BY REY O. ARCILLA
‘The US Government could have easily built the new facility in its embassy in Manila a long time ago.’
THE US Embassy in Manila makes approximately P1.183 billion or $26.9 million a year on visa fees alone!
This was revealed by Consul General Michael Schimmel during the unveiling last week of the embassy’s new $50 million annex building on Roxas Boulevard.
Schimmel said around 800 visa applications are processed by the embassy on any given day. (There is no refund for rejected applications.) If you multiply that by $140 or its equivalent in pesos for each application, the total comes up to the staggering figure above-cited. Again, that’s on visa fees alone. It does not include fees charged for other consular services rendered to Filipino nationals.
“We know that the process of obtaining a US visa is sometimes an intimidating one. We want the circumstances surrounding the experience to be as agreeable and less inconvenient as possible,” Schimmel said.
I guess we have reason to thank the US Government for building the new facility. Considering, however, the huge amount of money it makes annually off Filipino visa applicants alone, it could have built the facility a long time ago, thus sparing our people the disagreeable and inconvenient experience all these years.
Everyone knows that government bureaucracy generally works at a snail’s pace. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is no exception.
Take for instance the case of Michael Macaraig, a DFA minor functionary.
Macaraig testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee without clearance from his superiors that the DFA was ill-prepared, uncoordinated and lacked funding in meeting the OFW crisis in the Middle East and North Africa.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario directed future ex- undersecretary for administration Rafael Seguis to have Macaraig explain within 72 hours why no disciplinary action should be taken against him.
Those 72 hours expired about a month ago!
Finally, after Del Rosario strongly reiterated his order to Seguis two weeks ago, Macaraig reportedly submitted a memorandum stating his side of the story. The action taken by Seguis on Macaraig’s memorandum was to refer it to the undersecretary for migrant workers’ affairs and the assistant secretaries for Middle East affairs and fiscal services for their comments.
I was informed that Macaraig had earlier refused to receive an office order signed by the secretary transferring him from the transportation section to the office of consular affairs. Obviously, he does not want to be moved.
Aside from the question of how he can defy superior orders with impunity, the other relevant question begging for an answer is why he does not want to be moved from the transportation section which he heads. Could it have something to do with the hiring of some 26 service cars for DFA top officials, for instance? I will not do the arithmetic here, but one thing is for sure – it involves a very substantial amount. In any case, I am just asking. Perhaps the COA auditor assigned to the Department may be able to shed some light on the matter. I understand this official is a member of a committee tasked with the hiring of service cars.
Insiders say Macaraig was very close to the former undersecretary for administration Franklin Ebdalin and then became close to Seguis when the latter took over the same office ten months ago.
However, Seguis and Macaraig allegedly had a falling out (an undersecretary having a falling out with a mere staff officer?!) when the former allowed the holding of election of new officers for the DFA Personnel Association (DFAPA). (Word is that they are now “close” again.)
Macaraig had been posing as president of DFAPA for many years without the benefit of having been re-elected. So, when the members felt it was time to oust Macaraig, they held an election last November and the winning candidates were inducted into office shortly thereafter by Del Rosario’s immediate predecessor.
Since that time, the newly elected DFAPA president has been asking Macaraig to turn over the funds and the assets of the association to her. He has refused to do so to this day.
As head of administration, it is incumbent upon Seguis to order Macaraig to turn over the funds to the new president. It appears he hasn’t done so or, if he had, Macaraig simply chose to ignore his order.
Macaraig’s inability or refusal to turn over the DFAPA funds could mean one of many things, but definitely irregularities in the management of the funds would be one of them. Otherwise, what plausible reason could he possibly have? Again, just asking.
What is unfortunate is that Del Rosario doesn’t seem to realize that Seguis’ apparent failure to appropriately deal with Macaraig is a reflection on his (Del Rosario) leadership. Either he begins to crack the whip on everyone, including Seguis, and show who is in command or confusion will reign in the department. He can start by putting a closure to Macaraig’s antics.
Perhaps it would also help if Del Rosario were to be more selective in his foreign trips. In the two months that he has been in office, he has already traveled abroad nine times. He really should try his darndest to stay home a little more and put the house in order first. Maybe after this week when he will again be away for the Asean ministerial and summit meetings?
I wonder if Del Rosario is aware that through the initiative of his close friend Alberto Romulo, the department’s budget had been cut by 40 percent. Judicious spending, therefore, should be the order of the day.
I also wonder if Del Rosario is aware of the grave injustice done to a good and dedicated career officer by the name of Abraham Estavillo.
I was told that the members of the Board of Foreign Service Administration (BFSA) voted for and recommended Estavillo for promotion, along with others, to Chief of Mission II last November. The recommendations of the Board were approved by then Secretary Romulo. In fact, Estavillo received a congratulatory letter from him for the promotion.
But alas, when the final list was sent to Malacañang by the DFA office of administration, Estavillo’s name disappeared and another substituted.
After the BFSA had thus voted upon and recommended the officers to be promoted, it became the duty and responsibility of the chairman to see to it that the decision of the Board was faithfully recorded and implemented.
Incidentally, Seguis has been BFSA chairman since July last year by virtue of his position as undersecretary for administration
The recent appointment of 17 career officers as ambassadors was indeed welcome news. However, as I pointed out in a previous piece, some were happy, some were not.
The list of recommendees was prepared by Seguis without the advice of or consultation with the BFSA. It was approved by Del Rosario virtually in toto. He reportedly does not even know most of those recommended. He simply relied on Seguis’ recommendations.
As a consequence, some of those appointed to certain “senior” and “juicy” posts are quite junior – have not earned their spurs, so to speak. More senior and experienced ones were not even considered to fill them up.
Regulations about successive assignments to the same continent were ignored. Those serving in hardship posts longer than the regulations provide were not considered for transfer to non-hardship ones.
Some were recommended mainly because they are about to reach retirement age, qualified or not. Others will be going to posts where the charge d’affaires are more senior or are of the same batch. At least a couple are charge d’affaires in the post to which they were appointed, something that is against normal diplomatic practice. Still others were considered merely because Seguis has taken a fancy to them.
But the saddest part of all is that many more senior chiefs of mission posted in the home office or abroad were not considered at all.
If only Seguis had the good sense to bring the matter up for deliberation by the BFSA, these things could have been avoided or at least minimized.
Last March 29, I wrote:
“The news that Arroyo went to see Gutierrez in the wee hours of the morning at the latter’s house immediately after the impeachment vote brings to mind the call Arroyo reportedly made to Gen. Angelo Reyes just before he killed himself.
“My guess is that Arroyo went to see Gutierrez not to sympathize with her but to persuade her to resign instead of going through the impeachment trial in the Senate. In the Senate trial, the name of Arroyo will inevitably be dragged in. Rather than risk that, Arroyo must have thought it would be better for her to face a new Ombudsman than the possibility of Gutierrez spilling the beans in the Senate.
“I wouldn’t be surprised, therefore, if Gutierrez resigns before the Senate trial in May.”
And so she did.
On February 15, I also wrote:
“Once Gutierrez is out of the way, President Noynoy Aquino should forthwith appoint a worthy replacement and go full blast in the prosecution of the cases against alleged wrongdoers in past administrations…”
And so he shall.
Reminders (for Noynoy’s action):
1) Filing of charges against the previous administration’s National Food Administration officials for the anomalous importation of rice (Noynoy himself said there is documentary evidence to prove the anomaly).
2) Facilitating the investigation of the rampant corruption in the military, including the recently uncovered anomaly in gas allowance.
3) Expeditious action by the AFP on the case of Jonas Burgos.
4) Preliminary investigation by the Department of Justice of the graft complaint filed late last year by Bayan Muna against Gloria Arroyo in connection with the aborted $329 million ZTE-NBN deal.
5) (New) investigation of the reported anomalies in the GSIS during the watch of Winston Garcia and the scandalous allowances and excessive benefits the members of the Board of Trustees allotted themselves (P11 million each) in 2009 alone.
From an internet friend:
A tough looking biker was riding his Harley Davidson when he sees a girl about to jump off a bridge. So he stops.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
“I’m going to commit suicide,” she says.
While he did not want to appear insensitive, he didn’t want to miss an opportunity either, so he asks “Well, before you jump, why don’t you give me a kiss?”
So, she does.
After she’s finished, the biker says, “Wow! That was the best kiss I have ever had. That’s a real talent you are wasting. You could be famous. Why are you committing suicide?”
“My parents don’t like me dressing up like a girl……”
Today is the 5th day of the fifth year of Jonas Burgos’ disappearance.