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.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

“Million People March” dominated by middle and upper-class elements, not usual protest hakot crowd. Protest rallies all around the country planted seeds of outrage that ought to be addressed. Distortions on Luneta crowd size and the “CJ Corona boo-ing' episode.

They came from all directions, as early as around 6 am. last Aug. 26, National Heroes Day, to participate in the Million People March against the hated pork barrel funds, despite many odds against them. The weather remained inclement and from time to time light showers would drop, but the people, armed with rain jackets and raincoats, rubber shoes and umbrellas, were prepared to brave even a storm.

In fact, many tents bloomed in the Luneta’s periphery where whole families with small children stayed all day, complete with deck chairs.  Hawkers made a killing selling thin asbestos sheets that tired protesters could spread on the muddy grass to rest their legs.


The US Embassy quietly advised dual citizens that there could be security threats in that mass gathering, but still people were undaunted and came out in droves.

Then too, the Palace tried to pre-empt the march the day before by calling a press conference where President Aquino, flanked by the two leaders of Congress, declared “it was time to abolish the PDAF.” But the folks did not buy that line, for it turned out that he was presenting the same dog but with a different collar---line-item budgeting instead of the old easily-manipulated lump sum.

Hence, the folks still came out en masse to press abolition not just  of congressional pork but ALL PORK, including P-Noy’s.


Juana Change
As has been pointed out by analysts, what was incredible about last Monday’s mammoth protest was that it was leaderless and so loosely organized---with just social media as the communications link.

There was no organized program---in fact there was no grand stage (the Quirino Grandstand didn’t serve the usual purpose as in past rallies), but a couple of small stages spread out with their own little programs, and pocket happenings in various parts of the huge grounds.

Big delegations came, with schools like St. Scholastica’s and the De La Salle University System (whose President enjoined all its schools to show up there---how did Bro. Armin Luistro defend it?), seminarians from two major seminaries, and various faith organizations.  Many show-biz celebrities showed up.


But dominating last Monday’s protest rally were innumerable small groups representing only themselves and their families and their barkada---citizens plainly outraged at politicians’ wanton squander of tax-payers' money amid the grinding poverty and crying needs of the country---and unluckily for the administration, massive floods in the wake of the habagat.   

They delivered their message by wearing porky masks and outfits (like Juana Change above), or writing messages straight from the heart with pentel pen and cartolina, in computer print-outs and in handsomely prepared tarps---or simply by screaming to the max.

 At 12 noon an emcee asked everyone to make any kind of noise that could reach Malacanang for one whole minute. Amid the shouting and blare of whistles I saw a little boy, maybe about 10 years old, strumming a ukelele with all his might that i feared his small fingers might break off. 


What was easily noticeable, however, was that the majority of the rallyists were from the middle and upper-classes, gleaned from their poise and attire even in the rain---unlike in past massive rallies in that place where hakot crowds dominated.

This fact should worry the P-Noy administration, for it was these classes in the dying years of the prolonged Marcos era which steadily came out in the open in rally after rally, to crack wide-open the dictator’s hold. It is these classes that command people and resources that could be mobilized for any collective action in the future.


There were two distortions fed in some media.

One was the “estimate” by police authorities of the crowds as between 100,000 to 200,000. If the police really made these estimates, it was obvious that they were playing down the crowd size to please their superiors. The aerial shots showed a mammoth crowd---not in the million promised, but quite an impressive number for starters, the first mass action in the P-Noy administration.

What made them appear thin was the fact that some parts of the park were quite muddy and even filled with shallow water, forcing people to seek less hostile grounds along the periphery.

Moreover, it was significant that similar protest marches and demonstrations were made in just about every key city around the archipelago, numbering from a few hundreds to a couple of thousand participants in each.

Those sites now contain what could be the irreversible seeds of protests. For the moment it’s the gargantuan abuse of the pork barrel, but who knows what cause celebre this potent force could protest in the coming weeks and months, as the winter of political discontent over related issues sets in.


The other distortion was that former Chief Justice Renato Corona was booed by the protest crowds.  He was booed and heckled indeed, but it was only by a couple of agitators who were probably marshaled for the purpose of just screaming invectives at anyone, to disrupt the peace of the rally.

Or the agitators could have been warned the day before by Facebook entries excitedly talking about Corona’s showing up at the protest rally next day, and they lay waiting for him.


This blogger marched at past 8 am. with the group called “Tanggulang Demokrasya (Tandem),” that has been protesting various electoral frauds in the two recent automated elections.  Tandem marched from Aristocrat Restaurant, the meeting place along Roxas Blvd., all the way to the Luneta, with folks carrying banners advocating the truth about the PDAF scam. 

Upon reaching the park I peeled off from the Tandem group and I began walking all over the huge park to check out the various clusters of people huddled along the low concrete fences on the periphery. That’s how I discovered where much of the crowds sought refuge under the trees, invisible to the aerial photographers.  That’s also where I saw a group of Ifugao dancers enthralling the crowds near the Manila Hotel with their tribal dances.


Toward late morning, after my inspection tour of the entire park I came to the periphery of the Quirino Grandstand that was set off from the park by steel fences. There was a little commotion and a small woman I encountered said with what seemed like a very satisfied smile, “Corona was boo-ed,” pointing in the Grandstand’s direction.

Since CJ Corona and his family are my friends I became curious and worried, and then I heard a tall muscular guy near me angrily shouting, “Epal, epal.” From a little distance, I saw some people filing into a car and I presumed they were the former CJ’s family. I later read in media that some Corona sympathizers in the crowd began counter-screaming in CJ's defense.


But what was interesting was that soon afterwards, that same tall muscular guy again began shouting, “Epal, epal.” But this time his screams were directed toward a group of male and female mestizos approaching. I couldn’t understand why the man was shouting, as the smartly-dressed group (which, I learned later, included models Georgina Wilson and Isabelle Daza) was simply sauntering by.

By then I was quite upset at the muscular man's ruckus, and I began questioning him, “Bakit kasumisigaw ng ‘Epal,’ kilala mo ba sila? May ginawa ba silang masama?”  He looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and anger, and said, “A basta, epal sila.”  I retorted, “Bakit, kasi ba hindi mo sila ka-kulay, epal na agad sila? Wala naman silang ginagawang masama.” 

The guy glared at me and then abruptly left, and by then the small woman beside me had also gone.  I concluded that they were just part of the scene, typical agit-prop elements. But some yellow media made such a big deal about the crowds booing the Coronas, as though the entire Luneta had erupted in it. Far from it. 

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

JPE queries whether DBM is protecting “some sacred cows” when it failed to turn over to COA records of nearly P70 billion in pork funds between 2007-2009. Netizens demand from COA, why the double standard in fast denouncing pork in GMA years, while dragging its feet on current administration? Former DOE Chief Accountant Marcelo Tecson laments COA’s discard of pre-audit, thus opening government system to lack of control.

In a recent press conference apparently to explain his involvement as the “topnotcher” in the pork barrel issue, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile was quoted intriguingly by the Inquirer as questioning the motives of the Department of Budget and Management with regard to the Commission on Audit’s special audit of 2007-2009.

Enrile cited in particular the “failure or refusal” of DBM to turn over to COA records of P69.261 billion in pork barrel funds released in those years. He raised the question whether DBM is “protecting some sacred cows or hiding the identity of the legislators concerned, as well as its own negligence, incompetence, if not complicity and participation” in the PDAF scam?


The target of JPE’s questioning was obviously legislators and officials identified with the Aquino administration, who appear to be the object of protection by DBM and COA---whereas, in contrast, COA’s expose is perceived as aimed at the opposition in the Senate. This suspicion of a double standard in the handling of the pork controversy by COA/DBM is fueling skepticism and anger from citizens.

Following JPE's disclosure the question is now being asked by citizens: who owned that whopping nearly P70 billion in undisclosed pork barrel?  They demand to know, if fair will be fair.  Did these billions belong to solons now allied with President Aquino or even to former Sen. Noynoy in the GMA years? If not his, whose are those? 


Suspicions of complicity between COA and DBM in treating P-Noy allies and the opposition differently were brought upon themselves by these two government agencies. For while COA, which is fed data by DBM on its pork releases, was quick to lay out the records of Congress in the Macapagal-Arroyo years, it was forced to admit later that it hasn't even begun looking into the P-Noy years---after three years.

Moreover, because of the Daily Tribune staff’s alertness in smelling that story, COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan was forced to admit that before her office bared the special audit report to media, it sent an advance copy to Malacanang. The question now is, was there a connection between the missing nearly P70 billion pork item in the COA special audit (that JPE denounced) and the Palace sneak preview? 

Reports indicate that it’s this “sanitized version" that P-Noy ordered to be sent to Cardinal Tagle.


The COA is a huge agency of 12,000 officials and employees; it is so constitutionally powerful and independent that as a retired accountant noted, “it can say no even to the President.” Thus, it’s difficult to imagine that Congress audit of 2010-2013 cannot be brought up to date, especially since the report on 2007-2009 was already finished. 

If COA Chief Pulido-Tan were not politicking, isn’t it logical that she should have worked on the audit for 2011 and  2012, and  should already be doing 2013, especially since her office had discovered so many anomalies in 2007-2009? A related question for COA: why did it take a whistle blower (BenHur Luy) to rake up the Napoles scams?

Moreover, the pork anomalies COA found in the GMA years should have already alerted Pulido-Tan, inasmuch as many of those who had profited immensely from their political alliance with former President GMA later jumped over to the other side and were making perhaps even greater hay from President Aquino’s INCREASED pork barrel for Congress and the bigger pork for his office? 

Note that for 2014 the “Special Purpose Fund" for the President’s office alone amounts to P449.95 billion---which is 1/5 of the entire 2014 national budget of P2.25 trillion.


But Chair Pulido-Tan did not see the urgency of an audit for 2010-2013, and COA’s actuations in the pork scams are very disappointing---especially given the high reputation with which she came into this job. A lawyer/CPA on government and college scholarship at UP with 30 years of professional work in both private and government enterprises, the Chair earned a Master’s of Law degree from New York University and subsequent experience as tax specialist at a prominent NYC office prior to returning to PH.

Under the Constitution that protects and guarantees the independence of four constitutional commissions, the COA Chair has a fixed term of seven years (removal only through impeachment) and a salary that cannot be reduced.

Unfortunately, however, Pulido-Tan does not seem independent, and as a result, much is being ascribed by critics to her having worked with Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima in his first stint in that post in the GMA years (2004-2005). In July, 2005 Purisima resigned with the rest of the so-called “Hyatt 10” officials as well as Pulido-Tan, who had served with him as Undersecretary, in charge of the Revenue Operations Group). 

In the interim she served as auditor at the Belle Resources Corporation where her husband, Atty. Bayani Tan, was the firm’s lawyer during the power struggle to ease out industrialist Roberto Ongpin.


Accountant Marcelo I. Tecson of San Miguel Bulacan, who was chief accountant of the Department of Energy for five years and who professes to be genuinely concerned about the pork barrel scams, has offered measures to reform government on corruption. Tecson blames the pork barrel mess the country currently is embroiled in on COA Chief Pulido-Tan’s decision in July 2011 to discard the standard accounting procedure of         PRE-AUDIT---and rely completely on the POST-AUDIT, which is conducted after a crime has already been consummated. 

Tecson points out that COA had reduced pre-audit coverage in the 1980s, then it was totally abolished in 1995 with a shift to 100% POST AUDIT. In August 2009, however, pre-audit was again restored by past COA Chair Reynaldo Villar until it was again abolished by Pulido-Tan in 2011.


Tecson maintains that had there been pre-audit of government transactions BEFORE releases are made, it would have been alerted to various scams in government--- especially after such mega-scams as the fertilizer scam in the GMA years and the NFA importation scam in the early Noynoy years. Tecson stresses that “There is CORRUPTION because there is OPPORTUNITY AND TEMPTATION to commit it without being punished for it.

Opportunity for corruption, he opines, arises from the lack of CHECKS AND BALANCES that, in turn, is rooted in the violation of a crucial INTERNAL CONTROL rule: that no one person should be in complete control of transactions. Otherwise he would have the irresistible motivation to commit corruption---as he can do it at will, even without anybody’s help. 

This latter opinion is a sobering thought to keep in mind, in the current debate on whether to abolish or retain the President's pork---estimated by former National Treasurer Leonor Briones to be about P1 trillion.

There is corruption, says Tecson, because the government agency entrusted to check it--COA--has not done its job. Tough to argue with this point. 

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Floods, hunger and isolation heighten people’s rage over PDAF scams. Political system on trial and how P-Noy and pols play their cards could determine their---and system’s----survival. Cayetano pushes for Lacson as ‘special scam investigator’ while Marcelo Tecson, former DOE Chief Accountant, wants P-Noy to appoint full-time ‘anti-corruption czar.’ These ideas are admissions of dysfunctional bureaucracy.

Political analysts are keenly monitoring the snowballing Filipino people’s rage over the pork barrel scams and the politicians, many of them now close allies of President Aquino, who had perpetrated them for years now.  The people’s anger and rage is expected to burst into full-blown fury in a mammoth people power rally on Monday, Aug. 26 at Luneta Park against the prevailing corruption.

As millions of our countrymen are trapped in immense helplessness and isolation in Central and Southern Luzon in the face of Maring, and the floods that the monsoon rains had brought, and amid the hunger and diseases these have stoked, their anger and rage against the pork scam has heightened. Doubtless in the minds of many, all the sufferings could be alleviated to a great extent if the many billions lost in political skulduggery had been invested in flood-control programs that really work.

Our political system is on trial in the pork barrel scandal and how P-Noy and the politicians play their cards could well determine their future and the system’s survival. 


Part of the analysts’ job is to monitor the political fallout from this “scam of the century.” Already some pundits have noted that the alleged involvement of Senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada in the scams, as brought to light by Janet Napoli’s two trusted lieutenants, has effectively finished off whatever higher political ambitions these two popular politicians  might have entertained.

A third senator, also in the opposition like the four others implicated in the Napoles scandal, is Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has hinted broadly about his intention to run for “something higher” in 2016.  Would he be affected like Estrada and Revilla?  I assume not, for Bongbong commands a fixed constituency, whether his current image improves or worsens.  There’s also little question that young Marcos will be in the 2016 race whatever happens.


Another senator said to have moist eyes on the presidency---easily at least vice-presidential material for 2016, so they say----is Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano who’s pushing for a Senate investigation into the PDAF scams involving members of his chamber. Cayetano, who's with the NP led by former Sen. Manny Villar and Sen. Cynthia Villar, knows the immense value of TV expose---he was one of the most active participants  in the Corona impeachment trial, thus enabling him to retain his standing among the top three senators in the last elections.

Nothing could suit Cayetano’s ambition to hog the limelight in preparation for 2016 more than a formal investigation in the Senate---and he’s playing it to the hilt. Earlier today he beat his fellow senators in filing a resolution to abolish the pork barrel, even though, if I recall right from the list of 180 legislators implicated in the PDAF scams, he and his wife, former congresswoman and now Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano, were listed with their own PDAF-funded involvements.

The Senate, after much hemming and hawing by Chief Franklin Drilon---who wanted the NBI to finish its investigation first, adding that it would be quite awkward for the chamber to be investigating its own members---finally gave in to public outrage and demand. The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by LP Sen. Teofisto Guingona III has scheduled hearings for next week, based on the COA special audit report for years 2007-2009 and a review of the existence and necessity of the PDAF (the LP leaders apparently waited until the COA report exclusively on the Gloria years was out!).


Ex. Senator Joker Arroyo
Cayetano has also interestingly proposed to the senators that former colleague Ping Lacson, who just finished his second Senate term, be designated “independent special investigator” in the Blue Ribbon Committee’s forthcoming inquiry. Cayetano’s major argument on Lacson’s credibility is that he did not accept any pork barrel during his 12 years in the Senate (the other porkless-throughout was ex-Sen. Joker Arroyo).

Blue Ribbon Chair TG Guingona has shot down Cayetano’s proposal for a special investigator, as he said his committee can do the job well, thank you. But assuming the chamber pushes anyway for this post, I would feel that Joker Arroyo would be far more qualified and credible than Lacson, as the former is a lawyer and does not have the kind of baggage the latter has. 


Ex. Senator Panfilo Lacson
Joker Arroyo operated largely by himself in the Senate, whereas Lacson was identified with the group of former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, one of those implicated in the PDAF scams and whom Lacson vigorously defended in an earlier controversy JPE had with Sen. Miriam Santiago over his Christmas gifts of P1.6 million for each senator except three (Miriam and Senators Pia Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes).

Because Joker was a loner he’d be far more credible than Lacson, but I doubt very much if the Lion of the Senate impeachment trial of President Erap would want to return to the public eye via this thankless, no-win job.

Another blow to ex-Sen. Lacson’s credibility is that he, like Janet Napoles and her brother now, was a fugitive from the law who couldn’t be tracked down by the NBI despite a nationwide year-long manhunt. Finally he decided to surface and immediately won an audience with P-Noy---all was forgiven. 

Janet’s feisty lawyer, Lorna Kapunan, was correct in saying that if Lacson could hide for a year, why cannot Janet?


One thing I dread, though, is that with the coming Blue Ribbon committee hearings on the PDAF scams the nation’s focus would again be riveted to the Senate in proceedings that would be run, like last year’s CJ Corona trial, much like a circus for grandstanding and ambitioning senators.

Because senators would themselves be on trial in such hearings, the Senate will not be able to concentrate on more crucial issues such as the deepening poverty, hunger and joblessness, the power crisis now a reality not just in Mindanao but also in Luzon, the rifts between ideological power blocs in Mindanao, the return of American forces, the dysfunction of the bureaucracy and other very serious problems.


A concerned citizen named Marcelo I. Tecson of San Miguel, Bulacan, a CPA for 25 years before becoming a "modest entrepreneur" and who was for more than five years Chief Accountant and later Finance and Management Service Chief in the Dept. of Energy, wrote to say that in fact he wants an “Anti-corruption Czar” to be appointed by the President to serve as “operating arm of the Anti-Corruption Cabinet Cluster headed by the President.”

Tecson notes that according to the World Bank, the PH government has lost $48 billion to graft and corruption in the last 20 years---and this lost amount has exceeded the country’s borrowings of $40.6 billion over the same period. In view of the magnitude of the corruption problem in our country “that transformed our economy from ‘second best’ to ‘basket case’ in Asia,' " he opines, the appointment of a full-time Anti-Corruption Czar who will activate “the anti-corruption system in the Executive branch” should be seriously considered. 

To my mind, however, the problem is that such an appointment would again add an extra layer to the bureaucracy, when the problem, as Tecson himself argues, is to make existing agencies of government, such as the COA and the Office of the Ombudsman, function as their independent mandates in the Constitution command them to do--- but they do not. More on Tecson's take on COA's dereliction of duty next.

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Too much tax-payers’ money lying around in the corridors of government and wasted by predatory pols, largely owing to shoddy accounting, zero accountability and a scratch-your-back, I-scratch-yours relationship between two branches of government.

The nation’s attention has been riveted in the past weeks on the pork barrel scams, unleashed by the expose on the Napoles network’s system of operation.  But as we all suspected, the scams appear to be far bigger than anyone thinks---obviously just the tip of the iceberg.

The 462-page special audit report released by COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan last Friday to media covered the performance of Congress vis-à-vis the PDAF in the Macapagal Arroyo years from 2007-2009.  The audit showed that of some 82 NGOs to which P6.156 billion in PDAF were released and found questionable, 10 of these NGOs were linked to Napoles’ vast web, which managed to corner about P2.157 billion in legislators’ pork allocations.

What this means is that there were (and doubtless are) other scam networks operating in Congress aside from Napoles. These have to be exposed and punished.


The question is, will the citizenry ever see the real picture, given Congress’ siege mentality---with leaders of both chambers fiercely resisting internal investigation and the tendency to protect one another and cover their tracks?

Moreover, as Chair Pulido-Tan pointed out, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) failed to supply COA with complete records during the investigation, and in fact she was quoted as saying of the DBM, “Ang pangit ng records, very sloppy.”  But citizens could well ask, are DBM records really being kept messy and sloppy in order to hide the truth about those PDAF allocations, which DBM releases to NGOs upon legislators’ say-so, even without verifying these NGOs' mostly bogus existence and track record.


But more than just PDAF allocations, there’s also the Special Purpose Fund (SPF), informally called the President’s pork barrel, which, as former National Treasurer and lead convenor of the watchdog group called Social Watch Philippines (SWP) pointed out recently, is far bigger than the PDAF but far more difficult to detect as it's not as detailed and specific as budget proposals of regular agencies. Liling Briones asserts that funds under the SPF, once approved, “are far more vulnerable to reductions, transfers and adjustments since they are lump sums.”

SWP computes that the SPF accounts for 22% of the current P2.4 Trillion national budget now under deliberation in Congress.  But SWP also asserts that importance has to be given to SPF items because they are not normally debated in Congress and are less scrutinized by the public.


But that’s the SPF which is controlled by the President and which Congress ought to scrutinize with a fine-toothed comb but does not---because it’s a scratch-your-back, I-scratch-yours relationship between the two branches. What it all shows is that there’s too much taxpayers’ funds lying around for predatory politicians to seize---owing to the faulty record-keeping and accounting in both branches, and zero accountability of both the Chief Executive and the legislators.

With this as background, be prepared, dear readers, for some indigestion in figures as we go back to Congress.

The COA special audit report provided by Chair Pulido-Tan also showed that aside from the PDAF, there are other sources of huge funds that legislators are able to help themselves to, such as the “congressional initiative allocation” and the “leadership fund.”  These are funds given out to ranking officers of both chambers of Congress and chairs of major committees by the leadership.

In addition, aside from the four or five senators who were cited as involved in the Napoles scam network when it first came to light weeks back, the COA special audit report showed that, to quote Inquirer today, “The lawmakers themselves were not content being the givers of pork. Some took a direct hand in the NGOs that they had chosen to be the recipients of their pork.” The names of former Sen. Edgardo Angara and Reps. Amado Bagatsing, Matias Defensor, Jr., Ma. Victoria Sy-Alvarado, Jeannie Sandoval and Anthony C. Miranda were mentioned in this connection.


The COA special audit report released by Pulido-Tan, covering only years 2007-2009, investigated congressional fund expenditures released to three national government agencies, four government corporations, five provincial governments, eight city governments including their 109 barangays. Queried as to why the audit confinement only to those areas, she said these had the biggest releases. This is valid for starters.

But when queried as to why the audit report covered only the Macapagal Arroyo years and did not include the three years of the P-Noy administration, the COA Chair replied that when she came into COA in 2010, upon appointment by President Aquino, this audit was already going on. Pressed further, she said that updated report results will be included in audit reports on the various agencies involved in legislators’ allocations---presumably DBM, DSWD, Agriculture and DAR.


More queries about this COA special audit report: a copy was furnished to the President before it was made public, and this gesture raised eyebrows in a suspicious public. Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte said, however, that this was nothing extraordinary, as it’s done with other government reports. Perhaps, but the COA report is nothing routine, as it zeroes in on “the scam of the century,” and for the moment only on the Gloria years.

Moreover, this special report includes an audit of Tarlac, the President’s home province, which he represented in the House and later the Senate, until he assumed the presidency in 2010.  Did the Palace check out first what went into it? Isn’t COA an independent constitutional commission? 

Then too, it’s a fact established by DBM data that PDAF allocations in the Noynoy years more than doubled those of the GMA years.


When asked what happened to the audit of the PDAF in the current Aquino years, Valte replied that these have already been uploaded in the COA website. But the question that will linger in citizens’ minds is, why weren’t these data furnished to the general public through the media?  What about those who care to know about the disbursements in P-Noy’s three years but don’t have access to the internet?

The Palace gives the impression that it’s not in a hurry to divulge the PDAF audit results from COA in the Aquino years, but care should have been taken to make this much-awaited full public disclosure as hitch-free as possible, in order to avoid suspicion of a whitewash or laundering of data in the P-Noy era.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Was Napoles allowed to escape? It’s now De Lima’s added dilemma, but studied opinions say l'affaire Napoles could also be tipping point for P-Noy. SC Justice Abad’s ‘boiling water’ theory stumps former Rep. Lagman

If in the administrations of Presidents Macapagal Arroyo and Noynoy Aquino, there has been a conspiracy among some members of Congress and Janet Napoles to channel their PDAF to bogus NGOs under a 70-30 sharing scheme, in this reigning regime there could have been a conspiracy among personnel of the Justice Department, as Secretary Leila de Lima is now investigating, security personnel and perhaps even members of Congress to allow this notorious woman to escape arrest.

The query everyone’s now asking: why was the impending arrest ordered by the court publicly announced? As a FB habitué argued, it should have been arrest first and then announcement. This may be because a good number of politicians stand to gain plenty from her disappearance.  


Secretary De Lima, appointed by President Aquino in July 2010, is one of several Cabinet members who have repeatedly failed to get confirmation from the Commission on Appointments (many lost count of how many rebuffs she has faced in the CA). Very soon, however, as Senate President Franklin Drilon, who also heads the CA, said recently, De Lima will again face the CA as obviously the President retains full trust and confidence in her.  

De Lima’s dilemma (to borrow a Manila Standard phrase) is that she was already twisting in the CA at the time when investigation of the P10 billion scam perpetrated by Janet Napoles was being conducted by the NBI under her department. Now that Napoles has flown the coop, De Lima has to answer for this in the CA and to the people. And P-Noy should fire her asap. 

In fact, the nation will be watching what P-Noy would do from hereon---some pundits opine that the Napoles saga could well be the tipping point for him.

My friend, Star columnist Boo Chanco, put it well: "Yes indeed, this pork barrel scam may define the P-Noy presidency. History may remember his watch as the time when public officials were raiding the National Treasury in the tens of billions of pesos and the President considered it as all in a day's work."


Despite enormous public demand, leaders of both chambers of Congress have turned down any investigation of the PDAF scams that have involved past and present members of Congress, and now she’s missing in action. Hence an outraged citizenry appears to have no choice but to press Congress to conduct this inquiry itself.

De Lima has been under tremendous pressure to name names in the pork barrel scandals, and so was Commission on Audit Chair Grace Tan-Pulido---but up to now nothing has come out. Then came the RTC’s order to arrest Napoles---not for masterminding the P10 billion scams, but for illegal detention of her former right-hand man, Benhur Luy who turned witness against her. Even that court order was infirm in itself.

Given this latest crisis in the Napoles saga, it now behooves the citizens of this country and respected institutions to apply pressures on Congress to have the guts to investigate its ranks---if only to get to the bottom of the PDAF mess and undergo its much-needed purgation and catharsis.


But there’s another angle to the pork barrel scams. Now that the Napoles drama has played out for over two weeks already, pundits are beginning to look at the whys and wherefores of how it began. Some analysts are happy that the fertilizer scam of the past administration is meriting a second look, if only to vindicate Marlene Esperat, the journalist who first began poking into it in 2005 and paid for her zeal with her life.

I’ve also heard other pundits opine that this whole mess may have been raked up by a rightist group fearful of the growing power of the Left, so that the former wants to foment trouble with various scandals, in order to preempt the moves of the Left.

Another theory popular earlier was that the Palace blew up this scam in media to cover up for huge un-detailed pork items for the executive department in the 2014 national budget, such as the President's P100 billion from the Malampaya funds. But this theory doesn’t wash, for precisely the PDAF scams opened a can of worms and those executive budget items are now being scrutinized by media and left-wing representatives, more than ever.

All these theories about conflicting conspiracies provide unceasing analyses in cocktail and media circles. The plot thickens.


I have religiously followed three of the four long-winded hearings held by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality or the lack of it of the RH Law and I must say that each hearing is as fascinating for the interplay of personalities and force of arguments as the other. 

Because I missed the third session I was confined only to what was written in media about the verbal skirmish two Tuesdays ago between Solicitor-General Francis Jardaleza, who defended the law, and Associate Justice Roberto Abad, who leads the anti-RH justices. Pro-administration media portrayed Abad as walloped by an arrogant and extremely self-important Sol-Gen, while anti-RH analysts painted Abad, a former Dean of the UST College of Law, as their champion and hero. 


SC Associate Justice Roberto Abad

In last Tueday’s fourth session Justice Abad again grabbed center stage as he tussled with lead RH proponent, former Rep. Edcel Lagman.  Abad came well-prepared and briefed by his anti-RH counsels and he succeeded in getting Lagman, who made a presentation for the first time, quite twisted up on certain aspects of the law. Abad got the former law-maker to admit certain inconsistencies with the earlier testimony of Jardaleza.

Pressed by Abad about the harm that certain contraceptives could render to the fertilized ovum,  Lagman, for instance, was forced to make the stunning declaration that while this “fertilized ovum may  already be a living organism, it is not a human person.”

But what is it then? A mouse?


Carrying the verbal wrangling into the realm of statistics, Lagman pointed out that there were about 84 maternal deaths a year per 100,000 women in 2008 (down from 103 per 100,000 in year 2000); hence, he said, the CONTINUING need for effective contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and subsequent deaths. 

Abad, however, cited adverse effects of some contraceptives such as cancer 1 and bleeding (for IUDs), as acknowledged by the WHO itself, and he put this reality in the perspective of our female population of about 50 million, of which approximately 23 million are of child-bearing age. 

The Justice then raised a valid dilemma. He noted that pro-RH legislators argue that the RH Law would target half of those 23 million child-bearing women, or around 12.2 million, for widespread and intense birth-control campaign. But he queried: what advantage would be gained by pushing contraceptives, such as those with known abortifacient effects and the bleeding-inducing IUD, that could seriously endanger the health of many millions of our women, just so that we can save only a few of them from maternal deaths yearly? 

Isn’t this akin to washing one’s hand in boiling water just to kill some germs? Abad queried.

The magistrate then answered his own question: wouldn’t the many billions the RH Law will make the state spend on contraceptives, whose efficacy is questioned by the WHO itself, be better invested in more hospitals, better facilities (such as ultrasound machines most crucial in early and midway pregnancies---BOC), more adequate training for health personnel and a campaign among married couples to practice various safe methods such as use of condoms ("97% effective"), fertility awareness and even abstinence "that’s '100% effective?' ”

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Outrage over Napoles misplaced: as former senior gov’t officials argue, let’s put erring senators and reps on the carpet over scams. Will Ombudsman Carpio-Morales do an impartial investigation, given how she fudged the math at Corona trial? New party-list Rep. Lito Atienza bats for suspension of PDAF to show House sincerity and review disbursing system, but Boyet Gonzalez rejects it---instead instructing reps to line up for their pork, now increased from total of nearly P25B this year to P27B in 2014.

There is so much public outrage over pork barrel that went to bogus projects and organizations, as facilitated by Janet Napoles, but the outrage is MISPLACED. To be sure, we citizens have the right to get furious at Napoles, but we ought to really get MORE FURIOUS  at members of Congress who conspired with her wicked plot. If Janet Napoles didn’t exist, there would be others by different names who will still have the devilish ingenuity to cook up such schemes (recall how various types of pyramid scams intermittently crop up to victimize gullible folks).

But with so much poverty among their constituents, our honorables in Congress should have had the moral strength and integrity to resist such tempting schemes. But they failed, aided by a system of frightfully loose accounting of public funds and the padrino system.  


COA Chair Grace Tan-Pulido has promised to provide the nation a thorough picture of the pork scams and name names, but until now she hasn’t done so; it’s easy to imagine the pressures being applied on her to just keep quiet. But out there must be others who had succeeded with their own con games---Janet must be just the tip of the iceberg. 

There is now public clamor for the Senate to put Napoles on the witness stand---they way they grilled the late Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, Generals Carlos Garcia and Ligot, and Chief Justice Renato Corona. The public now wants Napoles to get out there and testify and the Senate is under pressure to summon her. But what kind of pressure would work on that chamber?


DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman was quoted earlier as saying she has ordered a check into pork barrel-funded projects of the 421 NGOs or civil-society organizations (CSOs) that DSWD has accredited. But if the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), or 4-Ps as they know it at the grassroots--- this year amounting to P45B but being increased to P63B in 2014--- is a good gauge of Dinky’s organization set-up, then we can fear the worst for many of the 421 NGOs and CSOs that DSWD is funding.

I’ve never seen such a gargantuan-budgeted national government program as loosely run and inutile as the CCT---so much good money being thrown after bad, but with poverty ever-ascending DESPITE the many billions doled out. Given the gargantuan CCT set-up, how can Dinky police 421 organizations?


Five “Former Senior Government Officials” (FSGOs) who had served in various  administrations---namely, former Dept. of Education Undersecretary Isagani Cruz and former Secretary Edilberto de Jesus, former Cory DENR Secretary Fulgencio Factoran Jr., former Sen. Vicente Paterno (who also served as Industry Minister under President Marcos) and former Cory Finance Secretary Jess Estanislao---are appealing to citizens to support their challenge to the Office of the Ombudsman to conduct “an impartial investigation of the grave misuse of the PDAF.”

The FSGOs correctly put “greater accountability” for the current PDAF scams “with the Senators and Representatives to whom the funds were entrusted. It was their responsibility to ensure that their PDAF went only to reputable NGOs proposing priority projects and that these projects produced the promised benefits.”

The FSGOs rightly stress that these members of Congress are not “political neophytes” and “They, and we, were not born yesterday.”  Meaning, these honorables knew about the devilish schemes they were being seduced with (in 70-30 or 60-40 sharing schemes). 

These FSGOs are asking the Ombudsman to investigate the grave abuse of the PDAF, and the senators and representatives implicated “to clear their names” by voluntarily subjecting themselves to an impartial investigation by the Ombudsman--- to determine the extent of their actual involvement.

They also ask the President to constitute a special committee composed of representatives of the DBM, DOJ and the private sector to review the PDAF process and recommend safeguards to ensure that it's not further abused.


This is all well and good but I have a couple of misgivings that doubtless many citizens share. One is whether Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales would conduct a truly impartial investigation that would let the chips fall where they may. My doubt is due to the fact that she has shown herself to be so dog-loyal to the power that appointed her.

I cite as specific fact the way Ombudsman Morales, whether by sheer ignorance or willful machination, fudged the numbers in Chief Justice Renato Corona’s bank accounts during his impeachment trial last year. Morales made each dollar deposit of Corona appear as new account, so that the total reached a mind-boggling $10 million, she huffed in a power-point presentation. It turned out that Corona’s actual total deposits, as he himself later testified and banks ascertained, amounted only to less than $2 million, that included the wealth of his wife and which were covered by the Foreign Currency Deposits Act. 

The way I saw it then, it was not innocent error on Morales’ part, as she is far too intelligent to commit such mistake.


With regard to the FSGOs' plea for P-Noy to constitute a special committee led by DBM and DOJ, to review the PDAF process, it should be noted that DBM is the key agency in the pork barrel scam as it’s the releasing agency; but it failed to scrutinize the legitimacy of the selected NGOs. 

Moreover, while a lot of members of Congress involved in the scams dated from the GMA era, there undoubtedly are those in the current administration allied with P-Noy and his LP, now deeply involved in the fund mess. Would he move against them and risk losing their support---to the point that they might impeach him?

Note that P-Noy quickly differentiated between those involved in the scams and those who used their PDAF 'judiciously'---even before the NBI could finish its investigation. It should also be stressed that he increased this year's pork barrel funds for Congress from a little less than P25B this year to P27 billion next year. In fact, P-Noy in his first three years and for 2014 has more than doubled the pork barrel that GMA allotted for Congress.  

Note also the allegation that Napoles contributed P100 million to the LP campaign in the last elections (totoo ba ito, Senate President Drilon? You were LP campaign manager in the last elections. Your silence is deafening). 

Given such background, how can the Ombudsman do “impartial” sleuthing?

Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza

Take a look too, at the House that’s controlled by the President’s men and the siege mentality they're displaying. 

New Buhay party-list Rep. Lito  Atienza recently delivered a privilege speech asking the House to suspend the implementation of the PDAF in order to make the chamber “look more responsive” to the people’s outrage over Napoles. Atienza also argued that this respite would give its members the opportunity to review the PDAF system and tighten screws, in order to avoid a repeat of the scandals.  Earlier he made known on the floor his intention not to accept his pork barrel, something he said he had promised on the campaign trail even before the scandals erupted.


But Majority Leader Neptali Gonzalez, Jr., immediately thumbed down Atienza’s proposal and stressed that the latter could deliver as many privilege speeches on the issue as he wants (to cool down), but there’d be no change in the system. In fact word was passed on to House members that they could already sign up for their new PDAF.

Leaders of both chambers of Congress want to just entrust the investigations into the pork scams to the NBI. But given the way investigations go in this country, this could take an eternity. Obviously the aim is not to widen the scope so that folks would forget, as the nation lurches on to another crisis.

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