Land of ‘ghosts’

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

Our chat groups and timelines have been buzzing for several weeks now because of the issue of ghost employees now hounding the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

Six employees were involved, of whom four are ghost employees and they are under the offices of two Monetary Board members, the BSP’s highest policy-making body.

BSP insiders and outsiders alike were shocked to hear about it because as our BSP reporter Keisha Ta-asan said in her Notes on the Beat: Ghosts at the BSP which The STAR published on Monday, the BSP is a prestigious and professional institution with a rigorous and competitive application process.

So imagine the shock of many upon learning about the existence of ghost employees at the BSP after Bilyonaryo broke the story.

Investigation proceedings are ongoing to ensure that any erring employee will be held accountable, the BSP said. It also said that “the irregularities appear to be unprecedented in an organization that upholds integrity and professionalism at all levels.”

The question on everyone’s mind now is what will happen to the two concerned MB members. As MBs are appointed by the president, it will be up to President Marcos to decide on the fate of the two MBs.

Will he go soft or will he deal with the matter in accordance with corresponding laws? Everyone is curious to know.

Cautionary tale

For sure, this should serve as a cautionary tale for everyone in public service who have no qualms committing fraud.

It’s no secret that having ghost employees in a government official’s payroll is a common scheme in the Philippines.

Filipinos, it seems, no longer find this shocking except in the case of the BSP because it is, as I’ve said, widely known to be a professional organization.

The BSP officials and MBs in fact are the highest paid government officials. A 2023 report by the Commission on Audit has confirmed this.

Their job isn’t easy after all and very critical to the country’s economic, financial and banking stability.

But perhaps the reason ghost employees exist is that it’s rarely dealt with when it’s discovered by the COA or when whistle-blowers come out and expose such fraudulent practices.

Common LGU practice

Actually, even ex-president Rody Duterte, when he was still mayor of Davao, was the subject of a COA report for supposedly having some 11,000 contractual workers in 2014 who got some P708 million in wages.

The COA said there was no proof that these contractual workers rendered actual services, according to a GMA News report published on June 19, 2015. Duterte has refuted COA’s claim.

Another example is an ex-Samar local government executive.

In November 2021, The STAR reported that the Sandiganbayan affirmed the conviction of former Samar provincial accountant Romeo Reales in connection with the disbursement of funds for non-existent or ghost employees.

The Sixth Division had sentenced Reales to up to 10 years in prison for graft and two to eight years for malversation through falsification.

In its decision, the Sandiganbayan also perpetually disqualified Reales from holding public office and ordered him to pay a fine of P76,500 and another P76,500 in civil liability to the provincial government.

The case was filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2017, supposedly because Reales disbursed P76,500 for the supposed salary of job order employees from October to November 2005, although an investigation showed that no employees were hired.

Another case was that of actor-turned-politician Roderick Paulate.

In December 2022, as The STAR also reported, the Sandiganbayan sentenced the former Quezon City councilor to up to 62 years in prison for graft and falsification of public documents in connection with the hiring of 30 ghost employees from July to November 2010. He also supposedly falsified job orders and contracts to oblige the city government to allocate funds for their salaries. The case is on appeal.

Senate, House

LGU executives aren’t the only ones fond of ghosts.

My sources say it’s also a common practice in the offices of our lawmakers. There’s this notorious story about a former senator’s wife supposedly in charge of a ghost employee scheme in her husband’s office during his time at the Senate from 1992 to 1995 and then from 1998 to 2010.

It’s high time that the government does serious ghost-busting.

There must be serious screening and other safeguards in place to check the background of every employee in the payroll. Perhaps, the COA should also be given the power to do this since it is the auditor of state funds.

In this digital age, authorities may also use biometrics to verify the identities of employees in government. State auditors or an independent, multi-sectoral organization can be involved in screening employees in the bureaucracy. 
The ghost employee scandal at the BSP serves as a litmus for the Marcos administration to show that it is serious in fighting corruption in government.

It is high time this is addressed.

If not, these “ghosts” will continue to roam freely and the taxes that we pay will continue to be spirited away.

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Follow her on X, formerly Twitter@eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen (Iris Gonzales) on Facebook.

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