Thursday, May 11, 2006

Incredible mistake re Sally Bulatao

This is one case that tempts me to tell good persons planning to serve in government to please don’t. It has nothing to do with the monetary compensation. It is because despite the hard work you put in you might end up tarred and feathered, with your name irreparably tarnished.

Sure, one could be removed from an appointive position any time and for any number of reasons, loss of confidence among them, but to be given walking papers and accused of wrongdoing without due process is another matter.

Something terrible has been done to Salvacion Bulatao, head of the National Dairy Authority (NDA) for almost six years. I am hoping that things could be reversed, that those who moved with undue haste would be enlightened and realize that they had made a mistake.

Let me state here that I’ve known Sally for 25 years and I can vouch for her good character. I can also say that she has been a great mover in the local milk industry that involves thousands of farmers. Hey, you don’t easily find someone so passionate about milk, dairy farmers and the hungry poor. Sally has, in fact, passed on some of that interest in milk to me. An accounting graduate of the College of the Holy Spirit and with a master’s degree from Harvard University, Sally could have been somewhere more comfortable.

Removing Sally is not the problem, but destroying her reputation cries to heaven for reparation. Was this a mistake, or was there malice involved?

On May 2, Sally received a letter of dismissal with punitive measures consisting of a perpetual ban from public office and forfeiture of all financial benefits. On May 4, a press release and press conference announced the dismissal of corrupt officials being axed. The name Salvacion Bulatao was in the list.

Pres. Arroyo who appointed her administrator of NDA in 2001 was the same one who approved her walking papers through senior deputy executive secretary Waldo Flores.

The two specific charges: 1)``That in hiring a foreign consultant without the benefit of public bidding as required…you are liable for violating…the Anti-graft and Corruption Act.’’ 2)``That you failed to observe the procedures of government procurements when you entered into a memorandum of agreement with McCann Erickson Philippines for the advertisement and promotion of local milk, thereby giving a private party any unwarranted benefits or preference in violation of…RA No. 3019.’’

Sally said that in 2001, when she was new in the job and eager to get things done, she hired a dairy plant expert, a Thai woman whom she knew well, to inspect and evaluate the state of dairy plants. For this decision she relied on the advice of agency oldtimers. This was needed before the signing of lease purchase between the NDA and cooperatives. For 30 days’ work the fee was a relatively measly P75,000 minus tax. The result was reduced power consumption and higher milk quality that resulted from the resizing of ice banks, improved piping system, upgraded procedures, etc.

Two NDA engineers and a dairy farmer were then sent to Thailand to study installation projects. These moves generated savings for the government and increased profits for the dairy enterprises.

McCann Erickson did not charge anything for its creative services in 2002. It was all pro bono. Celebrity Ogie Alcacid’s work was pro bono. What NDA paid for was the production of promo materials that was coursed through the ad agency for friendly rates. The entire package was presented to the NDA board, and the memorandum of agreement covering the transaction was reviewed and recommended for approval by the legal counsel of the Department of Agriculture and cleared by the Commission on Audit in 2003.

When Sally joined NDA in 2001 she was not a greenhorn in the dairy industry. In 1988 she joined the Philippine Dairy Corporation (NDA’s predecessor). After PDC she helped set up the Dairy Foundation of the Philippines with then agriculture Sec. Dominguez as board chair. But long, long before all these, Sally had already gotten her feet wet when she worked with the Federation of Free Farmers. Being married to intellectual and activist Gerry Bulatao meant being drawn deeper toward the disadvantaged.

Sally has served four agricultural secretaries. ``I have done my part in moving the industry forward,’’ she said. ``This stint in government is already longer than I intended…Hence, the announcement of the Office of the President of my dismissal was not totally unwelcome. After all, as a presidential appointee, I serve at her pleasure. However, I must assert that I am not guilty and the punitive measure imposed on me and the adverse publicity of my dismissal are unfair. I earnestly hope that the appropriate corrective steps will be taken. It is only proper to correct a mistake in the interest of recognizing productive and honest public service.’’

The 9th National Dairy Congress will be held in Cebu City from May 24 to 26. Sally was present in the past eight congresses. She will miss this one.

During the term of Sally (2001-2005) the growth of the dairy sector (number of milk animals, production, farmers involved, farmers’ earnings) increased more than 20 percent. There are figures to support this.

When renowned Jesuit psychologist Fr. Jaime Bulatao, Gerry and Sally’s uncle, learned about the case he was incredulous. ``This is a mistake,’’ he gasped. Sally who had bravely stood up to her American counterparts in order to push Philippine interests just had to let her heart break into pieces on this one.

Tell me, is this the way to treat a good and honest public servant?