FOR CEBU political commentator Frank Malilong Jr., the best proof of the Garcia family’s Malacañang connection is the fact that Winston Garcia has kept his position as president and general manager of the Government Service Insurance System, despite persistent calls for his ouster. Many of the complaints against Garcia are actually series charges, with GSIS employees accusing him of “mismanagement, corruption, and oppressiveness.”
Garcia was handpicked by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo herself in January 2001, shortly after she assumed the presidency, to head the scandal-tainted GSIS. But his stint at the state pension fund was soon marked by “highly questionable” management decisions, among them the transfer of GSIS funds worth P19 billion from the government-owned Land Bank to Union Bank, a private commercial bank owned by the Aboitiz family; the P46-million purchase of Parisian Life, a Juan Luna painting; and a P1-billion loan to the Philippine Estates Authority for the President Diosdado Macapagal Avenue alleged to be overpriced by almost P600 million. (The Senate blue ribbon committee, however, cleared the GSIS of any wrongdoing, finding the loan aboveboard.)
At the height of the government’s fiscal crisis, Garcia and other favored GSIS officials likewise received flak from the public for the perks they were enjoying — including a combined P12-million housing and car loans for Garcia alone — not to mention six-digit salaries.
Defending the privileges accorded by his position, Garcia argued that the problem in the country is that people do not correlate responsibility to salary. “You expect to pay me P30,000 a month and go home to Cebu every weekend because it is cheaper maintaining a family there than in Manila,” he said at one point. “What do you want me to do, steal?”
In 2001, the PCIJ also reported how Winston Garcia appeared to be bent on going on with “business as usual” as far as GSIS insurance transactions are concerned — which was to continue conspiring with favored brokers in skimming off fat commissions from the government’s billion-peso reinsurance business.
The series showed how Garcia was partial to a well-known insurance agent, Jardines, which earned a hefty $3.3 million in commissions and fees from the National Power Corporation’s (Napocor) account in 2000.
Napocor complained of irregularities in the negotiations for its old insurance policy, saying that the policy was not publicly bidded out and that Jardines charged the firm more than double — an overprice of $8.3 million — the offer made by a rival foreign firm. Moreover, despite a law banning unprofitable government corporations from signing contracts longer than 12 months, the policy was extended to 18 months.
Garcia filed a P12.5-million libel case against the writer of the series, Shiela Samonte-Pesayco, in Cebu in November 2001. In his complaint, Garcia claimed that the article was “replete with false and malicious imputations and actuations, calculated to dishonor, discredit and contempt upon his person, and to impeach his honesty, virtue and reputation.”
Specifically, he cited as “absolute and deliberate falsehood” the PCIJ report’s portrayal of him as having a reputation as a “dealmaker,” and that he was charged with graft when he was still a Cebu official.
But a petition for review of the prosecutor’s finding of probable cause against Pesayco filed by her counsels eventually upheld the PCIJ’s story as a legitimate exercise of freedom of speech and of the press. The case was subsequently withdrawn and dismissed by the RTC Branch 19, Cebu City on April 18, 2005.
In the meantime, Garcia has been kept busy dismissing accusations against him as resistance brought about by the reforms he instituted to make GSIS more responsive to its mandate to take care of government workers upon their retirement. For instance, he says his policy of less reinsurance and more retention of premium has limited corruption in the state pension fund. He adds that such a move reduced Napocor’s debt from $25 million to $14 million.
Garcia has said that with all the negativity his work at GSIS seems to have attracted, he consoles himself with the knowledge that “the good things you do today will only be appreciated a few years from now when you are no longer the incumbent.”
For her part, President Arroyo, responding to the criticisms against Garcia, has attributed the issues raised by GSIS employees, as well as other government workers, to “leftist troublemakers who have absolutely no persuasive powers over the Office of the President.”