Duterte fires PIA chief Harold Clavite
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Philippine Information Agency (PIA) Director-General Harold Clavite has been fired by President Rodrigo Duterte.
In a text message to Rappler, Clavite said he received a letter from Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea saying Duterte had "accepted his resignation" last Friday, August 30. But Clavite sent no such letter.
"To clarify, I did not resign. I received a letter from the executive secretary on Friday, stating that the President had accepted my resignation effective immediately. But I did not send any letter to the President," Clavite said on Sunday, September 1.
But Medialdea, in a message to reporters, said Clavite had "manifested his intention to submit his irrevocable resignation to the President" in a July 17 letter due to "personal reasons."
"This was elevated to the President and thereafter accepted," Medialdea said on Monday, September 2.
But Clavite said that in that July letter, he had only said he was intending to submit such a letter. The former PIA executive also said Medialdea had urged him not to resign and agreed to review Clavite's letter, giving Clavite the impression that the Palace had not yet made a final conclusion on the allegations against him.
Thus, Medialdea's August 30 letter accepting his supposed resignation came as a surprise to him.
"I said I 'intend to submit' because we both agreed in our meeting that he (Medialdea) reviews first my letter. He specifically asked me not to resign. I merely reiterated in the letter our conversation and I said it (resignation letter) will be sent to the President," said Clavite.
"The letter asking me to leave on the same day was too harsh not only for me but the organization which was deprived of proper transition and handover," he added.
He called on Malacañang to ensure PIA is properly managed and "free from political interference and biases."
Earlier, Clavite said recent corruption allegations against him are merely "demolition efforts." Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar had previously green-lighted a probe into claims of Clavite's involvement in "contract splitting" and paying contractors for projects in full despite incomplete work.
Such accusations were contained in anonymous letters that Clavite said had been Andanar's sole basis for an investigation headed by PCOO Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Marvin Gatpayat.
Clavite denies the corruption allegations.
"I reiterate that I did nothing wrong in PIA. I led the agency to its best form and it's a new agency now compared from the previous years," he said.
He cited as accomplishments the PIA's strategic roadmap and improvement in business operations and financial processes.
In August 2018, Clavite figured in a spat with ex-presidential communications assistant secretary Mocha Uson over her controversial video of a lewd jingle and dance supposedly promoting federalism.
Clavite told Uson, his colleague under the PCOO, to "take a leave of absence" and issue a public apology over the video.
Clavite said corruption allegations against him were contained in 4 anonymous letters sent to the Office of the Ombudsman.
One of them, sent in April, also accused Clavite of approving the use of PIA funds to pay for a 12-day single hotel room at Microtel by Wyndham UP Technohub, supposedly for an inter-agency meeting.
It claimed that the use of a single room and the length of the reservation shows the room was used by Clavite, and not for any meeting.
"That the truth about the matter is that, Harold Clavite had utilized the single room as his temporary residence while looking for a place to stay here in Manila. That said transaction is unconscionable, excessive, and detrimental to the interest of the government," reads the anonymous letter.
The allegation of contract splitting involves two purchase requests for the printing of two versions of comics about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – one costing P700,000 and the other P900,000. The two projects were awarded to a certain Gilcore Printing Press.
The letter accused Clavite and other members of the PIA's Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) of violating procurement laws since the purchase requests, worth a combined P1.6 million, should have undergone public bidding.
For this supposed infraction, the letter called for preventive suspension orders against not just Clavite but BAC members Erlinda Olivia Tiu, Maria Buena Fe de Guzman, Eleanor Lim Martin, Melinda Quinonez, and Benjamin Sy Jr.
Clavite, in a previous interview with Rappler, admitted the existence of the two contracts and said he had asked BAC members to explain them. As PIA chief, Clavite signs off on BAC decisions.
Another anonymous letter claimed that Clavite, television production staff, and other PIA staff had "collected" the entire budget allotted for the production of Employees Compensation Commission information and education campaign materials without completing the project.
"It is very clear that there was a conspiracy among those people mentioned above to defraud the government by certifying and collecting the whole amount, knowing fully well that they had not yet finished the contract of service," reads the letter.
Yet another anonymous letter alleged that Clavite and some cohorts profited from a contract with People's Television 4 (PTV4) for the airing of travel show Like Pinas. As proof, the letter pointed to the disparity in the cost of the project indicated in the contract (P390,000) and the approved budget decided on by the BAC (P364,000) – a difference of P26,000.
"We, the concerned employees, feel that the excess amount is a form of kickback for the airing of the episodes in PTV4," reads the letter.
Emails sent to Rappler, purportedly from concerned PIA employees, claim Clavite paid Collective Negotiation Agreement (CNA) incentives to co-terminus employees, in violation of laws and regulations.
CNA incentives are supposed to be granted to rank-and-file employees to reward them for achieving targets at lesser cost. Employees said it should not go to co-terminous employees or those whose stay in the agency depends on the trust and confidence of the appointing authority or on the duration of a project.
Andanar steps in
As these allegations reached the media, Andanar issued a department order on June 11 stating that the Office of the Undersecretary for Legal Affairs received “documented reports in relation to the corruption allegations” against Clavite.
He also said Clavite was formally asked to respond to the reports. In the meantime, Andanar would make the final call on PIA personnel, thus stripping Clavite of some of his powers.
"All personnel actions within the PIA shall require the final approval of the PCOO Secretary. Personnel actions include, but are not limited to, the following: hiring, appointment, transfer, detail, secondment, suspension, and termination of PIA officials, employees and personnel," reads Andanar's order.
Disgruntled PIA personnel?
Clavite cried foul that he was being investigated on the basis of anonymous letters.
"I'm just expressing my frustration about how the legal team handled things. They should have talked to me," he said.
He traces the allegations against him to reforms he wanted to put in place in the PIA, after investigating anomalies in the agency when he assumed leadership of it in July 2016.
"Due to these reforms and reaction from disgruntled personnel, some misunderstanding and animosity in the organization were developed thereby affecting the integrity of the institution," said Clavite.
Anomalies Clavite cited, most of which involve the PIA's Finance and Management Division (FMD), include:
- Tampering of Department of Budget and Management form ("List of Due and Demandable Accounts Payable - Advice to Debit Accounts") by finance officers, specifically by taking out the PIA director-general as signatory and making the FMD chief and cashier as signatories, allowing payments and fund transfers to bypass the director-general
- Inaccuracies in financial reports
- Regional offices receive additional funds for maintenance and other operating expenses without approval of the PIA director-general
- Hidden multimillion-peso savings by the FMD
- Mismanagement of project trust funds from national government agencies
Clavite claims some PIA officials want him suspended because he was about to look into other PIA anomalies, specifically irregularities in the regional offices.
Despite his departure, Clavite said he will "continue to be an advocate for peace, good governance, and a more responsible citizenry."
"I will continue to promote and foster a freer world through information and communication by advocating responsible social media and responsible sharing of information. I will continue to support the work in Marawi," he added.
Clavite had headed the PIA since July 2016. Before this, he worked at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York City, USA, as information management staff in the Department of Public Information and as executive associate in the UN Development Operations Coordination Office. – Rappler.com