PRE-NAPOLES ‘GHOST’ DUCKS AND PORK: Ex-editor in SPDA scam exposé wins SC-NLRC case, gets P.92M

Congratulations editor Mitchel Confessor!


PRESS RELEASE….August 29, 2013

Ex-editor in SPDA scam exposé  wins SC-NLRC case, gets P.92M
MANILA — Before the pig came the duck.
Ten years prior to the scandals involving Janet Lim-Napoles and the legislative pork barrel, “ghost” ducks and other anomalous livelihood projects funneled through a then deactivated government corporation embroiled two Davao congressional representatives, one of whom later became Speaker of the House.
Within three days after the news story first came out in a local paper in mid-2003, the editor-in-chief resigned while the paper’s owner and publisher fired the news desk editor and co-writer of the exposé, which also tagged a former city vice mayor and Arroyo administration presidential assistant (PA) who had been a close family friend of the owner-publisher.
A decade later, the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) Davao region ordered the release of almost a million pesos as compensation for backwages, separation pay, and lawyer’s fees in favor of the former associate editor of the Mindanao TIMES on the case of constructive dismissal.
This came a day before President Benigno Aquino III announced his plan to abolish the pork barrel system, and three days before the nationwide Million People March indignation rally against the graft-prone system on National Heroes Day on 26 August 2013.
The NLRC Davao order in favor of the former editor followed various decisions of the Court of Appeals (CA) and the NLRC Mindanao headquarters in Cagayan de Oro from 2004 to 2009, as well as the ruling of the Supreme Court (SC) under Chief Justice Renato Puno in February 2010.
Under the SC Third Division, the decision was penned by then Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, who would later become Chief Ombudsman and now recently appointed as a member of the inter-agency anti-graft council tasked to investigate the abuse of the pork barrel.
The government-owned and -controlled corporation (GOCC) in question is the Davao City-based Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA), which then President Gloria Arroyo ordered deactivated in late 2002 before she reactivated it in late 2006.  The erstwhile SPDA deactivation task force was headed by then Presidential Assistant and ex-Davao City vice mayor Dominador “Boy” Zuño.
The main whistleblower in the SPDA anomaly was Zuño’s own deputy and vice chair, fellow lawyer Zosimo Jesus Paredes II, a former Marcos-era Batasang Pambansa member representing Ifugao province.  Paredes would later become executive director of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACom) and a senatorial candidate of the Ang Kapatiran party during the 2007 and 2010 elections.
Aside from Paredes, the two other SPDA deactivation task force members who had wanted to oust Zuño were Gerald Achilles Bravo and Aurora Pelayo, respectively of the Region 11 offices of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).  The three had sent a memo addressed to then Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Eduardo Ermita before he became Executive Secretary.
In the 14 June 2003 issue of the Mindanao TIMES, associate editor and columnist Mitchel Confesor wrote a frontpage sidebar story titled “2 solons implicated in questionable deals,” alongside the headline “SPDA scandal” with the subtitle “3 task force members want PA-II Zuño out,” under the byline of staff writer Anthony Allada.
By 17 June 2003, TIMES publisher Guillermo E. Torres Jr. dismissed Confesor and promised to give him separation pay, after relieving him from his post as associate editor and placing him on floating status the day before.  The TIMES editor-in-chief at that time, Victorino Sumalinog, tendered his irrevocable resignation on the same day.
The members of Congress mentioned in the news reports were erstwhile Davao Oriental Rep. Corazon Malanyaon, who has alternately served as governor in her province, and then Davao City first-district Rep. Prospero “Boy” Nograles, who would later become House Speaker from 2008 until his term ended in mid-2010.  His son Karlo Alexei Nograles is now on his second term as representative of the same district.
Between late 2003 to early 2004, veteran editor-in-chief, managing editor, and former city information officer Roger Balanza published a series of news reports about the issue in another paper, the Mindanao Insider, calling it the “SPDA ‘ghost’ ducks” controversy.
In early 2004, NLRC Davao ordered Mindanao TIMES to compensate the former editor with the amount totaling almost P72,000 representing around seven months in back wages and separation pay, but no moral damages.  By early 2010, the SC reaffirmed the initial decision of the NLRC, which later recalculated the total compensation amount of more than P927,000 (inclusive of taxes and lawyer’s fees) representing almost seven years of retroactive wages and separation fee.

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