POSTSCRIPT / June 24, 2010 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Judges strive to recover the judiciary’s lost luster

RECOVERY: The judiciary wins back lost luster when courts decide cases based on the facts and the law without being distracted by monetary and other extraneous considerations.

We stockholders of the publicly listed Philcomsat Holdings Corp., for example, are reassured by reports of courts finally moving to restore to the rightful owner the more than P100 million looted from PHC coffers.

In one recovery case, Makati Regional Trial Court Judge Reynaldo M. Laigo ordered last June 16 the seizure of properties of a businessman sued by the PHC for allegedly using corporate funds to guarantee and then pay his P31.5-million personal loan with a bank about to fold up.

In another case, Makati RTC Judge Selma P. Alaras summoned the president of a universal bank to explain why it did not exercise due care in encashing PHC checks despite repeated warnings that impostors were drawing from the firm’s accounts.

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SEIZURE ORDER: Makati RTC Judge Laigo ordered the preliminary attachment of properties of businessman Benito R. Araneta upon the posting of a P35.3-million bond by the PHC chasing the millions stolen from it.

Court records showed that Araneta secured the loan using a false secretary’s certificate written in September 2005 by Supreme Court-suspended attorney Luis K. Lokin Jr. posing as PHC corporate secretary.

Lokin’s certification said that the PHC board in a meeting authorized director Araneta to secure personal loans, one for P25 million and another for P6.5 million – or a total of P31.5 million — from the (then foundering) Bankwise with PHC deposits as guarantee.

The PHC said that within six weeks, Araneta defaulted and encashed a P35-million savings certificate of PHC at Bankwise to repay his P31.5-million debt. The balance of P3.5 million is missing.

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COSTLY FRAUD: In May 2010, the PHC filed the collection suit with the Makati RTC with a prayer for attachment on Araneta and Lokin. Facts gleaned from court records showed that:

1. Per PHC information sheet, Roberto San Jose was its corporate secretary from 1999 to 2006. It appears that Lokin was not the corporate secretary in September 2005 and that he lied and falsified a public document to support Araneta’s personal loan.

2. Minutes of PHC meetings showed there was no such meeting of the board in 2005. Lokin appears to have concocted the meeting cited in his fake certification.

3. A letter of Araneta’s attorney to the Presidential Commission on Good Government said that he was already resigned from the board as of June 2005. Araneta also said the same thing under oath before the Senate. Yet in September 2005, he still secured a Bankwise loan using a fake PHC board resolution.

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NO DUE CARE: In another case before Judge Alaras, the big boss of a giant bank had to explain why they allowed the encashing of suspicious big checks despite PHC’s alerting the bank of irregular issuance and encashment of its checks.

With the least hint of internal trouble in client-firms, banks usually freeze funds or at least exercise more stringent scrutiny. Yet the PHC’s depository bank refused to deny or delay encashment or file an interpleader case.

One time, a check for P1 million simply written “pay to Cash” was allegedly encashed by a messenger. Another time, a big check lacked one of two signatures, yet it was honored.

The PHC wants the bank to cough back more than P100 million looted.

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NERI RULES: Social Security System president Romulo Neri looks like a survivor. The Ombudsman recently ordered his suspension after finding a prima facie case of corruption against him, but he continued to lord it over demoralized SSS workers.

Personnel run over by Neri tell us that he continues to ignore SSS laws, civil service rules and regulations and promotion policies in the commission funded by more than 20 million members.

Senior executives who have written Neri to protest allegedly improper appointments of his assistants (who are not organic SSS employees and who should be co-terminus with him), to permanent plantilla positions in violation of CSC rules.

These lucky ones now head investments, collections and securities trading, elbowing out senior SSS executives.

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FAVORITES?: The complainants said a Neri favorite conducted a bidding for services and equipment even after the members of the technical group handling the bidding and prequalification had resigned.

Neri’s rationalization program allegedly set aside many personnel who should have been promoted.

Complainants cited Ramon Usison, a long-time driver recommended by the promotions board for an upgrade, who was replaced with one Rizalino Estrella tagged as a Neri protégé.

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PERFORMANCE IGNORED: Recommendations of the promotions board were reportedly ignored. Neri’s executive assistant Antonio Echevarria (his nephew) pushed aside recommendees and installed friends in their place as senior vice president and vice presidents.

Vice President May Ciriaco, for example, was not among those promoted, in spite of her seniority and overall good performance. Seniority, performance and overall contribution to the Commission’s efforts apparently do not matter.

Neri brushed aside an SSS resolution promoting 100 branch managers and mid-level officers who have been branch OICs for the past 10 years. Instead, he promoted nine senior officers on flimsy bases to the prejudice of career personnel.

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POWERFUL NEPHEW: The SSS union said Neri violated civil service rules and regulations. It noted it was the first time the SSS president ignored recommendations of the Personnel Selection Board.

It said Neri gave too much powers to Echevarria, who as special assistant to the President and CEO, sat on the promotions board, handled the steering committee for the multibillion-peso unified multi-purpose ID project of various government agencies and the SSS rationalization program.

Rubbing salt on wounds of senior executives, Neri recommended Echevarria to be deputy CEO, a permanent position. Under CSC rules, line departments should not be headed by co-terminus employees like Echevarria who has no accountability.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 24, 2010)

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