POSTSCRIPT / October 3, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Crooks hit by reforms lash back at GSIS boss

PERCEPTION: The problem of Winston Garcia, the embattled president and general manager of the Government Service Insurance System, is not alleged mismanagement (because he has done a good job of streamlining and running the GSIS) — but one of perception.

Many people fed daily with deliberately distorted reports see Garcia as a manager whose supposed bungling threatens to dissipate the system’s assets and prejudice the interests of its members.

His detractors, including a cabal plotting to grab the multibillion-peso reinsurance business of the GSIS, exploit the transitional kinks in a system being tightened by Garcia precisely to insulate it from the crooks preying on it all these years.

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DISINFORMATION: By the time Garcia belatedly decided to answer in media the accusations against him, the disinformation has reached a crescendo reverberating all the way to Malacanang.

Garcia was lucky that this time, President Arroyo did not take the easy and popular way out by summarily dismissing him. Instead, she advised the GSIS boss that if he wanted to stay he must first answer the charges aired in media.

Samples of lingering disinformation that Garcia has to straighten out:

  1. Valuable paintings bought by the GSIS under Garcia have vanished? Actually, they are all in the GSIS museum and can be seen during viewing hours.
  2. Garcia has unliquidated cash advances running in the millions? The Commission on Audit has certified that he had no outstanding cash advance as of Sept. 22, 2004.
  3. GSIS funds have been so mismanaged that members are unable to get loans? From January to August this year, the GSIS approved loan applications amounting to P46.9 billion. But some 10 percent of applicants still fail to get loans fast enough, because of such problems as unpaid prior loans and the failure of their agencies to remit contributions.
  4. Processing of loans and claims is too slow? With the cleaning and updating of the records — a reform that the syndicates have tried blocking — salary loans can now be secured in four hours and retirement and other claims in eight hours if the member’s papers are in order.

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SOLID & STABLE: On the issue of mismanagement, the persistent reports fed to media and the public was that the GSIS has been losing millions since Garcia took over.

But audited financial statements show that under Garcia, the profitability of the GSIS has increased to P35 billion from P20 billion in 2000, the year before he assumed office.

Gross revenues in 2003 hit P75.3 billion in 2003, while net revenues went up to P37.5 billion that year.

In 2003, the assets of the system reached P297.4 billion, the highest ever in the history of the GSIS. Reserves and surplus went up to P264.1 billion, also the highest so far.

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MILKING COW: Among those threatened by the streamlining and computerizing of GSIS operations, including the maintenance of pension records, are syndicates long preying on GSIS members conniving with some insiders.

GSIS lawyer Estrella Elamparo said Garcia “has apparently stirred up a hornet’s nest of racketeers who want to exploit the GSIS as their milking cow for as long as possible.”

The hitherto topsy-turvy records had enabled syndicates and conniving insiders to claim pensions of long-dead members and take loans using the identities of unsuspecting members.

With Garcia standing in their way now, these racketeers have aligned themselves with shady groups, including a high-placed cabal eyeing the reinsurance of such big firms as the National Power Corp., in discrediting their nemesis.

Garcia has caused the filing of charges against erring GSIS officials. In a few days, a senior vice president no less will also find himself facing serious charges and dismissed, he said.

Last week, the GSIS filed plunder charges against four officials for allegedly conniving with a private developer in defrauding the Bahay Ko program of the GSIS in the amount of P413 million.

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WHAT’S GOING ON?: In Malacanang, meanwhile, reports have it that the Palace favors opening shortly the NAIA Terminal 3. This, despite continuing disagreements over the terminal’s valuation and its builder’s refusal to let government auditors inspect the facility.

It is ironic that while the contractor Piatco (Philippine International Air Terminals Co.) bars government from entering the terminal, it brought in reporters, TV crews and airline representatives to show them around in a grand tour of the facility.

While Piatco officials may think they earned brownie points by showing a sparkling new terminal, they failed to answer nagging questions about its structural integrity and the bloated cost of building it.

The sudden revival of plans to open immediately the terminal despite numerous unresolved issues and pending cases is perplexing.

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INDICTMENT: Last Sept. 20, Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Victor Fernandez recommended the indictment of two former DOTC secretaries, two undersecretaries, one airport manager and several private individuals for alleged violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act in relation to Terminal 3.

The former DOTC secretaries are Vicente Rivera Jr. and Pantaleon Alvarez, while a third, former Secretary Arturo Enrile, had died and is thus excluded from the indictment.

The other officials include undersecretaries Primitivo Cal and Wilfredo Trinidad and MIAA general manager Francisco Atayde. The private individuals include Henry Go, Vic Cheng Yong, multi-million-dollar “consultant” Alfonso Liongson, and Bernd Leo Struck and Hans Arthur Vogel, the last two being executives of the German firm Fraport (Piatco’s partner in the project).

Will the Sandiganbayan give life and meaning to the constitutional precept that a public office is a public trust? Will the court magistrates finally conduct an expeditious public trial, as they should?

The Sandiganbayan has a copy of the findings of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee under Sen. Joker Arroyo, and the final decision of the Supreme Court en banc nullifying the contract. The anti-graft court may want to look at these records again.

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MORE RAPS: There are other charges that Piatco and Fraport officials, and their friends in public office, have to face in addition to the graft and corruption raps arising from the irregular bidding process and the illegal amendments to their contracts.

One such charge is plunder. The other is violations of the anti-dummy law.

The plunder charge allegedly involves Alvarez for obtaining, through Wintrack Builders (a company owned by his wife), a juicy sub-contract for subterranean works in Terminal 3. There are allegations that the said contract was overpriced by no less than P150-million, more than big enough to qualify for plunder.

The anti-dummy charge, on the other hand, involves Fraport for claiming that it owns, directly and indirectly, 61.44 percent of Piatco in its request for arbitration before the International Center for Investment Disputes.

This is a violation of the constitutional provision that foreign ownership in a public utility cannot exceed 40 percent. For this reason, complaints were filed in 2003 by lawyer Jose Bernas and a lawyers’ group called CLAMOR before the Department of Justice.

The case has been referred to the National Bureau of Investigation which, to date, has not issued a report on the status of the case.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 3, 2004)

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