‘Yardstick’

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Saturday, January 25, 2014


YOU want a yardstick to gauge if government means business about curbing sleaze? Check if it protects ”whistle blowers”: those who risk jobs, ostracism, and sometimes their lives, to expose crime.

Inquirer last week picked seven whistleblowers as “Filipinos of the Year.” Benhur Luy, Mary Ariene Baltazar, Merlina Suñas, Gertrudes Luy, Marina Sula and Simonette Briones ripped apart the pork-barrel scam. Their pictures were splashed on the front page, in Witness Protection Program bullet-proof vests.

Six senators, 24 congressmen and assorted officials face charges of swapping pork barrels for cuts ranging 19 up to 60 percent of allocation.

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Whistleblowers can be institutional, like the Commission on Audit. To disguise its actual size, Mayor Tomas Osmeña’s yen loans, in Cebu City Hall books, were “understated”—a polite word for “doctored”—by P1.71 billion, Commission on Audit’s Helen Hilayo found.

City Hall fudged by using outdated yen-peso exchange rates The actual bill totalled almost two-thirds of the annual budget. COA flogged then SRP ovverseer Paul Nigel Villarete to shape up. He did---grudgingly. And we Cebuanos discovered being strapped, without a by-your-leave, with IOU bills stretching into 2025.

At a 2001 congressional hearing, chaired by Rep. Antonio Cuenco, Bernard Liu and Ananias Dy testified on four drug shipments funnelled into Cebu.

Liu fingered his then-employer Peter Lim, who was never charged.

This probe faded from the radar screen--until 2006. Piggy-backed on a motorcycle, bonneted gunmen salvaged Dy. The cops haven’t nailed the killers. Surprise? Instead, they arrested Liu for “his role in drug shipments.”

With Dy, he never signed up for government’s witness program. Others argue there are adequate shields. In the slammer, he moaned:

“If a whistleblower is jailed, who’d want to sit in the witness chair?”

Consider the different outcome in the 11 year old case over looted Cebu Girl Scout funds,. Rep. Clavel Asas-Martinez of Bogo allocated P10 million from her Priority Development Assistance Fund for the “anti-illegal drugs campaign of the GSP-Cebu Council.”

That ended in her BPI personal account No. 9663-0063-01.

Checks for P4 million and P6 million were returned to Bogo No proof that the defendants held final authority over the funds,.her defense lawyers said. Nor did the “government suffer undue injury.”

The Sandiganbayan’s March 18 arrest warrants were temporarily suspended, after the defendants filed an omnibus motion to dismiss. Soon, a decision will be made, one way or the other.

Some blow the whistle alone, as did Land Bank’s Asca Ramirez. She was shoved among suspects in a line-up for then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s photo op. . Primitivo Mijares was one of Ferdinand Marcos’ chief propagandists. He wrote the book “Conjugal Dictatorship” and testified in US Congress. Mijares disappeared in 1977 and his 15-year-old son was later found murdered.

In the 1970s, Rand Corporation’s Daniel Ellsberg leaked classified information about U.S. policy in Vietnam to the New York Times.

That led to reform.

Many countries recognize the societal value of whistle-blowers. They adopt laws to ensure that whistle-blowers have institutional protection against retaliation. Thus, South Africa has a Protected Disclosure Law. The US Labor Department safeguards, by federal law, those who expose malfeasance. Individual states like Illinois have “”whistle blower” ordinances.

Where do we in Cebu stand?

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 26, 2014.

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