MANILA, Philippines - Where is the P331-million National Museum endowment fund?
This is the question posed by the Commission on Audit (COA) and National Museum rank-and-file employees to National Museum Board of Trustees and officials who reportedly invested the fund in two private investment banks without the permission of the Department of Finance, COA and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
On August 16, National Museum employees and the left-leaning Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-National Capital Region (BAYAN-NCR) called for the resignation of officials, including National Museum Chairman Ramon del Rosario Jr and National Museum Director Jeremy Barns and Assistant Director Ana Maria Teresa Labrador.
Deposited in private banks
The anomalies in the handling of the museum's endowment fund were brought to Barns' attention in a Letter of Demand sent by COA state auditor Victoria Yumang.
In the letter dated March 22, 2013, Yumang reported that huge amounts of the endowment fund – then amounting to P306,926,248.99 – were taken out of the Land Bank of the Philippines.
They were deposited in private banks in Makati, namely, Banco de Oro (BDO) and the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI).
P118,000,000 was deposited in BPI under the account name "National Museum" and P188,926,248.99 under account name "National Museum of the Philippines."
These amounts were not deposited all at once but accumulated after several deposits. These deposits were authorized by Barns as proven by unnumbered memoranda he issued. It was through these memoranda that the COA found out where the sums went.
The deposited amounts now total P331 million as of early June 2013.
Handling of funds
One of these memoranda, dated Jan 16, 2011, shows that Barns volunteered to "personally deliver the said checks to the bankers concerned."
This, by itself, is suspect because under law, only the cashier or treasurer of government agencies are allowed to handle funds — a measure meant to maintain checks and balance.
An audit observation memorandum dated July 8, 2013 and addressed to Barns also pointed out the illegal use of the account name "National Museum of the Philippines."
Under Section 3 of the National Museum Act of 1998, the museum shall be known by the name of "National Museum" and no other, making "National Museum of the Philippines" a non-existent entity.
COA also demanded that Barns, Del Rosario and the entire Board of Trustees produce Board Resolutions showing that they "conducted regular review and evaluation of the earnings and status of the Museum endowment fund from November 2011 to the present."
Until now, no accounting or monitoring of the funds have been submitted to COA, Yumang told Rappler.
The National Museum's Board of Trustees include the following:
Felipe M de Leon Jr (Chairman, National Commission for Culture and the Arts)
Rene Javellana, SJ
Maria Isabel Ongpin
Felice Sta Maria
If the officials do not resign, BAYAN-NCR said, President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino should sack del Rosario, his appointee.
"We challenge him to heed the discontented employees of the National Museum and sack Del Rosario and some members of their Board who have been involved in the P331 million endowment fund scam," said BAYAN-NCR secretary-general Mark Aquino.
"By simply seeing the issue of misusing public funds as a betrayal of public trust, then some people must be held liable for their actions."
Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler
'In good faith'
So far, only Del Rosario and Barns have responded to the allegations. In an interview with ABS-CBN last June, Del Rosario said the endowment fund was "intact" and that he authorized the transfer of the endowment fund to private banks "in good faith" to make the money grow.
He also told the Inquirer he would transfer the endowment fund to another government depository bank, Development Bank of the Philippines. As of publishing, the fund has not been restituted to the National Museum's account in the Land Bank of the Philippines, according to Yumang.
Barns meanwhile was quoted by GMA News as saying that "no one told me it was improper" for him to transfer the fund to private banks because they were near his Makati residence.
A National Museum employee who requested anonymity said that the COA findings have reached the Ombudsman and that a case has been filed, complete with docket number. But no subpoena has been issued, according to National Museum Rank and File Employees Association Vice President Joseph Garcia.
A letter of investigation to the museum's Board of Trustees issued by Undersecretary Ronaldo Geron in July is only awaiting the signature of Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa.
To this day, no further action has been made.
Garcia said employees who have been vocal about the supposed scam have been harassed.
"They've been transferred to other assignments, been given additional work. Some officials have been suspended for up to 3 months for the smallest grievances," he said at an August 16 press conference held in BAYAN-NCR headquarters in Sta Mesa.
In October 2012, Barns imposed a gag order on the employees, forbidding them to give any information to the media.
Garcia said the endowment fund should have gone to research and development of the museum and its personnel. He said it could have also been given to employees who, for more than 10 years, have not enjoyed health benefits.
"Ganoon lang ba ang pera? Papatubuin lang ba natin habang nagkakasakit ang mga empleyado?" (Is that all what money is worth? We make it grow while employees get sick?)
Garcia and BAYAN-NCR are demanding that Del Rosario and company return the endowment fund to the original National Museum account in Land Bank of the Phiilippines and are asking for speedy action of the COA Fraud Committee, Ombudsman, and the Office of the President to get to the bottom of the issue. - Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.