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.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Gov’t should raise prosecutors’ pay to get better-caliber lawyers. Legislators who channeled their PDAF to Napoles and executive officials who approved SAROs to fake NGOs are more guilty than her. But who are the “non-Napoles” scam operators who bagged far more than Janet and involved in them? No selective investigation. Food security is frightening problem that goes beyond Kiko P: what if Vietnam and India refuses to sell us rice?

The fiasco about the amended charge sheet that prosecutors of the Office of the Ombudsman wanted to file before the Sandiganbayan---which it turned down---reveals two things. One is that in the rush to hail the three opposition senators to jail, the prosecutors committed the blunder that Janet Napoles should be the centerpiece of the corruption web and the politicos just recipients of dirty kickbacks from her. Whereas in hindsight, the prosecutors realized that the senators should be the MAJOR ACCUSED because they WILLFULLY caused their PDAFs to be invested in Napoles’ fake NGOs, in return for huge kickbacks.

The prosecutors had to retreat from filing the amended information, however, when the Sandiganbayan’s First Division warned them that their new move would cause the arraigned senators to be released---inasmuch as the court’s arrest order was based on the earlier charge sheet. Thus, it would take time to conduct a new investigation, and in the meantime, the accused solons couldn’t be kept in jail.

This amendment fiasco indicated the eagerness of the Ombudsman’s office to hang the senators fast, perhaps so that they could be exhibit A for the President’s SONA on July 21. It also shows that government’s prosecution team has to be beefed up to do a more respectable job---but this would mean higher pay. It’s easy to see that the best legal minds are in the top-notch law offices and unless the government compensates well, as the saying goes, you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.


But the main point is that despite their blundering move, the prosecutors are CORRECT in their amended thinking: the senators and representatives who succumbed to the importuning of Napoles as well as what’s now unfolding, the “non-Napoles” operators, are the MORE GUILTY ones. This is because they had the CHOICE of whether to be tempted or not by the tempter, and they succumbed. The solons' situation was not unlike Adam and Eve's in Paradise---the onus was on them for their sin of pride and not on the serpent who tempted them. 

The solons are handsomely compensated for doing so little in Congress---in terms of fat salaries and allowances, various perks such as travel and per diems, emoluments in committees and oversight committees, etc., etc. I suspect that each senator easily gets to pocket, without hanky panky and all in,  a billion pesos every year. Unfortunately a number of them became greedy and as accounts of Napoles’ affidavit and testimonies of the whistle-blowers show, they were served by equally rapacious  “agents”---Ruby Tuason, Maya Santos, Zeny Ducut, Pauline Labayen, Patricia Agana Tan and many others, who collected their “porsiento” as  soon as they turned over their clients’ SAROs to Napoles and other scam operators.  


But just as guilty as the legislators are DBM officials Secretary Florencio Abad and Undersecretary Mario Relampagos, who were very quick to release SAROs to  Napoles and “non-Napoles” operators, without conducting due diligence on the NGOs. Media accounts say Relampagos and several others are going to be charged with conspiracy in the scams, but as Relampagos now  argues, WHY ONLY ME?  He reasons out that his boss Abad ought to go to jail too, as he approved every release and under the principle of command responsibility. Feigning ignorance on Abad’s part could be just as disastrous as this would be dereliction of duty---and totally unbelievable.

But if Abad is so charged, he could in turn toss the blame ultimately to his boss, the President, as in the case of the DAP, which was used to bribe senators in the Corona Senate trial. By Abad's admission, P-Noy approved every cent of it.


Speaking of “non-Napoles” operations, Rigoberto Tiglao in his Manila Times column asserts that Napoles only bagged P2.2 billion worth of SAROs, but that those that landed in “non-Napoles” scam entities raided public coffers of P6 billion---far fatter. What’s interesting is that little is known about these latter operators who bagged amounts worth a king’s ransom. Tiglao correctly observed that there is selective investigation and obviously all efforts are being made to channel media attention and people’s outrage to Napoles, whereas there are apparently bigger crooks who monkeyed around with the SAROs and fake NGOs.

As Bobi Tiglao points out, the DBM could not have known about these non-Napoles operatives, for they channeled the solons’ SAROs into the very same “implementing agencies” as Napoles did, e.g., NABCOR, TRC and NLDC---and DSWD (of Dinky?).  In fact, Napoles' affidavit relates that the agents for the legislators would even try to bludgeon her into giving them their porsiento rate kaliwaan with the SAROs, or otherwise they’d give it to another operator.


The one-sidedness of the DOJ’sinvestigations and DBM’s obstinate refusal to disclose the non-Napoles files it holds, as COA Chair Grace Tan testified in her special audit report to the Senate, make people suspect that major administration crooks were operative in those files---in the same way that the big three senators figured in the Napoles files.

The behavior of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, COA Chair Tan and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales toward the “non-Napoles” scambags will bear watching. But there should be a strong demand for investigation into these unknown scam operators. Who are they and their clients? Who are the P-Noy officials involved?


New Czar for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis Pangilinan, faced with skyrocketing of prices of rice and other basic commodities,  now admits that perhaps the Aquino administration underestimated the need of the population for the basic staple. This is as good an admission as any that the previous Arroyo administration did the right thing in making sure there was enough rice by importing in quantity. In contrast, the P-Noy administration has endangered the nation’s food security by underestimating that need.

Recall that a campaign line of candidate Noynoy and into his first two years in the presidency was that he would, in contrast to the importing Arroyo administration, produce bumper harvests to negate importation altogether. Now it has finally admitted that it will import an extra 200,000 metric tons of rice from Vietnam asap, in addition to seizing some 20,000 metric tons of smuggled rice.


Food security Czar Pangilinan is still insecure about his new title and job, but some people who truly understand the political economics of rice are now plainly worried that our country has become so dependent on importation of rice, as agriculture drags on as perhaps the most neglected of the basic industries. What makes our situation terribly WORRISOME is that should any major national calamity hit our traditional rice suppliers such as Vietnam and India to the point that they have to hoard their rice for their own people, what happens to our country?

In not too distant memory, riots have occurred in countries such as Egypt over rice shortage.

To be fair to the administration, a number of natural calamities affected our rice production, such as massive droughts and strong typhoons. But there were also factors that could have alleviated the situation but did not happen, such as pushing more construction of badly needed irrigation system. Vietnam, in the many decades it was rife with civil war, didn’t forego construction of irrigation dikes and canals and this has helped make it a major rice exporter.


Then too comprehensive land reform has been a failure as the landlord-dominated Congress did not push meaningful reforms enough, so that only 77,000 farmers or 9.7 % of those covered under CARP and CARPer have fully paid their monthly amortizations. Agriculture is not only in the doldrums it’s in NEAR MORIBUND STATE, so that young farmers would rather get jobs as waiters for Jollibee or McDo than till the soil. Many habitually have to borrow capital at usurious rates, only to lose their land to lenders, so that they prefer to sell their lands for subdivisions and malls. Then too, those who persist in farming cannot compete with smuggled items such as garlic and onions.  

Then there’s the mind-boggling corruption. Among eight government agencies involved in the pork barrel scams of Napoles and non-Napoles entitles, the Departments of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform and their allied agencies are rated tops. There’s a demand for the resignation of Secretaries Proceso Alcala and Virgilio de los Reyes, but P-Noy refuses to let go of them.

Is anyone in government worrying about food security?

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