Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

For better or for worse, an intact CCT

A Happy New Year to all my readers who have faithfully followed my own version of the “Long March” from the old newspaper which I helped the iconic Eggie Apostol found in early December 1985, to this current on-line column that I run several times weekly.  May this Year of the Metal Rabbit bring us all many choice blessings.  

Staying home for New Year's Eve

Last New Year’s Eve was one of the rare times in my 45 years of married life that my husband and I stayed home, instead of joining his side of the family up to midnight and rushing over to my side until the wee hours of New Year morning. Our children sauntered out on thei rown, but the two of us decided to stay in what we thought was the “safest” part of our house, our book-lined library, with our old dog Bear. Due to my husband’s ailing condition, we prepared for the horrible din and smoke of New Year’s Eve by sealing the door and windows of that room with tape. 

But was I imagining it or was it real?  There was considerably less of the firecrackers and the smoke, compared to past years.  At about 11:30 pm. Bear began to get awfully frightened, as in past years, and climbed on to my husband’s sofa-bed, but mercifully it didn’t have to stay frightened long enough, for soon the din and smoke began to thin out.

Less fireworks than last year?

Was it the fear of aggravating the horrible climate conditions around the world that helped frighten people into not investing in too much paputok?  Many of us saw the terrible photos of people in Manhattan dragging their luggage across thick snows on pavements, or working their way through blinding blizzards in the US East Coast and in Europe, where airports had to close down.  Or did the government’s campaign against the paputok work, or was it that people didn’t want to spend on things that pollute the environment?  Or was it all of the above? 

To be sure, many still got burned or lost some fingers, but thank God there was so much less of those and the noise and pollution this time. And mercifully, we didn’t hear any shots from fired pistols in the camp.

Biggest budget in history

Last Dec. 27 P-Noy signed RA 1014, the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2011 amounting to P1.645 trillion. It was the biggest budget so far in our history (P20 billion more than last year’s), and the first to be signed within the year it was filed in many years---thus doing away with a reenacted budget.  This is also the first time in many years that the budget was left virtually intact as the President submitted it to Congress, despite the valiant effort of the small minority in the House, led by Representatives Edcel Lagman and Milagros Magsaysay,  to install some protective mechanism for  the gargantuan conditional cash transfer (CCT), and the equally valiant objections by Senators Joker Arroyo and Edgardo Angara to this item and some vetoed provisions.  
Mention must be made too of Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s efforts to derail the CCT express train by questioning the sanity of doubling the CCT now---when the more sensible thing to do was to first build more classrooms for the pupils from the beneficiary families, and strengthen the maternal care facilities for the beneficiary mothers.  

An awesome responsibility

But the GAA was passed nearly intact and in record time, showing P-Noy’s solid control of Congress;  but it also establishes the fact that henceforth, he will be responsible for how the country will operate under this budget---no one else to blame.
It’s an awesome responsibility and at this point we can only hope and pray for the best for our country.

Despite its speedy passage, there continues to be a lot of apprehensions expressed not just by ordinary citizens but also by members of Congress themselves, principally on the P21.9 billion conditional cash transfer (CCT) that will be entrusted into the hands of Secretary Dinky Soliman  for better or for worse.  This gargantuan fund was put together by taking big amounts of foreign funds intended originally for various line departments to move and develop especially the countryside. Hospitals and state colleges suffered 50 percent cuts in their budget, and news reports said that even the MMDA’s budget was slashed in half---while Dinky got her P21.9 billion intact.  Sobra ang lakas.  

Vast allocation of doleouts

 What frightens the opposition is the vast scope of the CCT’s allocation of P17 billion in actual dole-outs of P1,500 per registered family beginning this month---17 regions of the country, 80 provinces, 672 municipalities and 61 key cities---with so little preparation to put it into operation.  The list of beneficiaries is only now being expanded, targeting some 2.5 million families from GMA’s original one million beneficiaries. 

According to Soliman, every quarter some 300,000 new indigent families will be added, but the problem is that the DSWD is only now hiring the new staff of social workers who will have to be trained first, in order for them to process the new beneficiaries. The target to finish the hiring of new staff is this April or May.

So much money lying around

The valid apprehension is that there will be so much money lying around from the CCT, with very few checks and balances, as Lagman et al wanted to impose. Consider the following, to cite a few examples:  P566.36 million allocated to produce “advocacy materials, booklets for household beneficiaries, and manuals related to the program;” P21707 million as “capital outlay,” P1.62 billion for the training and salaries of the 1,891 personnel, and P715 million for “allowances.” 

If the beneficiaries are the poorest of the poor, why would they need such a huge outlay for booklets and manuals?  Then too, P172 million is set aside for the services of the Land Bank that would include the cost of the ATM cards to be distributed to the beneficiaries. But the real poorest of the poor are in the coastal areas, or in the coconut regions, where there are no ATMs. 

Moreover, because the DSWD will have to work with the local officials and bureaucracy to hurry up the list of additional beneficiaries, some of the P17 billion dole-out  could end up as campaign funds of local officials in the 2013 mid-term elections, or to recruit their followers and voters, not necessarily the poorest of the poor.  
Possible failures of CCT

The legislators have their own apprehensions. For instance, Sen. Edgardo Angara cited some valid concerns about the possible failures of the CCT, such as the social unrest and instability that could ensue if it’s not properly handled.  What the veteran senator, who has chaired the Senate finance committee a number of times in his long career, is saying is that there is just too much expectation about the CCT but too little preparation.  
Then too, he noted that some developed countries in Europe are now facing big debts and huge deficits because of these “entitlements” and “give-aways”  which the government “cannot take back.”  In the meantime, Angara stressed, these dole-outs are far bigger than the “productivity-enahncing items” that should continue to stimulate and sustain growth.  

Waiting for the development blueprint

To Angara the potential disaster in the CCT program could only be addressed if the government’s call for more “public-private partnerships” would prosper. But the private investors won’t be so dumb as to come in blindly. They are waiting for the blueprint for development from Ledac and the Cabinet, both of which are still not functioning into the sixth month of P-Noy’s rule.  The Cabinet meets only in clusters and occasionally, while the Ledac has not met at all. 

The time for practice government is over. It’s to get real now. 

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