(Fourth of a series)
ONE of the clearest indications that the P38-billion scheme for the production of the new machine-readable passports that former President Aquino 3rd and his officials engineered was rotten is the following.
They strenuously concealed that it was a private firm United Graphic Expressions Corp. (UGEC), and not the government corporation APO Production Unit (APU), that would print the 45 million passports at a cost of P38 billion from mid-2016 to 2026. Such monopoly operations would generate for UGEC a staggering P11 billion in profits.
The scheme represents one of the biggest deceptions ever to conceal corruption of the highest order. Aquino and his officials — mainly Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio Coloma Jr. and APU Chairman Milagros Alora — set up in November 2014 a dubious “joint venture,” without any bidding, with the formerly Malabon-based printing outfit UGEC.
Billionaire Iñigo Zobel, the country’s 11th richest man, according to Forbes magazine, has been reported to have become only in 2014 its biggest stockholder through his family’s E. Zobel Inc. Zobel has not responded to these reports.
APU is one of only three state entities — the other two being the National Printing Office and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas — that the government has authorized to print “high-security” materials, such as excise-tax stamps and passports. APU, however, turned over its printing contracts, first, with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and trade and industry department, and later the gargantuan 10-year P38 billion job for the printing of the e-passports to the JV.
The JV is a farce. APU is a token partner with just 10 percent of its ownership, with 90 percent held by UGEC. Ninety percent and then 70 percent of its profits, under the terms of its agreement with APU, would go to UGEC. Even as UGEC charges the JV for the use of its machines, for P700 million annually.
As a result, this shadowy private firm generated P3 billion in income from 2015 to 2106, and if it continues this scheme, will get another P8 billion.
In effect, Aquino and his officials — mainly Coloma and Alora, both high officials in Cory Aquino’s government — had transformed a government firm into a façade of a private firm that has and will generate billions of pesos on the back of profit margins on the printing of 45 million Philippine passports.
This colossal case of corruption has been successfully concealed, with mainstream media apparently looking the other way when these were first exposed in a congressional hearing in 2018. It is so strange — or maybe not — that party-list representatives, Akbayan’s Ibarra Gutierrez in 2016 and Bayan Muna’s Carlos Zarate in 2017 had vociferously condemned early last year the passport scam, the latter even filing a resolution asking Congress to investigate. Quite suddenly though, the two became totally silent on the controversy.
A prime example of how Aquino went to great lengths to conceal the scheme was when he inaugurated on June 20, 2015 what he and his officials called the “APU High Security Printing Plant” at the Lima Technology Park in Batangas, which started producing en masse the e-passports in July 2016. Aquino was issued the first such e-passport on the day of his visit to the plant.
In his speech, Aquino boasted that under his watch the APU had been turned around to generate income and that it had set up a high-security printing plant that could print the DFA’s new e-passports.
Aquino didn’t mention at all though that the plant was almost entirely owned through the JV by UGEC and would get 70 percent of its net income for 10 years. APU’s equity in the JV was in the form of the one-tenth of the valuation of the land it had leased from the export-processing zone. Ninety percent of the JV’s managers and workers were employees of UGEC, with the APUs employees being there merely as fixtures to portray it as a joint venture.
He could have boasted that the plant was a good example of a partnership between a government agency and an efficient hi-tech private firm. That he didn’t can only be explained by the fact that he deliberately wanted to keep from the public the fact that a crony firm really owned the plant and would get the P38-billion printing contract from the DFA.
PCOO’s head Coloma — under whose supervision and authority APU was — in several media interviews claimed the “APU’s High Security Printing Plant” as a stellar achievement, but never disclosed that it was run and was 90 percent owned by a private firm.
In the APU’s 2015 annual report — the last under the Yellow regime and by its chairman Alora — no report at all was made of that P38-billion e-passport contract from the DFA, its biggest print job ever, and its de facto sub-contracting to UGEC. Its only mention of the firm was that APU “received an unsolicited proposal from UGEC for a joint venture for the purpose of upgrading APO Lima’s plant into a high-security printing facility.”
I asked Coloma, just before and after I wrote these articles on this fraudulent case, to give his side, with my messages relayed to his colleague at the Manila Bulletin where he is executive vice president. There has been no reply.
I also asked Alora, an old acquaintance of mine as she has been a PR practitioner since the 1980s, to similarly respond through Facebook’s Messenger platform.
Alora answered four questions, the most important of which was on her justification for the subcontracting of the passport-printing to UGEC: “What APU and UGEC have is a joint venture and not subcontracting and approved by NEDA, Govt procurement board, DBM and DOST and other pertinent agencies.”
The Commission on Audit though claimed that one of the major “misrepresentations” — that is, lies — that APU told government regulators was even contained in its JV agreement, that the UGEC offer for a JV was “superior and more advantageous to APU“ than other offers.
The CoA said that there was no other offer made to APU. It was in fact secretly negotiated, agreed to, and implemented.
After those four questions, Alora blocked me from sending her messages in Messenger.
I have investigated and written columns on several other scams and instances of corruption during the Aquino government, among them the grant of a P5-billion MRT-3 maintenance contract shepherded by a Liberal Party finance officer, the P4-billion purchase of the defective Dengvaxia vaccine, and the Disbursement Acceleration Progra that was really the hijacking of government funds to projects that Aquino chose at his whim.
This e-passport printing case is the most abominable. This is not only because of the magnitude of profits — P11 billion — it would generate to enrich the already rich, at the expense of 45 million Filipinos needing that main document signifying one’s membership in the Republic.
It is most damnable in that the scheme was designed to be implemented whether or not the Yellow candidate won in the 2016 elections, since it practically hostages the government.
In fact, former Foreign Affairs secretary Alan Cayetano declined to end the corrupt scheme even after he knew about it. He feared the fate of his predecessor Pefecto Yasay Jr. whom the Yellows successfully took out of his post because he wanted it ended. The ambitious Cayetano also didn’t want to risk his career being damaged if there was a disruption in the passport issuances.
Will the present foreign secretary who has built an image that he’s got huge balls end this colossal case of corruption?
The Duterte presidency would be blamed if it doesn’t stop the scam. The Yellow forces would even throw Coloma and Alora under the bus, and spread the lie that it was under Duterte’s watch that the scheme was implemented, and he and other officials profited from it.
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
(The original column was printed with The Manila Times)
SAGADA, Mountain Province — This scenic town will highlight its rich culture and tradition in the 8th Etag Festival set from January 31 to February 3, 2019.
Etag Festival coordinator Denver Sibayan said this year’s festivities will highlight the culture and traditions of the Isagada through the various activities and events which will be enjoyed by both the local residents and the tourists alike.
The festivities will kick off with a civic parade on January 31 to be participated by different government offices, non-government organizations, barangays, schools, other groups, and guests along the municipal main road going to the softball grounds near the Saint Mary Church, followed by an ecumenical mass.
The opening program will be graced by provincial officials led by Mountain Province Caretaker, Kalinga Congressman Allen Jesse Mangaoang and Governor Bonifacio Lacwasan.
DENR-Cordillera Protected Area Section Chief Linda Claire Pawid, a native of Sagada, will be the guest of honor and speaker.
The opening day will be highlighted by the ‘kikan’ or the community lunch to be prepared by each of the 19 barangays of the municipality; followed by the opening of the “etag” booth and the “etag” cook fest challenge.
“Etag” is pork meat preserved through salting, smoking over a low fire, or sun-drying, and is an important part of the life of Sagada people especially in rituals for different occasions.
A visual arts exhibit and on the spot portrait sketching will also be opened to art enthusiasts of Sagada at the municipal hall.
Sports activities and children’s games including ball games, chess, muay Thai and a karate exhibition will also be opened at the different venues in the municipality.
The 1st Sagada Etag run will also commence on February 2 at 530AM.
Part of the festival will be the conduct of activities on raising awareness on disaster risk reduction and management and climate change adaptation and emergency responder’s race, There will also be speech and choir competition, search for the best recycled products and other sports games.
February 3, Sunday is cultural day featuring street dancing and cultural presentations participated by the barangay folks and the youth.
The participants in their colorful traditional native attires would be parading at the main thorough fares of the municipality and will present the culture and tradition of the Sagada in the field demo and the cultural presentation.
Cultural performances will be presented by the barangays featuring the different tradition and practices of the Sagada people including the simple lifestyle, farming practices, courtship and marriage.
A ‘depap di beteg’ or the traditional pig catching event will also be done by the men of Sagada at the community court.
Indigenous games such as “kadang-kadang’ (walking on stilts), relay, ag-agto (hush) relay and the community tag of peace are part of highlights. Talents of the Isagada will also be showcased in the Igorot showdown following the indigenous games.
The day will be capped with the traditional gangsa or gong beating and traditional native dances by the community.
This year’s theme is “Gawis ay kultura ya pammati, Adi tako Iwaksi, tay sha nan Nang-urnos isnan ili,” (Keep alive the good culture and beliefs that bind the unity of the community).
“Let us remember our vision, ‘The municipality of Sagada to be economically, socially, religiously and culturally progressive society where there is peace, justice and abundance of life” as we celebrate our town fiesta,’ Mayor James Pooten urged the residents.
“There is better hope in the future if we share in one vision and aspiration towards a more progressive, more peaceful, and greener Sagada, where hardworking, peace-loving, law-abiding, morally upright, and God-fearing people reside,” he added.
The Etag Festival was conceived to showcase the “distinct Sagada culture and to boost the livelihood of the local community”, and to promote eco-tourism in the countryside. – Redjie Melvic M. Cawis
BAGUIO CITY— Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan requested the Cordillera office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB-CAR) and the technical personnel of the local government to fastrack the conduct of the required inspection to the reported cracks on the road and alleged sinking portion of the road leading to the famous Mines View Park so that appropriate mitigating measures could be implemented that will address whatever dangers that it poses to the residents and visitors.
The local chief executive stated that the findings and recommendations of the MGB-CAR and the local government’s technical personnel are important to guide concerned offices on what mitigating measures will be implemented to prevent the cracks from further expanding and lessen the safety issues to the public, especially that the Mines view Park is one of the frequented tourist destinations in the city by people who flock to Baguio during weekends and long holidays just to enjoy the existing scenery.
“We were surprised to learn about the cracks and subsidence on the road leading to the Mines view Park that is why we immediately sought the assistance of experts from the MGB-CAR to immediately ascertain the cause of the cracks and recommend short, medium and long-term solutions in addressing the said problem so that the safety of the residents and visitors frequenting the area will not be compromised,” Domogan stressed.
Earlier, the MGB-CAR recommended that a joint geo-technical survey with the technical personnel of the local government will be done in the area where the cracks and subsidence were found to ascertain what were the cause of the said cracks and recommend the implementation of mitigating measures to prevent the increase in the said cracks that will affect the stability of the place and eventually put to risk the situation of residents in the area and visitors frequenting the tourist spot.
According to him, the safety of residents and visitors in the Mines View Park is one of the primordial consideration of the local government that is why it immediately sought the assistance of experts from the MGB-CAR to assist technical personnel of the local government in trying to look into the reason for the occurrence of the cracks and the sinking of a portion of the road leading to the viewdeck of the Mines view park which is considered an urgent problem that needs an immediate solution from the concerned government agencies tasked to be experts on the matter.
He instructed concerned offices of the local government to initially install whatever necessary signages that will provide the needed warning to the residents and the visitors on the presence of the cracks and the sinking portion of the road in the area to avoid the occurrence of unnecessary incidents that will affect the safety of the public while the appropriate study is being done by the concerned agencies on the cause of the cracks and the subsidence in the Mines view Park area.
He appealed for understanding from the public on the inconvenience that will be caused by the conduct of the required study so that the effects of the cracks and sinking portions to the stability of the road in the area will be significantly reduced and corrected in the coming months to prevent the occurrence of incidents that will affect the safety of the people frequenting the place. — Dexter A. See
It is indeed a lucky start of the year for our gaming public as another Lotto millionaire was declared in just a span of 10 days – seventh millionaire for this year.
“It is a first of its kind in a span of 10 days. Our lucky millionaire guessed the correct combination of 19-01-25-43-18-39, taking home the jackpot prize of P63,810,688, in the Mega Lotto 6/45 draw,” announced Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) General Manager Alexander Balutan as he described the phenomenon of the agency’s lotto games this month.
The winning ticket was purchased at PCSO’s lotto outlet in Gaisano Grand Mall-Talamban, Gov. Cuenco Ave., Sitio Nasipit, Brgy. Talamban, Cebu City owned by Dara Acusar.
Of the seven jackpot winners, two hit the jackpot prize from the Ultra Lotto 6/58; two from Lotto 6/42; and one from Super Lotto 6/49 and Grand Lotto 6/55, and just recently from the Mega Lotto 6/45 draw.
The chances of winning in the lotto draws are one in 5,245,786 for Lotto 6/42; one in 8,145,060 for Mega Lotto 6/45; one in 13,983,816 for Super Lotto 6/49; one in 28,989,675 for Grand Lotto 6/55; and 1 in 40,475,358 for Ultra Lotto 6/58.
“We have just given close to half a billion jackpot prizes for seven Lotto games this January amounting to P490,359,761,” Balutan said.
On Monday, a lone winner took home the P239.2 million for the Grand Lotto 6/55 from the Lotto outlet managed by the Lucky Circle Corporation located at the Lower Ground Floor of SM City Cebu.
On January 15, another winner took home the Lotto 6/42 jackpot prize of P48,204,764. The ticket was purchased in a lotto outlet in Sampaloc, Manila owned by Anthony Young.
On January 18, a winner guessed all six numbers for the jackpot prize of P49,500,000 of the Ultra Lotto 6/58 draw The ticket was purchased from a lotto outlet owned by Rebecca Reyes in Novaliches, Quezon City.
On January 19, another lucky winner took home the P5,940,000 jackpot prize of the Lotto 6/42 draw. Ticket was purchased at Panabo City, Davao del Norte.
And on Jan 20, a lucky winner hit the jackpot of the Super Lotto 6/49 with the jackpot prize amounting to P25,226,907. Ticket was purchased from a Lotto outlet in SSS Village, Concepcion Dos, Marikina City owned by Juvy Deligero. – PCSO PR
BAGUIO CITY–The Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) has set a massive information campaign on the decision of its members to register with the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) and, as such, insulate it from the threat of privatization.
Beneco’s member-consumers in Baguio and Benguet earlier passed resolutions for its conversion into a true cooperative to prevent it from being taken over by profit-oriented firms.
Steered by its general manager, Gerardo Verzosa, the Beneco has grown into one of the most viable power distribution firms in the country.
Verzosa said the decision to convert into a real cooperative was also prompted by pronouncements on the abolition of the National Electrification Administration (NEA) which has supervision over the country’s electric cooperatives and the need to recognize consumers as true owners of the same.
The conversion will legitimize its being labeled as a “cooperative” by then President Marcos who privatized the country’s telephone systems and made its water systems as government corporations.
An electric cooperative official explained that Marcos’ move was to enhance energization in the country and allow the “cooperatives” to use their resources towards providing electricity in all households.
Under Verzosa’s leadership, Beneco grew into one of the country’s top electric cooperatives despite its difficulty of energizing a mountainous terrain where houses are often not clustered, unlike those in the lowlands.
Having grown into one of the most viable coops in the country, Beneco faces the threat of being bought by private companies, prompting its members to convert and register with the CDA.
As prepared by lawyer Delmar Carino, Beneco’s information manager, the information campaign will begin this December in Kabayan, Benguet and will also focus on its decision to build mini-hydros.
To run until next year, the information campaign will also target the mayor’s leagues of Baguio and Benguet, sanggunians and barangays of the cooperative’s franchise area, – Ramon Dacawi