MANILA, Philippines – The National Museum endowment fund is intact and will be returned, said Ramon Del Rosario, the museum’s chairman whom rank-and-file employees are asking to resign for allegedly mismanaging the fund.
On August 16, the employees called for the resignation of Del Rosario, National Museum director Jeremy Barns, and assistant directors Ana Maria Teresa Labrador and Angel Bautista, who put the P331-million fund in Bank of the Philippine Islands and Banco De Oro.
The officials have also been accused of harassing employees who have been vocal about anomalies in the fund’s handling, which were first reported by the Commission on Audit (COA). They reportedly imposed a gag order on employees in October 2012, forbidding them to talk to media.
Del Rosario told Rappler that when he found out COA objected to the investment of the endowment fund in private banks, he asked to meet with COA Chairperson Grace Pulido Tan “for guidance.”
“In my meeting with the Chairperson, she advised me that, in her view, because the Endowment Fund was in the nature of government funds, the National Museum had no choice but to keep these funds in the custody of a government financial institution and they must be invested only in government securities.
“I told the Chairperson that we would comply.”
Immediately after, Del Rosario said, Barns advised BPI and BDO that they are terminating the agreements and ordered them to liquidate the investment.
“The process of liquidating a portfolio requires some time and the fund is now in the process of being converted to cash. This process will be completed by the end of August 2013,” Del Rosario said.
When liquidated, the fund will be deposited in Land Bank of the Philippines, then will be transferred to the Trust Department of the Development Bank of the Philippines, which “the National Museum has designated as the Fund’s new investment manager.”
The decision does not sit well with museum employees, who think the fund should be returned to the museum’s original bank account in Land Bank of the Philippines.
“Why in DBP and not in Land Bank? Is there any problem with Land Bank?” asked an employee of the museum who wishes to stay anonymous for fear of harrassment.
Empowered by law
Del Rosario said that the National Museum Act of 1998 empowers the board of trustees to directly handle the National Museum endowment fund. It stipulates “the Fund shall be administered directly by the Board of Trustees.”
In fact, he added, the money has grown from P331 million to more than P370 million as of June 30, which would not have been possible if it remained in the original National Museum acccount in Land Bank of the Philippines, a government depository bank.
But another museum employee says Del Rosario’s statement is beside the point.
“While it is true that the law specifically provides that the Fund should be administered directly by the Board of Trustees, it does not exempt it from following COA rules and regulations in the manner of administering it. The endowment fund remains a government fund and should be subjected to COA rules and regulations.”
The anomalies were reported by COA in a Letter of Demand sent to Jeremy Barns on March 22, 2013. They include:
- Non-compliance with Board of Trustees resolutions stating COA and other concerned agencies of government should be automatically furnished with regular quarterly reports and annual reports on the performance of the invesment
- Lack of checks and balance because the funds were withdrawn, transacted, and handled by the same persons namely Jeremy Barns, Ana Maria Teresa Labrador, National Museum Chief Administrator Dionisio Pangilinan, and Board of Trustees Secretary Cecilio Salcedo.
- Failure to provide the cashier or accounting section copies of the Investment Memorandum Agreement and other bank records related to the investments with BPI and BDO
- Failure to secure authority from the Department of Finance on the investment of the endowment fund to private banks.
Despite Del Rosario’s reassurances that the money will be returned, many rank-and-file employees still harbor suspicions.
“If their intention is clean, the investment would have been done in accordance with the law. They should’ve been transparent with museum employees, like the auditor and cashier, but they chose to hide the investment from the very beginning from COA and the National Museum,” said the museum employee.
According to the National Museum Act of 1998, the endowment fund “is to be used for special programs, projects and activities of the Museum.”
But “no scientific project has benefited from the interest in investing the endowment fund in private banks,” said the employee who has been with the museum for several years.
The employee also emphasized the museum is not primarily an investment agency but a research agency. Instead of leaving the fund in the banks, it could have been used for research programs on Philippine history, culture, archaeology and more. And besides, said the employee, what if the investment turned out badly and lost money?
But Del Rosario said, “Absolutely no harm was caused, the funds are intact and fully accounted for, and the endowment fund has grown.” – Rappler.com