COA uncovers scholarship anomalies


    Second of three parts

    THE Commission on Audit (COA) found at least 11 technical-vocational institutes (TVIs) non-compliant or with deficiencies in implementing the Training for Work Scholarship Program (TWSP) of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda).

    These are Asian Touch International Institute Inc.; Asian Spirit Career Foundation Inc.; Meridian International College of Business, Arts and Technology; Phil-Best Entrepreneurs; Ilaw ng Bayan Foundation Inc.; Informatics Computer Institute Valenzuela; I-Connect Solutions Tek Bok Inc.; Matuwid na Landas Foundation Inc.; SerbisyongPagmamahal Foundation Inc.; Mechatronics Technologies Inc.; and BSC Technological Institute Inc.

    Research conducted by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) on these TVIs reveals that two of them had already ceased operations in 2014, after cornering multimillion-peso contracts from Tesda. Two others have clear political connections, while at least two more also appear to have links to a Napoles-like network of dubious non-government organizations (NGOs).

    One TVI, meanwhile, was incorporated in the same year that it snagged multimillion-peso projects with Tesda. Three others are sister firms that share the same set of directors and owners.

    In sum, of the P125.95-million “pork” funds that was downloaded to Tesda in 2013, Tesda’s offices in NCR (National Capital Region or Metro Manila), Region 1V-A (Calabarzon) and Region IV-B (Mimaropa) received P98.63 million or 78.31 percent. By year-end, they had disbursed P 92.2 million, mostly to favored TVIs.

    Nine of these TVIs, according to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), received a low of P 12.5 million to a high of P 90.95 million in various tranches from Tesda, which in turn received the “pork” monies of legislators. These TVIs, DBM data showed, started receiving portions of the “pork” in 2010.

    19 legislators
    Altogether, according to COA and DBM reports, there were at least 19 legislators who enabled these TVIs to secure contracts with Tesda: Representatives Mar-Len Abigail Binay, Monique Yazmin Lagdameo, Ma. Rachel Arenas, Oscar G. Malapitan, Romero Federico S. Quimbo, William Irwin C.Tieng, Cinchona C. Cruz-Gonzales, Sigfrido R. Tinga, Sherwin N. Tugna, Antonio C. Alvarez, Victorino Dennis M. Socrates, Arnel M. Cerafica, Cesar V. Sarmiento, Tobias Reynald M. Tiangco and Winston T. Castelo.

    (Cruz-Gonzales and Tugna are representatives of the party-list group Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption or Cibac. Tesda’s Villanueva had also sat in Congress as a Cibac representative from 2001 to 2010.)

    COA noted as well that there seemed to be a select few among the TVIs that received the bulk of “pork” monies from Tesda’s offices in Metro Manila, Calabarzon and Mimaropa.
    In 2013, of total “pork” disbursement of P92.18 million from the three Tesda regional offices, P52.17 million or nearly 60 percent went to only three TVIs: Asian Spirit Career Foundation Inc., Asian Touch International Training Institute Inc. and Phil-Best Entrepreneurs Inc., according to the COA report.

    COA observed, though, that the three were “the only accredited mobile training providers, which can offer the requested training by the constituents and can reach out to far-flung barangay [villages].”

    Between 2011 and 2013, the three firms were endorsed by nine legislators in all. Four lawmakers, however, endorsed all three companies during this period: Binay, Lagdameo, Quimbo and Tieng. Interestingly, too, corporate records filed by the three companies with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) show them as having the same shareholders and owners.

    In an interview with PCIJ, an incorporator and director of Asian Touch confirmed that it is a sister company of the other two.

    More money for less
    But this was not the only thing that COA seemed to consider as unusual with these TVIs.
    In its report, it said Tesda had paid these three, as well as BSC Technological Institute Inc., much more per scholar for attending seminars that were much shorter than those conducted by Tesda’s own training institutes. (COA based its calculations on the per capita rate per scholar and the number of hours that the seminars ran.)

    Put another way, compared with Tesda institutes, these TVIs with projects under Tesda’s lump-sum funds got a lot more money for fewer scholars who attended shorter seminars.

    COA also indicated that the employment of the same TVIs again and again “deprived other TVIs with equal training quality and resulted in instances of overlapping schedules of trainees/scholars; trainings conducted for more than 25 scholars per batch… and multi-availment of training programs of one scholar.”

    More details on these findings appear in COA’s audit on Tesda for 2013:

    • “Two or more batches/courses conducted with 33 to 76 scholars in the same place, day and time, and two or more batches conducted on the same day and time but in different locations with only one or the same instructor/trainer.”

    • “Unreasonable training cost and lesser/disproportionate training hours that range from P314.60 to P13,000.00 and three days to 65 days difference, respectively… the number of training days were shortened by 12 to 26 days than the required number of training days.”

    • In Region IV-A, “the number of training hours/days in the qualification for PDAF is lesser than as required in TVET [Technical Vocational Education Training] qualification title, thus the scholars might not have acquired the desired full core competencies.”

    • “The training cost for the PDAF [courses/batches] was equal or even higher than the TVET qualification title, thus the government expended more for training cost under PDAF.”

    To illustrate the discrepancies, COA compared the unit cost per scholar and total training hours required in Tesda-run seminars with those conducted in Calabarzon and NCR by Asian Spirit, Asian Touch and Phil-Best, which were endorsed by party-list and district representatives.

    • Beauty Care No. II course: Tesda-run seminars cost P5,000 per scholar for 1,098 training hours in 138 training days; for PDAF-funded seminars, P3,000 per scholar for 24 training hours in three training days.

    • Hilot (Wellness Massage) course: For Tesda-run seminars, P5,000 per scholar, 120 hours in 15 days; for PDAF-funded seminars, P7,000 per scholar, 80 training hours in 10 training days.

    • Hairdressing NC II course: For Tesda-run seminars, P5,000 per scholar, 656 hours in 82 days; for PDAF-funded seminars (Basic Hair-Cutting), P3,000 per scholar, 24 hours in three days.

    • Bartending course: For Tesda-run seminars, P5,000 per scholar, 286 hours in 36 days; for PDAF-funded seminars (Basic Cocktails), P3,000 per scholar, 24 hours in three days.

    • Food and Beverages course: For Tesda-run seminars, P3,500 per scholar, 336 hours in 42 days; for PDAF-funded seminars (Basic Waitering), P3,500 per scholar, 24 hours in three days.

    • Beauty Care NC II: For Tesda-run seminars, P5,000 per scholar, 1,098 hours in 138 days; for PDAF-funded seminars (Manicure/Pedicure with Nail Art), P3,000 per scholar, 24 hours in three days.

    In a recent interview with PCIJ, Ma. Joycelynn L. Rodriguez, an incorporator and board member of Asian Spirit, Asian Touch and Phil-Best, said legislators allotted their PDAF to the three TVIs’ schools because “they know that these implement the Tesda-funded programs properly” and that their constituents would “really benefit” from the programs.

    Rodriguez said Tesda pays them only after the training sessions are over and an audit is done. She added that they have no “ghost trainings.” COA, she said, had wanted “to be God.”

    According to Rodriguez, COA follows a different set of implementation guidelines. She said they had invited state auditors to conduct a check on their training centers, classes and their students, but no one from COA showed up.

    “We are doing our part in helping out-of-school youth, mothers,” Rodriguez said. Most of those taking classes at Phil-Best institutes, she added, are indigents, some of who are former drug addicts.

    According to Rodriguez, Phil-Best trains students “interested in marketing and food and beverages.” Tesda’s website also has Phil-Best offering training courses on “ body massage, beauty care, make-up, foot spa and hand spa.”

    She said Phil-Best, Asian Touch and Asian Spirit are all Tesda-accredited. Asian Touch–which started out as a caregiver training center–in particular was the first to get national accreditation from Tesda.

    Rodriguez pointed out that Asian Spirit even bought trucks for mobile training sessions, which she described as the first of their kind in the country. She explained that for the mobile training sessions, it is the institute that goes to barangay (villages) instead of the trainees going to training sites. This solves the problem of transportation costs for trainees, Rodriguez said.

    According to Tesda’s website, the courses offered by Asian Spirit include those on “Beauty Care Services, Hilot, Housekeeping, Body Massage and Body Scrub.” But Rodriguez said there are now plans to close down Asian Spirit because, she said, its partnership with Japan-based agencies has already ended.


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    1. I hate to say this, but why should I when the pattern is clear that most high-ranking officials in government take advantage of their position to make money, help those who helped them in the campaign, make their relatives rich through disadvantageous-to-the-government deals. It is a shame. When can we change? When can we trust the politicians, the heavy-contributor supporters? They always get their money/invesment back, by hook or by crook! I want to think that the Filipino is hopeless.