WHILE browsing news on the internet last Friday, the plunder complaint filed against Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. and the APO Production Unit executives caught my attention because of previous stories I had written about the office.
Because the first news I read was obviously based on a press release, apparently coming from the employees union, I checked the other news websites for more information. I was disappointed though to find out that most of them have the same details, except for GMA News Online that had a quotation from Bobby Brillante, a former councilor and vice mayor of Makati City who once served as a member of the APO Board of Trustees.
Brillante’s apparent involvement in the filing of the plunder complaint has, at least to me, put its motive in question.
The plunder complaint filed before the Office of the Ombudsman pertains to the payment of P191 million in commissions to 11 sales specialists from 2011 to 2015 by the APO Board that has turned around the agency’s finances from bankruptcy under the management that included Brillante.
APO Production Unit is a little known government-owned and -controlled corporation (GOCC) tasked to handle the printing of Accountable Forms and sensitive high quality/volume printing jobs like official receipts, tax and travel forms, and business permits of government agencies and offices, such as the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM). The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had awarded an P8-billion contract for the printing of electronic passports (e-passports) at its high-security printing plant in Malvar, Batangas.
Based on the reports, the agency’s employees union led by a certain Conrado Molina accused Coloma and the APO executives—Milagros Alora, board chairperson; Armando Dimarucot, Jr., president; Jaime Aldaba, general manager; Olivia Mateo, treasurer; Gerardo Sevilla, compliance officer; and Dominic Tajon sales manager—of pocketing P191 million recorded in the books as sales commissions for 11 persons.
The payments for sales specialists, which ranged from P5,906.25 to P67,291,086.97, were charged against the revenues collected from the clients for printing services rendered, the reports said.
It is not that Coloma and the APO Board had nothing to explain about this, but given what I know of what Brillante did when he was with the agency, I would suggest that the labor union stay away from him or keep him away if they want to be taken seriously.
Coloma had described the plunder complaint as a form of harassment. While I was not impressed with Coloma’s performance as the mouthpiece of former President Benigno Aquino 3rd and manager of the several media-related offices under the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), I think somebody behind the plunder complaint had an ulterior motive of regaining a position that he once took great advantage of.
At the time Brillante was with the APO Board he was calling the shots, overpowering the chairman, president, and general manager, according to insiders. He was the board’s promotions and marketing committee chairman.
While other members of the board abused their position by using APO to print complimentary campaign materials for their relatives running for office in the 2010 elections, Brillante created committees that met more than the allowed frequency not necessarily to discuss “emergency” matters but more to collect additional per diem/honorarium. In short, they took advantage of the already-bleeding coffers of the agency.
It was a case of what President Aquino described in his speech during the Dividends Day, in Malacañang, on May 23: “Kumbaga sa kalabaw, ginatasan na, gusto pang karnehin.”
Until 2010, APO Production Unit seemed to have served mostly the whims of government appointees placed at its helm, and who have insisted that the government corporation was “private” whenever such a label suited their needs.
After so many years of confusion over its corporate identity, APO is now defined as a government entity as reaffirmed in the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA). APO is one of three recognized government printers of highly-sensitive security documents and government forms. The other two are Bangko Sentral and the National Printing Office (NPO).
The APO Board that came after Brillante’s group has made the agency a poster boy for dramatic reforms. It was resuscitated from near-death in 2010 to a bouncing entity that now remits 50 percent of its earnings to the treasury. From sales of P329.14 million in 2010, the amount soared to P1.21 billion in 2015, and remitted P5 million dividends last May.
In 2011, APO realized a net income of P20.7 million, the first time in 11 years of losses. In 2013, the corporate officers said, the agency started remitting to the national treasury 50 percent of its income. In April 2014, it issued a check for P2.7 million to the Bureau of Treasury, and another P2 million in April 2015 as its contribution to the national government.
APO, by its corporate nature, does not receive even a single centavo from the national government.
As I wrote in 2015, professionalism and competence had turned around the little-known agency that used to be a dumping ground for political protégés. It has become a juicy entity that hopefully would no longer be put in the hands of vampires who could bleed it dry again.
But the remarkable achievements should not free the present APO Board from explaining the rationale behind the payment of P191 million to sales representatives. Simply denying the accusation is not enough response to the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) that engaging the services of sales specialists was unnecessary.
COA Supervising Auditor Glorina Suson noted that 93 percent of the sales generated by the top four sales specialists came not only from the captive government market, but that the printing contracts secured by the four salesmen were repeat orders of government forms.
“The payment of excessive sales commissions could have been avoided had APO based the computation only on the total sales from other printing activities and publications,” COA said.
APO Chairperson Milagros Alora said the board would show documents to disprove the accusations and warned their accusers with counter suits. “We are aggrieved by this charge against our persons and families. We are ready to face the charge and present documents that will disprove this alleged plunder. All our actions have been above board and we have nothing to hide,” she said in a statement.
Alora said APO hired sales specialists “to help in the marketing of the firm in competition with the NPO before.” It had ceased engaging their services after the PCOO divided the printing jobs of government clients between NPO and APO. For instance, NPO handles printing of official ballots and election paraphernalia of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) while APO takes charge of the production of e-passports of the DFA.
The entity now has its own sales and marketing unit that has successfully acquired the skills and networks to take over the job that sales specialists used to do to meet sales targets, Alora said.
According to her, the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) has affirmed the legality of engaging third parties who have the knowledge, experience and network to maintain and manage the complex, high security printing projects, which APO was mandated to do.
The sales specialists, she said, were paid “based on industry rates and common practice in printing companies.”
“The fee is reasonable considering (that) APO now has annual sales of P1 billion, over three times the level of 2011,” Alora explained.
Alora highly suspects that big-time private printers, which have lost substantial profits, are behind the efforts to destroy the APO and its executives so they could take back control of the government’s printing needs. Some people who used to lord it over at the agency are not far behind.