dinky soliman, NGOs, peace bonds

Peace Bond ghost to haunt Soliman
by Alvin Capino

When returning Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman goes through the wringer at the Commission on Appointments, we can expect her to be asked interesting questions not only about her record during her first stint in the department during the Arroyo Administration but on the controversial Peace Bond.

President-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III should be interested too in Soliman’s explanation on the Peace Bond since it his cash-strapped administration which would now have the burden of finding the funds to pay the whopping P35 billion of maturing obligations for the P10 billion bonds issued in 2001.

So why should Soliman be asked to explain her role in the issuance of the controversial Peace Bond?

The Peace Bond, according to reports, was a fund raising scheme for non-governmental organizations cooked up by the NGO of NGOs, i.e. Code-NGO (Caucus of Development of NGO networks). Soliman and her husband lawyer Hector Soliman, as well as another member of the Arroyo Cabinet who is now returning as a key official of the Aquino administration, Ging Deles, are prime movers of this group.

Of course mention should also be made of Marissa Camacho-Reyes, sister of then Finance Secretary Lito Camacho, and Danny Songco as the principalsof the influential Code-NGO.

Just to highlight the influence of Code-NGO at that time, just a month after the issuance of the controversial Peace Bonds in October 2001, Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was the guest in the Code-NGO 3rd National Congress held at the UP Diliman where Mrs. Arroyo acknowledged the key role of Soliman, Deles and Songco in EDSA 2 and in her administration.

It was a very profitable scheme for Code-NGO. As the pre-designated conduit for the sale of the Peace Bonds, the secondary market Code-NGO earned a windfall of P1.48 billion in profits.

Remember this was in 2001. P1.48 billion then is even bigger than P1.48 billion now if you factor in inflation.

So what happened to the P1.48 billion windfall of Code-NGO? What Code-NGO did was to retain 10 percent for its endowment fund. The remaining 90 percent or P1.318 billion was transferred to the newly created Peace Equity Access for Community Empowerment Foundation (PEF).

In the Senate hearings conducted at the height of the controversy in 2001, Senator John Osmeña questioned the transfer of funds from Code-NGO to PEF. Osmeña observed then that the people behind PEF included Soliman and her husband.

Perhaps the members of the Commission on Appointments should ask Soliman ifshe was or is in any way involved with the Peace Foundation because in fairness to her and to her husband, their names do not appear in the list of members of the Board of Trustee of the Foundation.

Some people might ask: what’s wrong with civil society and non-government organization profiting from a government bond offering like the Peace Bond?

We remember an insightful and incisive article of Angela Stuart-Santiago on this issue which appeared in the defunct Today newspaper in May 18, 2002 title “Code-NGO, Fake NGO”.

Stuart-Santiago observed that availing of government funding as what Code-NGO did results in a “conflicted situation” where the NGO is placed in a position of “condoning government’s unsustainable development strategies” and “worse, it would mean changing from a purely non-government to a government organization (GO) or, at best, NGO ng GO, or NGONGO, how freaky.”

Looking at the Peace Bonds, Stuart-Santiago observed: “Certainly it was a remarkably creative capitalist coup, the way Marissa Camacho et al, using their connections, managed to exploit the government treasury and the banking system to make more than a billion out of thin air for poverty alleviation. But there is nothing heroic or evolutionary about it because it changes nothing in the long term. Bottom line is, it is just another two-handed scheme of the rich – helping the poor and, at the same time, shafting them by helping get the government even more deeply into debt that eventually the poor will be made to pay.”

She said the rich in the country as well as the Church is mired in a situation and she quoted the late environmentalist and NGO pioneer Maximo “Junie” Kalaw who founded Haribon Foundation and Green-Forum Philippines who talked of “the internal contradiction of donating to the poor with one hand and contributing to their poverty with the other.”

Indeed now that sh*t will hit the fan next year when the government pays P35 billion for the P10 billion Peace Bond, we can only imagine where the government will get the money and what projects would have to be shelved to pay for this huge obligation.

Perhaps it is timely for the Senate or the House of Representatives to take another look at the Peace Bond issue.

Seeing all the people behind the Peace Bond back in the saddle again, so to speak, in the Aquino administration makes us apprehensive. They might try a Peace Bond part 2 in order to pay for the maturing P35 billion for Peace Bond part 1.