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EDITORIAL - Time for a phase-out

While national attention is focused on the rudely interrupted European tour of several police officials and their wives, authorities should also take a closer look at the travel expenditures of officials of the Presidential Commission on Good Government. In just six months, PCGG officials reportedly racked up some $1 million in expenses during overseas trips this year. That’s nearly P50 million at current exchange rates. What has the PCGG got to show for these trips?

From January to June, PCGG officials reportedly drew $958,751 in “traveling expenses” from a $34.14-million “foreign litigation fund” deposited with the Philippine National Bank. The fund was set up in January 2004 by the late Haydee Yorac during her stint with the PCGG to pay for the services of foreign lawyers retained by the Philippine government in the pursuit of ill-gotten wealth overseas. Yorac, according to reports, did not use the money for personal trips overseas, instead getting updates simply by phone from the foreign lawyers. With the interest earned at the PNB, the fund grew to $59 million.

Following Yorac’s departure, the work ethic has changed at the PCGG. The $958,751 reportedly does not include expenses in travels to Europe, listed as official trips, by PCGG Chairman Camilo Sabio and his wife, Commissioner Jaime Bautista and his wife as well as Commissioner Ricardo Abcede in September. This was shortly before Sabio went on indefinite leave amid accusations of meddling in a legal battle between the Manila Electric Co. and the Government Service Insurance System.

The Department of Justice, which now has supervision over the PCGG, has demanded an explanation for the travel expenses, and ordered prior clearance from the DOJ for future foreign trips by PCGG officials.

With Sabio on forced extended leave and Abcede inviting Imelda Marcos to his birthday party, this should be a good time for the government to start the phase-out of the PCGG. The tasks of the commission now largely involve litigation, which government lawyers at the DOJ and the Office of the Solicitor General can handle more ably. The PCGG’s idea of going after the Marcoses’ wealth seems to have boiled down to partying with Imelda and forging a settlement with her family. The PCGG outlived its usefulness a long time ago. In these times of financial difficulties, this is one agency whose services taxpayers can do without.

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