June 24, 2018, 12:58 pm
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Urban poor officials fired for junkets

PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday said he fired ranking officials of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP), led by chairman Terry Ridon, over allegations of corruption, including “unnecessary junkets” abroad.

He said he has nothing personal against Ridon, a former representative of the Kabataan party-list group known to be Left-leaning, but it had come to his attention that Ridon has travelled seven to eight times abroad since he assumed the post in September last year.

“Today I fired the whole of the Commission of the Urban Poor… no personal reasons really to fire him except that --- you know, you had too much too soon. He was appointed September and he travelled about seven times. And to think that the office is an urban poor agency,”
Duterte said at an awarding event in Malacañang for child-friendly cities and municipalities.

Duterte said he does not understand why Ridon had to attend a lot of events abroad.

The President also said the PCUP, which is a collegial body, held only a meeting or two.

Ridon, in a statement, thanked the President for giving him the chance to serve the country under his administration.

On the trips, he said these were all approved by the Office of the President and recommended by the Office of the Cabinet Secretary. The trips, he also said, were “relevant to the urban poor.”

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there are no details about the travels but the order covers the PCUP chairman and all the commissioners. Based on the PCUP website, the commissioners are Melissa Aradanas, Joan Lagunda, Manuel Serra Jr., and Noe Indonto.

Ridon, in his statement, also said he and the other officials “performed our mandate to the best of our abilities, with integrity and competence, despite the heavy burden of undertaking genuine reform.”

“The public record of the agency can speak for itself: We had implemented with full integrity the presidential promise of no demolition without relocation. We had represented government and given voice to the urban poor in international conferences on public housing, poverty alleviation and climate change, which was unprecedented in any administration,” he added.

The trips, he said, were covered by “travel authorities issued by the Office of the President and recommended by the Office of the Cabinet Secretary involving international conferences relevant to the urban poor: poverty alleviation, public housing and climate change. Further, these conferences involved a multi-agency delegation, including agencies under the Office of the President like PCUP.”

Roque first announced yesterday that the PCUP will be abolished but later corrected his announcement and said the decision was just to fire the PCUP officials.

He said there is yet no written order as to when the sacking would take effect.

“The President stated two grounds behind his decision… Number one, it is,  according to him, a collegial body and they have not met as a collegial body. And number two, that the commissioners are notorious for junkets abroad,” Roque said.

Roque said the President is serious in his campaign against corruption, and the work practices and ethics exercised by the PCUP officials “have no place in the Duterte administration.”

Roque also said Duterte was referring to the PCUP when he made an announcement over the weekend about firing all the officials of one commission due to allegations of corruption.

Roque clarified that the P​resident’s decision had nothing to do with Ridon’s association with leftist groups.

Ridon served as Kabataan partylist representative from 2013 to 2016.

“I doubt it because the two grounds mentioned to me by the President is that it’s a collegial body and they don’t appear to be working as a collegial body, and junkets of the commissioners,” he said when asked about Ridon and the recent termination of peace talks with the communists and Duterte’s pronouncement that he would have the leaders of the legal fronts of Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines arrested.

Roque expressed confidence that any changes in the PCUP leadership would not affect the agency’s performance since “it is not performing its mandate precisely.”

Duterte has fired several officials since last year due alleged linked to corruptions.

Among them are former Mike Sueno as interior secretary; Peter Laviña, as  head of the National Irrigation Administration; Halmen Valdez, undersecretary under the Office of the President; and Gertrudo de Leon, budget undersecretary.

Dionisio Santiago was asked to resign last month as head of the Dangerous Drug Board after he said he said the construction of a mega-rehabilitation center for drug addicts as “impractical” and a “mistake.” Malacañang claimed there had been complaints of alleged junket abroad and irregularities in the agency under Santiago.

Also removed was Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Jose Vicente Salazar for simple and grave misconduct charges in the regulatory body.
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