National Museum officials urged to resign over ‘missing’ P331M

“They keep saying that it is just there. And that it could be returned to the Development Bank of the Philippines. Why would they return it there and not to the Land Bank of the Philippines? And even if they return it, they still have accountabilities that they need to face.” – National Museum employee

By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Employees of the National Museum are calling for the resignation of their top officials over the “illegal and unauthorized transfer” of P331 million ($7.6 million) endowment funds from a state-run bank to two private banks.

“We do not know why they transferred the money. But we do know that there is a big bank interest involved,” Joseph Garcia, vice president of the National Museum Rank and File Employees Association, told the media in a press conference.

The Commission on Audit has long pressed officials of the National Museum to explain the transfer of the $7.88 million endowment funds from the state-run Land Bank of the Philippines to two private banks, Bank of the Philippine Islands and Banco de Oro without authorization from the Department of Finance and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

In its 2011 report, the COA said the provisions of the General Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2011 has made “investment in non-government securities, x x x or deposit in private banking institution” as part of the restrictions on the use of government funds. COA added that only the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ Monetary Board, its highest policy making body, could approve such transaction.

According to National Museum chair Ramon del Rosario and director Jeremy Barns, in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report, the transfer was done in good faith and that transferring the money to the two private banks, they believe, would lead to the fiscal autonomy of the museum.

“The board felt it was free to do this (based) on its reading of the law (creating the National Museum),” Barns said in the report.

Republic Act No. 8492 or the National Museum Act of 1998 states that endowment funds would be “administered directly by the Board of Trustees.” COA, however, said, “while the Museum’s operations differ markedly with those other government agencies, general government rules and regulations still apply to it,” adding that the “said powers are in itself general and not absolute, as the same are subject to limitations prescribed by appropriate and pertinent laws, rules and regulations.”

The transfer of the funds was instead authorized by several resolutions such as Resolution No. 1-2012 and Resolution No. 6-2012, (copies were furnished to Bulatlat.com), which were authored and signed by the involved officials, themselves.

National Museum employees call for resignation of their top officials over unexplained transfer of P331 endowment funds to two private banks. (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)
National Museum employees call for resignation of their top officials over unexplained transfer of P331 endowment funds to two private banks. (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)

In an interview with Bulatlat.com, employees, who spoke to the media under the conditions of anonymity, said their officials can “administer the funds but should be within the bounds of law.”

The endowment fund, as stated in RA 8492, would come from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation. Both would give P250 million ($5.95 million) each, which shall be payable quarterly within a period of three years. Only the interest of the endowment fund “may be expended for the special projects and programs,” the law stated.

“The president once said ‘If there are no corrupt officials, there would be no poverty.’ But is this still true?” Mark Louie Aquino, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – National Capital Region, said.

Unauthorized transfer

State auditor Victoria Yumang, in a letter dated March 22, 2013, told Barns that National Museum administrative officer Teresita Vista, who, by virtue of her position, should have records of all cash and accounts, including bank records of the government office, said she did not have copies of the proofs of investments.

According to the Commission on Audit, records show that from 2011 to 2012, the National Museum transferred a total of P307 million ($7 million plus) to Banco de Oro and the Bank of the Philippine Islands. The withdrawals, the letter read, were covered by managers check signed by the following combinations:

-Cecilio Salcedo and Jeremy Robert Barns
-Dionisio Pangilinan and Jeremy Robert Barns, and
-Ana Ma. T.P. Labrador and Jeremy Robert Barns

In another letter, dated June 7, 2013, Yumang said Barns, in making the investments through Manager’s Checks debited against the National Museum’s Land Bank of the Philippines account, invariably directed Ms. Vista to turn over to him the Manager’s Checks so he could personally transact with the banks.

Barns, in a memorandum dated January 16, 2011, told chief administrative officer Dionisio Pangilinan to prepare two Manager’s Checks amounting to P24 million (US$548 thousand plus)and P16 million (US$366 thousand) which would be deposited to BDO and BPI, respectively. In another memorandum dated April 2, 2011, Barns told Pangilinan to prepare another P22.8 million (US$521 thousand) for deposit to BDO and P15.2 million (US$ 347 thousand) for deposit to BPI.

In both memorandums, Barns said, “once prepared, I will personally deliver the said checks to the bankers concerned. Thank you.”

Yumang said in her letter to Barns that there is “no record to show that other NM officials (especially from the Administrative or Cashier’s Office) assisted you in the delivery of the MS to the two private banks, BDO and BPI.”

As early as 2011, when the funds in question was only amounting to P188.92 million (US$4.32 m), COA said the “transactions were not promptly forwarded by the Cash Section to the Accounting Section, hence providing no coherent audit trail which could facilitate traceability of data to every transaction.”

An Audit Observation Memorandum dated June 18, 2013 read that another P50 million (US$1.14m) was transferred to the two private banks and that the fund in question now amounts to P331,926,248.99 (US$7.6 m).

One of the employees of the National Museum told Bulatlat.com that the missing fund stipulated in the COA reports is just the principal. He said the interest of that money would be harder to find.

“They keep saying that it is just there. And that it could be returned to the Development Bank of the Philippines. Why would they return it there and not to the Land Bank of the Philippines?” a National museum employee said, “And even if they return it, they still have accountabilities that they need to face.”

But employees said the endowment fund was not just transferred to the private banks without permission but was also deposited under the name “National Museum of the Philippines,” which, they said, was a violation of RA 8492 that read that the museum “shall be known by the name of ‘National Museum’ and by that name shall be known and have perpetual succession with the power, limitations and restrictions hereafter contained and no other.”

COA, in its audit observation memorandum last June 18, 2013, said using another title or name could cause confusion and doubt to the transactions that the “National Museum of the Philippines” would make. State auditor Yumang has already asked museum officials for explanation on why they should not be held liable for transferring the museum’s funds in another name and asked them to change the account name.

Putting the National Museum’s endowment funds in another name, the COA said, may “result in loss of the investments made under that name and consequently the criminal liabilities of those involved.”

The Manila Times, however, reported that the National Museum officials “have yet to comply with the order.”

Attacks on employees’ rights

Aquino, during the press conference, said many employees used to be vocal on the issue but the series of attacks on their democratic rights made them decide to stay out of the limelight. Majority of the officers of the union, he added, are facing suspension, administrative charges and are being demoted from their positions.

Two memorandums were issued by officials of the National Museum, prohibiting workers from talking to the media regarding the case. In the first memorandum, dated Oct. 1, 2012 and signed by Barns, he reminded the workers that “it is the protocol in government agencies that disclosures to the media, either in writing or by way of interview, inside and outside the premises of the agency and concerning its business, are properly carried out only with due authorization.”

“The purpose of this is to ensure that pertinent and concerned people and stakeholders are appropriately informed, that information is accurate and that the interests of the entire agency and of the service are upheld, rather than those of a narrow, particularistic or self-serving nature,” the memorandum read.

In another memorandum, dated Oct. 5, 2012 and signed by Ramon del Rosario, the administrators of the National Museum reduced the actions of union members pushing for transparency on the transfer of the P331 million (US$7.6 m) to the two private banks as mere “smear campaign against the Museum management” and that it is “an affront and defiance of the authority of the Board of Trustees and is inimical and detrimental to the National Museum as a public institution.”

The memorandum added that the “behavior” of the “concerned officials and employees of the National Museum” should be “thoroughly condemned.” It also lauded the “solid and silent majority of the Museum’s personnel,” adding that they have “responded positively” to the leadership of the administrators and members of the Board of Trustees.

In the same memorandum, it listed seven things that no staff should ever commit. This includes “espousing and promoting lies, falsehood and misrepresentations” before the media workplace or elsewhere and that it tends “to undermine or weaken the authority of the Board of Trustees” and “such other analogous acts as may be determined by the Board of Trustees.”

Despite these threats, an employee who requested anonymity said they are still reporting these allegations of missing funds to the media because decades of working in the public sector taught them not just to work to earn but for the betterment of the country.

“I could never sleep at night with that corruption case in my mind,” Jane, not her real name, an employee of the National Museum for some 20 years, told Bulatlat.com.

As a result, however, employees told Bulatlat.com that they have project proposals that were not looked into. Others were suspended and are facing administrative charges over petty violations that could have been otherwise ignored. Still, there were employees who were transferred to another assignment.

Employees were even forced to sign an apology letter addressed to the officials of the National Museum for joining a rally. As an effort to “divide and rule” the employees, union members said administrators do not recognize the leadership of the union, and, as a result would withhold the Collective Negotiation Agreement Incentive of employees this year or until they have settled the leadership of the union.

The CNA incentive is important to the workers, they said. Just like other government employees they described themselves as “Londoners,” which is a joke that means they “loan here and there” due to the low wages they are receiving. In fact, these attacks on their rights, employees said, are happening on top of their already poor working conditions, such as the lack of health benefits, absence of hazard pay, among others.

But despite these harassments, employees vow to continue their fight. One of them said, “We will not stop. We know that they will try to find ways to silence us. We are already in the middle of the fight. We will carry on.” ()

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