LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Esperon writes on OPAPP

Bonifacio Heights
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig
28 June 2010
The Editor-in-Chief
MindaNews

Dear Sir/Madam,

This June, Sec Annabelle Abaya the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, had been recounting to the media notably to the PDI, her shocking experiences with alleged corruption within OPAPP. She had been claiming that of the P500M funds for the Social Integration Program, illegal disbursements were made and that P170M is missing or unaccounted for.

Sec. Abaya had been saying, as quoted by newspapers that “there were unauthorized purchases of cars, setup and beautification of offices, representation, travel, supplies and other expenditures still being figured out.” She claims that as result of her investigation, she ended up dismissing some 70 OPAPP employees.

I write this letter with the “70” employees in mind. The number is fiction. But the psychological effect of such a big number, if indeed they had been dismissed, is that corruption has eaten up most if not all of OPAPP personnel. When I served at OPAPP, I met some of the most dedicated public servants I have ever known. OPAPP employees are proud of their work. They work long hours, sometimes coming face to face with physical danger, yet basically underpaid.

President Fidel V. Ramos created OPAPP in 1993 upon the recommendation of The National Unification Council chaired by Ms Haydee Yorac. Mr Juan Santos initially headed OPAPP. Then General Manuel Yan headed OPAPP from 1994 to 2001. He was also chairman of the GRP panel with the MNLF. The final peace agreement with the MNLF was signed in 1996. Gen Eduardo Ermita (member of the GRP-MNLF panel) succeeded Gen Yan. Secretaries Teresita Deles and Jesus Dureza also toiled at OPAPP.

The PAPP today is in charge of supervising peace panels negotiating with the CPP/NPA/NDF Headed by former labor Sec Nieves Confesor (Sec Abaya was one of her panel members), and with the MILF headed by Ambassador Rafael Seguis. There are other panels negotiating with smaller insurgent groups. In Addition, OPAPP runs the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration studies center (DDR), works with local peace groups for peace building, develops peace institutions and monitors the implementation of signed peace agreements. OPAPP is also the conduit for official peace and development assistance from UNDP, World Bank, USAID, EU, JICA, OIC, KOICA, AUSAID, ASEAN, and several international peace foundations.

(Most of OPAPP employees are either “contractual” or “Contract of Service” and their employment are renewed every six months. Since Ms Abaya took over OPAPP and after her “investigation,” ten (10) contractual employees of Finance and Admin were not renewed in January 2010. Another seven (7) “Contract of Service” (mostly security and utility personnel) were terminated. Notably, twenty nine (29) from the S.I.P. office resigned as they disagreed with the policies of Sec Abaya. These 29 included Ex Capt Milo Maestrecampo and 8 other former AFP Officers who put their prestige on the line working on prospective returnees, only to be suddenly told that the SIP will be discontinued. Technically then only 10 were terminated due to alleged irregularities in the handling of SIP funds, not 70 as Ms Abaya claims.)

The Social Integration Program is the government’s program for the reintegration of former rebels to mainstream society. Its precursors were the Rebel Returnee Program, the Balik-Baril Program and the National Program for Unification and Development. The NPUD was placed under OPAPP in 2001. Its functions were put under review in 2003 but in 2007, Administrative Order 172 was signed by PGMA, mandating the implementation of a Social Integration Program to be supervised by the National Committee for Social Integration (Chair and members from OPAPP, DND/AFP, DILG, DSWD, DOJ, ONSA and DFA). In April 2008, PGMA approved the allocation of P500M for SIP and released the 1st tranche of P250M. When I became PAPP in June 2008, I found the answers to why our Balik-Baril program in the AFP had been slow, if not static for some years in terms of funding. Therefore, I was more than happy to have a hand in restarting and implementing the SIP, in tandem with the NCSI.

Thus, we went full blast with SIP even as at that time, I was so absorbed and excited with the talks with the MILF. By 28 June 2008, PGMA received in Davao City more than a hundred rebel returnees, signaling the start of their reintegration to mainstream society. I next asked retired MGen Pete Ramboanga to head SIP operations. I also hired and brought in nine (9) “Magdalo” officers including Capt Milo Maestrecampo, most of them becoming Area Action Officers for SIP (other Oakwood Officers joined PDEA). I felt I had the most enthusiastic and qualified workers at SIP operations. About 1,500 rebel returnees have since been covered by SIP, most of them coming in 2009.

So what is the P170M being alleged by Sec Abaya to be missing? Records at the Finance and Admin Services of OPAPP show that from January 2008 to October 2009, a total of P227,737,952.04 was expended out of the 1st tranche release of P250M. The following expenditures were incurred during the term of:

Sec Jesus Dureza (Up to June 2008)……………….P18.6M
Sec Hermogenes Esperon Jr. (Up to Feb 2009)……….P98.7M
Sec Avelino Razon Jr.(Up to Oct 2009)……………P110.5M
TOTAL P227.8M

(Of the P250M 1st tranche, only P227.8M was released by DBM. Of the disbursements, P87,525,000 were paid out to rebel returnees, mostly in 2009.)

Many of the other expenditures are now being questioned, including purchase of vehicles, repair of offices, travel, supplies, seminars and rentals/leases. The payment of salaries for the SIP staff and regional action officers is also being questioned, all on the premise that the SIP funds should go to rebel returnees. There should be no question about that premise but to start up operations, don’t we need people appropriately compensated, office spaces, equipment, vehicles (not cars as secretary Abaya would say), and operating expenses?

Assuming that some procurements were imperfectedly executed, as in the case of 10 pick-ups and 4 AUV’s, can they now be termed illegal and so the funds are missing?

Ultimately, how much are we willing to spend for about 1,500 rebels who have now been mainstreamed?

For Capt Maestrecampo and his group, disgusted over the suspension of SIP operations in October 2009, they resigned from OPAPP, not dismissed as Sec Abaya claims. After all, when vehicles assigned to the regions were pulled out, how could they have continued to move around? Ride buses and tricycles? After taking the risk working on prospective rebel returnees, someone told them they did not deserve to be paid salaries. Who wouldn’t be dejected?

So, must we now abandon the SIP? What would happen now to rebels “already in the pipeline” for reintegration? Should the AFP and the PNP frontline units now forget about working for the surrender and the mainstreaming of rebels?

And by the way, when the 2nd tranche of P250M was released in October 2009, Sec Abaya returned it to DBM over her allegations of corruption in the implementation of SIP.

Surprise: At the same time, Sec Abaya requested for the realignment of that P250M to other activities. On December 9, 2009, the amount of P170 million was approved for realignment for an activity called “Communication Plan in Support of the GRP-MILF Peace Talks/Massive Dialogues with Stakeholders.” To emphasize the importance she attaches to reintegration of former rebels, Ms Abaya has said that she laments that out of the P250M first tranche, only 40% went to the rebels. With her realignment of P170M from the second tranche, there would be only P80M left from the rebels reintegration. Is that the kind of importance she puts to reintegration? Quo Vadis S.I.P.?

We then go back to the basic question: What and where is the missing P170M? I think we can leave that to the incoming PAPP Secretary Teresita Deles. She can be, I am sure, more objective about the P500M SIP funds. Simply because, for one, she did not disburse any part of it.

In closing, let me congratulate Sec Abaya for looking into and doing something about “systemic” deficiencies at OPAPP. I understand that there is a new resident auditor and the new OPAPP finance officer is the concurrent finance officer for the GRP-MILF talks. Just the same, lets pursue a just conclusion to the investigation so that not all people at OPPAP will be wrongly or randomly stigmatized.

I then wish all the good people at OPAPP to continue persevering. The pursuit of peace is a vocation we cannot let go.

Thank you so much.

Sincerely yours,

GENERAL HERMOGENES C. ESPERON JR (Ret)

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