2 SSS officials accused of bribery
At least two of the four officials of the Social Security System (SSS) accused of “serious dishonesty and grave misconduct” allegedly received monthly bribes from stockbrokers they accredited in exchange for handling part of the pension fund’s equity investments.
The latest accusation came from SSS Commissioner Jose Gabriel La Viña, who filed on Oct. 24 an administrative complaint against the four officials who manage the investments of the state-administered pension fund.
At a press briefing on Tuesday in Quezon City, La Viña said he was “investigating allegations of bribery involving at least two out of the four” officials.
He did not identify who among the four — executive vice president for investments Rizaldy Capulong, equities investment division chief Reginald Candelaria, equities product development head Ernesto Francisco Jr. and chief actuary George Ongkeko Jr. — had been accepting bribes.
At least one stockbroker “may be paying cash bribes” to SSS officials employed in the agency’s investments division, according to La Viña.
He said he informed the SSS president, Emmanuel Dooc, “as early as July” that there were reports of this nature that had reached him, but added that these had yet “to be verified.”
“The amount reported is allegedly in the six-figure range paid on a monthly basis based on the volume of business given to the stockbroker,” he said.
“We are still verifying the identity of the broker or brokers,” said La Viña, chair of the investment oversight committee of the Social Security Commission.
La Viña has accused Capulong, Candelaria and Francisco of unduly profiting from their positions in the SSS by trading their personal stock market accounts with stockbrokers whom they themselves helped accredit as official brokers of the pension fund.
Ongkeko was accused of failing to keep complete records of the personal transactions of the investment officials.
La Viña said that except for Ongkeko, all three officials named in his administrative complaint “play major roles in the accreditation of brokers and [in] allocating how much business to give to each of them.”
P119B in equities
The SSS manages about P500 billion in assets, accumulated through monthly contributions of 35 million members in the private sector. Up to 30 percent of its reserve fund can be invested in the equities market.
As of last March, equity investments of the SSS amounted to P118.7 billion.
La Viña, who ran a successful social media campaign for President Duterte during the 2016 elections, said he had heard of bribery claims even before he assumed his post as SSS commissioner in November last year.
“Then I received reports [on the issue], anonymous,” he said, citing his 1.4 million
He declined to divulge more details but expressed willingness to provide more information about the bribery after next week’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Manila.
Francisco’s reply to the charges filed with the SSS board—a copy of which was provided to the Inquirer—said the charges against him were baseless.
He said he merely participated in the initial public offering of a stock that the pension fund was ineligible to buy.
The stock, Villar family-owned Golden Haven Memorial Park Inc., debuted on the stock exchange last year, earning for Francisco a return of 85 percent totaling P180,000.
The SSS investment official argued that this investment did not deprive the fund of any returns because internal rules against highly speculative investments prohibited the institution from buying the stock—a risk he was prepared to undertake with his own personal money.
La Viña expressed hope that the House of Representatives’ probe led by Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chair of committee on banks and financial intermediaries, “will help shed light on the matter.”
“I welcome it with open arms,” he said. “I will cooperate fully and turn over all documents that will help his committee establish the truth.”
La Viña also expressed openness to the lifestyle check sought by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate on SSS officials.
Tale of abuse
“This sordid affair is a tale of corruption and abuse, of rent-seeking, of the rich and powerful conspiring with those in government to take advantage of those who need social justice and protection the most, the very people SSS is supposed to serve,” La Viña said.
He said the “investigative and oversight powers of the House of Representatives will help us in our quest to tell the whole story.”
La Viña’s complaint has so far resulted in the resignation of Candelaria and Ongkeko, but the SSS board ordered the latter to stay on until the end of the year due to the sensitive nature of his job as the fund’s chief actuary. —With a report from Daxim L. Lucas
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