POSTSCRIPT / February 19, 2006 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA losing by default PR war on FM wealth

SLOW REFLEX: Before extraneous matters muddle the issues and negative impressions sink in the public mind, Malacanang should explain right away why recovered Marcos billions were used in pre-election political spending.

The public mind cannot appreciate, and may even be suspicious of, legalistic responses. The people want the unvarnished truth RIGHT AWAY. If Malacanang PR reflexes are slow, as usual, it will again lose this new battle of perception.

To many Filipinos in the street, in the slums and in corporate boardrooms, this is a case of billions in recovered Marcos loot intended by law to be used only for agrarian reform having been diverted to the presidential campaign of Gloria Arroyo in 2004.

As this oversimplified line reels out, it gains currency. Soon it would be impossible — as in the debate over alleged massive cheating in the May 2004 elections — for Malacanang to convince the people that the unusual spending was to their best interest.

The diversion of agrarian reform funds cannot be explained away by having responsible officials hide their heads — ostrich-like — in the sand of Executive Order 464 forbidding Executive personnel from testifying in Congress hearings.

If Malacanang’s hands are really clean, it should not find it that difficult to show them and explain the pre-election use of recovered Marcos wealth.

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BREAKDOWN: The matter having been uncovered in a Senate (acting as a Committee of the Whole) inquiry, Senate President Franklin Drilon gave us yesterday a status report on the $625 million (or P35 billion, at P56 = $1) recovered from secret Swiss bank deposits of the Marcoses.

That P35-billion slice of the recovered Marcos wealth was transferred to the Philippine government in January 2004. Under the law, the money was to be devoted to agrarian reform, 70 percent going to land acquisition.

Quoting from testimony of officials of the Department of Budget and Management, Drilon said:

  1. In just two years after the transfer, P22 billion of the P35 billion had been transferred to various agencies — P13 billion in 2004 and P9 billion in 2005 — LEAVING ONLY P13 BILLION as of December 2005.
  2. With P11 billion already earmarked for victims of human rights violations, ONLY P2 BILLION OF THE ORIGINAL P35 BILLION IS LEFT FOR CORE AGRARIAN REFORM. How is this when agrarian reform needs P16 billion this year?
  3. On April 26, 2004, P4.911 billion was transferred from the Bureau of Treasury to the general fund, followed by more transfers: P2.5 billion (on July 19, 2005), P2.309 billion (Aug. 30), and P2.491 billion (Aug. 31).
  4. Before the 2004 elections, these amounts were transferred from the Agrarian Reform Fund to the Department of Agriculture, P544 million; the National Irrigation Administration, P541.741 million; and to the Department of Public Works and Highways, P900 million.
  5. Budget officials testified in the Senate that part of the P544 million transferred to the agriculture department was used for the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani hybrid rice program (P344 million) and for fertilizer and other farm inputs (P100 million).

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PALACE REACTS: Reacting to my POSTSCRIPT of Feb. 7 on the plan to collapse certain offices in the Palace, including the Malacanang Clinic, chairman Waldo Flores of the Change Management Team there wrote PhilSTAR a rejoinder, the substance of which follows:

Executive Order 366 is a long overdue response to the need to rationalize the structure of the Executive Department that would transform the bureaucracy into an efficient and results-oriented structure. Its issuance and implementation clearly show the political will of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to proceed with this difficult but necessary task despite the possible political fallout it may cause.

The fears of government employees about this program are unfounded. It is precisely because of the President’s concern for government employees that said executive order has provided the mechanisms to minimize any dislocation, among which are:

  1. The rationalization program involves strategy review of the mandate and functions of the different offices with the objective of having an efficient and effective working structure. It is not just about reducing the number of employees. In fact, offices which need strengthening will be provided with additional positions and resources.
  2. Moreover, the Civil Service Commission has given assurances that no one will be out of job. Those whose positions will be declared redundant will be given two choices: to retire with incentives, or to remain in government service. Those who opt to continue with government will be assisted by CSC for placement in other government offices with the same rank and salary. Since the rationalization effort is not strictly about reducing the number of employees, CSC is confident that there will be enough positions in other agencies to absorb those affected. In fact, affected employees will continue to receive salaries while waiting to be placed.

The Change Management Team of the Office of the President has been going about their task in an open and transparent manner, conducting deliberations in an objective way, focusing on functions rather than personalities. The heads of offices were consulted and were required to submit recommendations as to the ideal structure of their respective offices. The proposed structures were then reviewed and analyzed in meetings with the respective heads and the CMT, which includes a representative of the rank and file. Thereafter, consultations were conducted with the affected employees themselves.

With reference to the Malacanang Clinic, there is no intention to discontinue the role of the Clinic in extending medical services to indigents in addition to its functions of serving the OP employees and their dependents. The discussions have precisely been to see how the Clinic can perform this role more efficiently utilizing limited government funds judiciously. Some of the issues addressed were:

  1. The Clinic has a current manpower of 117. The proposed rationalization plan might bring this down to 80. If the intention is to service only the OP family, even this reduced manpower complement of 80 would still be bloated! Clearly, the intention is for the Clinic to continue serving patients in addition to OP employees and their dependents.
  2. The proposed rationalization is for greater efficiency and economy. Take the case of the dental unit. It has been operating with 19 dentist positions even if there are only 6 dental chairs! Thus, we proposed to reduce the number of dentists to match the number of dental chairs. Another example is the position of Head Nurse (Nurse VII). Clinics are not authorized to have a position for Nurse VII. Only specialized hospitals are allowed to have one. Hence, we likewise proposed the position item of Nurse VII as redundant. This is merely consistent with the original position of DBM which denied, at least twice, the request for the creation of said position item.
  3. The Clinic structure as rationalized will be able to maintain the same health services to indigents as it has always done so. Additionally, just a short distance away from the Malacanang Clinic are three health centers of the City of Manila which likewise service the barangays in the area.

There was no “trickery” involved. Consultations actually took place on Jan. 18, with almost all of the Clinic personnel present and actively participating. Disinformation such as certain personnel being asked to resign were corrected and clarified as not true. In the same meeting, the Clinic employees were properly informed that those who will be affected by the rationalization will receive pro-forma letters inviting them to a consultation, and that same meeting would serve as such consultation, to which everyone agreed. The pro-forma letters dated Jan. 16, were not immediately sent out precisely because the CMT was then still waiting for the final recommendation of the Head, Malacanang Clinic, as to who would be affected by the rationalization. In any event, the contents in the letters were complied with.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 19, 2006)

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