CCWI to Congress: ‘Probe NIA chief suspension’

NPC calls on media groups to support Antiporda, anti-corruption campaign

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THE anti-corruption watchdog, (CCWI), has described as “irregular” and “questionable” the swift suspension by the Ombudsman of National Irrigation Administration (NIA) administrator, Benny Antiporda as it urged Congress to probe the incident.

“The suspension (of Antiporda) is not only questionable but highly irregular,” said CCWI president Carlo Batalla, in a statement last November 20, 2022.

“As an anti-corruption watchdog, we have been filing anti-graft and corruption cases before the Ombudsman for several years now.

“In the case against Mr. Antiporda, this is the first time we learned that the respondent has been suspended without the benefit of seeing the complaint first and even before he can file his counter-affidavit,” said Batalla, referring to the manner by which the Ombudsman has suspended the NIA chief.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires last November 15, 2022, ordered the suspension of Antiporda for 6 months without pay for alleged grave misconduct, harassment, oppression, ignorance of the law and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, filed by two former NIA officials.

From news reports, Batalla said they gathered that Antiporda was not even furnished a copy of the complaints up to now and thus unable to explain his side before Martires ordered him suspended.

“Napakatagal na namin na nagsasampa ng mga reklamo sa Ombudsman laban sa mga opisyal ng mga ahensiya ng gobyerno katulad ng DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) na sa tingin namin ay sangkot sa anomalya, pero hanggang ngayon, walang aksyon ang Ombudsman.

“Pero sa reklamo laban kay Antiporda, bakit napakabilis ng aksyon ng Ombudsman at walang aksyon sa bukod niyang reklamo,” Batalla pointed out. “This is highly questionable and irregular.”

Batalla was referring to the two cases for graft and corruption that Antiporda filed at the OMB against Atty. Lloyd Allain Cudal, head of the NIA Legal Service last September 15, 2022, and, Michelle Gonzales Raymundo, the former NIA Board secretary last October 18,2022.

The case against Cudal involved more than P205 million in public money while that of Raymundo involves grave abuse of her position and “habitual drunkenness,” among others.

On the other hand, one of the purported complainants against Antiporda, the NIA Employees Association of the Philippines (NIAEAP), had strongly denounced their inclusion in the cases against Antiporda, pointing out they even issued a resolution last September affirming their full support to his leadership of the agency (see also Pinoy Exposé, November 16, 2022, for additional details).

“The manner by which the Ombudsman diverged from its own rules and normal procedures should raise everybody’s suspicion and concern as it constitutes betrayal of public trust. By itself, it smells of corruption,” Batalla said, further warning that Martires is courting impeachment over his decision.

As an anti-corruption watchdog, Batalla said they are “deeply bothered” by the development. He also urged Congress to conduct an inquiry over the incident leading to the possible impeachment of Martires if warranted by the evidence.

NIA Administrator Benny Antiporda with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., at the Malacañan Palace, August 25, 2022. It was in this meeting that Antiporda assured the Chief Executive that he would rather resign from his post should he fail to meet the President’s expectation of cleansing the NIA of its corrupt officials and personnel so the agency can deliver on its core mission of providing free irrigation to the country’s farmers (stock photo).

Batalla’s call for a congressional probe came on the heel of the statements last November 18, 2022 of Philreca partylist representative, Rep. Presley De Jesus and Iloilo Rep. Julienne ‘Jamjam’ Baranda, also questioning Antiporda’s swift removal from his post by the OMB.

Baranda described as “suspicious” the timing of Antiporda suspension while De Jesus said the decision was “worrying” as the person who got suspended was the one initiating the cleansing of the NIA, as directed by President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr (see also Pinoy Exposé, November 19, 2022).

NPC in full support of Antiporda

For its part, the National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC) has issued a call to all its affiliated provincial and regional press groups in the country to also issue separate statements of support to Antiporda and his anti-corruption campaign at the NIA, a critical government agency.

In a statement dated November 20, 2022, and signed by NPC President Lydia Bueno, the group said the allegations against Antiporda were “flimsy” and came from a “few scalawags” inside and outside of the agency but which was unwittingly sustained by the Ombudsman.

It added his suspension was marked with “undue haste under questionable circumstances.”

The Club noted that aside from Antiporda’s “personal sacrifices” that include taking personal risks as its president for two terms, Antiporda even turned down a huge sum of money offered by the Ampatun clan in the aftermath of the November 23, 2009, ‘Ampatuan Massacre’ in Maguindanao that left 58 people killed, 34 of them journalists.

“Maybe it is also time to inform the Ombudsman that right after the Ampatuan Massacre in November 2009 that killed 34 of our media colleagues, Antiporda rejected the P20 million bribe, in cash, offered to him by an emissary of the Ampatuan clan— ‘with more to come’— to dissuade him from leading the Philippine media from further pursuing justice for the massacre victims.

CCWI president Carlo Batalla warned that Ombudsman Samuel Martires is courting possible impeachment over the “questionable” and “irregular” manner that he suspended NIA Administrator Benny Antiporda last November 15, 2022.

“If Antiporda is such a corrupt person as the OMB and his detractors now want him to be pictured thru his suspension, why did he not take the bribe money back then, at a time when he is also just another struggling journalist,” the NPC said.

Antiporda also turned down the traditional cash “pasalubong” being given to ranking NIA officials after transferring to the agency last February 2022 as Senior Deputy Administrator (SDA) from his post as undersecretary at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Club bared.

NPC officers were also present when Antiporda told President Marcos during their oathtaking last August 25, 2022, that he would resign within one year should he fail to rid the NIA of corrupt officials and personnel, which is what the Chief Executive wanted.

“We wonder, is this (Antiporda’s suspension) the ‘price’ that an appointee of the President who is one with him in delivering good and effective governance would have to pay?

“Is the OMB not one with the President in the promotion of good governance in the entire bureaucracy?

“With the OMB’s action against Antiporda—while failing to act, until now, on the complaints he filed against suspected grafters at NIA plus the multitude of cases filed against other public officials and which remain languishing at the OMB, the issue has gone beyond the personality of Antiporda,” the NPC said.

“The issue now centers on the seriousness and credibility of the government’s campaign against graft and corruption in its entirety and on the credibility and seriousness of the OMB in addressing this social malaise, which is a betrayal of public trust,” the group pointed out further.

The NPC also called on Congress and President Marcos Jr. “to urgently look into this matter and act to promptly correct this grave injustice.”

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