Conflict of interest-A A +A
Thursday, August 30, 2012
MY FIRST book, which hopefully will be among those the Cebu Provincial Government would launch this year, tackles the history of one of my two considered hometowns, Tudela (the other is Poro) in the Camotes group of islands. Writing it was a learning experience and deepened my understanding of the choices my father made while growing up in the town.
My research also led me to the town’s landmarks, including the Immaculate Conception Institute (ICI), the private high school founded by the late parish priest, Joseph Wiertz in the late ‘60s. After almost floundering from internal conflict after the priest died in the ‘80s, ICI is now being run by the Congregation of the Daughters of St. Teresa.
I talked with one of the nuns when I went to the school a couple of years or so ago to check its status. The municipality and the entire island which Tudela shares with Poro town are poor, the economy dependent on agriculture and fishing. But ICI has managed to survive, with its enrollment beefed up by Department of Education (DepEd) scholars.
Government-sponsored scholarships are a boon to private educational institutions because the funding support bloats the number of students who are able to enroll every school year. This is true in the case of schools where the beneficiaries of Cebu City’s college scholarship program are enrolled, including the Asian College of Technology (ACT) owned by Councilor Rodrigo “Bebot” Abellanosa.
Abellanosa is at the center of the controversy swirling around the ordinance that institutionalizes the city’s scholarship program. Mayor Michael Rama vetoed the ordinance because it allows Abellanosa to wiggle into the scholarship committee that will handle the program. Last Wednesday, the city council overrode the veto. Fortunately, Abellanosa has promised that he will not sit in the scholarship committee.
Conflict of interest. That’s where Abellanosa’s accommodation of government scholars differs with that of the ICI nuns. No DepEd official is in ICI’s board of directors. On the other hand, Abellanosa is a member of the city council from where funds that the scholars pay to schools like ACT originate. Abellanosa owns ACT.
I was told that Abellanosa raved and ranted against Sun.Star Cebu yesterday for running an editorial about this conflict of interest (its title: “Abellanosa’s options”). His main objection was the use of the figure blurted out by Mayor Michael Rama—that 20,000 of the city’s scholars are enrolled with ACT while only 1,000 went to other schools. Abellanosa’s claim: ACT only has 9,000 students, 4,000 of them scholars.
A fish, they say, is caught by its mouth. In correcting Rama’s claim, Abellanosa showed us the extent his school benefitted from the city’s scholarship program. Four thousand scholars out of 9,000 students constitute almost half of the school’s student population. Imagine if ACT didn’t have scholars. There’s a Cebuano idiom for that: buhi pero niwang.
To be fair, Abellanosa reportedly adds P1,000 to the P10,000 tuition assistance the city gives per scholar. But one can also interpret that as a strategy. That could be one of the reasons why the line of scholars is longer in ACT.
Abellanosa seems bent on running for congressman in the city’s south district against the veteran Antonio Cuenco and lawyer Aristotle Batuhan. The earlier he extricates himself from this mess the better for his candidacy. One lesson he can learn is the one filtered from Manny Villar’s failed run for president in 2010.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 31, 2012.