MANILA, Philippines – All is not well in the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM). In fact, something smells very bad, and it starts from the very top: from the Office of the University President and the Board of Regents.
The Commission on Audit has uncovered indications of graft and corruption, illegal disbursements of funds, overspending, illegal contracts and other anomalies. Since last year, PLM President Emeritus Jose D. Villanueva has asked the Board of Regents to investigate these anomalies uncovered by the COA. But until now, the Regents have not done so. In fact, since September 2006, when Villanueva sent that letter to the Board, the Regents have not officially met to avoid starting any investigation, hinted Villanueva.
Last May 21, Mayor Lito Atienza ordered the Board of Regents to investigate the anomalies. The failure of the Regents to meet since September 2006 “started when the President Emeritus of the University, Dr. Jose D. Villanueva, formally requested the Board to conduct investigations on a number of anomalies in PLM,” said Atienza. “This has given rise to the suspicion that the Board is not meeting to avoid conducting an investigation. Not to investigate the anomalies might be interpreted as condoning corruption in the University, considering that most, if not all, of these anomalies are based on COA findings contained in several Audit Observation Memorandums (AOM).”
Until now, no action from the Board of Regents. The City of Manila funds the PLM and the mayor appoints the university president and the members of the Board of Regents. Now that Sen. Alfredo Lim is going to replace Atienza as mayor, the ball is in his court. Faculty members say he should fire the university president, Dr. Benjamin G. Tayabas, and all the members of the Board of Regents.
The astonishing fact is that the anomalies have been going on for years, and the president emeritus and the faculty have been complaining about them, and yet no story about them has appeared in media—until now. It becomes even more astonishing when we consider that a number of working journalists are employed as professors in the university. Was there a news blackout in spite of, or because of, these journalists?
Another reason could be the alleged “vindictiveness” of Tayabas. In a letter to the PLM community, Dr. Villanueva dissociated himself from the administration of Tayabas: “I refuse to be identified with Dr. Tayabas’ vindictive rage and oppression against helpless university officials, faculty and personnel (including a humble janitor).”
But what are these anomalies exposed by the COA? Plenty. There would not be enough space in this column if we explained in detail all of them. There is space only for a very brief summary of some of them.
1. AOM 2006-012-009, Agreement between PLM and National College of Physical Education Foundation Inc. (NCPE). Illegally allowing a private institution to use the facilities of the PLM under a “unilateral decision of the president,” Dr. Benjamin Tayabas, with terms and conditions “manifestly disadvantageous to the University.” The COA said the contract was not approved by the Board of Regents and that even if the Memorandum of Agreement was approved by the Board, “still the agreement would be disadvantageous to the University.”
The COA also found out that Tayabas is a principal incorporator of NCPE, a “clear conflict of interest” prohibited by existing anti-graft laws.
Dr. Villanueva observed: “Evidently, the NCPE case bears a strong similarity of circumstances to the PLM and YMCA cases where P8.8 million of public funds were diverted to foundations organized by Dr. Tayabas which he both headed and where he sat as a member of both Boards of Directors. I am still asking where is the P8.8 million that was diverted.”
2. AOM 2006-101-016 (Reimbursing credit card payments representing personal accounts of Dr. Benjamin Tayabas amounting to P107,592.92). The claim for reimbursement is more than his representation allowance of P8,000 a month as university president which he gets regularly. “However, during the period when he was relieved as University President (February 2006 to June 2006) records show that his personal credit cards were still charged to and paid by the PLM.”
3. AOM 2006-012-009 (Food delivered to OPRES [Office of the President]) were “excessive and extravagant”; “the cost of the products were doubled and sometimes tripled”; “payments illegal, not properly documented and made to the wrong party.”
Observed Dr. Villanueva: “Over and above these, the University President has a substantial participation in the P2,472,780.10 paid by Pamantasan food service for the year 2006. (This does not include the P300,000 food service provided by the canteen to the OPRES).
4. AOM 2006-101-017 (“Excessive and extravagant use of cellular phone privilege” which amounted to P341,702.82). “These expenses are apart from P1,338,263.47 paid to the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.” Some 59 percent or P200,188.76 of the amount paid for use of cellular phone “was for the office of the President alone.” “Some university officials are using 2 to 6 units of cell phones.” For prepaid cards alone, the University spent P90,970.00 “requested and received by the staff of the Office of the President.” “Their purchase was not in accordance with regular procurement procedure.” “There is a showing of a favored supplier, Rush Card Enterprises, with address in Bulacan.
I tried to reach Dr. Tayabas by phone several times for his side but every time they told me he was not available. I also tried to get the names of the members of the Board of Regents but his office said they would call me back but never did.