• Napolcom exec eyed as Comelec chief

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    One of the candidates being considered as Commission on Elections chief is Eduardo Escuate, the vice chairman of the National Police Commission (Napolcom).

    Escueta, has worked closely with at least three secretaries of the Department of the Interior and Local Government—Ronaldo ‘Ronnie’ V. Puno under president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the late Jessie M. Robredo and incumbent Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas 2nd.

    Escueta’s ties to politics and politicians go a long way back. He came to public light first as a partner of the ACCRA Law or the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices whose prominent founders include two senators: Juan Ponce Enrile and Edgardo J. Angara. In the ’90s, Escueta co-founded his own law firms—the Escueta Tan Acut & Madrid Law Offices, and later, the Escueta Yasay Law & Partners that is also known as the Escueta Regalado Atienza Mendoza and Bernabe Law Office.

    It was as an ACCRA lawyer that Escueta became one of the respondents in the civil cases that the Presidential Commission on Good Government filed to assert the government’s claim over the coco levy funds. Named respondents in the cases were “the ACCRA lawyers”—former senator Edgardo J. Angara, Enrile, Jose C. Concepcion, Avelino V. Cruz, Teodoro D. Regala, Rogelio A. Vinluan and Escueta—who incorporated, represented, and served as dummies of the principal respondents: strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos, his widow and now Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Romualdez Marcos, Marcos crony Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco Jr., Danilo Ursua, and 71 corporations.

    Nine Supreme Court justices, including then Chief Justice Renato Corona, voted with finality on the cases on April 12, 2011 in favor of Cojuangco and the registered owners of the shares. Three associate justices—Conchita Carpio Morales, Ma. Lourdes Sereno, and Arturo D. Brion—cast dissenting votes. Four others—Antonio T. Carpio, Eduardo Nachura, Diosdado Peralta, and Teresita de Castro—abstained because they had either served as co-petitioner (Carpio) or solicitor general (Nachura), or simply did not take part in the vote.

    But years after the cases were filed, Escueta resumed working with and for the coconut industry. From July 1998 to 2000,Escueta was Administrator of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), which had run into a number of controversies.

    The “Small Coconut Farms Development Project (SCFDP),” a 10-year project funded with a US$121.8-million loan from the World Bank. Of the total, US$80.92 million was allocated for the procurement of farm inputs and assigned to PCA, and $40.88 million to the Department of Agriculture, for the purchase of equipment and vehicles, consultants’ services, training, studies and extension, and research. A project evaluation report would later say that “the government procured a total of 11.1 million bags of fertilizers that cost P2.3 billion,” but distributed these for free to farmer beneficiaries in far-flung areas throughout the country.

    The PCA thus had to spend millions for hauling and delivery services. For the first six years, it paid private forwarders P600 million; in the years coinciding with Escueta’s watch, it hired five separate contractors in three different years and paid more than P309 million. The deliveries came one to three years after the fertilizers had been purchased, and were thus no longer useful to the beneficiaries.

    In its agency audit report on PCA in 2000, the Commission on Audit found that “a total of 530,522.42 bags of damaged and undelivered fertilizers that entail more than P130 million was spent for nothing.”

    The report added, “COA estimated that at least 40 percent of funds intended for fertilizer deliveries have been malversed.” The project ended in 2000 but PCA had continually failed to respond to COA’s recommendations.

    It cited another report which Sergio T. Eulogio, then PCA consultant and deputy administrator for corporate services branch, had submitted to Escueta, that said P275.730 million of PCA funds “had been used by former PCA officials to finance private concerns, including the drive of the Ramos administration to change the Charter (Cha-cha).”

    Eulogio’s report alleged that retired Gen. Virgilio David—Escueta’s predecessor in PCA who was also appointed by President Fidel V. Ramos—supposedly “manipulated and converted” training programs for farmers “into convenient venues or political rallies to create a critical mass of the population . . . (to) create a coalition of coconut farmers and non-coconut farmers for the PIRMA campaign to amend the Constitution.”

    As executive officer of Napolcom since 2008, Escueta has launched a number of administrative reforms, including the launch of the Philippine National Police’s Clearance Systems through e-projects (e-blotters, e-warrants and e-rogues) and the formation of the Crime Research and Analysis Center (CRAC).

    In July 2014, “to boost the morale” of Philippine National Police (PNP) members, Napolcom approved the rank promotion of police officers to fill up 47,185 promotional vacancies for Senior Police Officer 1 (SPO1) to Police Superintendent under the Second-Level Regular Promotion Program. Escueta said that the PNP has been authorized to fill 975 promotional slots for superintendent; 1,035 for chief inspector; 1,273 for senior inspector; 1,904 for inspector; 11,219 for SPO4; 11,360 for SPO3; 14,484 for SPO2; and 4,935 for SPO1. There are no vacancies for PO2 and PO3 ranks. Over a dozen other police officers have also been promoted since 2013 to star rank.

    Despite his duties at Napolcom, Escueta remains enrolled as the “corporate secretary” and one of three directors for Luzon of COCOFED, or the Philippine Coconut Producers Federation, Inc. (formerly the United Coconut Planters Association).

    Meanwhile, in the Escueta Yasay Law & Partners’ web profile, Escueta lists his practice to be focused on “Civil Law, Criminal and Administrative Litigation, Public Advocacy, Special Projects, Corporation Law, and Election Law.”

    The president of Class ’72 of the UP College of Law, ex-president of the UP Alumni Association, and a Batch ’68 member of the Sigma Rho Fraternity, Escueta’s brush with elections were few and far between. On at least two occasions, it did not even turn out to be good.

    Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ang Pahayagang Malaya newspaper soon exposed the participation of PCA in the Charter change campaign launched starting 1997 by PIRMA or the People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization, and Action. A project linked to then outgoing President Ramos, PIRMA advocates said they had gathered over six million signatures of voters as a people’s initiative project to pursue charter change.

    On Aug. 27, 1999, Malaya ran a story titled “PCA funding of PIRMA confirmed,” citing disclosures by PCA sources. On Jan. 11, 2000 Santiago called for a Senate investigation into reports that Escueta’s predecessor in PCA, Virgilio David, had used millions of pesos of PCA funds and property to help bankroll PIRMA and launch a smear campaign against Ramos’s critics, using part of the World Bank loan to purchase fertilizers.

    A second misencounter with elections came just recently for Escueta and his COCOFED family. On May 22, 2012, COCOFED filed a “manifestation of intent” to run for party-list seats in Congress in the May 2013 elections. The manifestation listed Escueta as COCOFED corporate secretary, even as he was then serving as Napolcom vice chairman and executive officer.

    Comelec disqualified COCOFED and 11 other party-list groups for failure to comply with accreditation requirements. The Supreme Court threw out COCOFED’s appeal in August 2013.

    To be continued

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