Saturday, January 31, 2009


Philippine Daily Inquirer
Close this In the Laundromat known as congressional investigations, influential individuals suspected of wrongdoing usually come up smelling like roses while their accusers end up stinking like filthy sewage water. The concurrent investigations being conducted by the Senate and the House of Representatives into the blacklisting of three Filipino construction firms by the World Bank are destined to end in the same way: with the contractors being cleared and the World Bank being dismissed as little more than a weaver of fanciful tales, playing loose with the facts and quick to malign some poor, innocent Filipino companies with sterling reputations for fair-dealing and integrity. In fact this appears to have already come to pass in the House edition of the probe, which Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has fittingly labeled as “a comic opera.”

In 2007, the chief of the World Bank’s Integrity Vice Presidency uncovered evidence that a cartel, composed of several Filipino and Chinese firms, was trying to rig the bidding for contracts for the first phase of the National Road Improvement and Management Program (NRIMP 1), worth $33 million. The bank’s Sanctions Board, composed of senior officials and external legal experts, later determined that three Filipino firms — E.C. de Luna Construction Corp., Cavite Ideal International Co. Ltd. and CM Pancho Construction Inc. — and four Chinese construction companies colluded to set bid prices at “artificial, noncompetitive levels.” The bank then cancelled the funding for the project, and permanently barred E.C. de Luna from bidding in any World Bank projects and suspended the six other firms for varying lengths of time. Leonard McCarthy, World Bank Integrity vice president, said, “This is one of our most important and far-reaching cases, and it highlights the effectiveness of the World Bank’s investigative and sanctions process.”

Not so, the affected contractors protested. Ernesto de Luna told the senators he had been “interviewed” only once and no documents were sought from him by World Bank officials. Lamberto Lee of Cavite Ideal International told the congressmen that World Bank investigators merely relied on the testimony of one of the confidential witnesses to find his company guilty, while disregarding the testimony of 29 non-confidential witnesses who cleared his firm. What they were trying to say was that the World Bank didn’t do a fair and thorough investigation, a conclusion supported by a public works official.

“We cannot fathom the thinking of the bank in this process,” Undersecretary Manuel Bonoan said. “We have no reason to believe there was collusion.” He said the three Filipino firms banned by the World Bank were “the most reliable contractors in the country.” So reliable, in fact, that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has continued to award them contracts, regardless of the World Bank’s findings and sanctions. E.C. de Luna, for example, won a P100-million road building contract in Negros that was one of the components of NRIMP 1, but now funded by the Philippine government. And it is working on 25 other government projects worth a total of P3.7 billion.

So why would the World Bank single out these three companies? That logical question was never asked by the congressmen as they rushed to exonerate the contractors.

“There was no sufficient proof of collusion,” said the chairman of the House committee on public works and highways, Rep. Roger Mercado of Southern Leyte province.

“The DPWH based its findings on hard facts, the World Bank based its findings on the account of an anonymous person,” said Rep. Milagros Magsaysay of Zambales, who probably doesn’t read newspapers, because otherwise she would have known that the DPWH did absolutely nothing after the World Bank came up with its findings. Rep. Elpidio Barzaga of Cavite said it was the World Bank and other multilateral lending institutions that allowed bidders to go over the estimated budget for a project, unlike the DPWH, which stuck to its ceiling.

So now it is the World Bank that is guilty — of padding budgets and unjustly penalizing Filipino firms. But we are not surprised. First, because it seems to be the fate of whistle-blowers always to end up in the dock. And second, because lawmakers will never be interested in proving collusion among contractors or suppliers. That is how their favorites end up bagging contracts for their own pork barrel projects. And to expose them is to kill the golden goose that allows them to recover their election expenses, with interest that would be the envy of Ponzi scammers.

Gordon wants to amend AMLA

By: Marlon Purificacion - Journal online
SENATOR Richard Gordon yesterday said he wants to amend a provision in the 2001 Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) to allow not more than two years extension on freeze order against the accounts and properties suspected to have been illegally acquired by any public official or employee.

Gordon, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee, is set to file a bill that specifically seeks to amend Section 10 of Republic Act 9160 as amended by RA 9194, otherwise known as the AMLA.

“We are introducing a measure to amend the anti-money laundering law, specifically on the section that provides for the implementing rules and regulations on freezing monetary instrument or property,” he said.

“Once the alleged offenders take hold of the accounts or property suspected to be related to money laundering, then the nation is immediately deprived of the possibility to recover unlawfully acquired assets and is prejudiced by the loss of property,” he added.

Under the current AMLA, the Court of Appeals (CA), upon request of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), may issue a freeze order on monetary instrument or property related to an unlawful activity for a period of 20 days and may be extended for a period not exceeding six months.

Under Gordon’s proposal, the CA may grant an extension of the freeze order every six months but, in no case, shall the total extension accumulate to more than two years.

“When the AMLC, the Ombudsman or the Solicitor General fails to file a forfeiture case and move for preliminary attachment, the freeze order may eventually lapse, giving the owners of the accounts free hand to dispose of the money or property as they wish,” Gordon said.

The AMLC, however, has to prove before the court that a “compelling reason” exists for the allowance of the extension.

Also, AMLC will have to justify why there is a failure on the part of the government to file for a preliminary attachment or forfeiture on any property found to have been unlawfully acquired by any public official or employee, thereby a need to further extend the freeze order period.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

on Nuclear Plant at Bataan

Strategic Perspective - By Rene B. Azurin
Misrepresenting science
Know the difference between a scientist and a politician? Ask a scientist "what is 2 plus 2?" and the scientist unhesitatingly answers "4." Ask a politician "what is 2 plus 2?" and the politician furtively looks around, leans closer conspiratorially, then whispers out of the side of his mouth, "what do you want it to be?" OK, OK, that’s an old joke, but maybe we should keep it in mind when we hear a politician assuring one and all that the operation of the controversial Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is perfectly safe.

The proponent of House Bill 4631 ("Mandating the immediate re-commissioning and commercial operation of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant") in the House of Representatives, Rep. Mark Cojuangco, has been assuring all and sundry that the operation of the mothballed nuclear plant is completely safe, saying that he "would even take up residence in Morong (the town near where the plant is located) to prove that there was no danger in operating the facility." He did not say how this could constitute such proof.

Anyway, last week, Mr. Cojuangco was reported to have taken a group of his House colleagues on an inspection tour of the Westinghouse-built 619 MW plant "to show that it was still in good condition." Apparently, Mr. Cojuangco also served his colleagues some "scientific data" on the geology of the location plus a lecture on radiation levels and nuclear technology. Reportedly, 190 of his colleagues have already agreed to support his bill.

Let us set aside — for now — the fact that Mr. Cojuangco is the son of the chairman of San Miguel Corporation, a conglomerate that has expressed interest in taking over the BNPP as part of its strategic diversification into the power business. San Miguel, it will be recalled, has also recently acquired major shares in electric power distribution giant Meralco and oil refiner Petron. A big power generation firm fits nicely in the apparent strategic scheme.

For now, let’s focus on the science. Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, professor emeritus of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the University of Illinois at Chicago and a balik-scientist who now teaches at the National Institute of Geological Sciences of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, says that those who are trying to justify the activation of the BNPP have been guilty of "abusing scientific data." In particular, he says that Mr. Cojuangco is "dangerously misrepresenting" the scientific data contained in a paper authored by Dr. Joan Cabato, Dr. Fernando Siringan, and himself and in another written by Dr. Ernesto Sonido and Mr. Jesse Umbal, both on the geology of the BNPP site.

Dr. Rodolfo says that they were "dismayed to find that the explanatory note to the bill cites our work as certifying the safety of the Bataan nuclear plant site." He quotes from said note: "Top geologists have evaluated Bataan and, with the exception of Mt. Natib which is a dormant volcano whose last eruption was estimated to have been between 11.3 [and] 18 thousand years ago (Cabato et al. 2005) and which is ten kilometers (10 km) from the BNPP, could find no anomalies in locating the plant there."

Dr. Rodolfo takes vigorous issue with Mr. Cojuangco’s statements and says, first, that "the BNPP is not 10 kilometers away from Natib, it is on Natib, which constitutes the entire northern half of the Bataan peninsula." Next, he says that they did not estimate the age of Mt. Natib’s last eruption in their paper. What he says they actually wrote was:

"A breach in the caldera of Mt. Natib is the most likely source of a presumed pyroclastic deposit in the eastern bay that is associated with sediments about 11,300 to 18,000 years ago, indicating that a Natib eruption occurred much more recently than previously documented for this volcano." Finally, further quoting from their paper, he says that ".the youngest [faults] show that movements occurred about every 2,000 years, most recently about 3,000 years ago." Thus, concludes Dr. Rodolfo, "judging from the geologic evidence, Subic Bay is well overdue for an episode of faulting and earthquakes."

As pointed out by Dr. Rodolfo, an exhaustive analysis of the geology and geohazards of the Subic Bay area was made by Dr. Ernesto Sonido, formerly geophysics professor of the National Institute of Geological Sciences at UP, and Mr. Jesse Umbal, who obtained his masters’ degree at the University of Illinois and worked with Dr. Rodolfo during the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. In their paper, Dr. Sonido and Mr. Umbal adjudged Natib as "potentially active." They found Mt. Natib, like Mt. Pinatubo, to be a "caldera-forming" volcano, a type which (Dr. Rodolfo says), "characteristically, have very powerful eruptions separated by long repose periods." The Sonido-Umbal study "documented two Natib eruptions that formed large calderas and estimated the recurrence period for earthquakes of Magnitude 6.4 to 7.0 at 22 years; of Magnitude 7.0 to 7.3 at 59 years; and of Magnitude 7.3 to 8.2 at 157 years."

Dr. Rodolfo further stresses that none of the "top geologists" with an intimate knowledge of Bataan has called Napot Point "safe." As an example, he cites Dr. Ronnie Torres, formerly with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology and now at the University of Hawaii, who warned of volcanism and faulting at the site in 1992: "Natib volcano does not erupt very often but could still erupt." Says Dr. Rodolfo, "as a rough rule of thumb, the longer a volcano is in repose, the more time it has to store eruptive energy".

"In short," charges Dr. Rodolfo, "our science is being abused by a person in governmental authority, either deliberately or out of sheer geological ignorance." That’s heavy.

Beyond geological considerations, there are other issues related to nuclear power in general and the BNPP in particular. These include the risks of operational accidents, the high toxicity of materials handled, the stringent measures required to avoid radiation contamination of surrounding communities, the danger of radioactive material being stolen and used by terrorist elements, and the lack of a satisfactory solution for the final disposal of the tons of radioactive waste created. All these are compounded by the absence of a safety culture and the presence of a corruption culture in the country.

Obviously, serious questions on this matter need to be considered. But for us the public, the question we must first answer is, whose answers should we listen to? Those who represent science, or those who misrepresent it? Scientists or politicians? Well, what do we want the answer to 2 plus 2 to be?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Palace eyes 3 million jobs

The government is ready to provide as many as three million jobs for the year as MalacaƱang raised to P330 billion the proposed multi-billion peso economic stimulus package to cushion the impact of the global economic crisis.

Secretary Domingo Panganiban, lead convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, said the jobs will be created under the Comprehensive Livelihood and Emergency Employment Program component of the economic sustainability plan.

Panganiban said the three million will be a “best-effort” and based on a projection that at least one million will be needed by June 30. “We might be going beyond one million by June 30,” he said.

He said the government is allotting P1 billion for every one million jobs.

The economic stimulus plan, originally at P300 billion, is provided under the proposed P1.415 trillion national budget for 2009 which Congress has yet to approve.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto earlier said part of the proposed economic stimulus package will be used to hire more teachers and policemen, finance infrastructure spending and rehabilitate the state healthcare system. He said the government also plans to increase the number of poor families receiving direct cash assistance.

President Macapagal-Arroyo called the program an “Economic Resiliency Plan” to pump-prime the economy. “The plan aims to upgrade infrastructure, expand social protection and ensure sustainable growth in the midst of the global economic crisis,” she said.

Recto said the focus is on the repair and rehabilitation of roads, hospitals, bridges and irrigation facilities, schools and other government buildings.

Panganiban said “so much number of people” also want to be interviewed for jobs in the Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Transportation and Communication and Department of Education. He said there are also jobs in janitorial and utility services. “So we might go beyond the one million,” he said. By: Tess Bedico - Journal online

SBMA exec bares anomaly

A DIRECTOR of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority yesterday revealed that the SBMA has refused to enter into its books of accounts more than P850 million in disbursements which had been disallowed by the Commission on Audit.

Director Mario Garcia noted that as early as February 16, 2005, the Commission on Audit has been questioning the non-recording of P856,300,753 in disallowances and charges in the books of the SBMA.

Garcia said 99 percent or P854,677,167 was disbursed from 1992 to 1998 while the remaining one percent or P1,623,586 was released from 1998 to 2002.

Quoting the memo of State Auditor Teresita Gequinto, Garcia said the disallowances and charges have become final and executory due to the non-submission of an appeal within the prescribed period.

Garcia said according to Gequinto, the non-entry of the disallowances and charges into the SBMA books was in violation of COA Circular 94-001 dated Jan. 20, 1994.

“That circular prescribes the recording in the books of accounts of disallowances, including suspensions,” he said.

Due to the non-recording of the disallowances and charges into the books, receivables, affected expense accounts and retained earnings were either understated or overstated, Gequinto said in his memo.

Instead of entering the disallowances and charges into the books, Garcia said SBMA allowed the money to be liquidated over the years and is now down to only P37.032 million.

“Still, this amount has not been entered into the books and disallowances as per my initial inquiry. The question now is, what is the reason behind this? Or is anybody behind this?” Garcia asked. Journal online

US bases cleanup pinned on Obama

Officials of a Filipino group that has been pressing the United States since 1992 to clean up the toxic wastes left in its former military bases in Central Luzon said they are hoping that incoming American President Barack Obama would heed this clamor.

“We’re seeing there is more openness and more like us having an access to his office because there are a lot of allies [who] have supported him during his campaign and have gone to his conventions. [They are] Filipino-Americans who have been working on this issue to get the US to clean up,” Myrla Baldonado, executive director of the People’s Task Force for Bases Cleanup (PTFBC), said here on Monday.

These, as well as Obama’s background as a community organizer in Chicago and his social advocacies, including his receptive staff, make the campaign feasible now, she said.

“Also, I’m seeing more hope in the American people becoming allies especially in the peace movement so they can put pressure on the government for them to act in a way that’s very different from past administrations,” she said.


But the PTFBC, Baldonado said, still expected many obstacles in the campaign to repair the environment of the former Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base.

The Philippine government converted these into economic free ports starting 1991 without removing the contaminants left by almost a century of military use by the US.

A possible obstacle is Obama’s appointment of Sen. Hilary Clinton as state secretary, Baldonado said.

“This could be a repeat of the [Bill] Clinton administration where we have eight years of them denying responsibility then as if accepting responsibility, giving promises without doing anything substantial,” Baldonado said.

For another, Obama faces tough times, mainly the responsibility to stem, if not stop, the economic recession.

“It was easier to talk to him then but now he’s president of the… US, and he’s trying to deal with all sorts of people in making decisions, and there are pressures from the military industrial complex,” Baldonado said.

“It might be narrow, or very small, but there is a window of opportunity of reaching out,” she said.

“We don’t know if there’s going to be a cleanup within our lifetime or the lifetime of our organizational campaign but we know we’re leaving a legacy of keeping on, struggling, keeping on the pressures, empowering the people so they would continue,” she said.

No RP move

Baldonado said the Republicans, under outgoing US President George W. Bush, had adopted a resolution to clean up Clark and Subic.

Efforts by PTFBC’s partner, the Filipino-American Coalition for Environmental Solution, ran aground when the Republicans did not pursue the resolution and the Arroyo administration did not make demands, she said.

In 2004, the Dominican Order in the Philippines lobbied at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to press the US to end its “toxic legacy” in the Philippines.

It said the Philippine government “lacked the political will in negotiating with the US for the environmental cleanup and compensation for the victims.”

The Dominicans also told the UNCHR that as of 2004, at least 375 people, 282 of them children, had died around Subic of leukemia. Twelve more cases have been monitored around Clark.

At least 8,000 workers at the former Subic Ship Repair Yard had been exposed to asbestos, radioactivity and other toxic chemicals.

Around 43,000 more Subic workers had handled toxic chemicals and ammunition. Many suffer from various types of cancer, the group said. By Tonette Orejas - Inquirer Central Luzon Desk