemen and soldiers as government’s way of thanking them for their service.

Purisima said he would use social media to get feedback from the people on what should be improved in the PNP.

“We are negotiating with network providers to be able to get a hotline for every region. The people can send us messages through email, Facebook, and Twitter,” he said.

Last year, the PNP initiated its CODE-P which stands for competence, organization development, discipline, excellence and professionalism in the police force.

The CODE-P program was meant to establish a credible, efficient, effective and capable police force.

Purisima reiterated his call to the public to help the police force in promoting peace in the community by reporting even petty crimes like snatching and pickpockets.

“I appeal to the Filipino people to renew our tried and tested partnership to fight this evil. Community involvement is essential in the fight against crime. Your information is essential no matter how small it is,” Purisima said.

YEARENDER: Midterm polls fortify success of first automated elections By Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 30, 2013 - 12:00am 0 0 googleplus0 0


Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said the May 13 elections proved the success of the 2010 polls was not a fluke.

MANILA, Philippines - This year’s May 13 elections fortified the success of the country’s first automated elections three years ago.

“There were improvements in 2013. While the 2010 elections was already a qualified success, the 2013 elections, while it is not perfect, is actually more than improvement,” Brillantes said.

While there were still some glitches, particularly on the transmission of electronic results, Brillantes said people hardly contested the results, pointing out that there were a few electoral cases filed with the Comelec unlike in the past.

And for the first time, there was no failure of elections declared in any area in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in the May elections. The region has been tagged as the “cheating capital of the Philippines” primarily because of violence and coercion during elections.

“That has never happened in the history of the Philippines. It’s the first time for us,” he said.

This early, the Comelec is preparing for the presidential elections in 2016.

“Our target now is 2016. We want to improve the system even further so we’ll be starting with the preparation this early,” Brillantes said.

Reforms

In the May elections, the Comelec had attempted to institute reforms, particularly on campaign finance rules.

For one, the Comelec tried to stop the age-old problem on vote-buying during elections by issuing Resolution No. 9688 which was to imposed the so-called “money ban” on some bank transactions.

The Comelec banned the “withdrawal of cash, encashment of checks and conversion of any monetary instruments into cash” exceeding P100,000 or its equivalent in foreign currency per day starting May 8 until election day on May 13.

The poll body also prohibited the “possession, transportation and/or carrying” of more than P500,000 in cash or its equivalent in foreign currency during the election period.

The Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) assailed the poll resolution, saying it was unconstitutional.

BAP asked and succeeded in getting the Supreme Court (SC) to issue a status quo order on the resolution.

Brillantes said the “money ban” would be the best way to combat vote-buying, which, the Comelec believed, would become more rampant with the automated elections.

“Experience wise, we never prosecuted a single vote buying incident in this country. It has been going on, it has been rampant... because it was the only way, plus intimidation, that could not be controlled by automation,” he said.

Comelec’s efforts to purge the party-list system of bogus groups also suffered another blow from the SC this year when the high tribunal had overturned the poll body’s resolution in disqualifying the Senior Citizens party-list group.

The high court said the term-sharing agreement, which was used as basis by the Comelec in disqualifying Senior Citizens, was never implemented, therefore there was “no violation of an election law, rule or regulation to speak of.”

Senior Citizens had obtained 677,642 votes in the elections or 2.38 percent of the total party-list votes and ranked 10th overall. It will get two seats at the House of Representatives.

Campaign finances

The Comelec also tried to tighten its grip on the campaign finances of candidates by issuing a resolution that sets the prescribed form of the Statement of Contribution and Expenditures (SOCE) whose filing is required under Republic Act 7166 or the Synchronized Elections Law of 1991.

With this, Comelec thought it would be easier for candidates to comply with the law because the guidelines had been simplified.

The poll body formed the Campaign Finance Unit (CFU), headed by Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, to strictly scrutinize the SOCE filed by candidates.

CFU was tasked not only to see who among the candidates failed to file their SOCEs on time and in appropriate forms.

According to Comelec Commissioner Lucenito Tagle, they are now working to institutionalize CFU at the poll body to make sure that even after the present Comelec leadership retires, this will be sustained.

Tagle, however, underscored the need to amend RA 7166 prescribing the “authorized expenses of candidates and political parties” during the campaign.

A provision of the law states that candidates for president and vice president are allowed to spend P10 for every voter while other bets can spend up to P3 for every voter in the constituency where they filed their certificates of candidacy. A candidate without any political party is authorized to spend P4 for every such voter.

Political parties, on the other hand, can spend P5 for every voter currently registered in the constituency or constituencies where it has official candidates.

“The amount is really not realistic anymore. Unless the law is amended, I don’t think any candidate can,” he added.

Campaign overspenders

This year also saw Comelec’s First Division to disqualify Laguna Gov. Emilio Ramon “E.R.” Ejercito for campaign overspending, the highest elected official to be sanctioned for this violation.

Comelec records showed Ejercito had used up more than P20 million during the campaign while he was allowed to spend only P4.5 million.

Brillantes said this goes to prove that the poll body is serious when it warned candidates against violating the campaign spending limits. Ejercito, for his part, filed a motion for reconsideration with the Comelec.

Ejercito’s disqualification, however, stemmed from a petition filed by his political rival, Edgar San Luis. It was not a result of the ongoing audit being done by the Comelec on the SOCEs.

The barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan

On Oct. 28, the Comelec conducted the elections for the barangay only, not including the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) following the enactment of a law postponing the electoral exercise to Feb. 23, 2015.

Brillantes said this would also allow Congress to study if “the country can do without SK.”

The Comelec believes that SK had not achieved its goal of training the youth on governance and leadership.

The SK became a breeding ground for political dynasties as many SK candidates were sons and daughters of barangay and local officials.

It is also believed that SK only exposed the youth to the way regular politicians have been mishandling their funds.

SK was an offshoot of the Kabataang Barangay (KB) that was abolished by the Local Government Code in 1991. KB was formed in 1975 during the Marcos administration.

SOCE violators

Only a few weeks before the year ends, Comelec made a bang when it ordered 422 officials elected in May to vacate their posts for failing to meet SOCE requirements. They are composed of 20 congressmen, four governors and 398 local officials.

Most notable in the list are former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo, Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto, Ilocos Sur. Gov. Ryan Luis Singson, Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino Jr. and Ejercito.

The 422 officials either failed to file their SOCE within the deadline or were not in prescribed forms like they were not signed personally.

The Comelec maintained the officials are considered not to have validly assumed office so they should vacate their posts unless they have corrected or rectified their SOCEs.

Brillantes said they decided to come up with the list to prove that the Comelec was serious in implementing election laws and policies.

“These policies have long been existing but they were not implemented strictly. What we want the people to know is that they cannot disregard the law, that is our important message,” he added.

The Comelec is now doing an audit of the SOCE filed primarily by winners in the elections and it will come up with the list of those who violated the campaign limit caps.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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