TESDA had ‘ghost trainings,’ group says

ILOILO CITY, Philippines—The questionable advertisement and promotional spending of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) under former Director General Augusto Syjuco is only the tip of the iceberg, according to a confederation of government employees that urged the cracking of the whip against Syjuco.

“The recent exposés against Syjuco are part of our complaint against him and we have long pointed out how gross the irregularities were at Tesda under him,” Annie Geron, general secretary of the Public Services Labor Independent Confederation, told the Inquirer in a telephone interview on Friday.

Geron, former head of the Samahang Malaya ng Nagkakaisang Kawani ng Tesda (Samaka-Tesda), was reacting to reports that Syjuco spent P134.38 million to promote Tesda’s scholarship and training programs, with nearly half spent on the printing of T-shirts emblazoned with the image of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“There is a lot more to that. They should also look at ‘ghost scholars’ and ‘ghost trainings’ involving millions of pesos,” Geron claimed.

Geron has filed a P3.8-billion plunder case against Syjuco before the Office of the Ombudsman for alleged irregularities at Tesda including the alleged P60.9-million overprice in the purchase of training equipment.

Geron said she was wondering why no charges were filed by the government against Syjuco for various irregularities “despite overwhelming proof.”

She said various Commission on Audit (COA) findings were enough to file the charges.

“There is no need to start from scratch because there is an abundance of evidence against Syjuco and we have a lot of information to offer,” Geron said.

Syjuco, now representative of Iloilo’s second congressional district, did not respond to text messages and his mobile phone was unattended. A staff member at his residence in Sta. Barbara town in Iloilo said he was in Manila.

In earlier interviews, Syjuco had dismissed the case and allegations against him as “local politics” and a “rehash of trumped-up charges” and accused his political rivals of being behind the complaints.

He has insisted that all transactions of the agency and his expenses were all accounted for.

But Geron said the government should also investigate “ghost” Tesda trainings which were reported to have been conducted but were never held.

She said she had proof of vouchers amounting to P5,000 each for the training of 370 scholars for an online English proficiency course.

But despite the disbursement to the school, no training was conducted because the school had no capacity to offer the course.

She said the “ghost training” was reported and documented by using photographs of other trainings.

There were also cases where scholars were made to pay for courses with the assurance that they would be reimbursed by Tesda but many have complained that they have not received any reimbursement, according to Geron.

She urged the government to hasten the investigation on Syjuco by including the questionable Tesda transactions in the investigation of the Truth Commission.

Geron said the government should also act on the decision of the Presidential Anti Graft Commission (PAGC) in 2008 which found Syjuco and five other Tesda employees guilty of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty in 2008 over the printing of his book “Salabat for the Filipino Soul.”

The book, which cost P9.2 million, was printed without public bidding. The PAGC had recommended the dismissal of Syjuco and the other respondents from government service and the imposition of accessory penalties.

But the recommendation was subsequently overturned by the Committee of Peers in Malacañang in a resolution issued on Jan. 30, 2008, by then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, a close ally of former President Arroyo and Syjuco.

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