POSTSCRIPT / July 7, 2005 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Let's fix the house first, and we can quarrel later

TAMA NA MUNA: Just a thought from some of us weary citizens: Why don’t we use our limited time and resources to attending to our top priority concerns instead of frittering them on unproductive political warfare?

Let’s prioritize our concerns, then let the President focus on the most urgent problems and demand that she show results in, say, six months. After that six-month probation, we can go back to forcing her to account for her lapses.

All that noise and destabilization are not doing the country any good. Why don’t we allow President Arroyo to do her job in relative peace, and then throw the book at her if she still fails after that period of cooperation?

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COMMON TIE: What do they have in common, a reader asked of 15 public officials holding sensitive positions in government agencies and corporations bringing in substantial revenue. (See POSTSCRIPT of July 5, 2005).

The persons listed in alphabetical order were Virgilio Angelo, Jose Mario Bunag, Mario Cornista, Eleuterio Coronel, Jose Cortes, Alfonso Cusi, Rafael Francisco, Efraim Genuino, Edgardo Manda, Eduardo Nery, Antero Peñasales, Mabuhay Rosero, Leonor Rosero, Renato Valdecantos, and Ernest Villareal.

Our email inbox reaped a bumper crop of reader reactions. Seven out of every 10 respondents said First Gentleman Mike Arroyo (that he is their friend) was the common denominator. The rest said it was the Rotary Club (that they are or were members).

None of the readers explained why they said Mike Arroyo or the Rotary Club was what binds those listed. I hope the responses satisfied the reader who sent us the list with his query.

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ERAP GIVING UP?: We really cannot say if that was his last word on the subject, but former President Erap Estrada has made a statement that was widely interpreted as saying he was no longer interested in the presidency.

The statement attributed to him had him saying that his “only wish now is to see the uplift of our masses from poverty.” But seeing their uplift does not necessarily rule out its happening with him as the transition president.

“I will unequivocally support whoever is destined to be the new and popular leader of our people,” he reportedly said from his Tanay resthouse where he has been confined by the Sandiganbayan. “I believe that the circumstances and events unfolding before us at present will define who this new leader will be.”

If that meant he was stepping aside in favor of whoever the political opposition eventually chooses as its rallying figure, his move could be a major step toward uniting the opposition as it pressed its drive to oust President Arroyo.

But based on what Mr. Estrada has told us in recent substantial conversations, I refuse to believe that he has totally given up the presidency.

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NO, HE’S STILL IN: As I see it, his reported statement could be just a one step backward, while awaiting the magic moment to make two steps forward.

Mr. Estrada spends a lot of time preparing for a possible assignment as transition president in the event both President Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro are forced out of office.

His active preparation for such a development also means that actress Susan Roces, for some reasons, has gone down lately on the opposition list of personalities who could lead the opposition in capturing Malacanang.

Explaining his stance, Mr. Estrada said, “I am not after regaining the lost, stolen years of my legitimate presidency. My only objective and wish now is to see the uplifting of our masses from poverty, and see the deliverance of our beloved Philippines from the bondage of corruption, lawlessness and national shame perpetrated by the present regime under the leadership of a false president.”

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GARCI, IS THAT YOU?: Another break in the increasingly boring congressional hearings and the predictable statements from both sides of the political fence is Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano finally talking about the tapes of his wiretapped phone conversations.

The newspaper that was able to locate and interview him reported that Garci (as he is now popularly called) denied that he conspired with President Arroyo to rig last year’s election to ensure her victory.

Seemingly strengthening the position of President Arroyo in the tapes controversy, Garcillano also confirmed reports that he actually talked to several other candidates, some of them from the opposition.

He identified some of them as vice presidential candidate Loren Legarda, then senatorial candidate Mar Roxas, Minority Leader Francis Escudero on behalf of his father Salvador, an opposition senatorial candidate who lost in the election. He said he also talked before the elections to then senatorial candidate Jamby Madrigal.

But he clarified that they did not ask favors from him. Like Ms Arroyo, they simply expressed concern about possible fraud, he said.

“The conversations that have publicly come out of the tapes are untrue,” he said. “Many of those conversations were doctored.”

His allowing the interview means that he is now ready to come out and answer all questions about his activities and phone conversations during the last elections.

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GSIS PURGE: Now we know why some insiders entrenched in the Government Service Insurance System have been sabotaging the reforms that GSIS President and General Manager Winston Garcia has launched in the state firm.

In his latest move, Garcia ordered the preventive suspension of 12 GSIS employees for their suspected involvement in multimillion-peso salary loans anomalies. They include five employees assigned to the GSIS Social Insurance Group (SIG) who allegedly encashed checks that had already been cancelled.

Investigators said the employees on the carpet processed loan applications, printed GSIS checks, and cancelled the loan records without doing the same for the checks.

The GSIS uncovered the scam as early as June last year when management learned from the Land Bank that GSIS checks were being negotiated although the GSIS had already cancelled the loan records (also called loan headers).

“Evidently, there was a flaw in the system and criminally-inclined employees capitalized on this for their own benefit,” Garcia said.

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COMPUTER TRACERS: The racketeers were caught after Garcia installed as part of his computerization program a tracer where logs of cancelled loan headers are recorded and compared with negotiated checks.

The system traced the people responsible for the anomaly through the operator codes they used in creating and canceling loan headers. Garcia ordered the internal audit to inventory all cancelled headers and to check if there are other employees doing the same modus.

The investigation yielded four more suspects from the SIG. The investigation showed that the GSIS lost about P1.8 million when the supposedly cancelled checks were encashed.

Apart from the loan header scam, the GSIS also suspended seven more employees from the GSIS Naga and Legazpi field offices who allegedly had participated in the over-granting of salary loans.

The anomaly was unearthed after the GSIS learned that the chief of the loans and claims division in Legazpi processed his salary loan application to draw more proceeds than what he was supposed to receive.

Garcia said the GSIS will also file charges against an employee who was supposed to deposit an accumulated amount of P2.02 million for the GSIS, but did not and instead presented spurious deposit slips.

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EPCIB SEATS: In another move, Garcia has locked horns with the financially powerful Go family in the management of the Equitable-PCI Banking Corp. (EPCIB) to safeguard, he said, the 11.47-percent shareholding of GSIS in the bank.

With the next EPCIB annual stockholders meeting set on July 19, Garcia has served notice on EPCIB chairman Antonio Go that the GSIS would insist on its having two seats in the board representing GSIS investments in the bank.

Last year, the GSIS lost one of its two seats. Garcia said that a group has taken hostage the interest of the majority shareholders, more particularly of the GSIS and the Social Security System “through means that are highly irregular to say the least.”

He complained that the GSIS has not received dividends from the bank for the past three years. “This cruel hoax upon the government cannot be perpetuated with impunity,” he said.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 7, 2005)

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