Trillanes slaps Duterte, Go with plunder charges

Former president Rodrigo Duterte, along with Senator Christopher Lawrence T. Go and two others, were charged with plunder by former senator Antonio Trillanes IV for alleged irregularities in the awarding of public works contracts in Davao region.

In a complaint filed at the Department of Justice last July 5, Trillanes alleged that PhP6.6 billion worth of projects were irregularly awarded by the Department of Public Works and Highways to CLTG Builders and Alfrego Builders and Supply own by Go’s father Deciderio and brother Alfredo.

Trillanes questions how the two “mid- and bottom tiered contractors” were able to secure the contracts despite limited and unfinished construction projects, “to the prejudice of the government and the people of Davao.”

The former senator said no less than 125 public works projects were awarded to CLTG Builders while 59 projects were given to Alfrego Builders and Supply in clear violation of The Anti-Plunder Act (Republic Act 7080) as well as other laws and the Constitution itself.

“Simply put, Alfrego Builders & Supply should not have been awarded any project worth more than P10 million, and is prohibited from taking on projects with a total cost of more than P15 million at once,” the complaint reads.

“Curiously, some contracts obtained by Alfrego amounted to Php181.5 million, Php140 million, Php132.5 million, and Php108 million, all of which were awarded in 2017 to 2018 when Duterte was President and herein Respondent Bong Go was Cabinet of President Rodrigo Duterte as Special Assistant to the President and Head of the Presidential Management Staff,” it adds.

Trillanes also said that CLTG Builders, named after the senator’s initials, was originally owned by the close Duterte associate.

Go has earlier said he had divested himself of his interests in the company since elected appointed to the government.

Duterte has remained silent on critic Trillanes’ latest broadside against him.

The charge is the second complaint the former president received after ACT Teachers’ Party Rep. France Castro’s grave threat complaint against him last October. Castro’s complaint has since been dismissed for “lack of evidence.”

Senator Go however denied the plunder allegations, saying the charges are “rehashed.”

Go said the “re-cycled issues” from a “lazy attack dog like Trillanes.”

The senator countered that people associated with Trillanes should also be looked into, adding that such “attacks” have become a “tradition” when election time nears.

“It has become the tradition of others to attack when elections approach. It seems it has become a business of sorts to earn or to become relevant,” Go told reporters.

Trillanes has earlier announced plans to run for the mayoralty of Caloocan City.

Trillanes however said his complaint was filed as a “taxpayer and concerned citizen.”

Trillanes had been a Duterte political nemesis since the start of the latter’s presidency in 2016, initiating the “mass murder” complaint against the then president before the International Criminal Court in April 2017. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Love the Philippines’ ad firm won at least P187M worth of tourism promotion contracts

PCIJ’s research shows that Doyle, Dane & Bernbach (DDB) Philippines also won at least three other contracts with the Department of Health and the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation. They are worth another P235 million.

BY CARMELA FONBUENA / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Doyle, Dane & Bernbach (DDB) Philippines won at least two other government deals to promote tourism on top of its discredited P49.92-million “Love the Philippines’’ ad campaign, research by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) showed. 

DDB Philippines got a P124.45-million contract with the Department of Tourism (DOT) in February this year, and sealed the P12.99-million contract with the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) in December last year, based on documents PCIJ obtained from the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (Philgeps).

It’s a total of at least P187 million worth of government contracts to boost tourism promotion under the year-old Marcos administration. The controversial deal with DoT to rebrand the country’s tourism campaign was finalized in April this year. 

DDB Philippines, an affiliate of the DDB Worldwide Communications Group based in New York, has come under the spotlight for producing a promotional video that used stock footage of tourist attractions in other countries for the DoT’s campaign rebrand, “Love the Philippines.’’   

The tourism video – which used footage of rice terraces in Bali, Indonesia; fisherman in Thailand; an airplane in Switzerland; and dolphins in the United Arab Emirates – has made international headlines and sparked outrage. The stock footage was reportedly downloaded from Storyblocks, a stock media subscription company. 

Amid the uproar, Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco terminated the contract with DDB Philippines, saying “not a single peso of government fund has been paid with the agency.” But Frasco indicated she was keeping the new slogan, saying “‘Love the Philippines’ reflects the heart of every Filipino because we all love the Philippines.’’ 

DDB Philippines had apologized for using stock footage of other countries in the video that it said was meant for internal use only. It explained that the presentation uploaded on social media was a “mood video to excite internal stakeholders about the campaign.’’

The video was shown at the June 27 launch of the newest tourism campaign that replaced the “It’s more fun in the Philippines’’ branding that had been in use since 2012.  President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. attended the launch.

The controversy has prompted calls for investigation in Congress.  

 Single rated bidder 

Before getting mired in the campaign ad fiasco, DDB has won more than a dozen multi million-peso contracts from government agencies over the years.  

At least six of these were reached during the first year in office of Mr. Marcos.   

NOTICE TO PROCEED. The first contract with DDB Philippines was signed by DOT Secretary Cristina Frasco in February 2023. 

On Feb. 28, the DOT awarded DDB Philippines a contract to provide consulting services for the “promotion of Philippine islands, award-winning Philippine destinations and tourism products” for P124.45 million. 

The six-month contract, signed by Frasco and DDB Group COO and CFO Judd Balayan, was supposed to end on Aug. 31.  

The ad agency was declared the single rated and responsive bidder, meaning it was the only firm that submitted documents for the bid. It also passed eligibility requirements. This is allowed by the Government Procurement Policy Board. 

Also, on April 19, DDB Philippines won the controversial P49.92-million contract from DOT to handle the “consulting services of an agency for Philippine Tourism Branding.”

The ad agency was declared the highest rated bidder for the six-month contract, which was signed by DOT Undersecretary Verna Esmeraldo Buensuceso and DDB’s Balayan, and was supposed to end on Oct. 19.  

These contracts required DDB Philippines to pay security bonds. The first contract with DOT required the firm to pay performance security, which is 5 percent of the contract price (P6.2 million in cash) or a surety bond worth P37.33 million.

The second contract required a performance security of P2.4 million or a surety bond worth P14.97 million.

Bonds are guarantees that the winning bidders could fund the projects. They are returned after the projects are completed.   

The Philgeps documents obtained by PCIJ do not include the terms and reference of the contracts, which would have included the schedule of payments.

These two DOT contracts followed a smaller contract between DDB Philippines and TPB in December last year.  For P12.99 million, the ad agency would provide “consulting services for the conceptualization and development of MICE brand and campaign.”

TPB is an attached agency of DOT that markets and promotes tourism here and abroad.

MICE stands for Meetings, Incentive Travel, Conventions and Exhibitions, which are specialized sectors of tourism requiring higher standards of services and facilities. 

The contract was awarded to DDB Philippines on Dec. 29, 2022. The notice to proceed was issued on Feb. 7, 2023. 

Outside tourism promotion, the marketing firm also bagged at least three other deals – P108.8 million and P99.73 million to handle the Department of Health’s campaign on seven healthy habits and P26.78 million to mount the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation’s multimedia public awareness campaign.  

A fourth contract with DOH worth P52.5 million was also issued a notice of award on July 10. 

 Another P40-M DOT contract ‘postponed’ 

Among production houses in the country’s capital, many were surprised that a firm as big as the DDB Philippines would make such a gaffe. 

“It’s out of character for DDB to not practice due diligence when it’s their protocol for ages to do so. All production houses, we follow that,” said an industry veteran. The controversy has prompted speculations about the contract.

Former Sen. Richard Gordon, who once served as DOT Secretary, said it was not enough for DDB to apologize.

“An agency as big as DDB cannot overlook a mistake that big. It is their duty to review and have everything checked or the mistake will bite you. More importantly it will rabidly hurt the Philippines,” Gordon told journalist Christian Esguerra on his Youtube program #FactsFirst. 

In the wake of the controversy, the DOT postponed a new bid for an agency to run its social media management and strategic planning. It had an approved budget of P40 million. 

Philgeps documents show that three companies were shortlisted for this service. One of them is DDB Philippines.  END

Sandiganbayan convicts Duterte’s frat brods of plunder

The Philippine anti-graft court convicted two of President Rodrigo Duterte’s fraternity brothers of plunder along with a retired police officer over one of his government’s first corruption scandals.

The Sandiganbayan said former Bureau of Immigration deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles as well as retired policeman Wenceslao Sombero extorted P50 million from Macau-based gambling tycoon Jack Lam in 2016.

The three were sentenced to 40 years in prison for plunder as well as 10 years for graft. They are also perpetually disqualified from holding public office.

Argosino and Robles were among the Lex Talionis Fraternitas brothers Duterte appointed to office upon assuming the presidency.

The anti-graft court ruled the three were guilty of extorting the amount in exchange for the release of 1,316 Chinese nationals caught illegally working in Pampanga. 

It said Sombero acted as middleman while Argosino was identified as the “main plunderer.”

Closed circuit television footage presented at a Senate investigation showed the officials and the middleman receiving bagfuls of cash from Lam and later carrying them out to a casino parking lot in Pasay City.

Argosino and Robles later claimed they took home to the money to protect it before handing them over to the Philippine National Police.

In 2017, Lex Talionis member and Duterte’s first justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre appeared to try to protect Argosino and Robles when he declared the three could not be charged for plunder as the money they returned was P1,000 short of the minimum P50 million for the offense.

The National Bureau of Investigation, an agency under Aguirre’s supervision, consequently recommended the lighter charge of graft and corruption.

Then Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales however disregarded the Department of Justice recommendations and went ahead with the plunder charges.

Sandiganbayan justices later discovered the full P50 million was intact after the accused separately returned the amount in batches, leading to their plunder conviction.

Aguirre was himself implicated in the scandal when Sombero revealed the then justice secretary also met with Lam on the day they received the money.

Aguirre however was allowed to stay as justice secretary until April 2018 when he figured in another controversy involving his clearance of alleged big time drug personalities Kerwin Espino and Peter Lim.

The Jack Lam extortion scandal was not the first time that Argosino has figured in the news.

He was among the senior students implicated in the hazing death of fellow San Beda College of Law student Raul Camaligan in 1991.

Argosino and his co-accused pleaded guilty to the charge of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide and were imprisoned from 1993 to 1995.

Argosino passed the bar examinations in 1993.

Upon his release, he petitioned the Supreme Court to be allowed to practice law which was allowed after senators, former magistrates and members of the religious community attested he was of “good moral character.”

He and his co-accused also declared they have promised a Raul Camaligan Scholarship Foundation to atone for the death of the then Lex Talionis neophyte.

Both the Camaligan family and San Beda later told The Philippine Daily Inquirer the foundation was just an empty promise.

Lex Talionis is seen as the most powerful law school-based fraternity when member Duterte became President in 2016 and began appointing several fraternity brothers to high government positions. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Duterte’s SALNs secret; PCIJ makes public wealth disclosures of all presidents since Cory

With the Office of the Ombudsman’s latest memorandum circular, SALN access is now restricted across all branches of government.

By Karol Ilagan and Stanley Buenafe Gajete/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

For the past 30 years, the Office of the Ombudsman has made readily available the wealth disclosures of Philippine presidents and other government officials. Until now.

The Ombudsman, with its Memorandum Circular 1, has blocked public access as well as public inspection at reasonable hours of the SALN, for the first time since the law mandating public disclosure of these records was passed in 1989.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s 2018 and 2019 statements of assets, liabilities and net worth or SALN should have been made public within 10 days from the day they were filed. The Ombudsman initially rebuffed repeated requests by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) to obtain copies, claiming that it was still revising the guidelines for public access to the SALNs of government officials.

More than a year since that review started in May last year, the Ombudsman finally came up with its new guidelines: the anti-corruption body is no longer allowing the public to see copies of the SALNs.

The Ombudsman circular states that copies of the SALN may only be provided to a requester if:

  • he or she is the declarant or the person who filed the SALN or the duly authorized representative of the declarant;
  • there is a court order; or
  • the request is made by the Ombudsman’s field investigation units.

Of the six SALN custodians, the Office of the Ombudsman is now among four that have the most restrictive rules in SALN access. (See sidebar: A citizen’s guide to where and how to get a SALN)

PCIJ also requested the Office of the President to release Duterte’s SALN. After all, Malacañang has made SALNs public in the past. We made the first request on June 21, 2019 and followed up repeatedly. The response? Ask the Office of the Ombudsman, which we had already done.

For the past year, repeated requests by the PCIJ for the President’s wealth statement have been tossed back and forth between the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of the President. The issuance of the Ombudsman’s circular now essentially makes Duterte’s SALNs secret.

The latest batch of SALNs, covering the year 2019, is supposed to be filed by officials on or before April 30. But because of the Covid-19 quarantine, the deadline was extended to June 30. Once filed, these records must be made available to the public in 10 working days after filing or around July 15.

As the Ombudsman restricts public access to SALNs of the presidents and other officials, we are releasing for the first time the SALNs of all past presidents since 1989, when the law requiring the public disclosure of asset statements was passed.

These documents show that President Duterte is breaking a long tradition of presidents making their annual wealth disclosures public year after year, often even without a formal request from the press or the public to do so.

All SALNs since Corazon C. Aquino’s first statement in 1989 to Duterte’s 2017 SALN can be downloaded here. The 2017 disclosure was the second Duterte filed as president and the last that was made publicly available.

Chart 1. The declared wealth of Philippine presidents from Corazon Aquino to Rodrigo Duterte can be found in this folder. Infographic: Alexandra Paredes

Other branches of government have also become more restrictive of access to wealth disclosures. In fact, only two of the six repositories (Malacañang Records Office and the Civil Service Commission) provide access to full copies of SALNs without the need for the declarants’ approval. When President Duterte took office, he promised a more transparent government, but that has not happened.

Last year, the PCIJ published a story based on all of Duterte’s SALN filings since he was Davao City mayor. We found that his wealth increased from less than P1 million in 1998 to nearly P29 million in 2017. We also reported “big spikes” in the wealth of the president’s children, Sara and Paolo Duterte, based on their SALNs.

The president was not pleased. “What we earned outside is none of your business actually,” he said at a public event in April last year. ‘Yung may mga negosyo kami, mga law office kami — what the goddamn sh*t?”

Chart 2. In April 2019, PCIJ reported how President Rodrigo Duterte and his children, Sara and Paolo, have all consistently grown richer over the years, even on the modest salaries they have received for various public posts, and despite the negligible retained earnings reflected in the financial statements of the companies they own or co-own. Infographic: Alexandra Paredes

When we asked for the president’s 2018 SALN the following month, the Office of the Ombudsman stalled. Our request for the 2019 filing in August 2020 was also ignored until the Ombudsman released its circular a month later.

Three weeks after assuming office, Duterte signed Executive Order 2 that required the full public disclosure of many public documents. The order specifically said, “all public officials are reminded of their obligation to file and make available SALNs for scrutiny.”

Contrary to the spirit of the order and the requirements of a 1989 law, Congress and the courts have recently issued new guidelines restricting access. The Office of the Ombudsman, the uber custodian of SALNs, has changed its rules several times with varying degrees of openness.

Prior to the latest guidelines restricting public access, all requests must be approved by Ombudsman Samuel Martires. Martires, who belongs to the president’s San Beda law college fraternity, is a two-time Duterte appointee, first to the Supreme Court in 2017 and second to the Office of the Ombudsman in 2018.

Republic Act (RA) 6713, also known as the SALN Law, says that the actual SALNs should be open for public inspection at reasonable hours, available for copying after 10 working days from the time they are filed, and available to the public for 10 years from receipt of the record. These statements contain detailed information on an official’s real and personal properties, loans and other liabilities, and net worth as well as business interests, financial connections and relatives in government. (See sidebar: What’s in a SALN anyway?)

In a recent budget hearing, Ombudsman Martires said his office had stopped lifestyle checks on officials because RA 6713 supposedly set “unclear” standards.

Throughout the world, wealth disclosures are seen as an important anti-corruption tool. “The requirement that public officials declare their income and assets can help deter the use of public office for private gain,” said the World Bank. “Income and asset disclosure systems can provide a means to detect and manage potential conflicts of interest, and can assist in the prevention, detection, and prosecution of illicit enrichment by public officials.”

The SALN serves as a tool for transparency as well as prosecution as the law allows for lifestyle checks, law professor Antonio La Viña said. The wealth record offers a way to make sure that officials “do not benefit, do not increase their wealth because of their work (in government).” Through the SALN, one can track the way officials’ wealth changed over the years in which they were in power, he explained.

La Viña has reservations about everyone getting a hold of the SALNs, but said the Ombudsman circular was very restrictive when it excluded journalists from getting the records. “The media should always be given full access or at least access to the most important part of the SALN, the summary part,” he said.

The law professor surmised that the Ombudsman restricted access because the SALN had been “abused, misused, weaponized.”

To La Viña, however, those in power are the ones “weaponizing” the SALN to go after their enemies.

“President [Benigno] Aquino [III] used it against [Chief Justice Renato] Corona. President Duterte or the people of President Duterte — [Solicitor General Jose] Calida — used it against [Chief Justice Maria Lourdes] Sereno.”

The SALN was key to the ouster of the two chief justices. In 2012, Congress impeached and ousted former Chief Justice Renato Corona. In 2018, the Supreme Court removed through quo warranto proceedings Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, a critic of Duterte and his administration’s war on drugs. Both Corona and Sereno were accused of failing to fully disclose their wealth in their SALNs.

The PCIJ has also used asset statements to hold presidents accountable for the wealth they have accumulated while in public office. Without access to the full SALNs, this kind of investigative reporting becomes very difficult.

In 2000, we exposed the “millions, mansions and mistresses” of President Joseph Estrada, showing that what he had spent on his lavish lifestyle exceeded the net worth declared in his SALNs.

Chart 3. In July 2000, PCIJ reported how former President Joseph Estrada did not declare his participation in about a dozen companies in which he and his wife were major investors and board members. His wealth disclosures neither gave an idea of the magnitude of the business interests that he and his families were engaged in. Infographic: Alexandra Paredes

The PCIJ also reported on the murky finances of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2009 and the spike in the net worth of Benigno Aquino III in 2011. All this reporting relied on SALNs as well.

Chart 4. In August 2009, PCIJ found that the declared wealth of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had increased the fastest, and by amounts much bigger, than the combined net growth of the three presidents before her – Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada. Infographic: Alexandra Paredes
Chart 5. In July 2011, PCIJ reported that President Benigno Aquino III’s wealth had grown nearly three times, or from only P15.44 million as of December 2009 to P55 million as of December 2010. Infographic: Alexandra Paredes

La Viña warned that restricting SALN access to the media might increase impunity among corrupt officials. Before, corrupt officials hid illicit wealth or did not put it in their SALNs. Now, given access restrictions, they will be able to avoid scrutiny.

La Viña also said other SALN repositories might follow the Ombudsman’s lead. It’s important to file a petition before the Supreme Court to clarify access, particularly media access, he said.

In 2019, the Senate, which used to be one of the most open to making SALNs public, stopped releasing copies of the statements filed by senators. Senate Policy Order 2019-001 issued by the Office of Senate President Vicente Sotto allowed access only to SALN summaries and not the actual documents, citing the Data Privacy Act of 2012, which supposedly “restricts the dissemination of personal and privileged information.”

The House of Representatives has been disclosing only wealth summaries of congressmen since 2010. In February last year, it adopted House Resolution 2467 requiring all SALN requests to be approved by a majority vote of the House members in plenary session. Apart from numerous requirements, a requestor will have to pay P300 per SALN if the request is approved. That’s P91,500 for the SALNs of all 305 members of the House.

The Supreme Court has consistently thrown legal roadblocks at requests for the SALNs of members of the judiciary. After the ouster of former Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012, the high court issued guidelines that required those seeking access to the wealth statements of justices to state in writing a reason for doing so. These requests also needed to be approved by the Supreme Court en banc. So far, requests from media organizations have been denied. Instead, the court releases only summaries listing the total value of the assets and liabilities of justices.

In the past 30 years, the PCIJ has obtained the full statements, not summaries, of the wealth disclosures of many public officials either through routine requests or in the course of its reporting. While some agencies held back, it was sometimes also possible to walk into the offices of government offices, or Malacañang, and get a copy right there and then. Some presidents, like Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph Estrada even disclosed their income tax returns.

The legal requirement to file SALNs is found in RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), the 1987 Constitution, and RA 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees). (See sidebar: Laws governing wealth disclosure)

The earliest of these laws, RA 3019, enacted in 1960, requires public officials to prepare annual statements of assets but does not require that they be made available to the public. Public disclosure was mandated by the 1987 Constitution for the highest officials of the country, and in 1989, RA 6713, for lower-ranking officials as well. –with additional research by Floreen Simon, Arjay Guarino and Rex David Morales, PCIJ, October 2020

‘Battle of the bastards’: House squabble, budget railroading irk farmers group

Condemning maneuvers that led to the railroading of the proposed 2021 national budget at the House of Representatives (HOR), the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) likened the infighting by administration allies at the chamber as a “battle of the bastards.”

Comparing developments at the HOR to an episode of the television series Game of Thrones of the same title, the KMP said the shameless squabbling of Reps. Alan Cayetano and Rep. Lord Allan Velasco over the Speakership and the multi-billion pork barrel led to railroading of the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget.

Cayetano on Tuesday, October 6, railroaded the 2nd reading of House Bill No. 7727, the proposed 2021 national budget, while his supporters moved to suspend session until November 16.

The motions were approved by Cayetano’s supporters despite objections by Representatives attending the hearings via online meeting app Zoom.

The move allows Cayetano to bypass the October 14 deadline when he is supposed to relinquish his post to rival Velasco in accordance with their so-called term-sharing agreement brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“These two Allans have no shame. They both deserve the anger and condemnation of Filipinos. They are openly engaging in a power struggle to gain control over the House and the pork barrel,” KMP said.

The farmers group said the shameless squabbling of HOR leaders denies other representatives the chance to scrutinize the proposed P4.5-trillion budget riddled with budget cuts for much needed social services while increasing funds for debt servicing, military and intelligence.

“Just to remind these two ‘bastards’, the national budget is not their personal money and Congress is not their playground. They ought to be legislating pro-people measures and reforms,” KMP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Martial law victims want Imelda behind bars

Martial law victims and activists held a picket protest outside Sandiganbayan office in Quezon City to demand for the arrest warrant for Imelda Marcos following its guilty verdict against the former First Lady.

Samahan ng mga Ex-detainees laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) welcomed the conviction and asked the court to immediately put Marcos behind bars.

The group also reacted to the statement of PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde that Imelda might not be arrested because of her age and health conditions.

Albayalde’s statement did not surprise the martial law human rights victims since the Rodrigo Duterte government has been giving the Marcos family special treatment, SELDA said.

SELDA added that Sandiganbayan’s guilty verdict is a landmark decision that should be upheld.

SELDA called on the Sandiganbayan to stand by tits decision and not be cowed by the Marcoses’ alliance with Duterte. # (Report by Joseph Cuevas / Video by Carlo Francisco / Featured Image by Jinky Mendoza-Aguilar)