Philippine fire service in officer promotion scandal

Career and volunteer firefighters allege that the promotion process is fixed to favor preferred candidates, some with little experience


By Joel M. Sy Egco
The Manila Times, Philippines

MANILA, Philippines — Local firemen belonging to the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and volunteer organizations are said to be demoralized over an alleged malpractice in the agency involving the "fixing" of promotions for favored applicants.

"This is an anomaly that is no longer a secret. The rules are bent or even tailored fit for favored applicants for promotion to the detriment of hundreds, if not thousands of BFP personal who dreams of climbing up the ladder. This affects the morale of our personnel," said lawyer Ernesto Pagdanganan, the chief of the BFP legal affairs.

In an exclusive interview with The Manila Times, Pagdanganan named former BFP director Ariel Barayuga as the one behind the recent rigging of the promotions system, which is punishable by law.

The BFP official said a "complaint against unlawful and anomalous promotion system" will be filed against Barayuga, who has just retired.

"On 13 February 2016, 455 applicants for lateral entry took the qualifying examinations conducted by the BFP. Out of 455, only 239 allegedly passed the examination. At this very early point in time, the anomaly is very apparent because at the time, the Personnel Selection and Promotion Board (PSPB) has not yet issued any resolution specifying the passing rate in this qualifying examination," Pagdanganan narrated.

Upon the orders of Barayuga, a Committee of Examiners Resolution No. 2016-001 was merely antedated to cover up this serious error, the lawyer alleged. He claimed that the resolution "was received and entered in the official logbook only on 23 February 2016."

"The Official Logbook of the Office of the Fire Chief would corroborate this antedating as it was entered as item 240 in the said logbook only on February 23, 2016. This is a very serious violation of the Civil Service Rules," he explained.

He further alleged that on February 15, 2016, the 239 applicants submitted themselves to the Physical Agility Test. Out of the 239, only 235 allegedly passed the PAT. The 235 also passed the interview stage.

On March 7, 2016, only 32 out of 235 were required to undergo the neuro-psychiatric exam (NPE) and drug test. Out of the 32 applicants, three from Region 3 failed the test as they were rated "NOT RECOMMENDED". The three applicants who failed applied for the positions of dentist, criminologist and legal researcher.

"Surprisingly, instead of recommending alternate applicants after disqualifying the three, then BFP chief, Director Ariel A. Barayuga appointed these three applicants as FIRE INSPECTORS despite failure to pass the NPE," Pagdanganan also claimed.

"To cover up this serious violation, the Board Secretariat headed by CINSP Peter Sean Atup caused it to appear that these three applicants passed the NPE. This is another unconscionable violation of the BFP and CSC [Civil Service Commission] rules," he further alleged.

Pagdanganan furnished The Manila Times with several documents to support his allegations, including photocopies of records from Maezelle Psycho Metier and Diagnostic Center located at #267 Unit 2 Chua Bldg., P. Tuazon, Cubao, Quezon City, showing that the three were rated "NOT RECOMMENDED" for promotion or enlistment.

Barayuga, he said, left the country on March 21 for the US to join his wife. The next day, March 22, Atup sought Pagdanganan's opinion to determine who were disqualified from promotion for reason of nepotism. The legal affairs chief issued the requested opinion on the same day.

On March 28, 2016, upon the return of Barayuga, a meeting was conducted by the Personnel Selection and Promotion Board to determine who among the remaining 32 applicants would be appointed as fire inspectors.

"I opposed the idea of making any promotion that time in view of the prohibition under the Omnibus Election Code. Under Rule II, Section 1 of Commission on Elections Resolution No. 10030 promulgated on 22 December 2015, promotion or giving of salary increase was absolutely prohibited effective March 25 until May 8, 2016," Pagdanganan said.

Surprisingly, that very same afternoon of March 28, 2016, despite the effectivity of the election ban on promotion, the then BFP chief still appointed the 28 applicants. It was also on the same date that the 28 applicants took their oath and assumed office.

"This is the very first time in the history of the BFP that newly appointed officers were appointed and sworn into office without taking their oath in public, traditionally at the ground floor lobby, and without any single photograph to document the occasion. These appointments are null and void under Comelec Resolution No. 10030," Pagdanganan said.

The legal affairs chief said he inquired with the poll body to seek clarification on whether an exemption for promotion has been granted by the commission, to which the agency replied in the negative.

"All the appointments must be considered null and void," Pagdanganan said.

Faced with sanctions, the lawyer claimed BFP officials headed by Barayuga again antedated the appointments to March 21 "to conceal the violation on election ban on promotion."

"How come the son of the incumbent BFP COA [Commission on Audit] Resident Auditor, very junior among the applicants (Fire Officer 2 Marvin Mari), was included in the appointees when resident auditors are prohibited from asking favor to those agencies they serve? How come a newly absorbed Fire Officer 1 (FO1 Nicolo Verdadero), without any training yet, the most junior in the batch, was likewise appointed?" the BFP official added.

He explained that antedating of appointments, aside from being null and void, would cause injury to the government because the BFP would be paying for the days they did not serve because of antedating.

"In reality, the BFP would be paying for nonexistent appointments being null and void. We ask the public to help us expose this anomaly and maybe to seek rectification from the new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte," Pagdanganan said.

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(c)2016 The Manila Times (Manila, Philippines)

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