Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 16 December 2012


Comes now one Eduardo Araullo, corporate secretary of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, faulting me for failing to do my duty to the public as a journalist because, he says, I did not check the facts before writing my column on Sergio Valencia (Inquirer, 11/24/12). What facts I got wrong, he did not enumerate, so I looked at my column again, a self-examination, so to speak, and I ask the Reader to join me in determining the erroneous material.

Valencia was in jail. Check. For the past 50 days (that’s when I wrote; it is now 81 days). Check. His vitae. Accurate. He and the PCSO board had confirmed on three different occasions that then President Gloria Arroyo had approved the request of PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte for the release of additional confidential and intelligence funds (CIF). Check. That act was ministerial, as distinguished from discretionary. Check. The PCSO board was apprised of the requests, the approvals, and the releases of funds only after the fact. Check. So far so good.

The PCSO and its board are directly under the control of the Office of the President. Check. Which means that the President has the power of control (defined in the column). Check.

The Senate blue ribbon committee report (95)” its formal name is “Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations” did not fault the PCSO board, and concluded that Uriarte and President Arroyo “started and finished” the entire scheme. Check.

The charges of the Office of the Ombudsman that Valencia et al. amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth include no SALNs, no bank accounts, not one iota of evidence. Check. Benigno Aguas, PCSO budget officer and a long-time PCSO employee, was also charged with plunder because he certified that funds were available. Check. Funds were indeed available. Check.

Anyone interested in looking at the source documents for the above facts is welcome to get in touch with me. I have a file on the case that is now about three inches high.

In the interest of full disclosure, Mariza del Rosario, Sergio Valencia’s sister, attends the same daily Mass I attend. She asked a member of my walking group (Menchu Bautista) to ask me if I would consent to look at her brother’s case. I asked for, and was provided, the documents, including those filed with the Sandiganbayan by both parties. And I was appalled at the cavalier treatment of facts by the prosecution.

I met Sergio Valencia’s wife, Tina, in the course of my request for more documents. I visited Sergio Valencia (and Benigno Aguas) only after I wrote my 11/24 column, and the visit was at my request.

My decision to take up the cudgels for Valencia (and the others unjustly ” I say this with total conviction” accused came after I read the above documents. Which should be and is my SOP. I do not and never will write, and have not written, a column based on a press release. Nor have I ever received any compensation, other than that from the Inquirer, BusinessWorld, and GMA-7, for any of my columns, opinions, or analyses.

The PCSO corporate secretary writes that the question is not whether Sergio Valencia is a good man or not (does he grant that Sergio is a good man?), but whether Valencia was a good public servant. And he says this is for the Sandiganbayan to answer.

The Senate committee on the accountability of public officers did not hold Valencia and the PCSO board accountable. But the current PCSO board secretary says otherwise. His reason? “Governing boards and heads of agencies can refuse to appropriate funds for illegal purposes. It is their duty, and they have the inherent power to say no”.

I agree. Except that the principle does not apply in Valencia’s case, because it was not the PCSO board, but the then President herself, that approved the requests for additional funds, which did not even go through the PCSO board. What the PCSO board did was merely confirm that she had approved it and had it released. The board was informed of it after the fact; releases in accordance with an approved budget do not require any action from the board. By the way, it still hasn’t been determined whether the funds were used for illegal purposes, but Araullo seems to have the inside track on that. He should maybe share his proof with the Ombudsman.

Araullo says I ignored the report of my own newspaper. No. What I did was I read the court transcripts themselves (don’t get it second-hand when you can get it first-hand). And if Araullo had read the other documents, rather than depended on the testimony of a prosecution witness (not yet subjected to cross-examination), it would have been clear that Valencia as PCSO board chair, was entitled to a P5-million-a-year CIF. And he will also find (as I did), that these expenses were liquidated properly.

Moreover, if the Senate committee couldn’t find anything to pin Valencia with, neither could the Office of the Ombudsman — at least originally. I have a copy of the joint resolution of a 5-person panel of investigators constituted by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, headed by Deputy Special Prosecutor Cornelio L. Somido, dated March 2, 2012. It recommended the dismissal of the plunder charges against Valencia et al. filed by the PCSO (represented by Araullo) and Regalario, Hontiveros and Lim, and the filing of (much) lesser charges against them.

It would be interesting to find out why the good Ombudsman reversed her panel’s recommendations. I will certainly ask her.