MANILA, Philippines—Retired Lt. Gen. Thelmo Cunanan, the former Social Security
System chair who has figured prominently in the congressional investigation into the allegedly excessive compensation packages in government-owned and –controlled corporations, on Friday dared the Senate finance committee to file charges against him.
“Sue us in court so that those people being vilified will have a fair chance to set the record straight,” said Cunanan, speaking through his wife, writer Belinda Olivares-Cunanan.
Olivares-Cunanan, who was interviewed by phone from China where her husband is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, accused Sen. Franklin Drilon, the finance committee chair, of using the controversy to get back at appointees of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
She said the court case should not single out Cunanan and three other former SSS officials that Drilon said had collected a combined P127.4 million in bonuses and compensation from Philex Mining Corp., where they sat as government directors in the past three years.
Olivares-Cunanan, a former columnist for the Inquirer, tackled the issue at length in her blog “Political Tidbits.” She said Drilon was on “a hate campaign against Gloria appointees” like her husband.
She also alleged that Drilon’s revelations were meant to divert attention from the Aug. 23 hostage crisis that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead and embarrassed the Philippines and the Filipinos before the world.
“The most obvious reason is that this administration must make the GOCC and GFI (government financial institution) 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 (President Aquino) in his ability and that of his team to handle even bigger crises and catastrophes,” she wrote.
Drilon said there was “nothing personal” about his disclosures about Cunanan’s earnings while he was with the state-run pension fund.
“I don’t have anything against them. It just so happened that her husband was there,” he said in a phone interview.
Money was returned
Olivares-Cunanan denied that her husband had received P15.4 million as profit share while sitting as the SSS representative in the Union Bank board in 2009. She said Cunanan and the other SSS directors returned half of the amount they received to the SSS treasury department under an existing arrangement.
From Feb. 2, 2007, to Jan. 22, 2010, she said her husband remitted a total of P21 million, which she said was “completely verifiable” through receipts issued by the SSS treasury department.
Olivares-Cunanan said the remittances were made in four batches: P4.4 million in 2007, P5 million in 2008, P3.9 million in 2009, and P7.7 million in January this year.
It was revealed at the Senate hearings that Cunanan, former SSS chair Romulo Neri and former SSS commissioner Sergio Apostol got a combined P46.3 million in director’s fees from Union Bank in 2009. The three also allegedly got P15.4 million in profit share from the bank.
It was also revealed that Cunanan, Neri, former SSS president Corazon de la Paz-Bernardo and former SSS commissioner Sergio Ortiz-Luis had earned a total of P127.4 million in bonuses and compensation while sitting on the board of Philex Mining. The bulk of their earnings came from exercising their option to buy the company’s shares at a fixed price, which they then sold at a profit.
Meco also targeted
Meanwhile, the Migrante International migrant workers’ group said the Drilon committee’s investigation of the allegedly enormous retirement package and other benefits at the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco) should be related to performance of Meco officials during the mass retrenchment of overseas Filipino workers in Taiwan last year.
The compensation packages at Meco, a corporation that functions as the Philippines’ de facto embassy in Taipei, has also similarly come under scrutiny by the Drilon committee.
Testifying before the committee, the new Meco chair, Amadeo Perez, denounced the allegedly “scandalous” P1.2-million retirement package given to a Meco board member who quit after working for the agency for only two years.
The retirement package, and other features of the compensation scheme, had apparently been decided by Meco board resolutions through the years.
Migrante said Meco officials do not deserve the huge compensation and benefits because of Meco’s supposed “betrayal” of some 1,000 Filipino workers who were retrenched in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis.
Migrante chair Garry Martinez accused Meco officials of failing to address the allegedly massive violations of the labor rights of the Filipino workers who were allegedly retrenched without being given separation benefits or provisions made for their food and airfare to the Philippines.
He said the Senate should also investigate if Meco officials had also received incentives and bonuses from Taiwanese companies and brokers “for allowing massive layoffs and illegal retrenchment in 2009.”
Meco said around 2,000 Filipinos were displaced in Taiwan because of the financial crisis. Taiwanese companies, especially those involved in the manufacturing and semiconductor sectors, cut short their production hours because of lack of orders from overseas.
Meco said it worked to facilitate the reemployment or transfer to other companies of some of those retrenched.
In the past months, Migrante’s Taiwan chapter has clashed with Meco over the repatriation of the remains of Marilou Sabes, an undocumented OFW who suffered cardiac arrest in April 2009. After spending nearly a year in a morgue, Sales’ remains were buried in a Taipei cemetery last March.
The remains were repatriated only last month by Meco which cited lack of funds to establish Sales’ identity for the delay.
Christian Esguerra, Phil. Daily Inquirer