The biggest new building in Los Banos — probably the tallest building, actually — is TRACE College. Tucked away behind a gas station and a hardware store, on an unpaved street next to a video rental place with barely any room for two-way traffic, TRACE (short for Technological Research for Advanced Computer Education) College was touted, before its opening aabout five years ago, as bringing more money to Los Banos. And money is something of which TRACE seems to have a lot: there are professionally-printed, 6-foot tall advertising banners (of at least 4 different variations) placed almost literally on every other electric and lamp post within the town boundary — even in the middle of the rainforest up on Mt. Makiling.
Despite the facade, the campus is the real deal: a large, modern, gleaming building, clearly visible from the main highway, is the centerpiece. Forgive me for all the vagueness: I haven’t actually been inside, if only for the simple fact that you need to swipe an ID card to get through the security system, complete with an automated gate. Needless to say, it’s an expensive setup, especially for a provincial town in the Philippines. I’m also told that the campus is quite huge, the college having quietly bought the surrounding lots in a residential subdivision to its north.
TRACE also clearly has the wherewithal for even bigger infrastructure projects. As recently as last October, the college was the frontrunner to host the swimming events (32 all together) portion of the 2005 Southeast East Asia Games (scroll down to the article by Christine Moncada, entitled “Venue kinks to be ironed out”), though the administrators were “hedging because of lack of funds.” Apparently the capital has been found: some of the banners are now announcing that the SEA Games will indeed be held here in Los Banos at TRACE in November. This means, at the very least, the construction of an Olympic-sized swimming pool — surely the first in Los Banos, if not even the region itself. And where will the competitors, the reporters, the staff and so on — from 11 competing countries — be housed? Why, in the hotel (yes, an actual hotel) on the college premises — if the rumors that I hear are true.
TRACE has moved up quickly from its beginnings as a computer learning center to its new collegiate status. Its latest offering is a nursing school; according to a huge billboard in front of its campus, training begins soon, and they have apparently met all the requirements — as mandated by the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Memorandum No. 30 — for accreditation as a nursing school. The memorandum, available on the CHED website, details the standards for nursing schools — a library, classroom size, necessary equipment, and a contractual affiliation with a 100-bed hospital, in this case, St. Luke’s and Chinese General (all quite far away, in Manila).
(Let me digress briefly: the recent bad publicity regarding CHED has had to do with 23 nursing schools ordered closed last November, including, most prominently, the AMA School of Nursing in Makati; AMA, as many of you Filipino readers know, is, like TRACE, most famous for its computer schools. Following an appeal by its owner to the Arroyo government, a stay was granted, overriding CHED’s decision; this led to the resignation of its former chair, Fr. Rolando dela Rosa, who had previously made headlines for implementing tighter screening processes to reduce the number of diploma mills. Some of the nursing schools he had ordered closed were apparently owned by members of Congress, who had supposedly pressured him into rescinding his orders. Earlier this month, Malacanang finally ordered CHED to issue a full nursing school permit to AMA.)
In any case, TRACE College seems quite successful at what it does: five degree offerings in computer-related sciences, and a B.S. degree in business administration, all on top of what would be an even more lucrative business in the form of a nursing school. By 2001 TRACE was able to have the government recognize preschool, elementary and high school divisions as well. (The list of accredited higher-education schools in Region IV is available here as a pdf file.)
But the fishy thing, really, is its owner, Efraim Genuino, and these aren’t mere rumors. As the head of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) (and, oddly enough, Filipino Pest Control and General Services Inc.), Genuino has long been accused of various improprieties. The printing of Arroyo’s election materials, for instance, were alleged to be illegally bankrolled by PAGCOR, siphoned from the corporation’s intelligence fund. As the article above details, most of PAGCOR’s public relations campaigns at the time similarly all bore Arroyo’s name, if not image, almost as if they were election paraphernalia in and of themselves. The main emphasis of the article, written in 2004, is a meeting between Genuino and Comelec commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, of “Hello, Garci” fame. (Indeed, I’m tempted to make a bet that the TRACE banners were also printed up by Grand C Graphics Inc. — almost the same size, coincidentally, as those “Pailaw ni PGMA” banners erected in the last few years.)
In 2003, Genuino, donor to the infamous Jose Pidal accounts (according to Udong Mahusay’s testimony) and campaign strategist for Arroyo since 1992, was already under fire for “alleged financial mismanagement,” including discrepancies in his declared assets. (At this point Genuino had only been head of PAGCOR for two years.) As an unidentified source told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2003:
Another manager identified four causes behind Pagcor’s financial difficulty: “onerous” deals; a “surge” in new employees in the past two years; “profligate spending”; and “massive, mindless” donations.
At this point PAGCOR was so far down in the hole in terms of spending, Genuino had to borrow P60 million from two banks to cover the deficit.
Finally, in March of this year, Genuino and other members of the PAGCOR board of directors were at the receiving end of a complaint filed by antigraft groups (including BAYAN and Plunderwatch) for an alleged P946 million “sweetheart deal” between PAGCOR and William Gatchalian regarding the rental of two casino-hotels. Genuino has yet to answer for this.
I won’t try to connect the dots, but there’s something suspicious about a public official being accused of graft and his computer/business/nursing school that seems to be very, very well-funded… At the very least, the assets of a public official who is already the subject of filed complaints and investigations should be examined more closely.
To end, here is TRACE’s history as published on its website:
Now, TRACE stands as a Computer and Business College par excellence, a leader in its own race. It has proven itself on top of the market when at its early state, it has reaped honors it rightly deserved. On top of this honor was the 1991 National Programming Competition where TRACE stood among 31 colleges and universities.
As this unfolds, TRACE makes its history all glaring. It remains committed to its goal to produce competent computer professionals and to serve the nation. Indeed, this history would still go a long way.
I think there should be a nice big “[sic]” after “As this unfolds, TRACE makes its history all glaring” — surely they meant “bright” or “shining” or “glorious?” — or maybe not. Looking at its founder and owner’s history, there are indeed some “glaring” events in TRACE’s establishment and growth that, in the face of the massive corruption of the Arroyo government, should seriously be traced.