POSTSCRIPT / February 28, 2012 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Receiving valuable gifts SOP under PNoy admin?

ONE LAW: For his own sake, President Noynoy Aquino should refrain from making instant judgments on the (mis)conduct of his fellow workers in government until he is able to make up his mind as to what practice in the service is acceptable and what is not.

After he has done that, he may want to engrave that standard on brass plates to be posted in offices, including his own in the Palace, to remind him and the rest of officialdom what the hard rule is.

That may help minimize confusing situations where the President clears one official and condemns another one caught committing similar offenses.

Then, perhaps, the people would have more respect for the law, and for their leaders.

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DOUBLE STANDARDS: Until the legal and ethical standards are clear in the President’s mind, he might continue to defend the indefensible, to justify the unjustifiable conduct of officials close to him.

Witness his going into contortions insisting that it is all right for Pagcor Chairman Cristino Naguiat to accept valuable gifts from casino investors. A similar act would be contemptible if committed by a predecessor in the Arroyo administration.

Why is it an impeachable crime for Chief Justice Renato C. Corona to accept an airline courtesy card (assuming he did) while it is all right for other officials who are prosecuting and judging him before the Senate to avail themselves of exactly the same card?

If rules were applied evenly, presidential adviser Ronald Llamas would not have gotten an instant presidential absolution after being caught on video buying a bundle of illegal DVD copies of intellectual property.

There are many more in the KKK (Kaibigan, Kaklase, Kabarilan) coterie getting away with misconduct either because the rules are not clear to the President or he is afraid to lose associates in his comfort zone.

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NAGUIAT CASE: Actually, the rule of conduct — formally called the law — has already been laid down. All that is needed is enforcement or execution. The Chief Executive is sworn to enforce the law.

The President may have acted too quickly in clearing Naguiat of any wrongdoing when he allegedly accepted perks valued at $110,000 from Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada whose investment in Pagcor’s gambling city is regulated by the office of Naguiat.

To dismiss the alleged bribery as “standard industry practice” is to condone regulators being too chummy with individuals and companies operating under their watch.

Malacañang said Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa would investigate Naguiat’s alleged acceptance of perks. But with the President having cleared him already, how can Ochoa investigate with an objective mind?

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OKADA-WYNN FEUD: Naguiat’s apparent lapse of judgment would have gone unnoticed had he not been caught in the crossfire of Okada’s feud with Wynn Resorts Ltd., a Nevada-based firm over which he held commanding control.

Okada is fighting his being ousted from Wynn Resorts on the basis of his allegedly having illegally given cash and gifts to Pagcor visitors. The perks were reportedly unearthed in an investigation led by a former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

While the payment, if true, could be in violation of US anti-corruption laws, President Aquino apparently saw nothing wrong with the perks as he saw them as “standard practice” in the casino industry.

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LTO ON MANUAL?: Another costly problem is coming to a boil at the Land Transportation Office, whose operation might just fall back to manual mode when the information technology contract held by Stradcom Corp. expires in February 2013, or a year from now.

The Department of Transportation and Communications has announced that the technical board of the National Economic and Development Authority gave the go-signal for a P10-billion initiative called “Road Transport IT Project” to replace the present system.

The project seeks to continue the integration of the IT system of LTO offices nationwide, and link it with that of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.

The bid for the project may be announced this week or early March. The project is expected to be awarded to the winning bidder by April.

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IMPLICATIONS: Some of the implications of dropping the present Stradcom system and its replacement by a new system to be built up from scratch:

1. The government will shell out P10 billion for starting all over again. Stradcom financed in full the current IT system, with the government spending nothing. In the 10-year life of the contract, the LTO’s income shot up from P4 billion to P14 billion.

2. The winning bidder this time, assuming it is not Stradcom, will have less than a year or at most 10 months to build a new system. Many IT experts said it cannot be done on such short notice.

Stradcom took at least five years to complete the LTO integrated system, according to IT expert Helen Macasaet.

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PROBLEM: “Even assuming that it is easier to set up systems today as opposed to 10 years ago, still there is no way that a corporation can complete a new system, an integrated one at that, in less than a year,” Macasaet said.

An alternative, she added, is for the winning bidder to buy Stradcom’s system. “But in that case, why even bid out the project?” she asked.

And then, is Stradcom willing to sell the system that will soon become its property under its BOO (Build-Operate-Own) contract?

Why not just forego the projected P10-billion avoidable expense by giving the contract to Stradcom after upgrading the terms in favor of the government?

Problem is that Stradcom has had a run-in with LTO Chief Virginia Torres, who is quite close to the President and who at one time allegedly tried to throw out Stradcom from the LTO main premises in Quezon City.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 28, 2012)

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