Financial ills at ports, retirement agencies

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc -
So what if the razing of the Comelec building was from usual causes, as head Ben Abalos wants us to believe in belittling talks of sabotage? So what if somebody might have left a lighted cigarette or electric fan on, or plugged one coffeemaker too many on thin electrical wiring? Does it mean we can rest assured that the May election will go on with no hitches?

No. If the fire sparked from carelessness, right on the Fire Prevention Month of March, then there’s bigger basis for alarm. One big act of sabotage is easier to detect and deter than millions of scattered acts of imprecision from leadership of bad example.

The Comelec brass clearly was neglectful. The building had been condemned as hazardous in 2004, yet they did not vacate or renovate. They went on storing flammable boxes of documents. Worse, they converted the second floor into sleeping quarters with kitchen and part of the ground level to stash diesel for generators.

It was classic puwede na ‘yan (that’ll do) outlook at play. If the brass could forget such grave matter of headquarters security, what more the myriad concerns in 315,000 polling precincts?
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Malacañang has gotten rid of one pesky problem at the state-owned Philippine Aerospace Development Corp. Other pests are crawling elsewhere. After sacking PADC president Roberto Navida for malversation, the Office of the President must now probe similar offenses at the Philippine Retirement Authority.

PRA employees, like those of PADC before them, are compiling papers on the boss. It appears that a high official, preparing to run for congressman of Batangas, had charged to the PRA the production of his tarpaulin campaign posters and calendars. Bad for him, the agency auditor spotted the jarring entry and promptly disallowed it. Good for him, though, the auditor stopped there and did not press charges — content that he returned the money then hurriedly resigned.

Where the auditor dropped the ball, the PRA employees picked it up. It’s too late for them to complain to the Presidential Anti-Graft Committee, like the PADC counterparts did, since the officer already has left the office. Still a crime was committed — of attempting to defraud the government for personal gain. A case can be filed with the Ombudsman. And a loud exposé can be made as soon as the culprit files his candidacy. Surely, Batangueños wouldn’t want a freeloader to represent them in Congress.

Loyalists of the former officer, withholding documentary evidence at the PRA administration and finance section, can be charged as well with obstructing justice. They could be hiding other illegal reimbursements. And there’s talk of extortion from retirees who needed clearances from them.

Still in Batangas, an official of the Philippine Ports Authority is living it up, courtesy of funds for pier expansion. The official has a fetish for cars — not just the usual SUVs that minor bureaucratic thieves buy, but European coupes. He did start with Japanese SUVs five years back, moving up from 2.5- to 4.8-liter jobs in just three years. Now he has a three-letter German hatchback. All this, from a salary of P25,000 a month. Perhaps the PPA general manager can take a look before Malacañang does.

Malacañang had received the complaint against Navida in Jan. 2006. PADC employees gave proof of forged and padded reimbursements, and the award of contracts without public bidding. At one point, Navida hired a son as executive, in violation of nepotism rules. He also used the PADC credit card for personal purchases during an overseas trip, and altered the date on arrival documents to avoid having to return travel allowances.

Before his stint at PADC, Navida was a National Security Agency deputy. As a military colonel in the ’80s, he joined failed coups to topple the Aquino government.
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Five noted election lawyers take time off from constant court jousts to jointly lecture on suffrage laws, rules and regulations. And it’s for a cause: erecting a formation house for priests and laity at the Diocese of Parañaque, Metro Manila.

Romulo Macalintal, Sixto Brillantes, Pete Quadra, Leila de Lima and Alberto Agra will speak on March 28, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Century Blossoms Hotel on Bocobo corner Padre Faura Streets, Ermita, Manila. A P5,000-fee per participant will cover snacks and lunch, plus a CD. The disk contains Comelec resolutions for the 2007 election, materials on the latest election practices and jurisprudence, discussions on cheating and prevention, rules on the appreciation of ballots, and narratives on related issues based on experience of the five poll experts.

Due to limited seats, interested participants may register now, first-come first-served. Contact Lourdes Panganiban at 0917-8589961; or Atty. Marisa Saba, 0906-4971262 or 0922-8639988.
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E-mail: [email protected]

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