POSTSCRIPT / March 6, 2011 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Despite 3 strikes, Noy keeping Torres at LTO

BUDDIES ALL: Being true to friends is a desirable trait, but where does one draw the line when friendship threatens to get in the way of fulfilling an official’s sworn duties?

President Noynoy Aquino is increasingly under pressure to drop his shooting buddy, DOTC Asst. Secretary Virginia Torres, as chief of the Land Transportation Office after her involvement in incidents impinging on her fitness for office.

Appointed in July 2010, Torres has struck out just too many times. She has been linked to at least three major cases that may indicate it is high time she quit and not bring further embarrassment to her friend in Malacañang.

But quick to the draw, President Aquino has just reiterated his trust in her – displaying the same tenacity he had shown in retaining another shooting range buddy, DILG Asst. Secretary Rico Puno for police matters, despite a number of negative reports on him.

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THREE STRIKES: Upon their swearing in, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said, “The President will choose people who share the same vision and values as his, and people whom he is more confident to work with and some of those were with him during the campaign.”

“Sharing the same vision and values” may just prove politically costly for the President. In the case of his friend and kababayan from Paniqui, Tarlac, critics of Torres cite three black marks:

* Her alleged complicity in the failed takeover by some businessmen of the Stradcom high-tech nerve center of the LTO base in Quezon City resulting in a nationwide paralysis of services. The justice department has recommended the filing of charges against her and her suspension.

* Her being charged by the PNP Highway Patrol Group with registering a carjacked vehicle when she was still LTO District head of Tarlac. Torres is reportedly one of 15 LTO officials against whom the HPG is recommending criminal and administrative action.

* Her attempt to replace licenses held by some 10 million drivers to paper licenses despite findings of the DOTC that no progressive country uses paper after moving on to more high-tech cards. Many bidders accused the LTO of favoring the only firm that can supply the paper licenses that Torres wants.

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DoJ REPORT: A fact-finding committee formed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has recommended administrative charges against Torres for alleged complicity in the failed takeover last Dec. 9 of the premises of information technology systems contractor Stradcom Corp.

The committee report resulting from four hearings, one of which Torres attended, has been endorsed by De Lima to Transportation Secretary Ping de Jesus and the Office of the President.

The panel said Torres should be “administratively charged with gross neglect of duty, or gross incompetence, or in the alternative, with grave misconduct.”

It also recommended that she be asked to take an indefinite leave of absence or, if she refuses, be placed on preventive suspension to prevent her from using her position to influence prospective witnesses or tamper with vital records.

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CCTV FOOTAGE: Torres’ head executive assistant Menelia Mortel was also recommended for administrative sanctions and preventive suspension.

Caught on the close-circuit TV footage of the Dec. 9 incident, the duo was accused of conspiring with a group of businessmen Aderito Yujuico and Bonifacio Sumbilla in the attempt to take control of the Stradcom operations center in the LTO main compound.

The group allegedly hired armed men, different from the internal guards securing LTO premises, to force their way in. The “raid” caused disruptions in LTO operations for seven hours.

Urduja Security Services, the LTO security agency, reported that Torres met its LTO security personnel the night before and instructed them to stay away from the coming Stradcom incident.

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AUSSIE LECTURE: Still on alleged friendship, have the Philippines and Filipinos fallen another notch lower in the esteem of neighbors and supposed friends in the international community?

Dropping traditional diplomatic niceties, the Australian government has lectured publicly to us to demonstrate our resolve to fight corruption by pursuing convictions for high-profile graft and fraud cases and undertaking lifestyle checks on officials.

Friendly states do not meddle openly in one another’s domestic affairs nor presume to tell another sovereign state, especially an ally, what to do about local problems.

Such counsel could be given in quiet conversations or confidential memos. But the Australian embassy decided to do it in full public view, maybe for impact, through a statement of its embassy at the recent Philippine Development Forum.

Australia happens to be one of the largest grant donors to the Philippines.

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HOPIA DIPLOMACY: Then some of us thought we have earned points with Beijing after we joined its boycott of the last Nobel awards rites in Oslo and deported to China 14 Taiwanese summarily declared as undesirable aliens.

Look what has just happened to our blooming romance with Beijing.

The Chinese have brushed aside our protest over their gunboats’ harassing last Thursday a Philippine government research vessel quietly conducting scientific tests in our own area in the Reed Bank in the Spratlys group.

The Philippine military said it scrambled two “warplanes” (we have warplanes?) to the area west of Palawan. Thank God we moved with deliberate slowness so the Chinese boats were gone when our planes hove into sight. That was close!

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy insisted that China had sovereignty over the disputed area, known as the Nansha islands by the Chinese and the Spratly islands elsewhere.

“Since historical times,” spokesman Sun Yi lectured to us, “China has had indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha islands and their adjacent waters.”

End of story?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 6, 2011)

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