Million-Dollar ‘Kickback’ Could Have Paid For Public School Shortages

Crisis in the Philippine education sector is deepening as manifested by high dropout rate, deteriorating quality, rising resource shortages, and intensifying exploitation of teachers. And yet the highest officials of the country are embroiled in billion-peso anomalies and continue to enrich themselves with public funds with impunity.

Take, for instance, the ZTE corruption scandal that is currently hounding the Arroyo government. The exposed $130 million-“kickback” (or P5.2 billion in current exchange rate) from the $329-million National Broadband Network project with China’s ZTE Corporation would have paid for the following:

  • 44,234,813 textbooks (P2.78 billion)
  • 1,390 classrooms (P760 million)
  • 524,237 school seats (P420 million)
  • 2,733 new teachers (P330 million), and
  • Computer-related expenses of 98 schools (P910 million).

The ZTE “kickback” could have covered almost 62% of the P8.4-billion total cost of the Department of Education’s estimated 2008 resource gaps, which include classrooms, seats, teachers, principals, and textbooks.

Moreover, a year’s computer expenses of 100 public schools make up barely 0.2% of the controversial loot. Based on the 2006 Commission on Audit report that said schoolchildren from over 100 public schools were compelled to pay a total of P9.26 million for computers and operating costs of computer laboratories, the ZTE “kickback” would easily liberate all public schools (45,430) from charging their students such fees, and still leave P993 million more to spare. P993 million can actually pay for the basic salary of 1,665 public school teachers for five years.

This only shows how much losses from corruption could possibly resolve inadequacies in the education sector and free poor families from the burden of additional school expenses. Corruption heavily affects the poor majority as it reduces the already scant amount spent for social services, making their delivery worse than ever.

As educators committed to social transformation, the Educators’ Forum for Development (EFD) condemns the fraud, lies, and thievery in the Arroyo administration and joins other sectors in the clamor for change, not only of governance but of the whole system that breeds corruption.

The overall lack of accountability and transparency, and the persistent question of legitimacy of the Arroyo government, show that the fight against corruption lies with the people who must assert good governance and protection of their rights. EFD believes that educators have a special role in molding future generations who will uphold integrity and social responsibility and stand against any form of corruption.

*The Educators’ Forum for Development (EFD) is an association of educators committed to social transformation. It was established in 2002 by the IBON Partnership in Education for Development and other progressive educators, including founding chairperson Bienvenido Lumb

8 OUT OF 10 FILIPINOS DOUBT GOVERNMENT’S CLAIM OF

IBON SURVEY
8 OUT OF 10 FILIPINOS DOUBT GOVERNMENT’S CLAIM OF
IMPROVING ECONOMY

As Malacañang continues to hype the country’s economic gains, most respondents to the latest IBON nationwide survey remain doubtful of this claim.

Asked if they believe there is truth to the government’s pronouncement that the economy has improved, 79.7% of the 1,503 respondents said no. This is an increase from the 75.4% share in the October 2007 survey round.

The January 2008 IBON survey was conducted across various sectors nationwide from January 7 to 14. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus three percent. (end)

Below is the tabulation of results of respondents’ perception of government’s pronouncement of an improving economy.  

In your opinion, is there truth to the government’s pronouncement that the economy has improved?

 

October
2007

 

January 2008

 

 

Frequency

Percentage

Frequency

Percentage

Yes

         187

      12.48

         165

      10.98

No

      1,130

      75.43

      1,199

      79.77

Don’t Know

         157

      10.48

           94

        6.25

No answer

           24

        1.60

           45

        2.99

 

      1,498

 

      1,503

 

 

 

 

             

DEFICIT FIGURES FORESHADOW 2008 FISCAL CRISIS –IBON

DEFICIT FIGURES FORESHADOW 2008 FISCAL CRISIS –IBON

As the Arroyo administration plays up its full-year 2007 deficit of P9.4 billion as being the “lowest in a decade”, a closer look at the figures foretells a possible fiscal crisis this year, according to independent think-tank IBON Foundation.

According to IBON research head Sonny Africa, the deficit was kept in check by one-time privatization revenues of P90.6 billion Without these proceeds from the sale of government assets, the 2007 budget deficit would have reached more than P100 billion, Africa said.

Meanwhile, he pointed out that government has not been able to improve its revenue collections. Although the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) both were able to increase their collections from 2006, such collections were substantially lower than government targets. The BIR had a revenue shortfall of P54.3 billion and the BOC, P17.7 billion.

Africa said that if revenue collections don’t improve in 2008 then the administration will end up with a P68.4 billion deficit (extrapolating revenues without privatization of P1,194 billion on the assumption that revenues increase by 8.1% in 2008, less budgeted expenditures in the national budget program of P1,227 and factoring in targeted privatization revenues of P30 billion). This also implies that government faces an underlying budget deficit of P98.4 billion in 2008 if privatization revenues are not factored in.

Revenue collections in the coming year are unlikely to improve because of the Arroyo administration’s dismal record in addressing large-scale corruption, as shown by its alleged attempts to cover up anomalies in the ZTE broadband network deal, plus its continued policy on liberalization which similarly cost government billions in foregone revenues because of tariff reductions and eliminations.

And since the focus of government’s efforts to address the fiscal crisis are to ensure that it can continue to service the country’s debts, new taxes may be inevitable– something that the Department of Finance has already hinted at, Africa said. (end)

IBON Foundation, Inc. is an independent development institution established in 1978 that provides research, education, publications, information work and advocacy support on socioeconomic issues.

IBON Survey / February 14, 2008

IBON Survey / February 14, 2008
For reference: Ms Rosario Bella Guzman (IBON executive editor)


IBON SURVEY
MOST FILIPINOS WANT ARROYO TO STEP DOWN DUE TO CORRUPTION CHARGES

Recent corruption scandals besetting the Arroyo administration have led most Filipinos to call for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to step down, according to the results of the latest IBON survey.

Asked if they were aware of calls made recently by members of the Church and other sectoral groups for Pres. Arroyo to resign from office and face corruption charges leveled against her, 75% of the total 1,503 survey respondents said yes.

Of these, 77.4% said they agreed with such call to step down.

Various interfaith and sectoral groups such as Solidarity Philippines, Concerned Citizens Group, United Church of Christ in the Philippines, among others, have called for a rejection of what they called as Pres. Arroyo’s morally bankrupt government.

The IBON nationwide survey was conducted from January 7 to 14, 2008, with 1,503 respondents. It has a margin of error of plus or minus three percent. (end)

 

Below is the tabulation of results of the respondents’ perception of the Church and sectoral groups’ call for Pres. Arroyo to step down due to corruption allegations against her administration.

Are you aware that in recent months, bishops and other sectoral organizations have demanded that PGMA resign from office and face the corruption allegations leveled against her?

Yes

      75.38

No

      24.02

No answer

        0.60

                                                                                        

Do you agree with the calls of bishops and other groups for President Arroyo to step down because of widespread corruption under her regime?                                                                                         

Yes

      77.41

No

      12.89

Dont Know

        8.83

No answer

        0.88

 

 

 

Nueva Ecija solon files snap election bill in House

Nueva Ecija solon files snap election bill in House
By Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 19:28:00 02/19/2008

MANILA, Philippines — An independent member of the House of Representatives has filed a bill seeking a snap presidential election on May 26 amid mounting protests against the Arroyo administration in light of allegations of corruption in the national broadband network deal (NBN) and other scandals.

Nueva Ecija Representative Eduardo Nonato Joson filed the bill on Monday in an attempt to being closure “to the many accusations being hurled against the administration.”

Under Joson’s bill, the election will only be for president, with the winner to serve out only the remainder of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term until June 30, 2010 and be ineligible for reelection.

The bill appropriates P2 billion for the proposed polls.

“The truth hounds. The truth haunts and the truth hurts. This is the primary objective of this proposal: To prevent danger and harm to our people precisely because in the search for truth and justice, someone will get hurt in the process,” he said in the bill’s explanatory note.

“[It] will be ironic and a tragedy if our people will be the victims of such search for truth and justice,” Joson added.

Joson pointed out that a snap election was held in 1986 to find out whether the dictator Ferdinand Marcos still had the trust and confidence of the people.

“A new mandate was necessary at the time to preempt growing opposition to his rule and the consensus at the time was that he could still win if elections were held then. The allegations of mis-governance were the same then and now,” Joson said.

Section Two of Joson’s bill says that if passed, the law will be deemed as “a political question based on historical precedent.”

“[This] could ultimately be decided only by the members of [Congress] as the duly elected representatives of the people in the first instance and by the people as the repository of sovereign authority,” the bill says.

SC orders stop to ‘frivolous’ recount of Pampanga votes

By Leila Salaverria, Tonette Orejas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — If Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio had reason to cheer, it was because, he said, God listened to his plea.

The Supreme Court Tuesday ordered the Commission on Elections to stop its planned recount of votes in the 2007 Pampanga gubernatorial elections, and directed the Comelec to maintain the status quo while the court deliberates on Panlilio’s petition to nullify the recount.

The high court also ordered the Comelec and Pineda to file within 10 days their comments to Panlilio’s petition.

Panlilio has said Pineda’s electoral protest was a “sham” and not based on any clear proof of cheating.

Pineda lost by 1,147 votes to Panlilio, a Catholic priest.

“We are very happy. God has answered our prayers,” Panlilio told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a telephone interview.

Panlilio’s lawyers said they were grateful to the Supreme Court for its swift action on their client’s petition. They assailed the Comelec orders allowing the recount to proceed.

The lawyers included Romulo Macalintal, Leila de Lima, Pete Quadra, Sixto Brillantes and Ernesto Francisco Jr.

‘Frivolous’ protest

“We are confident that in the end, we could prove that the protest is without basis and merely intended to harass Panlilio,” the lawyers said in a statement.

In his petition, Panlilio said the frivolity of Pineda’s protest “is demonstrated by the fact that private respondent is contesting all the precincts in all the municipalities and cities in Pampanga (except Angeles City) and she even identified a total of 4,836 precincts in (her) petition.”

“If true, this means that (Pineda) is claiming that she was cheated in all these 4,836 precincts without any objection from her watchers or without questioning before the Board of Election Inspectors … which is a very incredible and unbelievable claim indeed.”

Comelec order

In a July 2007 directive, the Comelec’s second division ordered a recount of ballots pursuant to Pineda’s protest and later denied Panlilio’s motion for a reconsideration.

It also rejected Panlilio’s motion to elevate the issue to the Comelec en banc.

“Aside from being merely copied from other existing election protests, the grounds are bare, general and scattered and intended merely to fish for evidence during the recount of ballots,” Panlilio’s lawyers said.

Half a million votes

The lawyers said Pineda’s claim that ballots from about 4,500 precincts, totaling some 500,000, were written by one or two persons “is incredible since not a single ballot was objected to by Pineda when they were counted at the precinct level.”

“Also, how could Panlilio, who merely relied on volunteers and contributions from concerned citizens of Pampanga, be guilty of vote buying? Surely the protest is baseless,” they added.

Pineda lawyer George Irwin Garcia said he had yet to receive a copy of the high court’s order but if true, “we cannot do anything but obey.”

Be sober

Pineda could not be reached for comment. She went to the United States two weeks ago.

She had claimed that Panlilio and his supporters committed various forms of election fraud.

Provincial election supervisor Temie Lambino said he had yet to receive a copy of the SC order.

Lambino previously set a meeting for Thursday to decide whether to proceed with the inventory and transfer of contested ballot boxes to Manila.

Panlilio on Tuesday asked his supporters after a Mass to “be sober” and not to hold protests at the Comelec.

Bishop urges new kind of people power

Lagdameo: It’s for truth and to end corruption By Beverly T. Natividad
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — The head of an influential group of Roman Catholic bishops Tuesday raised the possibility of a new brand of “people power” that would spur people to bring out the truth and end corruption that had kept the country hostage to the “greed of power-holders.”

Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said that a “convergence of bearers of truths” could save the country.

Backed by the Church hierarchy, Jaime Cardinal Sin called on people power and hundreds of thousands of Filipinos responded and toppled strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

Lagdameo told reporters after meeting with about 50 civic, student and business groups that the massive anticorruption movement that ousted President Joseph Estrada in 2001 was a disappointment because it “installed a President who later on was judged by surveys as the most corrupt president.”

Lagdameo was apparently referring to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who became President after Estrada was ousted.

“We went from one frying pan to a worse frying pan,” he said.

Referring to the recent CBCP call for “communal action,” Lagdameo said that if, by consensus, “the communal action is people power, it will have to be a different ‘brand.’ It will not be simply a repeat of the past … The movements of some groups for a national campaign against corruption may be a sign.”

At the meeting, civil society groups asked the Church leadership to guide and spearhead “communal actions.”

“They want clearer guidance and leadership. They want to see us with them,” said Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz after he, Lagdameo and Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez held a dialogue with various sectoral groups.

Cruz said the bishops listened in order to know the “what, how and when” of the planned communal actions.

Lagdameo made the comments amid mounting calls for Ms Arroyo to resign as a Senate inquiry looks into alleged bribery in the scrapped $329-million broadband deal with China’s ZTE Corp.

Priests and nuns have offered refuge to a key witness in the Senate investigation — a former consultant for the project, Rodolfo Lozada Jr. — amid threats to his life. They have also organized prayer protests and joined street rallies calling for Ms Arroyo’s resignation and a clean government.

Who’s who

Lagdameo called for a “brand new people power” and said a campaign against corruption in government may be a start.

Among those who attended the dialogue were representatives of the Black and White Movement, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Makati Business Club, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Kubol Pag-Asa, Gabriela, Muslim Legal Assistance Foundation, Bangon Pilipinas, National Council of Churches of the Philippines, United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, Solidarity Philippines and the La Salle Brothers.

But even Lagdameo’s presence at the meeting does not signify that the CBCP has already joined the movement against the Arroyo administration.

Lagdameo said he attended the meeting only as the archbishop of Jaro.

“That’s why I attended this meeting, because I will bring this message to my brother bishops,” he said.

On Monday, Lagdameo lauded the successful holding of “communal action” undertaken by civil society in response to the bishops’ call.

Apparently referring to Lozada, Lagdameo said in a statement: “Imagine, with just one courageous person willing to witness to the Truth, some good things are already starting to happen, like the exposition of other scams, lies, deceits, ‘moderate and immoderate greed’.

“We hope and encourage that other courageous and inspired persons will emerge to tell or expose or humbly face the truth, whose concealment had made our country captive to corruption and greed of power-holders.”

Lagdameo told reporters the challenge to Filipinos today was to find “how to express its new brand of people power.”

He said he was optimistic that the civil society groups he met may have already found some of the answers to this challenge.

Not just talking

Cruz said that no clear action had yet resulted from the meeting.

Both sides, he said, only committed themselves to a continuing dialogue but would come out with a more concrete agenda soon.

“This is not the end of this. Our agreement does not stop here. And this will not be just talking but definitely there will be doing and acting,” said Cruz.

He said the dialogue with civil society was gaining ground because more people were joining it. With a report from Associated Press

Trillanes may finally set foot in the Senate

By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — The dream of detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV to set foot in the Senate may finally be realized if the courts and his peers allow him to testify on his claim that National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon had plotted last year’s deadly explosion at a Makati City mall as a diversionary tactic.

The Senate Tuesday began an inquiry into the explosion at Glorietta 2 on Oct. 19, 2007, with the Philippine National Police and the mall owner, Ayala Land Inc. (ALI), standing pat on their respective findings — that it was an accident, and that it was caused by a bomb, respectively.

The blast killed 11 persons and injured more than 100 others.

2 significant details

Two significant details came to the fore at the hearing — that a Glorietta tenant received a phoned-in bomb threat prior to the explosion, and that ALI and Makati Supermarket, which owns the mall building, had no fixed contract with the maintenance company responsible for the upkeep of the basement, the site of the blast.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon proposed at the hearing that Trillanes himself give details on his claim that Gonzales and Esperon had staged the Glorietta explosion, purportedly to divert public attention from the distribution of bags of cash to lawmakers and local government officials early last October in Malacañang.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chair of the committee on public order and illegal drugs, said the Senate should decide as a group whether or not to ask the court’s permission to allow Trillanes to make his first appearance at the Senate since being elected last year.

Honasan said that aside from Trillanes, the Senate would invite experts from the University of the Philippines College of Engineering to assess the conflicting findings of the PNP and ALI experts and determine which of the two reports was plausible.

Days after the explosion, Trillanes filed Resolution No. 174 in which he claimed to have received information that Gonzales and Esperon had orchestrated the bombing — an allegation that the two officials vigorously denied.

Trillanes has been in military detention since July 2003 for leading a mutiny at the then Oakwood serviced apartments. He has been held under tighter security since Nov. 29 last year after he, Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and a number of other detained junior officers walked out of a court hearing, called for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation, and briefly held out at the Peninsula Manila hotel.

Shortly after Trillanes’ election as a senator, the majority of the other senators signed a resolution asking the court to allow the former Navy lieutenant to serve in the Senate.

Warning

After the hearing, ALI president Jaime Ayala told reporters that in the process of interviewing tenants in the days following the explosion, the ALI team learned that tenant CD-R King had received a phone call warning of a bomb attack.

The call was purportedly made a few days before the explosion.

“A female voice on the phone said there would be an explosion at 1:30 p.m. in the Goldcrest area. She said it would be on Oct. 29,” Ayala said, adding:

“[The date] was wrong but the time and place were correct. The same female made another call after the blast and warned the same tenant of another explosion at Park Square.”

ALI executives presented an elaborate video and miniature model of the blast site to guide senators on ALI’s findings that the blast was caused by a bomb, as shown by the RDX traces found at the site in the first day of the investigation.

RDX is a component of military explosives.

The video presentation was edited to show in stark contrast the change in stance of Ms Arroyo and PNP officials — first, that the explosion was a bomb attack, and later, that it was an accident.

‘Aberration’

Director Geary Barias, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the RDX component was a mere “aberration” and that the compelling amount of evidence at the site showed that the buildup of gases due to a damaged sewage system in the mall basement had caused the explosion.

Barias said the PNP had international experts to back its findings while ALI merely had experts second-guessing the police’s findings.

ALI has maintained that the police’s gas buildup theory was improbable because there was nothing wrong with the basement facilities prior to the explosion.

But under questioning by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, ALI and Makati Supermarket officials admitted that there had been no fixed contract with the maintenance contractor, Marchem.

Responsibility

Enrile said the three firms — ALI, Makati Supermarket and Marchem — should stop pinning the blame on each other and start accepting responsibility for the explosion.

He chastised ALI — which, he pointed out, had prided itself on setting high standards in property development and management — and Makati Supermarket for being “negligent” in keeping the mall basement safe.

He also said that while ALI might have paid compensation for the dead and the injured, it could not put a price on the lives lost because of negligence.

“What was the special interest of Ayala Land in hiring experts if it had nothing to do with the building that exploded? Was it to cover up?” Enrile said.

Ayala replied that it was for the safety of the mall customers.

Fishers launch fluvial protests vs ‘regime of greed’

Fishers launch fluvial protests vs ‘regime of greed’
By Niña Catherine Calleja
Southern Luzon Bureau

CALAMBA CITY, Philippines — Leftwing fishermen’s groups are launching fluvial protests in various parts of the country in response to the call of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines for “communal action against this ruling regime of greed.”

In the province of Batangas, some 150 fishermen in 50 boats started Tuesday a two-day “fluvial protest” which would take them from Batangas to Cavite provinces to protest against coastal conversion and alleged repression against fishermen.

Haligi ng Batangueñong Anakdagat (Habagat) said the fisherfolk set out from San Diego village in Lian, Batangas and will pass through Calayo and Patungan villages in Hacienda Looc, Nasugbu, Batangas, then sail toward the municipalities of Maragondon, Cavite City, Ternate, Rosario, Noveleta and Bacoor in Cavite.

In an e-mailed statement, Habagat spokesperson Isabelo Alicaya said the group is protesting the “rampant” privatization and conversion of coastal communities in Batangas and Rizal provinces for eco-tourism, industrial and commercial projects.

Habagat, a provincial affiliate of the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), is also against the intrusion of commercial fishing vessels into the municipal waters of Batangas and Cavite, he added.

Alicaya said the two-day “fluvial protest” is part of a weeklong action organized by Pamalakaya from February 19 to 25.

The group said sea-based protest actions such as “Oplan Palutang” (“flotilla protest”) will also be conducted in San Fernando City in La Union, Legazpi City in Albay, Sorsogon City in Sorsogon, Cebu City, Iloilo City in Iloilo, Bacolod City in Negros Occidental and General Santos City in Sarangani province.

“The weeklong protest in fishing grounds across the country is in response to the call of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines for ‘communal action’ against this ruling regime of greed,” the militant group added.

Comelec affirms proclamation of Antique governor

Comelec affirms proclamation of Antique governor
By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Visayas Bureau

ILOILO CITY, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has junked an appeal of former assemblyman Arturo Pacificador for a stop to the proclamation of Antique Governor Salvacion Zaldivar-Perez.

In a five-page ruling promulgated on January 24 by the Comelec en banc, the poll body affirmed the May 28, 2007 resolution of the Comelec’s Second Division denying Pacificador’s petition to suspend the canvassing of votes and the proclamation of Perez.

The Comelec resolution, signed by then Acting Chair Resurreccion Borra and concurred with by Commissioners Florentino Tuason Jr., Romeo Brawner, Rene Sarmiento, Nicodemo Ferrer and Moslemen Macarambon, said the suspension of canvassing and proclamation “has already been mooted” by the proclamation and assumption to office of Perez.

A special provincial board of canvassers proclaimed Perez on June 29, 2007 with a margin of more than 13,000 votes over Pacificador based on results from the province’s 1,855 precincts.

Pacificador petitioned for the suspension of canvassing of votes and the proclamation of Perez until the full resolution of a disqualification case he filed against Perez.

Both the former assemblyman and former representative Jovito Plameras Jr., who also ran but lost in the gubernatorial elections, sought the disqualification of Perez and seven of her party mates in the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) for allegedly violating the ban on public spending during the election period.

However, the Comelec’s First Division dismissed on January 25, 2007 the disqualification case for lack of merit.

In its January 24 resolution dismissing Pacificador’s appeal, the Comelec affirmed its Resolution No. 8062 that provided that there would be no suspension of proclamation of winning candidates with pending disqualification cases.

The Comelec said the suspension of proclamation of winning candidates “may only be made where sufficient justification warrants that interference be made.”

It said Pacificador’s petition failed to provide proof that would justify the suspension of any proclamation.