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.

Monday, December 30, 2013

From Annus Horribilis in 2013, may 2014 be Annus Mirabilis---“full of wonderful miracles from God’s Divine Providence.”

Philippine House of Representatives in session
From radio personality Carmen Ignacio comes this vigorous greeting for the New Year:

“Ang 2014 ay tinaguriang ‘Year of the Horse.’ Sa pagpasok ng taon sana ay SIPAIN ka ng walang tigil na swerte. Lingkisin ka ng saya, maging mabilis ang pagkaripas ng pera patakbo sa iyo. Gapangan nawa ng limpak-limpak na yaman sa lahat ng aspeto ng iyong buhay.

Ipasa mo rin agad ito sa ibang mga mahal sa buhay at mahal na kaibigan. Ipasa mo, sige, na parang bola. I-shoot mo humahagibis. MABILIS. DALI. PARA DUMATING NA MADALI ANG SWERTE.”


From a friend from Alabang comes this reaction to my Dec. 21, 2013 blog about how 2013, with all the natural and man-made calamities and disasters this year has brought, is more like ANNUS HORRIBILIS, to borrow a term quoted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth some years back on problems in the Royal Family.

My friend agrees with my diagnosis of Annus Horribilis for 2013, and he reports that “this is the reason why I heard that the attendance at Simbang Gabi Masses all over the country had increased exponentially---people clung to God to hope and pray to Him and His Blessed Mother that 2014 would be an ANNUS MIRABILIS---full of wonderful miracles from God's Divine Providence.”

Amen to Annus Mirabilis in 2014.


Another reaction from a friend from Dasmarinas Village on this same blog:

“I fully agree with your observations. Though the Binay incident supposedly happened last November and came out just a few days ago, it is quite disgusting that the Binays as well as Ram Antonio (owner of the security agency whose guards defended Dasma’s Banyan Gate---BOC) and even Rep. Rex Gatchalian defend such arrogant behavior.

“While (Sen. Alan Peter) Cayetano's pronouncements are a case of the ‘pot calling the kettle black", he is right in this regard....it is not about the Binays but about the arrogance of power which corrupts many of those who came from humble beginnings and now strut around with a sense of entitlement.

“On the other hand, the Senate elevator incident involving Senate President (Franklin) Drilon and the removal of media presence in the (Pasay RTC Court) hearing featuring (Architect Jun) Palafox vs. (former Sen. Edgardo) Angara all attest to this and are only a few examples of this aberrant behavior.

“This is truly an ‘Annus Horribilis’ for our beloved country and as we try to discern why God allows these to happen, may we, as a people transform ourselves? A change in men has to begin with all of us, from the highest ranking official to even God's poor. Only when we observe and fight for the Rule of Law, Social Justice, Human Rights, Compassion and Charity towards all will we get the government we truly deserve.”

Amen to this observation too.


My brother Danny Olivares, co-convenor of the group called “Movement against Dynasties” (MAD) that was quite active in the May 2013 elections and hopefully in the next elections, is quite ecstatic about media reports that the anti-dynasty bill is one of the first measures due to be taken up in plenary session when the House of Representatives resumes session on January 20. The report quoted House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II.

Hope springs eternal even on this dubious topic, but we can’t really bank on the move of members of Congress---for dynastic politics has become a way of life over the decades. It should be noted that while the 1987 Constitution has ruled out political dynasties, it left the circumstances of abolition to the legislators; sadly, however, despite efforts of the great Senate President Jovito Salonga starting in 1987 to legislate an anti-dynasty law, NOTHING has remotely moved in this direction. It is really like asking the legislators, whose dynasties never have it so good, to rule against themselves.


In fact I see the noises on anti-dynasty from Boyet Gonzalez, one of the most trapo of politicians, and others like him as mere pa-consuelo---not to be taken seriously. Merely establishing the degree to which politicians are to be excluded in the definition of dynasty could take forever in floor debates.

But there are recent developments that may be the hand of God.

The dynasties could be in for some drubbing by sheer force of political circumstances in the next elections---due to the ABOLITION of the PDAF which used to rake in for House members P210 million each for their three-year term and P1.2 billion each for the senators for their six-year term. All these were clear money guaranteed in the annual budget, but now, with the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court late last month, they are no more.


Last week I had a long dialogue with a veteran legislator and he admitted that they’re hurting in Congress because, to quote Fr. Joaquin Bernas in his column today, they “were stripped of a major and almost unrestricted tool for politicking.” Now solons have to think twice on whether to pull out from their own pockets the funding for constituents who approach them for medicines or scholarships---where before this would all come from their PDAF. The lawmaker admitted that the current situation could dampen plans of a good number of House members to run and that definitely this would affect political dynasties, some of which have successfully fielded four or five members simultaneously.

I added that the pork’s abolition could also scale down political spending as the politicians would now have to spend their personal funds.

If only for these benefits, the abolition of PDAF is something to rejoice for.


I took advantage of our conversation to understand from my legislator-friend how PDAF had worked and the enormous “sideline” that members of Congress have obtained from it. As we now know from the Napoles exposes and which my source confirmed, the PDAF is not handled directly by the lawmakers; rather, they identify the implementing agency to which they wish to channel their pork barrel in specific projects in their districts or at large in the case of senators.

In the recent Napoles scams the fave agencies were the Departments of Agriculture and of Agrarian Reform and offices such as the Technology Livelihood Resource Center.

After the lawmaker complies with certain conditions, the Department of Budget and Management issues the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) to the implementing agency, which can then go into bidding for procurement, after which the agency and the contractor strike up a MOA. Within several weeks DBM issues the notice of cash allotment (NCA) to the implementing agency.


This is where the interesting part begins. Many lawmakers’ projects normally involve “consumables” which easily disappear from public view, and the most popular choice is fertilizers (after the ground is wet this element disappears).  Other faves involve training of people (mainly relatives of the lawmaker or of his followers) and scholarships of fictitious students.

Since the national budget is for one year, issuance of NCAs to implementing agencies is by quarter, and at the end of the year what’s “not obligated” is returned to the national treasury as savings. Hence the national frenzy for spending toward the fourth quarter.

But as the lawmaker-source explained, savings are already estimated even before the end of every quarter---known to both legislators and contractors, although the latter course the “porsiento” or commissions not directly to Congress members but to the implementing agency.  There's undoubtedly great collusion between staffers of the latter agencies and those of a good number of lawmakers---which results in everyone being happy. As the Napoles scams showed, commissions can go as high as 70% for the lawmaker.

The source admitted that some congressmen are “more equal” than others in that they rake in more. This inequality operates well during the budgetary process and the period of amendments to bills---and involve both administration and opposition lawmakers.


Recent news quoted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima as tweaking the public’s nose again about the “fake SARO” racket in DBM, allegedly involving among others, a driver and a janitor in the office of Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos, and a woman regarded as the DBM SARO Gang’s “Supremo.” Has it sank that low and pilfering public funds is that easy that a mere driver and janitor are running the racket there?  

De Lima’s special genius, however, is that she leaves the public twisting in the wind once again on whether the discovered fake SARO scams involved just the Arroyo administration or the current one---pretty much like what she did in the Napoles scams, zeroing in on the GMA years and going blank on the Aquino era. 

She was also quoted today as hinting that no congressman seems to be involved in the fake SARO scams. After all the lawmakers involved in 82 fake NGOs, is it really believable that no member of Congress is involved here? 

Shall we say, abangan? Hope springs eternal once again?   

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