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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, November 30, 2014

Would Pope Francis get real feel of Yolanda’s devastation without getting into Tacloban itself? The Palace, displaying such cavalier treatment of people’s money, asks for P23 billion in supplemental budget after P2.6 trillion national budget for 2015. Let’s press for opening the hearing on that issue to the public. Truly a sad day when DBM Secretary can only think of resorting to something unconstitutional---the DAP--- in moving economy forward.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno
Budget Sec. Florencio Abad

Pope Francis is scheduled to plane into Tacloban’s Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport this Jan. 16,  where he will officiate at Holy Mass in Latin, with mass songs mostly in Waray by a composite choir from various dioceses. From the airport he’ll be whisked off to the Palo Archdiocese where he’s scheduled to lunch with Palo Archbishop John Du and a few dozen poor families from Tacloban hard-hit by the super-typhoon. The Pope will then bless the new Pope Francis Center for the Poor also in Palo Archdiocese.

The fact that he'll go straight from Tacloban Airport to Palo and stay in Palo during his six or seven hour visit has made many people, including this blogger, wonder if Francis would get a chance to see the real situation in Yolanda’s Ground Zero, and the innumerable people still homeless and awaiting more decisive rehabilitation assistance from government more than a year after the super-typhoon struck.

Actually friends from Tacloban assure me that indeed Pope Francis will already get to see the huge damage to lives and property once he gets on the national highway to Palo from the airport---even if Palo Mayor Remedios Petilla should move many homeless away from there by January. I realize that the Pope won’t get into the interiors of Tacloban City anymore---but knowing his maverick reputation he might just do that.  I sure hope so.

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Star columnist Babe Romualdez, whose family hails from Tacloban (and who sounds more and more anti-P-Noy as weeks go by), cited today in his column IBON Foundation data that there are still 1.3 million homeless people in devastated Visayas who have sought shelter in evacuation centers, tents, bunkhouses and other makeshift dwellings. Romualdez also cited the testimony of an undersecretary of Rehab Czar Panfilo Lacson who admitted that it will take all of three years before the government can deliver the 14,000 plus houses needed in Tacloban City alone.

If you add the one year gone by after Yolanda to the three years before government can deliver those 14,000 plus houses for Tacloban, this means all of four years before the housing problem for that city's typhoon victims can be settled. The rehab work in devastated Visayas is just TOO SNAIL-PACED even for us comfortable here in Luzon and we can imagine how terrible the Visayans must feel. But what is even more disturbing is that the P-Noy government cannot give a reasonable accounting of just where all the relief funds---local and international---went. Babe Romualdez cites staunch administration ally Sen. Francis Escudero as asserting that he does not see the P173 billion allocated for Visayas relief for 2013 and 2014.

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Solons in Congress, ordinary citizens as well as local and foreign donors, it seems, are appalled at whatever happened to those funds allocated in the national budget for those two years. Where did they go? Where did all those billions in foreign aid and relief go?  Malacanang could only shrug its shoulders in seeming detachment and incompetent confusion. But what makes it worse is that it now has the temerity to submit and ask for, in addition to the P2.606 trillion National Budget for 2015, A SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET of P23 billion.

Supplemental means dagdag, pahabol, and yet, much of this P23 billion dagdag budget supposedly covers Eastern Visayas rehabilitation.  Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza put it correctly when he insists that the Executive Branch should first show Congress what happened to the Visayas rehab funds for the past years, before they could begin to talk of a supplemental budget.

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What’s more insulting, however, is that this supplemental budget is being demanded by the administration now, WITHOUT SPECIFIC DETAILS on where the P23 billion would go---THOSE PESKY (TO MALACANANG) details to follow na lang daw.

Prior to this demand, too, the legislators had re-defined the meaning of “savings” to be contrary to the spirit and dictate of the Supreme Court, with the Senate version worse than that of the House. In the Senate version the Executive could gather “savings” from any office at any time of the year, even during the start. Under this principle, what’s to stop the Executive from declaring an office to be under-performing or even not to staff it, in order to get its budget as “savings?”

Such cavalier treatment of the people’s money by Congress no end! Masyadong tuta na ang Senado.

XXX

The House passed the P2.6 trillion national budget with near-unanimity, except for some 18 opposition representatives who fought valiantly against it. In the Senate only 13 showed up on voting day and they passed it unanimously. By next week the bicameral conference committee will thresh out differences between the two chambers’ versions. Given the near-complete subservience of Congress to Malacanang, however, the budget is expected to simply breeze through in time for the Christmas break. 

The P2.6 trillion budget for 2015 has justifiably earned the soubriquet of an "election budget,” as it shamelessly packed huge amounts into two or three departments that would be mobilized toward vote-getting at the grassroots. For instance, as Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago pointed out, why should the DILG under Secretary Mar Roxas be laden with P1.6 billion for a “patubig” project and huge funds for housing that should rightly fall under the National Housing Authority?  Also heavily to be endowed are the DSWD, whose conditional cash transfer, amounting to P64 billion this year, has done little to alleviate the condition of the poorest of the poor, and the DOH, which is why Janette Garin has to be installed at its helm.

The idea obviously is for the LP to solidify its hold on the elections of 2016 and to ensure victory of P-Noy’s hand-picked candidate at all cost. As various political pundits have noted, P-Noy cannot afford to lose those elections as the alternative for him could be a GMA scenario---imprisonment after his term.

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Now some left-wing representatives are insisting that the hearing on the P23B supplemental budget in the House next week be opened to the public. This is an excellent idea, but can we hope that our legislators would be patriotic and not swayed by grease money?  Fat chance.  But we should all still insist on a public hearing so we can inject some fear of God in our legislators’ hearts.

But probably the most insulting of many insults was the complaint of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad that due to the ruling last July 1 by the Supreme Court that declared parts of DAP unconstitutional, the Executive Branch was forced to cut down on spending---so that the Philippine economy contracted in the third quarter to 5.3 percent compared to 6.4 percent in the previous quarter, its weakest quarter since 2011. Abad said the SC ruling produced a “chilling effect” on government spending, which promptly drew a retort from SC Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. Slamming Abad for his finger-pointing (a sickness he obviously contracted from his boss), Sereno said that his opinion was just a “theory that remains as such---a theory.”

Rev. Ramon  B. Villena, Bishop of  Bayombong 

The High Court found an ally in Bayombong Bishop Ramon Villena who, in a recent scathing pastoral letter, scored the P-Noy government for priding itself as overcoming the corruption of the past, but which in reality has allowed pork barrel to balloon “to proportions heretofore unseen.” Villena scored Malacanang for continuing to defend it despite the SC ruling against PDAF and portions of DAP.  More and more bishops are finding the courage now to speak their sentiments. 

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It’s a silly blame-game played by Abad, for everyone knows P819 million of the multi-billion DAP, which the Palace bills as “spending stimuli” went primarily to bribing senators to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona (reports said P100 million each was given to then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, then Finance Committee Chair Franklin Drilon and Sen. Francis Escudero of Ways and Means, and the rest had slightly smaller amounts; House members who voted to impeach Corona were reputed to have bagged P15 million each).

It’s doubtless safe to conclude that the DAP STIMULATED MAINLY THE SENATORS' POCKETS AND LIFESTYLE, and that those huge sums were never invested in any worthwhile venture that would stimulate the economy.

It’s truly a sad day for this country when our Budget Secretary can only think of something unconstitutional such as the DAP to stimulate our economy.

  

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