Tag Archives: Philippines

The GSIS E-Card System Controversy

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES – In an overseas phone call to the Manila-based Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Executive Vice President of Operations Enriqueta Disuanco acknowledge the problems that their new technology had but said that there’s no turning back.

“The check payment system was just too administratively burdensome,” said Disuanco to the Asian Journal. “It had been subject to a lot of fraud. We had to undergo changes in our designs but even [with] that [change] in the checks, some unscrupulous persons [still] take advantage and cash those checks.”

Disuanco said that in the previous system, the GSIS would issue at least 300,000 pension checks a month and more than 600,000 in December for Holiday ‘cash gifts.’

“Some checks would also get lost in the mail,” she added. “And our pensioners wouldn’t know how many checks they lost. They would become victims of unscrupulous persons.”

As reported for the past few weeks by the Asian Journal, the GSIS implemented a new anti-fraud technology, GW@PS, an e-card registration system to combat the fraud from the previous check distribution system. Pensioners would register by giving a fingerprint for an e-card and receive an ATM-like card. The new system would allow the GSIS to deposit money into a pensioner’s bank account monthly, in turn the pensioners abroad could receive their monies at their local bank ATM. Pensioners would also need to re-register yearly.

“Our mission is to provide our members including the pensioners services anytime and anywhere,” she added. “Since we are computerizing we are promoting a paperless environment and the e-card is the heart of it all.”

But for the past year, this new registration system has become troublesome for many pensioners and Philippine Consulate officials, who with no training have to man the machines.

There are a little less than 5,000 pensioners and pension survivors living in the US. The average age of these pensioners is 68, according to Disuanco. The GSIS has set up an e-card registration system in seven Philippine Consulate locations.

Pensioners living abroad were required to start registering to their local Philippine Consulates last March 2007. However, pensioners have been complaining about the lack of service and placed blame on the Consulate officials. In turn, Consulate officials who have maintained that they are not properly trained to handle the high tech electronic device have thus complained to the GSIS reps in Manila and requested that they send their own representative.

What was supposed to be a convenient way of doing business for the GSIS has become a logistical nightmare. Disuanco said they are fully aware of the problems and are working hard to remedy the situation.

“These problems have been brought to our attention,” she said.

She said that they have new technology that they are testing in the Philippines, including a voice biometric system. Under this new technology, pensioners would just need to call the GSIS to re-register their e-card to continue to receive their pension, eliminating the hassle of physically going to the consulate office.

She also said that many problems with the e-card are the pensioner’s own fault.

“When we were investigating these cases, we found that pensioners failed to activate their account, some have mismatches in their ID’s so we had to make corrections and adjustments and the new data has not been updated.”

She said the GSIS is also working closely with Consulate officials to inform pensioners of new procedures and to work hand in hand with the Consulate official manning the kiosk.

Many Consulate officials have asked the GSIS to house a GSIS representative to man the kiosk permanently to serve the pensioners.

Disuanco said that the GSIS sent out a proposal to the Philippine Consulates that they would pay the current official monitoring the kiosk.

“We want them to give consideration to our proposal. We cannot provide a GSIS personnel to man the kiosk,” said Disuanco. “We believe there are only a few pensioners abroad who have not signed up for an e-card.”

Consulate officials that this reporter has spoken with dismiss that there was ever a proposal from the GSIS.

“If there is one, I’d like to see it,” said a high ranking Philippine Consulate official, who did not want to be named due to fear of reprisal.

Disuanco continued saying that the GSIS also revamped their IT department and are now closely monitoring their customer service staff. She said the GSIS implemented a new policy, in which the executives and customer support staff must respond or remedy within ten days of receiving a complaint or “face administrative penalties.” She did not elaborate the penalties.

She assured that those who have not received their pension this past year will be credited with back pay. Pension survivors will have to wait a little longer, according to Disuanco.

“The survivorship has not been credited for their e-card because only 60 percent have only enrolled in their e-cards,” she said. “We need at least 80 percent until we can credit them.”

Disuanco finished the conversation by saying that the e-card is here to stay.

“We are committed to providing our pensioners all the benefits that are due them,” she said. “And while we have been receiving a lot of complaints, we are dong everything possible so that we can resolve all of their issues.” (www.asianjournal.com)

(Pensioners or survivors still having difficulties may e-mail the special GSIS e-mail pension@gsis.gov.ph or Enriqueta Disuanco edisuanco@gsis.gov.ph)

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SC Declares Illegal Transfer of Funds from DILG to OP

by Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com

MANILA – THE Supreme Court has unanimously affirmed the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) which held former Interior Secretary Cesar Sarino and four other officials “civilly and criminally liable” for the illegal transfer of funds from the DILG to the Office of the President in violation of the constitutional provisions.

Aside from Sarino also held liable were former Undersecretary Andres Sanchez, former Chief Accountant Leonardo D. Regala, former Director Rafael D. Barata and Norma Agbayani, former Chief of the Management Division.

All of the said officials have retired from the service.

“We find no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the COA in rendering  the assailed decision.  The Constitutional body should even be lauded for its commitment in ensuring that public funds are not spent in a manner not strictly within the intendment of the law,” the Court said in a 44–page decision penned by Associate Justice Dante Tinga.

Court records showed that in 1991, Sarino issued a memorandum for the transfer and remittance  to the Office of the President  the sum of P300,000 for the operational expense of a newly created task force to implement  local autonomy.

To augment the project, an additional cash advance of P300,000 was taken from  DILG’s Capability Building Program.

But documents show there was no proper liquidation of the P600,000 cash advance made to one lawyer Hiram Mendoza who was not even an employee either of DILG or the Office of the President.

Resident auditor Iluminada M.V. Fabroa  disallowed the disbursements saying the transfer of funds from DILG  to the Office of the President violated the General Appropriations Act of 1992 (RA 7180) and held Sarino et al “jointly and severally liable for the amount” and directed them to immediately settle the amount.

The COA upheld the findings of Fabroa.  But Sarino justified the transfer, saying it was for a public purpose.

The Court, however, was not convinced as the petitioners failed to cite the specific law and provision which authorizes the transfer of funds.

Congress has given the President, Senate President, House Speaker, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and heads of Constitutional Commissions the “exclusive power” to transfer savings under Sec 25 (5), Art VI of the 1987 Constitution

“The submission that there was a valid transfer of funds within the Executive Department should be rejected as it overlooks the fact that the power and authority to transfer in this case was exercised not by the President but only at the instance of the Deputy Executive Secretary, not the Executive Secretary himself.”

“Even if the DILG Secretary had corroborated the initiative of the Deputy Executive Secretary, it does not even appear that the matter was authorized by the President.  More fundamentally, even the President (Ramos) himself could not have validly authorized the transfer under the Constitution,” the Court noted.

The Court also noted that at the time of the questioned transfer there was no savings in the DILG.

Before a transfer is made, there must be savings in the programmed appropriation of the transferring agency and an existing item.  The Court found out that there were no savings in the DILG at the time of the questioned transfers.

Thus, it declared that the creation of the task force is inconsistent with the mandate of the law as there was no existing item of appropriation which needed to be augmented.

“It is clear that no valid transfer of the Fund to the Office of the President could have occurred in this case as there was neither allegation nor proof that the amount transferred was savings or that the transfer was for the purpose of augmenting the item to which the transfer was made,” the Court said.

“We find that the use of the transferred funds was not in accordance with the purpose laid down by the Special Provisions of RA 7180 (General Appropriations Act).

(www.asianjournal.com)

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SC Finds Showbiz Talk Show Host Guilty of Libel

by Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com

CONSISTENT to its circular giving preference to the imposition of monetary penalties instead of imprisonment to those convicted of libel, the Supreme Court spared on April 3 a showbiz talk show host from spending time in jail and instead ordered her to pay more than P1 million in moral damages to veteran actor Eddie Gutierrez and wife Anabelle Rama.

In a 24-page decision penned by Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura, the Supreme Court Third Division affirmed the Court of Appeals and Quezon City regional trial court’s decisions finding Cristtinelli “Cristy” Fermin guilty of two counts of libel in connection with a malicious article that came out in the defunct Gossip Tabloid on June 14, 1995.

The lower court earlier sentenced her to a maximum of eight months and 21 days of imprisonment.

The SC, however, acquitted her co-accused Bogs Tugas on account of non-participation in the publication of the libelous article.

The Court did not give credence to the claim of Fermin that she has no knowledge in the release of the libelous articles.

“It is worthy to note that petitioner was not only the ‘publisher’ as shown by the editorial box of Gossip Tabloid, but also its ‘president’ and ‘chairperson’ as she herself admitted on the witness stand. Obviously, petitioner had full control over the publication of articles in the said tabloid,” the Court noted.

The case arose from the filing of two criminal informations for libel against Fermin and Tugas by the spouses Gutierrez before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 218.

In the said article, Gossip Tabloid reported that the Gutierrez couple had fled back to the Philippines to escape from the manufacturers of expensive cookware that they have been distributing in the United States.

The tabloid article reported that the Gutierrez couple had fled the United States because they allegedly pocketed the earnings from the sale of the expensive cookware instead of remitting it to the manufacturer.

The Court said the article “went overboard and exceeded the bounds of fair comment,” thus, warranting her conviction.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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Another Witness in ZTE-NBN Deal Seeks Protection

by Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com

MANILA – Controversial witness Ador Mawanay on Monday showed up at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to seek protection for him and his family against physical threats allegedly made by Senator Panfilo Lacons if he would refuse to testify for the lawmaker in the ongoing Senate investigation into the anomalous national broadband network project with China’s ZTE Corp.

Mawanay met with Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez at the latter’s office where they discussed the supposed threats on his life.

The DOJ chief, however, is not taking Mawanay’s story hook-line-and sinker, thus, he directed him to submit a statement first so that the justice department could evaluate the authenticity of the threat.

Mawanay said Lacson first became controversial when he appeared in public to accuse Lacson of masterminding the 1999 disappearance of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (PAGCOR) camera operator Edgar Bentain for allegedly releasing the videotape of then presidential candidate Joseph Estrada and his gambling buddy Atong Ang.

Mawanay also claimed that Senator Loren Legarda purchased P8.9-million worth of smuggled cellular phones from him, and that he delivered a shoebox filled with cash to Senator Noli de Castro in 2001.

But, Mawanay later refuted his allegations saying that he was just pressured by then Armed Forces’ Intelligence chief Gen. Victor Corpus, then National Bureau of Investigation Director Reynaldo Wycoco, to issue the accusations.

This time, Mawanay is claiming that the camp of Lacson contacted him and ordered him to testify in the ongoing ZTE hearings at the Senate or else he and his family would be harmed.

He also claimed that he came to know about the ZTE deal as he has connections who purportedly showed him the overseas bank accounts of some of the individuals alleged involved in the scam.

“I told him to file a report at the police regarding the threats made against him life, after which I advised him to submit a written statement at the DOJ, so that we can evaluate it,” the DOJ secretary added.

Gonzalez said that this is to ensure that the DOJ is not being misled by the controversial witness who has the habit making inaccurate and unproven allegations in the past.

“I am inclined to take his statements with a grain of salt,” Gonzalez added while admitting that Mawanay was referred to the DOJ by House Speaker Prospero Nograles.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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Post Lenten Special: 2008 Lent in the Philippines: Catholic faith resounds across the nation

By Anna Krisna Noble Bautista/Asianjournal.com

POPULAR for being one the happiest countries in the world for Christmas celebration, the Philippines may as well be the best place to commemorate the Passion and Death of Christ.

Though the Church of the Nativity, the Holy Sepulchre, and Mount Tabor cannot be found in the only Catholic Nation in the Far East, the Filipinos’ piety, hope, faith, and gratefulness to God compensates for the world’s most popular places of worship.

This year, the Lenten sea-son started early, with Ash Wednesday held on February 6. Churchgoers not only recalled the 40 days and nights of Jesus’s agony through penance and ash crosses on their foreheads; but they were also already preparing for the last week of the Lenten season.

Church leaders of the Most Holy Redeemer Parish, Araneta asked parishioners to donate used papers, old newspapers and telephone directories to build the props for their programs for the Holy Week.

Characters for the Senakulo (re-enactment of Christ’s passion on stage) practiced and gathered funds. Though the same play is presented each year in almost, if not all, parishes, Senakulo has always been a product of great effort and has continuously been looked forward to. Who knew that the act would interest local celebrities and renowned film directors to make their own stage and movie versions?

On March 16, extraordinary celebrations of the Eucharist were held in various churches, where Masses were usually held in the same methodical manner, having attendees act their part as the people of Jerusalem. Palm Sunday was a feast as the faithful of Manila bought Php15 to Php 20 worth of decorated palm branches to herald the coming of Christ to Jerusalem. In the provinces, a number prefer to cut a shrub’s branch than spending such amount of money.

As soon as Maundy Thursday arrived, business districts in the country nearly became ghost towns. There barely were persons walking on the streets of Makati, only convenience stores were at service. Commuters and public transportation were rarely seen (note that public rail transits were also not operating). These circumstances made it much easier for believers to repent, as if searching for one’s soul only entails staring at the horizon or looking out the window .

In cities like Makati, such silence is priceless that residents in high-rise condominium buildings could only hear church bells toll and their own heartbeat.

More passionate memorials were seen in Quiapo where throngs of people gathered around a penitent lashing himself until he bled; a number of faithful walked barefoot on filthy lanes; and persons in their 70s and 80s staggered on their kne e s on the aisles of the church.

In every parish, lines of those who were asking for repose waited their turn on the confession boxes. Every residential street had at least one pasyon area , where believers of Christ can sing the incidents before he died. In the previous days, there were reports of local prisoners chanting pasyon in jail. One detainee said that religious activities like this made him feel less guilty.

On Good Friday, which is also the week’s devotion day for

Hesus Nazareno (Jesus of Nazarene), penitents who included Quiapo in their destination for Bisita Iglesia came only as close as five meters from the parish’s entrance to pray because of the throng. In the scorching heat of the sun, parents managed to carry their children while again walking barefoot toward the church.

The community reunified on Saturday night for their renewal of faith, and welcomed those who have just accepted Catholicism.

Finally, on Easter Sunday, Christ once-again drew crowds as He was about to meet His Mother, Mary before his resurrection in

Salubong. Glorious as it should be, joy was felt from the faithful. Those watching the momentous event at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish, Araneta cheered and clapped their hands as the black veil was taken off the Virgin’s vis-a-vis her son, who had just risen.

True, blue penitents, Catholic Filipinos attest that they were not hypocrites in acting their faith and showing their grief for the death of Christ. In fact, the Philippine National Police declared that there was a 20 percent decrease in crime rate during the Lenten season.

One might ask, are not all the troubles the nation is facing enough penitence for Filipinos to do more? If the country has such great citizens, why are political troubles, unemployment, and poverty still eminent in the Philippines?

The answer lies, however, in collective prayer, the chorus answers, the synchronized crying from guilt, the sound of the heart saying one should fast and participate, and the acknowledgment that one’s soul was saved by a Higher Being. The Lenten season in the country declares that whatever tragedy the country is in, hope and unity is always possible for Filipinos — and that is through Christ.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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