Noli's PAG-IBIG ads cost taxpayers P500M

Noli's Pag-IBIG ads cost taxpayers P500-M
Written by Carmela Fonbuena
Newsbreak Magazine
Monday, 13 July 2009

Who is benefiting from the advertisements of Vice-President Noli De Castro promoting the government’s Home Development Mutual Fund, also known as Pagtutulungan sa Kinabukasan: Ikaw, Bangko, Industria at Gobyerno (Pag-IBIG) Fund?

To lawyer Ernesto Francisco, it’s the vice-president. He noted that the the ads use De Castro’s moniker, Kabayan, a name de Castro registered with the Commission on Elections when he ran for senator in 2001.

“This is despicable practice, which is obviously designed to promote the candidacy of Vice-President Noli De Castro. It should be stopped. Vice-President De Castro should have had the delicadeza and sense of decency to refrain from using Pag-IBIG funds to promote his candidacy,” said Francisco.

For 2009, a total of P208.5 million has been allotted for the Pag-IBIG advertisements. A big chunk of the budget (P109 million) goes to TV placements. The rest goes to radio placements (P54 million), print media (P16 million), cinema placements (P9 million), and sponsorships (P11.7 million).

Francisco estimated that around P500 million have been spent for De Castro’s Pag-IBIG ads since its airing in 2007.

'Money well spent'
De Castro’s lawyer told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak the cost of advertising is money well spent for the benefit of Pag-IBIG members.

“The ads are for the benefit of the members of Pag-IBIG in order to attract them to apply for Pag-IBIG loans,” Armando Marcelo of the Andres Marcelo Padernal Guerrero and Paras law office told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak after a hearing on the case on Monday.

“They are not really meant for pre-campaigning. He (Francisco) is the one saying it. If you look at the ads, they are not really meant for that. It is only in his imagination,” Marcelo added.

Marcelo dismissed Francisco’s complaint as a political move to discredit De Castro, who is among the frontrunners in presidential surveys.

Although he has yet to announce his plans for 2010, De Castro is in the short list of the ruling political party Lakas-Kampi-CMD for the administration’s presidential bet in 2010.

“We don’t see any basis for his filing this suit and why he [Francisco] would spend time and money to file this case,” Marcelo said.

Return the funds
In a taxpayer’s complaint, Francisco is seeking a court injunction against de Castro and seven other high-ranking government officials from using public funds “for their respective political campaigns.”

Francisco said the ads violate Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

Francisco also wants the officials to return to the government the funds used to pay for the ads.

The case is pending at the sala of Judge Marino dela Cruz Jr. of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 22.

“These paid advertisements, while purporting to promote the functions and activities of certain government offices or agencies or to espouse certain public interest causes are, on their face and in reality, clear political propaganda designed to promote the personalities and candidacies of the defendants,” according to Francisco’s complaint.

The other defendants include presidential aspirants Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, and rumored senatorial aspirants Health Secretary Francisco Duque Jr., Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) chairman Efraim Genuino.

Francisco also filed a case against Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita for the ads of President Arroyo, who is said to be eyeing a congressional seat in Pampanga in preparation to becoming prime minister under a parliamentary system.

Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) chair Augusto Syjuco and Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, who also have government-paid ads, were also included as respondents.

Effective endorser?
But according to an affidavit submitted to the court by Pag-IBIG Vice-President for public relations Marjie Jorillo, stopping de Castro’s Pag-IBIG ads “will cause grave injury and prejudice to its members.”

Jorillo was presented as witness in Tuesday’s hearing on Francisco’s complaint. The other defendants are seeking the immediate dismissal of the lawsuit. They have yet to present a witness who can justify their advertisements.

Jorillo argued that De Castro’s ads have been instrumental in the success of the government’s housing program.

“Advertising and publicity has always been a crucial duty of the public relations and information services to ensure that the programs of the Pag-IBIG Fund will be properly communicated to its members," Jorillo said in the affidavit.

“The advertisements complained of, far from being vehicles for private gain, ensure that programs of the Pag-IBIG Fund are well communicated to its members, thereby ensuring success and compliance with the institution’s mandate under its charter,” she added.

Jorillo testified that housing loans extended by the Pag-IBIG Fund increased during the period of de Castro’s advertisements.

From 46,041 loans in 2007, equivalent to P22 billion, it increased by 36 percent to 62,507 loans in 2008, equivalent to P34 billion.

Jorillo said it was the management of Pag-IBIG fund who chose De Castro to endorse the government program because he has the “qualities of an ideal program endorser.” (abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak)

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