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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Drilon’s shaming campaign

Ano ba ang galit ni Drilon?


Why does Drilon keep providing the Senate and reporters with distorted figures?


In my long years writing a column I had tried to avoid defending someone related to me. But I draw an exception today in my husband’s case, as he is undergoing outright persecution but he’s unable at the moment to defend himself because he’s ill. A number of friends and relatives have emailed, texted or phoned as to why Sen. Franklin Drilon, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, seems to be taking it out personally on former SSS Chair Thelmo Y. Cunanan, singling him out day in and day out for attacks in the media. Ano ang galit sa kanya ni Drilon? They all ask.

It’s a valid question. While Drilon has been investigating the issue of GOCC and GFI salaries, bonuses, allowances and other benefits, which is not a bad move in itself, he has appeared to have made Cunanan the primary target of his unrelenting attacks. 

Distortion of facts and figures for shock value

Distorting the facts
Drilon has chosen to provide the Senate and reporters with a stupendous amount that he claims the former SSS official has accumulated. He has also ignored explanations and corrections offered, so that the facts and figures he cites are completely distorted and untrue. With the huge budget of the Finance committee, Drilon should be able to diagnose the real problem as far as the officials in GOCC/GFI are concerned---much like a good doctor makes a correct diagnosis by looking at all angles. But perhaps for the sake of sensationalizing the topic, he has chosen to distort some facts and figures and unfortunately, these are what some media have been feasting on. But I don't blame the media---they thought the Senate Finance Committee would be more responsible with facts and figures.

Distorted computations 
to sensationalize an issue

For instance, Drilon came up with the grand total of P132.6 million that Cunanan allegedly collected from Philex Mining, Union Bank and First Philippine Holdings where he sat as a director representing SSS over several years. The amount is a shocker indeed but Drilon’s aim is really to shock the public into outrage---a hate campaign against Gloria appointees.

If the details are broken down, however, the inaccuracies and distortions come out. For instance, Drilon keeps including in this grand total the amount of P66.6 million that he claims came from stock options offered by Philex to its SSS directors, including Cunanan.

Philex shares bought with own money

He got this figure by computing the number of shares availed of by the directors at the high selling price of P19.50 or even P21 per share, and assumed every director sold at that price and made a killing. But Cunanan pointed out that because he was only able to avail of the stocks offered when the selling price was much lower, he sold only 1/3 of his stocks and decided to keep the 2/3.

Ignoring
the truth
The stocks disposed of earned him P15 million over the past several years, NOT P66.6 million, and he holds on to a bundle of certificates at the low selling market price of P9.20, now slowly climbing to P11. But Drilon keeps dragging back the figure of P66.6 million in the media, which accounts for nearly half of the bloated P132.6 million he suspects Cunanan made.

But the central point Drilon ignores completely is that Cunanan paid for the Philex shares WITH HIS OWN PERSONAL FUNDS, borrowed from a bank, and NOT SSS FUNDS. He keeps insisting that the present SSS leadership “take steps in order to recover these funds.”

SSS Directors Returned Half of Profits from Unionbank
as per standing arrangement of their predecessors

Then Drilon raised the matter of profit-sharing given by Union Bank to its directors, including three from SSS led by Cunanan. Drilon accused the SSS officials of pocketing fees amounting to P45.3 million in 2009 alone, or P15.4 each.


Cunanan pointed out, however, that as per a standing arrangement already in place in SSS when they came in, they remitted to the SSS Treasury Department HALF OF THOSE PROFIT-SHARING CHECKS received from Union Bank in the past four years. He said that from him alone, SSS received P4.4 million on Feb. 2, 2007, P5 million on Feb. 2, 2008, P3.9 million on March 17, 2009 and P7.7 million on Jan. 22, 2010.


PhP 21 MILLION in Payments made to SSS by Thelmo Cunanan
as part of profit-sharing arrangement already in place for years
from Unionbank fees

2 Feb 2007:       PhP 4.4 Million
2 Feb 2008:   PhP 5 Million
2 Feb 2009:      PhP 3.9 Million
22 Jan 2010:     PhP 7.7 Million

Cunanan stressed that all these remittances were issued proper receipts by the SSS Treasury Department over the years, completely verifiable, but Drilon ignores them and goes ahead with his obsessed computation of P132.6 million that Cunanan allegedly received over the years, which SSS must recover.

Why is Drilon persecuting Thelmo Cunanan?

Friends, relatives and even casual acquaintances ask, why is Drilon persecuting Cunanan who, they stressed, had defended the Cory government against various coup attempts and who helped stabilize SSS after it was pulled almost to the brink in another era?

Observers have no quarrel with Senate investigations, but they can tell if it’s already persecution. Drilon had every chance to look into the GOCC and GFI benefits during his long stint in the executive branch; as Secretary of Labor in the Cory years he even sat ex-officio in the Social Security Commission, the policy-making arm of the SSS. He also was a senator for several terms. Why only now?

The most obvious reason is that this administration must make the GOCC and GFI controversies hog the headlines to take the heat away from the Black Monday hostage-taking that shocked the world and shook the confidence of even the most rabid fans of P-Noy in his ability and that of his team to handle even bigger crises and catastrophes.

In Drilon’s estimation, the way to do this was to shame GOCC and GFI officials, some of them recruited from the private sector with decades of successful careers, into looking like scheming thieves and robbers.

Drilon's political turnaround in a blink of an eye 

Drilon to GMA
days before his defection
"We love you in Iloilo..."
Then too, he has his personal axe to grind against this columnist. On July 8, 2005, dubbed now the “Black FridayDrilon joined the Hyatt 10 group to call for the resignation of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and sought to unsuccessfully bring down her government, I sided with the LP faction of then Secretary Lito Atienza. Moreover, I criticized Drilon for his historic about-face with GMA on that Black Friday. I recalled that a few days before that event he made a big thing of publicly telling her on a rally stage in his native Iloilo that if Manila now doesn’t want her, she should consider moving Malacanang to Iloilowhere we love you.” I wrote that I respect people’s varying and even transforming views, but a stab in the back I never do. 

Moreover, I raised a number of issues against LP candidate Noynoy Aquino during the campaign, which directly led to my firing by the newspaper I had helped set up. The LP hierarchy didn’t like my criticisms.

A good man will never be put down by lies and propaganda

It hurt my husband, who, as a soldier had stared death in the face a number of times; the indiscriminate firing from the Senate halls into media by Drilon comprised a different battle altogether, and much as he wanted to slug it out and defend his good name, his health doesn’t permit it. It hurt us, his family, to see him hurt this way. But the great consolation is that friends and even folks we know only casually have rallied to him.

Testimonials in defense of Cunanan
by people who know how he worked, how he lives

Aside from businessman Fred Parungao’s testimonial, by now immortalized in the Internet and in Inquirer columnist Rina Jimenez-David’s column, Dr. Bernie Villegas was quoted as lamenting,“It is indeed unfortunate that some irresponsible journalists and politicians would sully the reputation of an honorable man with impunity.”

Former ADB executive Amading Astudillo sent the comforting reminder of the late Associate Justice George A. Malcolm, founder of the UP College of Law: “Men in public life may suffer from an unjust and hostile accusation, but a wound is assuaged by the balm of a clear conscience.”

Former Senate President Jovito Salonga, the grand patriarch of the LP, personally called after reading Rina’s column to “assure my good friend Thelmo of my continuing esteem and high respect.”

This morning my husband and I travelled to Tanay where the Dominican Sisters of Regina Rosarii, led by Sr. Eppie Brazil, have built a beautiful towering shrine to Our Lady, Regina Rosarii and a healing center for illnesses especially of the spirit. The immense statue of Our Lady, a replica of the miraculous Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan, looks out over the verdant Tanay valley below, amid a forest of young trees swaying to the cool breezes.
Looking out from the adoration chapel ingeniously built inside the Lady's gigantic protective  Cape, one gets a magnificent view of the purplish Sierra Madre foothills in the distance
My husband and I felt a calm descend on our souls in that shrine, especially after Sr. Eppie blessed us and our two young grandchildren with healing oils. It was so welcome after nearly two weeks of pain and anxiety over the scurrilous attacks from the Senate committee. Suddenly I thought, Franklin Drilon should also try Sr. Eppie’s healing---great for his embittered soul.

Lack of clear guidelines and benefits cap
is root of the problem

They say that behind every cloud is a silver lining. That lining is in the fact that most everyone now realizes that the confusion in the application of regulating standards toward the so-called GOCC/GFI perks stemmed from the lack of clear-cut and rational guidelines to govern these benefits. The officials sit in various private corporation boards as representatives of the GOCC/GFIs  and they derive from these boards what all the other directors get in bonuses, per diems and stock options. Given the nature of the blue-chip corporations, these are generous in certain years, and leaner in others. But there are no clear-cut rules on how to handle them in a manner equitable to the government, so that cases vary from office to office.
Instead of insulting these GOCC officials as thieves and robbers, efforts should be made to put a kind of regulatory cap on their benefits. The Senate has passed a resolution calling for such guidelines while Malacanang is said to be preparing an EO in this direction. Hopefully the nightmare of the Senate committee's shaming campaign is behind us and clearer and rational thought now takes over.





Can someone PLEASE give Drilon a new calculator?
He keeps giving the Senate and reporters bloated figures for the SSS. 




Do you have a comment?
Email Bel Cunanan at
polbits@yahoo.com



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