ACTING chief of the National Irrigation Administration? Or overacting?
The controversial newsman-turned-government factotum Benny Antiporda is facing another ruckus, this time involving NIA employees who accused him of abusing his authority and workers’ rights.
Appointed acting NIA administrator by President Marcos in July 2022, Antiporda battled not long-ago controversies surrounding the P238-million Manila Bay Dolomite Beach, built against the advice of experts from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute who said that the crushed dolomite sand would not improve the bay’s water quality and that a continuous replenishment of the sand would be expensive.
Most senior NIA man?
He withstood the criticisms, but was later transferred to NIA as senior deputy administrator last February. Because he was supposedly the most senior among NIA officials left by the Duterte administration, he took over the helm upon the takeover of President Marcos Jr., but only in an acting capacity.
Was Antiporda really then the most senior of NIA officials? In June 2022, the NIA lawyers were called to issue a legal opinion on who should act as administrator under Memorandum Circular No 1, and they collectively endorsed then administrator Ricardo Visaya to stay put in a holdover capacity.
They cited Section 17 of Republic Act 10149, or the GOCC Governance of 2011, which provides that all incumbent officials and appointive members of the Board of GOCC shall have a term of office until June 30, unless sooner replaced by the (incumbent) President.
“When a public officer is placed on a holdover status,” the NIA lawyers said in a legal opinion dated June 10, 2022, citing Mendoza vs Quisumbing, 186 SCRA 110, “it means that his term has expired or his services terminated but he should continue holding office until his successor is appointed or chosen, and has qualified.”
Few weeks into his term, Antiporda asked the NIA board to anoint him as “full-fledged NIA administrator,” a move which did not sit well with NIA’s lawyers, including the corporate secretary, Michelle Raymundo.
One appointing power
“The appointing power is President Marcos, and the board can neither modify nor supersede his order,” she said.
On Aug 18, the NIA board did so. Himself a member of the board, Antiporda did not abstain in providing him the most-wanted title.
He believed that once confirmed, he would then become the one and only NIA administrator.
In no time, Antiporda instructed all the NIA officials and rank-and-file employees to address him “NIA administrator”. Drop the word “acting,” they were told. Those who did not were either reprimanded, put on floating status, or fired.
“It pissed him off when officials sent him memoranda addressing him acting,” another lawyer said.
A few days later, Raymundo sent a letter to the Office of the President seeking clarification. Has the President appointed Antiporda in a permanent or full capacity? For the record and for posterity, and to settle legal questions, she wanted to know.
Who has last word?
“As I had never encountered such a situation before, I consulted with several lawyers in the government service, (including the Office of the Government Counsel) who all concurred that it might be improper for the (NIA) Board of Directors to vote to confirm and in effect appoint Mr. Antiporda as Administrator and thereby modify the existing Appointment duly issued by the Office of the President,” she said in her letter to President Marcos dated Aug. 22.
“In view of the foregoing, and if only to clarify and put to rest any confusion as to the powers of the Board with regard to the modification of a Presidential appointment, I would like to ask if–in light of the existing letter issued by the President himself providing for the appointment of Mr. Antiporda as Acting Administrator–the Board of Directors was correct in modifying the appointment of Mr. Antiporda as the Administrator of NIA,” she said.
Letter to Malacanang
“As Corporate Board Secretary of NIA, I feel I would be remiss in my duties to both the Board, NIA, and of course the President–as Secretary of Agriculture and NIA Board Chair–if I did not seek clarification regarding this matter,” she said.
As of Oct 17, Malacanang has not replied to the letter. Neither has it made an announcement that Antiporda’s appointment was now permanent.
NIA chair’s office
Antiporda got wind of the letter and pushed for the removal of Raymundo, an appointee of the board. He padlocked her office which is also the office of the chair of the board–the agriculture secretary, a position President Marcos holds to this day.
As corporate secretary, Raymundo occupied a seat located within seeing and hearing distance of the Chair, she being at his beck and call.
On Sept. 5, Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban sent Raymundo a letter thanking her for her services to the board, and that her appointment as corporate secretary has been deemed expired and co-terminus with the past administration. The letter was unsigned.
Goodbye, Miss Secretary
On Sept 12, she received another advice, this time handwritten on a piece of paper carrying the letterhead of the Agriculture Secretary, that the board would hold a meeting the following week to appoint a new board secretary. She was indeed replaced by another lawyer, duly announced on NIA’s Facebook account.
Looking back, Raymundo wondered if her letter had reached the President, sent through then Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez.
Given her understanding of NIA board powers and responsibilities, she told President Marcos that there was nothing in Republic Act 3601 of 1963, titled “An Act Creating the National Irrigation Administration,” that empowered the board to change or modify the President’s actions, especially appointments.
‘Law is clear’
Section 7 of the Irrigation law, she said in the letter, defined the management of the NIA, which shall be “vested in the Irrigation Administrator who shall be appointed by the President of the Philippines.”
“The law is clear,” she said. “Crystal clear.”
Thus, Antiporda’s appointment being only in acting capacity, she added, he had no power to remove or float officials and workers.
Raymundo’s letter and the lawyers’ legal opinion, according to NIA officials, hurt Antiporda so much that he tried “to move heaven and hell to get rid of these NIA lawyers.”
Antiporda goes ballistic
One morning after a flag ceremony in August, Antiporda delivered a speech that revealed that all wasn’t well with him and certain officials. He berated a number of lawyers, threatened to run after them in court, though he has yet to file a case with the Ombudsman against anyone, for refusing to “cooperate” with him.
It was an otherwise good but firm speech, typical of any government head reminding his fellow workers of their public duty.
“I will start from my very favorite office, the Public Affairs and Information Service. I told them already that you need to show the people, you need to engage them and you tell them that NIA do exist in the society. I am the one answering (public inquiries) on Facebook. I am the one telling them, that we are addressing our shortcomings. Ang PAIS po gumagalaw, pero ang hepe lang ang gumagala sa Facebook para sabihin sa tao kung ano ‘yung dapat gawin,” he said in his August 30 speech.
Until he talked about his appointment and the lawyers. He went ballistic.
“Now, why think about the appointment of yours truly. God damn it. I told you already I don’t want any acting title for every officer of NIA. Hindi nyo ba kayong gawin yun? It is very simple. Isipin ‘nyo lang, ilang taon ng acting ang isang opisyal, bakit hindi nyo gawing permanente. Hindi na bale ang inyong lingkod, kaya nga ako winawalanghiya dahil acting lang ang appointment ko,” he said.
“Ngayon hindi ko alam ang mga abogado natin dito, gaano katalino…Before you say something in front of the people, be sure that you did your assignment. Mag aral kayo bago magsalita,” he said.
“Hinahatak nyo ako pabababa. Well, uunahin ko kayo bago ninyo ako isama,” he said
The speech didn’t sit well with the NIA lawyers.
“Just because he didn’t like our legal opinion,” said one of the lawyers in a draft of his complaint against the NIA administrator.
In the next few days, Antiporda shuffled, floated and fired a number of NIA officials and workers.
“Mr. Benny Antiporda is a vindictive vengeful, oppressive, manipulative, and unprofessional person who should not be allowed to hold any government office under the BBM administration.”
“Had I known earlier that his title was a big deal to him, I could have called him ‘His Excellency,’ or ‘His Royal Highness,” he added.
Among those placed under floating status were lawyers Ailyne Agtuc-Selda, manager of the administration department; Lloyd Alain Cudal, acting manager of Legal Services; and Engineer Reynaldo Baloloy, acting manager of the Engineering Department.
How to reply to Benny?
“To be placed under floating status would be the height of embarrassment, humiliation, and suffering,” another lawyer said. “Employes under floating status are watched and all freedom of actions are restricted,” he added.
Antiporda supposedly had openly given Baloloy and lawyer Riza Ibanez, also of the Legal Services Department, a dressing down, asking him to file now for an early retirement or face a termination case.
Not one of these people had been charged administratively or in court to file a proper response to the administrator, the lawyer said.
Antiporda replaced Cudal with another lawyer, Pepito Padilla, formerly of the Internal Audit Services. But the lawyers said audit services are not under the NIA administrator, but under the NIA board instead. Antiporda is a member of the board.
Antiporda accused Cudal of corruption after the NIA lost its tax case against GACDC for its non-payment of its real estate tax in Iloilo.
Cudal is not involved with the case, according to the lawyers.
Reassignment can’t be done indiscriminately or whimsically, according to the lawyers.
“Because the law is not intended as a convenient shield for the appointing/disciplining officer to harass or oppress a subordinate on the pretext of advancing and promoting public interest…”, he said.
NIA lawyers are planning to sue Antiporda before the Office of the Ombudsman for oral defamation and grave abuse of authority, among others.
“This is the brand of leadership Mr. Antiporda is exhibiting,” a lawyer said. “He will do anything against innocent NIA employees just because his pride was hurt.”
republicasia tried to reach Antiporda, but his office had not replied.
The NIA lawyers are now hoping that the new executive secretary, former Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, would clear the air on Antiporda’s appointment.