AS promised, I now present a follow-up report on the status of claims for compensation by Filipinos affected by the Gulf War. I managed to gather new information from three sources: a face-to-face interview with a DFA official (when I went for my yearly holiday to the Philippines last July); a UNCC’s September 28 press release; and an ABS-CBN news report published online less than a week ago. I will separate though the report from the last two sources and discuss the issues contained therein within the following two weeks.
Appointed Deputy Secretary-General of PCCCS (Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat) Mr. Sinforiano Mendiola, in an interview held July 21, 2000 at his office at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila, disclosed some information which somehow clarified some of the issues mentioned in the past three related articles published here on OFW-Suite101 site.
“Our books are clean and every penny released or spent for operation purposes is recorded and copy furnished to the UNCC,” Mendiola said referring to the reported misuse of the Gulf War funds entrusted by the UNCC to his department. A certified public accountant before joining the DFA, he insinuated that his appointment to the present post was partly due to his long years of clean record as DFA’s assistant comptroller, regional fiscal representative and consul general (assigned to Mexico and U.K) in the past 37 years of government service. The Fund, he admitted, is indeed deposited at the Philippine National Bank (PNB) under the name of Undersecretary Benjamin Domingo in his capacity as head of the PCCCS. The PCCCS, as a body, he explained, has no identity as far as the bank is concerned.
Interest earnings of the Fund are being used for the whole operation of claims processing, Mendiola said, strongly pointing out that the UNCC is aware of the practice.
“We are, in fact, authorized by the UNCC to derive our operating expenses from the interest earnings of the Fund and this has actually saved every claimant from a 1.5% deduction from his/her claim money,” he explained.
I was aware of this 1.5% deduction from individual claims and am keeping on file this UNCC provision as contained in Decision No. 18, dated March 24, 1994 under the heading “Distribution of Payment and Transparency”, and I hereby quote:
“Governments may offset their costs of processing claims by deducting a small fee from payments made to claimants. The Governments shall be required to provide explanations satisfactory to the Governing Council for any processing costs so deducted. Such fees shall be commensurate with the actual expenditure of Governments. In the case of awards payable to claimants in categories A, B and C, the fees should not exceed 1.5 per cent, and for awards payable to claimants in categories D, E and F, the fees should not exceed 3 per cent.”
High interest earnings
The PCCCS acting head related that the decision not to deduct any amount from the claimants’ money came about a few months after the Philippine Government received the first Fund from UNCC in May 1997. Because of the slow process of contacting the approved-for-payment claimants, which almost consumed the then allowable 6 months time-frame established by the UNCC for fund distribution, the interest earned by the Fund in the bank was discovered “surprisingly high”, Mendiola hinted. This prompted the then PCCCS chair Leonides Caday (now Philippine Ambassador to Indonesia) to “suggest” to the UNCC that instead of deducting the cost of operation from the claimants, the PCCCS shall then derive the cost from the interest earnings of the Fund.
“We got the approval from the UNCC and since then, had been regularly submitting reports, as required,” Mendiola reiterated.
He also explained that whenever they need to use the “interest” money, the UNCC’s approval is sought first. He disclosed a recent plan to move the PCCCS headquarters to a bigger area in order to accommodate the 300 to 500 people trooping the DFA building daily to claim, submit papers, inquire or follow-up payments. As soon as everything is settled, the office will relocate to the PNB Financial Center building (just opposite the DFA premises in Roxas Boulevard) and will occupy a whole floor. The now 24 staff members will have to be supplemented with additional workers in order to expedite the processing and release of payments to successful claimants, he announced.
Mendiola denied that the Philippine Government was ever suspended by the UNCC for “non-distribution or delayed distribution” of the Fund to the Filipino claimants. My presumption, as reported in Pinoy Gulf War claims: facts and figures, Part 2, he stressed, was wrong!
Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: October 3, 2000