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Indefensible

AN administration spokesman seemed to be grasping at straws last week when he tried to defend the appointment of  a former chief-of-staff of the administration’s presidential candidate, Manuel Roxas II, as a commissioner of the Social Security System.

“I think she has run several successful businesses,” the spokesman said, referring to Eliza Bettina Antonino, who was appointed  commissioner of the SSS in 2010.

“Perhaps her professional profile is available online so you can look it up. But, what I would like to emphasize is that she was not appointed out of the blue and remained in her position because she is close to someone,” the Roxas spokesman added.

In good faith, we did as the spokesman suggested, and here is what we found.

First,  there is absolutely no evidence online that  Antonino  ran several successful businesses.

From her executive profile in Bloomberg, we can ascertain that Antonino graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration from the University of the Philippines in 2000. She then worked as vice president of business development at a company called Wemilco Management and Development Co. from 2003 to 2004. There is precious little information online available about Wemilco, but it seems safe to say that it does not qualify as any of the “several successful businesses” that she ran.

A six-year gap in Ms. Antonino’s professional resume coincides with Roxas’ stint as a senator, from 2004 to 2010. A biography posted on the website of the Mindanao Development Authority, in which her mother serves as secretary, lists Antonino as being “chief of staff of the Office of Senator Mar Roxas” at that time.

From 2010, when President Aquino took office, Ms. Antonino’s fortunes began to rise.

She was appointed as a commissioner of the SSS, and then began to sit in the boards of Philex Mining Corp. and Union Bank of the Philippines, to represent the pension fund.

Reports in various websites erroneously suggest that Antonino, as commissioner, earned more than SSS president Emilio de Quiros. This is wrong (De Quiros earned P6.844 million in 2014, or about P847,000 more than Antonino did), but her seven-figure salaries starting in 2011 are nothing to sneeze at.

Here are what successive Commission on Audit reports—available on its website—show.

As an SSS commissioner, Antonino earned P1.3 million in 2011; P1.244 million in 2012; P2.373 million in 2013; and P5.997 million in 2014.

Not too shabby for an HRM graduate with no experience whatsoever in the financial industry.

The Roxas spokesman said Antonino represented “the general public” in the SSS board, and she joined some of Roxas’ campaign sorties because “she belongs to a family of leaders in Mindanao.”

The spokesman was perhaps understating the facts, as the Antonino family is widely acknowledged as one of the political dynasties in Mindanao.

The spokesman then negated his earlier defense with this statement: “As to her record, I really can’t speak on it. I’m not familiar with her work history.”

But thanks to his original suggestion, we now know more about Ms. Antonino and her good fortune—and how her appointment as an SSS commissioner has been just another sordid example of political patronage at work.

We still remember how former President Gloria Arroyo, toward the end of her term, gave her personal manicurist and gardener jobs in the Pag-IBIG Housing Fund and Luneta Park administration.

There are differences, however, in the case of the underqualified and overpaid SSS commissioner. As misguided as it was for Mrs. Arroyo to appoint her manicurist and gardener to government jobs, few people will suggest that doing so would reap her any political benefits. This is not true in Antonino’s case, where the SSS appointment and fat paychecks might rightfully be perceived as not only as a reward for her past loyalty, but also as a promise that her influential family will work doubly hard for a Roxas victory in Mindanao ahead of the May elections.

The brazen example of political patronage is even worse because this administration misrepresents itself as a guardian of moral politics and a follower of “the straight path.”

It is hardly any wonder that Roxas’ spokesman was at a loss to defend Antonino’s appointment. Viewed from any angle, the act was indefensible.

Topics: Indefensible , Manuel Roxas II , Social Security System , SSS , Eliza Bettina Antonino

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