POSTSCRIPT / September 16, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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After debating pork, solons now tangling over chocolates

DUTY-FREE ROW: Businessman William Tieng, popularly known as “Duty Free King,” asked through his boys in the employees union and friends in Congress for an investigation of a chocolates/confectioneries concession contract that did not go to him this time.

It seems Tieng would have his wished-for investigation, but the probe promises to cover all contracts of Duty Free Philippines, including the deals entered into by Tieng himself spanning four administrations — Aquino, Ramos, Estrada and now Arroyo.

Without benefit of bidding, he holds the supply contracts for the supermarket (14 years), fashion, bed and bath, fragrances, and warehousing (12 years), as well as the lease (10 years) for Fiesta Mall in Paranaque, DFP’s flagship outlet.

The break in Tieng’s virtual monopoly came when the chocolates contract was signed recently with Eastern Duty Free Management Services Ltd. by DFP general manager Michael Kho with the approval of then Tourism Secretary Roberto Pagdanganan as board chairman of the Philippine Tourism Authority that has DFP under its wings.

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RIGHT CONNECT: Tieng must be well-connected. He got Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo of faraway Pampanga to demand in a press statement an investigation of the chocolates contract that Tieng was not able to get.

Closely being watched is possible support fire from the batteries near the Pasig River.

Earlier, the DFP Employees’ Association filed a case with the Ombudsman questioning the chocolates contract. The union said the deal must be set aside because it did not pass through bidding and was allegedly disadvantageous to the government.

Under the EDF-DFP contract, the government is guaranteed $8 million in annual fees over the next four years, plus P6 million in monthly rentals. Full operating expenses will be borne by EDF and no employee will be displaced.

The contractor also agreed to pay DFP $5 million up front and to buy back all of DFP’s existing chocolates/confectioneries stock estimated to be worth $6 million.

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EXPANDED PROBE: Interestingly, Tieng himself got his parade of contracts also without benefit of public bidding. No-bidding has been the practice since the DFP was created in 1987 by Executive Order No. 46 as an attached agency of the PTA.

But while neophyte congressman Mikey Arroyo has not followed up his opening salvo, Rep. Eduardo Zialcita of Paranaque — where DFP has its headquarters and flagship shop — delivered a privilege speech to expand the investigation and let the chips fall where they may.

Zialcita’s call for an investigation of all DFP contracts spanning four administrations was referred to House committee on tourism headed by Bohol Rep. Edgardo Chatto.

In a parallel move, Ilonggo congressmen Monico Fuentebella and Art Defensor vowed to get to the bottom of contracts awarded to Tieng over the past 17 years.

Going by experience, however, we expect this brouhaha to die down soon after the initial outbursts, especially when the right parties have been “enlightened.”

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EASY WAY OUT: Election lawyer Romulo B. Macalintal has what he calls “an easy solution” to the petition filed by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. with the Supreme Court questioning the assumption of office of nine Cabinet members before they are confirmed by the Commission on Appointments.

All that President Arroyo has to do, he said, is issue them ad interim appointments when Congress goes on recess on Sept. 25. That would render Pimentel’s petition moot and academic, eventually leading to its dismissal by the high court.

Macalintal explains: “An ad interim appointment is an appointment made during the recess of Congress. Such appointment is not a temporary appointment nor an appointment in an acting capacity. It is considered as a permanent appointment which takes effect immediately and allows the appointee to immediately qualify and assume office.”

He said this has been the consistent doctrine of the Supreme Court in various cases, the latest of which is the case of Matibag vs Benipayo, GR No. 149036, dated April 2, 2002.

In that decision, the court sustained the right of former Comelec Chairman Alfredo Benipayo and Commissioners Resurreccion Borra and Florentino Tuazon who were appointed ad interim by President Arroyo to assume office immediately while their appointments were pending confirmation by the CA.

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APPOINT THEM: While the President merely “nominates” Cabinet members for CA confirmation when Congress is in session, Macalintal said there is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the President from “appointing” such officials in an acting capacity.

He said only the members of the Constitutional Commissions (the Commission on Elections, the Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Audit) are not allowed by the Constitution to be appointed or designated in a temporary or acting capacity as provided under Articles IX-B, IX-C and IX-D.

The Constitution describes these constitutional commissions as “independent” (Sec. 1, Art. IX), which means that they are not under the control of the President, unlike members of the Cabinet who are the alter ego or subordinates of the Chief Executive.

Macalintal said: “As soon as the President appoints these Cabinet members when Congress goes on recess on Sept. 25, such ad interim appointment, being permanent in character and which entitles the appointee to immediately assume office, will have the effect of superseding or recalling their previous temporary appointments.”

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CHANGE ADDRESS: Readers who have gotten used to emailing me at my fdp333@info.com.ph address are advised to shift to manilamail@pacific.net.ph if they want to send me any email.

Infocom Technologies (info.com.ph) has bogged own again. For the past two days, I have not been able to download any email from its server. This is disconcerting, because in my kind of work, the Internet — including email — is very crucial.

I have made several calls to Infocom’s tech support, but the technician on the line would not say what exactly was the trouble or when email service would resume. That is how bad its service and customer care has deteriorated.

I asked to talk with the manager/supervisor who would know, but the technician refused to connect me to him. She also refused to give me either the manager’s name or his phone number (so I could inquire directly from him). She said he was in a meeting.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 16, 2004)

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