, AUGUST 4, 2007 (TRIBUNE) By Sherwin C. Olaes - Seven out of 10 Filipinos, or 71 percent, gave President Arroyo a failing grade in her anti-corruption efforts, according to the latest Ibon survey. Only 15.5 percent gave her passing marks.

From the survey conducted last month, the Ibon nationwide research said some 71 percent of respondents gave Mrs. Arroyo a failing grade when they were asked to rank her performance in combating corruption.

The record was slightly lower than the 72.7 percent recorded in July last year but substantially higher than the 61.22 percent recorded in the January 2007 survey round. A passing grade is 75 and above while a failing mark is 74 below.

Fifteen point five percent of the survey respondents gave her a passing grade in combating corruption, higher than the 14.53 percent recorded last year but lower than the 20.4 percent in January. It is also notable that the percentage of respondents who gave her performance a higher-than-passing grade fell to 7.7 percent from 9.7 percent in July 2006 and 13.9 percent in January 2007.

The July 2007 Ibon survey was conducted nationwide with 1,488 respondents to gauge the people’s perception of the

economy, their livelihood and income, government performance and other pressing issues. The survey has a margin of error of plus/ minus three percent.

But Malacañang merely shrugged off the Ibon survey saying the Office of the Ombudsman and the Presidential Anti Graft Commission (PagC) are doing a very good job.

“The PagC is doing a very good job. As a matter of fact this agency continues to send cases to the courts. You can be sure there’s no such thing as a sacred cow here in our government. We have to follow the rule of law. The correct procedure is being followed. We cannot sacrifice due process for expeditious action because we are dealing with the careers of people in the government and therefore we have to be very very careful,” said Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita in a press briefing.

Ermita however said they have not seen the Ibon survey, but stressed that they are not alarmed over the survey findings.

“We haven’t seen it (Ibon survey) but whatever be the results of such rating, I keep on telling you the President as president will just continue to undertake the things that are needed in order to deliver basic services to our people and perform and achieve the positive side of the projects that have been launched.”

Earlier, in her State of the Nation Address last July 23, Mrs. Arroyo bragged that the anti graft efforts by the government have been successful, in contrast to observation of many.

“We must weed out corruption and build a strong system of justice that the people can trust. We have provided unprecedented billions for anti-graft efforts. Thus the Ombudsman’s conviction rate hit 77 percent this year, from six percent in 2002,” she said.

This figure Mrs. Arroyo gave was challenged by a group of anti-graft watchdogs.

Senate Majority leader Francisco Pangilinan, who was present during the Sona disclosed in a television interview he doubts the accuracy of Mrs. Arroyo’s report on the percentage of the conviction rate.”I don’t believe it. I would like to see records how she (Gutierrez) came out with a conviction rate hitting 77 percent this year,” he said.

Pangilinan charged that the 77 percent conviction rate is impossible because the rating accomplished is already similar to Hong Kong, in its government drive to weed out graft and corruption.

A concerned employee of the Office of the Ombudsman, Ulysses Malaya, charged that while Gutierrez succeeded in prosecuting the small fry or petty cases, no big fish has been convicted by Gutierrez, such as her failure to act on the P3 billion fertilizer funds scam that had been funneled to Mrs. Arroyo’s campaign kitty in 2004, by Department of Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante and the $2 million under the table deal allegedly received by then Department of Justice Secretary Hernando Perez from power plant Impsa deal, among others.

For her part, Gutierrez dismissed the Truth and Accountability Network’s (TAN) findings on the country’s state of corruption, saying that these only appear to be coming from the statements of the anti-corruption group’s executive director, and not the other members of the group

TAN released its first state of corruption report on July 21, just before the President’s Sona. In its report, it said large-scale corruption was worsening under the Arroyo government.

It also gave an “orange” rating to the Office of the Ombudsman, signifying a “weak” performance based on the methodology TAN uses.

Present at the report delivery was TAN Executive Director Vincent Lazatin.

“I will not comment,” Gutierrez said, adding that she likes to determine first “whether that is the position taken by the other organizations.”

TAN is composed of several academic and non-government organizations, which include the Development Academy of the Philippines, Ateneo School of Government, among others.

“The members should be able to say whether that is their position,” Gutierrez said.

The PagC meanwhile vehemently denied allegations by anti-corruption watchdogs that the agency is not going after the “big fish” saying that the agency had already resolved a number of cases involving high ranking government officials.

Appearing before the weekly “Friday Balitaan sa Hotel Rembrandt” forum in Quezon City, PagC chairman Connie de Guzman said her agency has resolved a total of 22 high profile cases, with 37 cases pending resolution and almost 200 cases under various stages of investigation.

“Of the 22 resolved cases, 16 resulted in the dismissal of two heads of agencies, two undersecretaries, two assistant secretaries and eight regional directors,” De Guzman said.

Todate, however, De Guzman has been sitting on the Joc-Joc Bolante fertilizer fund scam.

She pledged last year that she would be probing this case and eevn vowed to resign if she finds that Mrs. Arroyo was involved in the fertilizer fund diversion scandal.

When asked about the status of this Bolante case, she and her agency panel always claim that the probe has bogged down on account of the difficulty in getting the documents from the Commission on Audit and the Local Government officials, even the complete records can be obtained in the Senate, which did the probe and submitted all the documents, certified by the CoA to the Ombudsman, who has done nothing about this case either.

The Ombudsman’s consultant on graft issues came to the defense of the government, saying that Filipinos should not put too much emphasis on recent corruption surveys that have tagged the Philippines as one of the most corrupt countries in Asia.

Tony Kwok, an anti-corruption consultant dismissed the surveys as “purely nothing.”

“The Philippines has a corruption problem. But I don’t believe that it is the worst country in Asia or worst in the world,” Kwok said, “because I have been here since 2003. I see a lot of effort in fighting corruption in this country, a lot more effort than in other countries which I visited,” he added.

In a press conference at the Office of the Ombudsman, Hongkong-based Kwok instead cited developments in the Philippine’s anti-graft and corruption drive.

“For example, you can see that the revenue collection has improved drastically,” he said, even as there has been officially mentioned a shortfall in tax collections, along with several international creditors warning the government of its inefficiency in tax collections.

In a related development, an environmental group yesterday accused former DENR Secretary Angelo Reyes of signing a US$ 1.3-million midnight deal on a controversial air pollution project just before transferring to the Department of Energy.

According to Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan PNE, the deal was signed by Reyes and Emissions Technology Inc. (ETI), a Guam-based company, pertaining to the DENR’s Ambient Air Network Project.

Bautista explained that the Ambient Air Network Project is a US$6 million project between the DENR and a joint venture between ETI and Industramach Inc. (Imach), which set up 10 air monitoring stations throughout Metro Manila meant to measure ambient air (or air outside and surrounding an air pollution source location) and pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, ozone, particulate matter and total suspended solids.

The contract amounting to US$6,163,000.00 was signed on November 26, 2002, between the ETI-Imach and former DENR Secretary Heherson Alvarez.

The project drew controversy and opposition under Reyes’ term at the DENR, when Imach officially withdrew as a partner to the ETI on Feb. 14 2005 after the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) and the DENR’s own legal departments recommended that payments to the ETI-Imach be terminated and their contract be terminated due to the latter’s failure to address technical and legal issues.

But despite the suspension of payments and recommendations to end the contract, the DENR has agreed to continue with its transactions with ETI.

Last Dec. 13, 2006, the DENR and the ETI, through a meeting with Reyes, agreed to pay to ETI more than $1,117,864.13 million worth of unsettled billings and to possibly extend the project for another year.

The move prompted Imach Managing Director Eduardo Mendoza to file a complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman on March 21, 2007, because this latest agreement was highly prejudicial to the government. With Gerry Baldo. Eric Dorente and PNA

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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