MANILA, Philippines — A former education official has revealed details of the alleged extortion racket in the Commission on Appointments, involving the confirmation of two former education secretaries.
But the way the official, who asked not to be named, told it, the racket more often than not involved “horse-trading,” not always in money terms but in the form of positions, projects and favors of one sort or another from the Department of Education (DepEd).
The DepEd has the biggest budget of all government agencies.
Outgoing Negros Oriental Rep. Herminio Teves had claimed that the congressional confirmation process was attended by extortion involving some members of the CA. He said a cabal he called the “Big 5” extorted up to P5 million from government officials seeking confirmation of their appointments from the body.
The former education official said that on at least two occasions during the confirmation hearings for then Education Secretaries Florencio Abad and Edilberto de Jesus, the DepEd was asked for money in exchange for speeding up the process.
He said in 2004, the House contingent in the CA invited Abad and other education officials to a meeting at a restaurant in Quezon City.
He said the congressmen’s group was led by Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay who served as the group’s unofficial spokesperson.
He quoted Pichay as saying that P5 million would have to be made available for each congressman.
He said Abad agreed but said the amount would not be in cash but in the form of school buildings, an outlay for teachers and furniture. Abad also insisted the amount be spread out over two years “or the budget of the DepEd would be affected.”
‘Everybody needs it’
Abad, who is himself a former member of Congress, later told the DepEd officials that he agreed to the deal as “everybody needs it [DepEd funds] anyway.” Abad got his confirmation.
“The question is, was the amount in exchange for confirmation or a palambing [sweetener]. We got the impression that that was how the game was played. I would not have been surprised if, had he [Abad] not agreed to the deal, he would not have been confirmed,” the source said.
Earlier in 2003, during the confirmation of De Jesus, the source said two congressmen approached the secretary and said he needed to “make available” a certain amount. The two congressmen also wanted 30 percent of all DepEd textbook contracts.
“He [De Jesus] said that in principle, he would not make these deals,” the source said. Besides which, the textbook contracts had already been concluded and the books delivered.
The official said the two congressmen “made sure” De Jesus was not confirmed. Not only that, the source said the two congressmen made sure the DepEd was hauled before the House committee on good government on the issue of the textbook contracts.
“Clearly, it was a quid pro quo. The worse part was that the two were Lakas guys,” the official said.
When De Jesus tried to raise the issue with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Malacañang officials, he was told “bahala ka sa confirmation mo” (you are on your own). De Jesus was never confirmed.
Abad told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that it was the “usual” practice for congressmen to ask for concessions from officials seeking confirmation.
“I don’t know if you can call it a bribe but [it’s] usual for solons to take advantage of the CA and budget hearings to ask for projects, appointments or the resolution of local constituency issues,” Abad said in a text message.
Contacted for comment, Pichay on Tuesday denied that he or any member of the CA had asked Abad for anything.
“That is not true. In fact, it was he [Abad] who requested the meeting,” Pichay told the Inquirer.
Pichay recalled that Abad “wanted to be confirmed immediately. We said ‘OK, no problem.’”
During the meeting, Pichay said Abad gave them a list of projects for every district.
“There is nothing wrong with that. We told him to implement these immediately. But we never asked for anything,” Pichay said.
He also pointed out that the issue was taking on political color as Abad was a member of the Black and White Movement which had sought the ouster of the President.