Court upholds graft raps vs CHEd chief

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CHEd Chairwoman Patricia Licuanan speaks before the media in an education press conference held in the CHEd headquarters in Quezon City last Sept. 27.

THE FIGHT to hold Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chairwoman Patricia Licuanan liable for graft continues for a respected school-accreditation association.

In a Resolution dated 18 August 2017, the Court of Appeals (CA) reversed its earlier ruling to dismiss the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities (PAASCU) petition, questioning the Office of the Ombudsman’s dismissal of the accreditation body’s complaint against Licuanan for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019). The CA, however, will only rule on Licuanan’s administrative liability as the appellate court maintained the dismissal of the PAASCU petition involving her criminal liability.

The CA said PAASCU should have questioned before the Supreme Court the Ombudsman’s resolution that dismissed the criminal cases against Licuanan.

Complaints filed against government officials at the Office of the Ombudsman are dual-purpose. After due investigation, the Ombudsman may order the immediate removal of a public officer as an administrative penalty and also cause an official’s indictment for a criminal offense. If an official, like Licuanan, is indicted, she will be tried before the anti-graft court—the Sandiganbayan.

Due to “lack of probable cause,” the Ombudsman, in 2016, initially dismissed PAASCU’s complaint against Licuanan for violation of Section 3 (e) and 3(g) of RA 3019 for “causing or giving unwarranted benefits to any private party” and “entering into any contract or transaction manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government.”

PAASCU’s legal counsel Joseph Noel Estrada was elated at the reinstatement of his client’s case. “We think it would really be a big help if we don’t allow cases like these to just go away without necessary consequence under the law. We filed a case [and] the Court of Appeals reinstated it, saying the Ombudsman was wrong to dismiss the case,” Estrada told the Varsitarian.

Estrada added that PAASCU will go to the Supreme Court to seek the reversal of the dismissal of their criminal complaint.

In 2014, PAASCU sought to hold CHEd’s top official liable administratively and criminally for authorizing the release of P10 million to fund Philippine Computer Society’s (PCS) Information Computing Accreditation Board, a newly established accreditation agency. PAASCU claimed that the transaction was anomalous because CHEd did not hold a public bidding before it awarded the P10 million to PCS.

PAASCU also cited a 2014 Commission on Audit report that described CHEd’s agreement with PCS as “irregular, unlawful and grossly disadvantageous to the government.”

“Absence of CHEd guidelines on the financial assistance to [non-government organizations] vying for international recognition as the country’s accrediting agencies for identified degree programs resulted [in] the lack of competitiveness and transparency on the selection of PCS by CHEd,” the report read.

Estrada said Licuanan lacked transparency in those dealings, saying funding PCS was profoundly inconsistent with the state requirements for use of public funds.

“It affects the higher education as a whole especially when the leadership does not use entrusted government funds properly,” Estrada said.

‘Baseless, inaccurate’

Licuanan maintained that there was nothing anomalous with funding PCS, saying the partnership with PCS followed RA 7722 or Higher Education Act of 1994.

“The arrangement under this official partnership was undertaken pursuant to the mandate and authority of CHEd under its Charter, specifically Section 8 and Section 10 of Republic Act 7722,” the statement read.

Section 8 of RA 7722 ordered CHEd to create and recommend development programs and function necessary for improvement in higher education and research.

Licuanan’s graft case was dismissed after the Ombudsman found no probable cause to “indict the respondents,” stating Licuanan’s actions were not tainted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or inexcusable negligence in a joint resolution dated Feb. 11, 2016.

CHEd has also sought membership in the Washington and Seoul Accord to recognize Filipino information technology professionals and engineers in the global labor market, which PAASCU saw as a breach of government auditing.

“Membership in both Accords is expected to contribute to raising the quality of engineering and IT education so as to build a critical mass of competent professionals committed to staying in the country and developing potential niches for the Philippine economy,” CHEd said in a press statement in 2015.

CHEd denied that it received information on PAASCU’s interest to apply in the Seoul Accord and only recognized PICAB as a sole association for accreditation.

“[CHEd] only learned of the Association’s intention during the 2014 Seoul Accord meeting in New Zealand where PAASCU participated for the first time as observer and where the CHED supported delegation also served as observers for the second time,” the statement read.

Paascu also accredits the University’s academic programs such as engineering, information technology, medicine and high school program.

However, Estrada said the funds could be have been used for scholarships instead of creating new accrediting agencies.

“CHEd supported a particular entity to go against PAASCU and funded it using government funds that did not undergo bidding. […] Why would we spend P10 million? We could have used it for scholarships,” he said.

‘Integrity issues’

Rene Tadle, lead convener of the Council of Teachers and Staff of Colleges and Universities in the Philippines, asserted that the graft raps against Licuanan affect CHEd’s authority to lead colleges and universities.

“It is important that CHEd be viewed as beyond reproach such as that the office and its personnel are immune or free from corruption or else CHEd […] will lack the credibility to implement the needed reforms in higher education in the country,” Tadle said in a text message to the Varsitarian.

Estrada echoed Tadle, saying schools should not depend on CHEd’s governance and focus on quality.

“There are better ways for schools to aspire for quality. They do not only look at [CHEd’s leadership.] Schools [should] do better in their graduates, faculty and education,” Estrada said.

But, for lawyer Teodoro Lorenzo Fernandez, a faculty member at the Faculty of Arts and Letters, people should not be quick to condemn Licuanan.

“There is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. This a constitutional right. We should keep in mind that this is the backbone of our criminal justice system. It is the State’s duty to prove an accused’s guilt and for the courts [to decide] if [Licuanan] indeed violated the law,” Fernandez said.

 

To investigate and expose unspoken issues and anomalies, send confidential news tips to the Special Reports team of the Varsitarian at specialreports.varsitarian@gmail.com or at THE VARSITARIAN office, Rm. 105, Tan Yan Kee Student Center, University of Santo Tomas, España, Manila.

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