Sunday, November 30, 2014

Gridlock and growth

By Jojo Robles
Long after he has returned to doing whatever he was doing before he became President, Noynoy Aquino will be remembered for making the correlation between traffic gridlock and economic growth. In Cebu in January last year, while campaigning for his Senate candidates in the midterm elections, he uttered these unforgettable words:
“The better problem is traffic on Edsa, because this means our economy is very much alive,” Aquino said. “I’d rather have that than have no traffic on Edsa because people don’t have money to buy gasoline.”
I was reminded yesterday of Aquino’s statement, obviously aimed at absolving his government of culpability for Metro Manila’s traffic woes while simultaneously patting himself on the back for lucking into a resurgent economy, when the latest official economic numbers were released. The 5.3-percent growth in the Philippines’ gross domestic product for the third quarter was significantly lower than the 6.4 percent posted in the previous quarter and the 7 percent recorded in the same quarter last year and cast serious doubts that the economy will even hit the lower end of the whole-year government growth target for 2014 of 6.5-7.5 percent.
The news has injected a dose of much-needed reality in the business sector, with local and foreign economists quickly revising their growth targets for the Philippines in order to appear, as economists are wont to do, that they predicted it all along. Meanwhile, for the quarter, the Philippines fell back two places to fourth after its long stint as the second fastest-growing economy in Asia after China.
The government, through the National Economic Development Authority, was quick to blame many factors for the downturn, including (and I am not making this up) super-typhoon Yolanda. Like a good Aquino soldier, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan did not identify a single reason that could have been in any way misconstrued as the fault of the government.
But many businessmen I’ve talked to have already long made the inverse relationship between traffic and economic growth, and it’s not even the vehicular traffic on Edsa that they’re talking about. The gridlock that bedevils Manila’s seaports, which has dramatically slowed down the flow of both imports and exports and caused consumers to absorb higher passed-on prices for all sorts of goods (and for which the government is largely responsible) should really be looked into as a big cause of the dampening of economic growth.
Of course, commuters and motorists are also very much aware of the fact that no one but a President who drives around town with a fleet of “hawi” escorts can delude himself into believing that getting stuck in traffic for four or five hours a day is a sign of an improving economy. And more and more Filipinos are coming around to the really obvious conclusion that traffic is really a reflection of bureaucratic indolence and incompetence.
Indeed, if you exclude the ongoing PPP infrastructure projects that we all have to pay for through extortionist toll rates, this administration will also be remembered for not building a single major road project to ease the traffic situation, especially in Metro Manila. But when you have an administration that is actually proud of the gridlock that it does nothing to solve, then you end up hearing crazy stuff like what Aquino said in Cebu nearly two years ago.
Oh, and by the way, Aquino also promised that he would have himself run over by a train if the proposed extension of the Light Rail Transit’s Line 1 to Bacoor, Cavite is not completed next year. Not a single concrete post has been put up for that much-delayed project, but at least this gives us a real traffic solution to look forward to.
* * *
I’ve always wondered how Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales II, the House majority leader and knee-jerk defender of the Aquino administration, has escaped prosecution for misusing his pork barrel funds for so long. Since the middle of last year, when the Commission on Audit released its report on lawmakers suspected of pocketing their Priority Development Assistance Fund allocations for the period 2007-2009, Gonzales has somehow managed to remain uncharged—until now, that is.
Of course, the plunder charge against Gonzales (also known in the House as “Baby Frank,” not only for his brown-nosing but also for his alleged super-sized appetite for pork) was not filed by any government agency but by a group of private individuals, this one calling itself the Sentinels of the Rule of Law. The group accused Gonzales of misusing PDAF allocations totaling P315 million, which made up the lion’s share of P550.14 million given to three congressmen—all of them palace allies —for the three-year period.
According to the CoA report, Gonzales reported giving his pork funds to a total of 28 suppliers who have since denied involvement in 167 transactions amounting to P28.744 million; he also spent P263.676 million for pork-related transactions that were considered questionable because the suppliers were not legally and/or physically existing, made unexplained cash advances worth P275 million; and bought P6.6 million worth of hamburgers from fast food chain Jollibee.
Perhaps we should all stop waiting for the Department of Justice to pursue the cases of pork barrel looting committed by Aquino allies. Perhaps that’s the only way to corral all of those politicians who pocketed their pork.

What freedom of information?

(Part 1)
It is easy to celebrate the approval of the Freedom of Information Bill at the Committee Level in the House of Representatives. After all, they’ve got the Senate and Malacañang on their side.
But of course that’s also reason to wonder: what is it that’s in this version of FOI, purportedly a coming together of all 24 FOI bills that were consolidated by the Technical Working Group (TWG) of the House Committee on Public Information, that makes it “the chosen one” by our politicos in the Senate and the Palace?
Invoking privilege in policy making
The Makabayan bloc in the House came out with a position paper on the TWG FOI Bill, pointing out how weak it actually is, and how much more difficult it will be to actually get information on government officials’ wheeling and dealing precisely because government officials are given the freedom to say no, we’re not giving the public this information.
It is Section 7, a list of exceptions to the granting of access to information that we should all be looking at. Because as with many purportedly wonderful things that come out of any government, it is the exceptions that make laws toothless, and well the current version of the FOI Bill is, uh, no exception.
Section 7(b) of the Consolidated FOI Bill for example, allows the President to declare as “privileged” “records of minutes and advice given and opinions expressed during decision-making or policy formulation” – and these need not even happen in an executive session. This disenfranchises the public from decision-making discussions and processes, where access to information may only be given after the formulation of policy.
We all know what those policies look and sound like once done without public consultation, yes? We live with those policies every day, and it is at the heart of many of our problems with government: the public is kept in the dark, decisions are made only between politicians, and public consultation and participation is non-existent.
And no, building a website that pretends to engage the public in decision-making is not only based on a false sense of this public’s access to the Internet. It is premised on the idea that websites are made for public consultation and “crowdsourcing” public pulse and reaction—all highly arguable of course.
Security exemptions
Section 7(c) lists down exemptions to being granted access to information related to defense, law enforcement and border control. The Makabayan bloc questions this at length in their position paper, and rightfully so.
Section 7(c)(iii) states that if the information requested may “deprive a person of a right to fair trial” then this request need not be granted even with an FOI law. There are no qualifications, no further explanation, no additional specific information, with regard this exemption.
And then there are those sections that are such run-on sentences that one wonders if confusion is also the name of the game in the drafting of this consolidated FOI bill.
Section 7(c)(iv) states that requests for information that might “lead to the disclosure of the identity of a confidential source” shall not be granted, which is fine. But also it exempts “the record or information compiled by a law enforcement authority in the course of an investigation or by an agency conducting a lawful national security intelligence investigation, information furnished by a confidential source.”
That is, as this FOI bill protects the confidentiality of the source of information, it also gives the powerful the opportunity to invoke this section with regards the public disclosure of the information provided by these sources.
So apparently, with this consolidated FOI Bill, the public could be denied access to information from someone like Benjur Luy. And every government official can say that information cannot be revealed to the public because it would deprive him or her from getting a fair trial.
Oh happy day for the corrupt official!
The status quo
Section 8 of the consolidated FOI Bill lists down Qualifications for the use of its long list of exceptions. The terms are just as painfully broad and so general, that one can’t help but wonder if these qualifications matter at all, given that detailed list of exceptions.
It states that the exceptions “shall be strictly construed” and that these “cannot be invoked to cover-up a crime, wrongdoing, graft, or corruption” for example. But what if the information that we need is precisely for proving graft and corruption as committed by a government official? A government official who can invoke that he will be deprived of a fair trial if the information is made public? A government official who can say that the information comes from a confidential source and therefore should not be made public?
How powerful are these qualifications relative to those exemptions, is really the question that needs to be asked. And how might it be used on the ground, in reality, given the manner in which laws are skirted and used by the powerful precisely to get away with wrongdoing?
Number 4 of the list of Qualifications states that “The President, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Constitutional Commissions may waive an exception with respect to information in the custody of offices under their respective supervision or control, when they deem that there is an overriding public interest in disclosure.”
But why would they? Which government or government branch or office would reveal information because of “an overriding public interest in disclosure,” which by the way, is difficult to prove, no matter social media. Overriding public interest is like the bosses in the President’s head, the ones that he’s always talking about: invoked when it is useful, and ignored the rest of the time.
One gets a sinking feeling that the consolidated FOI Bill thinks of the public in exactly this same way, too.

Roots of corruption

Give him credit for honesty: San Juan Rep. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, commenting on the ouster of his uncle Emilio Ramon or ER as Laguna governor for campaign overspending, sniffed that all candidates overspend and their clan was just being singled out by the Aquino administration.
Even the clan’s political enemies won’t dispute what he said.
There are laws limiting campaign spending. As in most other laws in this country, however, enforcement is a joke. Seeing this, politicians break the rules with impunity.
Violators get caught only if someone – usually a losing rival – has the patience and resources to dig up evidence that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) can’t ignore. This was the case with ER Ejercito, whose rival got hold of documents showing how much the governor spent on TV advertising alone in the campaign last year.
But even then, the Comelec clarified yesterday that the penalty did not carry permanent disqualification from public office. ER can simply run again in 2016. In the meantime he can revive his movie career.
Political rivalries can be useful; we learn a lot when enemies wash their dirty linen in public. Rivalries may also be the best way for the Comelec to enforce rules on campaign spending, limited as the rules are.
But regulating campaign spending cannot be left simply to the Comelec and feuding candidates. ER’s case should make policymakers seriously consider campaign finance reforms.
*   *   *
If the best things in life are free, then politics has to be among the worst. From entering it to staying in the game, politics is a costly business.
Financing expensive campaigns is one of the biggest causes of corruption and bad governance in our country.
If a candidate for governor can spend P23.5 million – way above the P4.5 million authorized for a province with just 1.5 million registered voters – think of how much candidates for higher office need. Coming from a prominent show biz clan, ER didn’t even need to invest a lot on name recall.
As I have written, several candidates for the Senate last year told me that they each spent about P150 million for their campaign.
A contender for president in 1998 estimated that for the 2010 race, a candidate needed a war chest of about P2 billion. It was no exaggeration; that was the amount estimated to have been spent by at least one of the candidates.
Where do they get that kind of money? Most Filipinos will never see P1 million in cash in their lifetime. The caps on campaign spending are intended to give even poor candidates a chance against the wealthy ones, although leveling the playing field in anything in this country is largely a romantic notion.
Presidential campaigns anywhere do not come cheap. Barack Obama reportedly spent $730 million in his first campaign for the presidency and his rival John McCain $333 million – a record high in the United States. The differences lie in the level of transparency in fund-raising and expenditures, and the way limits on contributions are enforced.
In the US, individual voters contribute money to their candidate and political party, with even the smallest amounts ($200 or lower) recorded for submission to campaign finance regulators.
It’s the other way around in our country, where there are voters who expect to receive money from candidates.
In the US, candidates who meet eligibility requirements can seek government subsidy for their campaign. In our country, taxpayers will howl at the idea of subsidizing the campaign of any politician.
For larger private contributions, fundraisers are openly held in the US, where the donors – with all their advocacies, businesses and vested interests – are identified.
In our country, large campaign donors typically prefer to remain anonymous, for fear of reprisal in case their candidate loses. In the age of Kim Henares, big campaign donors also fear questioning by the revenue police.
Then there are the donors who like to have all their bases covered, contributing to rival candidates (although the biggest amounts are given to the perceived frontrunner). Among wealthy clans, it’s also common for siblings or different branches of the family to support rival candidates. It’s the safest way to protect family businesses, which are usually linked, in an incestuous embrace, with political power.
*   *   *
A voter who donates P200 to his candidate’s campaign expects good governance in return. This is what one of the senatorial candidates told me last year – that he did not have to recoup the P150 million he spent because his campaign funds were mainly donated by supporters whose only hoped-for quid pro quo was his exemplary performance in office.
A donor in the US who gives $200,000, or helps raise $20 million, will expect something more. As long as the return on investment is legitimate – an appointment for a qualified individual, for example – there won’t be much of a fuss.
In our country, someone who donates P20 million to the war chest of a presidential candidate expects a handsome return on investment. The projected ROI is committed even before the donation is handed over. The ROI can take the form of a sweetheart deal or an undeserved appointment.
Any serious fight against corruption must include campaign finance reforms. Unfortunately for us, not even the tuwid na daan has the political will for this.


HEALTH Secretary Enrique Ona’s one-month leave of absence ends today.
The health community is awaiting the decision of the President on Ona, who was embroiled in the controversy over the P800 million purchase of pneumonia vaccine, PCV10 (Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 10) when there was PCV 13 at a lesser price.
The result of the NBI investigation on the issues raised against Ona would be an important consideration in the President’s decision.
If the President decides to retain Ona, that means he is cleared of all the issues against him.
This week, another issue came up: the authorization of Ona of the use for the treatment of dengue and malaria a drug that did not pass clinical trial.
Actually, Ona is not new to controversies. When he was first appointed there were opposition against him because of his alleged involvement in unethical kidney transplant procedures and organ trafficking during his stint as medical director of the National Kidney Institute.
The Phil Society of Nephrology opposed his practices at NKTI during that time. Secretary Ona was asked to sign an administrative order not to honor non-related kidney donors coming from Middle East countries.
Ona was also involved in the unproven stem cell leading to controversial issues opposed by 20 medical societies in August 2013.
He is also being asked to give a report on how the DOH has used the P100 billion generated from the Sin tax.
If the President decides to let go of Ona, it makes good sense that the replacement would be an insider considering that only 19 months are left in the Aquino administration. An insider would not need a familiarization period.
If the President decides on an insider, the frontrunners are the two undersecretaries: Janet Garin, who is now the acting secretary and Ted Herbosa.
Herbosa is identified with Ona. If he becomes the health secretary, it would be back to business as usual for Ona’s “mafia” in the department.
Garin from her acts while acting secretary showed that there’s no love lost between her and Ona.
Garin does not also come with clean hands having been identified by whistleblowers in the pork barrel scam as among those who benefitted from the misuse of P5 billion from the funds of the defunct National Agribusiness Corp.
But what really is working against Garin is her penchant for grandstanding. The best example is her visit with AFP chief Gregorio Pio Catapang, accompanied by a photographer, to the quarantined peacekeepers from Ebola-plagued Libera, in Caballo island in Cavite.
All these reports of anomalies at the DOH are lamentable because it concern the health of the Filipino people.
As one doctor said: “You expect Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Internal Revene, Department of Public Works and Services to be corrupt. But not DOH. It’s for social services.
“It’s the public face of compassion and care. You entrust yourself to the Department of Health for your health. Trust is eroded. They have no place in public service. Ona betrayed Public trust and his boss’ Tuwid na Daan mantra.”
- See more at:

Australia rules out electronic voting

COMELEC Chairman Sixto Brillantes has succeeded in brainwashing most people with the idea that going back to manual voting in precincts is something bad. He has even accused as chaos- and confusion-makers experts who urge the junking of the untransparent, unverifiable and flaws-ridden Smartmatic Automated Election System using the PCOS machines.
Unfortunately, many who should be wiser and more prudent, and should give more value to the integrity of the electoral process than to the speed and pseudo-modernization of the unverifiable count of the Smartmatic-PCOS system, are staunch supporters of Chairman Brillantes’ inexplicable attachment to Smartmatic and the PCOS machines.
In the Smartmatic cum PCOS machines Automated Election System the counting of votes is all done by the machine. Ink smudges and ink lines, as well as wrong shading of the ovals, create miscounts. The teachers who constitute each precinct’s or precinct cluster’s Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) do not sign any certificate that they have verified the count and swear to its correctness. The unverified and unreliable count done in the bowels of the PCOS machine is then considered the infallible result. Then the PCOS machine transmits it to the municipal or provincial consolidation and canvassing centers, where dagdag-bawas can still be done.
Mr. Brillantes has convinced most of our leaders of thought and politics, as well as some deluded media pundits, that the flawed and fraud-prone Smartmatic Automated Election System is better than the old system of paper ballots counted in the precincts. In this old manual voting and counting system all the rival parties, the election-watchdogs and media representatives watch the counting and see the results written on a blackboard or a whiteboard. The totals are then verified by the teachers who make up the BEI, witnessed by all, and only the verified results are transmitted to the consolidation and canvassing centers.
Sadly, the leaders who are rallying behind Mr. Brillantes have obviously not studied the problems and actual flaws and glitches of the PCOS machines.
Other countries, the latest of these being Australia, have rejected electronic voting like those of the Smartmatic AES with PCOS machines or using the Internet and other tools.
Yesterday, after a long and hard period of rigorous study, the Australian Parliament’s Joint (House of Representatives and Senate) Standing Committee on Electoral Matters ruled out the proposed move from manual voting and counting to electronic.
The Joint Standing Committee released an interim report that finds there are too many risks associated with the move. Shifting to electronic voting for federal elections, it said, was not feasible before the next election or in the near future without “catastrophically compromising electoral integrity.”
The committee found machine electronic voting to be vulnerable to hacking and measures to mitigate that risk would be costly.
The prospect of Australian voters being able to cast their ballot on the Internet also seems a long way off, with questions being raised about privacy for individual voters, security and potential coercion of voters.
The report by political correspondent Lyndal Curtis quoted Joint Committee chairman Tony Smith as saying: “In future it is likely, given the turbo-advances in technology, that a system of online electronic voting could be delivered with acceptable safety and security….But even when we reach that time, there should be considerations beyond the convenience it would offer.” For, Mr Smith said, “technological convenience must be balanced against electoral integrity.”
We read the committee report. The chapter titled “International Experience” shows that majority of countries continued to rely on paper-based voting and some that have invested in electronic voting have abandoned it.
It shows that in the United States, which had adopted electronic voting of various kinds some years ago, about 70 per cent of voters in the recent mid-term elections cast paper ballots that were counted manually as before.
Other more industrially developed countries than the Philippines, like Ireland and the Netherlands, after spending so much and trying out electronic voting have also abandoned it because of exactly the same risks and actual flaws like what we have seen in the Smartmatic PCOS machines.
Even the United Kingdom sticks mainly to the old fashioned voting and manual counting because electronic systems threaten the integrity of the electoral process.

Alas, our leaders seem to prefer carrying out the desires of Chairman Brillantes and his Comelec to ensuring the transparency of our electoral process and the verifiability of our election results.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A jury system here?

By Fr. Ranhilio Aquino 
Just after William the Conqueror organized the “king’s courts” that would administer justice throughout the realm in a more consistent manner than what he had come upon, the judges would be asked to resolve cases the factual antecedents of which they practically knew nothing about.  At that time, jurists had not yet cultivated the prejudice that the uninformed mind was most fair.  A juror today must not have actively sought information on a case for which she is to sit as juror, much less formed an opinion about the merits thereof, or the guilt or innocence of the parties involved.  The slightest hint of any of these can result in a challenge—which, to many potential jurors, comes as a relief anyway.  At that time, what judges needed was precisely the opposite: people who could supply them background information on the case with which they could work and start to sift the evidence that would come before them!
Most Americans have a romantic attachment to the jury.  They believe it to be an entailment of the kind of democracy for which they have opted as a people: for a person to be tried by his peers.  The problems I have with the jury, however, come in many respects from the American practice and use of the system. There has emerged in recent times a very peculiar occupation: Experts in jury selection who advise lawyers on who of the potential jurors should be peremptorily challenged, and who should be questioned and on what.  In other words, a jury can be so constituted as to be favorably inclined towards a party, which also means that law and evidence need not be the bases of jury findings.
Jurors themselves attest to what happens behind the locked doors of the jury room: making relevant the irrelevant, compromising to avoid hung juries, advertence to impertinence and so much else that stands in the way of what we usually take justice to require.  Even the looks, the manner and the demeanor of counsel can become relevant to the outcome of a jury’s deliberations.
My other problem is that while it is true that the judge rules on what evidence goes to the jury and what does not, ultimately it is the jury that weighs the evidence, because it must arrive at findings of fact.  Any law student will tell you that Evidence is one of the toughest subjects in law school —provided of course that it is taught competently and covers the subjects that ought to be covered.  No matter that the instructions given by the judge to the jury may be comprehensive and clear, a one or two-hour instruction cannot make up for a whole course —and the skill that experience cultivates— on evidence!
Not too long ago, I watched a children’s singing contest.  Results were largely by popular vote.  The crowd favorite was a street child who was, vocally, not the superior candidate.  But she won because of our propensity to favor the underdog.  Certainly, this will factor into the reliability of our juries!
The unfortunate incident in Ferguson is not the point here, because it was Grand Jury and the matter on hand was indictment, not trial.  But I do recall a not-too-friendly exchange that I had with an American law professors at a conference in Dublin.  After he had asked me about our judicial system in the Philippines, he quipped, rather patronizingly: “I shudder at the thought that a person’s fate should be entrusted to only one person seated on the bench.”  And easily piqued, I replied: “I am more in dread of entrusting the fate of one person to twelve men and women who have not studied the complexities of evidence.”  Such is my prejudice!

Is Miriam the only real senator left?

For all intents and purposes, a resounding yes. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago is the only one in the 24-member chamber shocked and aghast—as the entire Congress and nation should be—that President Benigno Aquino’s 2015 budget is a document of deceit and defiance against the Supreme Court’s decision in November 2013 declaring the pork-barrel system unconstitutional.
“They are getting ready to institute the same pork-barrel practices under the 2015 budget,” the senator was reported as saying in one newspaper report.
The newspapers, though, had not quite captured Santiago’s outrage. “Pambihira ang budget na ito, nakakahiya,” she said in her privilege speech in one of her rare appearances at the Senate since she was diagnosed with cancer. That should be accurately translated: “This budget looks terribly irregular, it’s scandalous.”
“Akala ninyo wala ng pork barrel? [So you think there’s no more pork barrel in the Budget (after the Supreme Court banned it]? There is, and it’s huge,” she said.
“I am so outraged at what has been attempted to be done by this budget,” she angrily said. “The executive department is intruding into the powers of the legislative branch.” Santiago warned that the 2015 Budget was cleverly crafted to contribute to the Administration’s campaign war-chest in the 2016 elections, particularly for interior and local government secretary Mar Roxas’ bid for the presidency.
Santiago labeled as pork-barrel funds some P37.3 billion allocated in the proposed budget as “lump-sum” funds to the departments of health, public works and highways, labor and employment, social welfare and development, and the Commission on Higher Education. They are called “lump-sum” as the uses of these funds aren’t specified, giving President Aquino the discretion to spend them as he wishes.
SOURCES: Proposed 2015 budget submitted to Congress. * According to Senator Santiago, allocated for the departments of health, public works and highways, social welfare and development, labor and employment, and the Commission on Higher Education.
SOURCES: Proposed 2015 budget submitted to Congress.
* According to Senator Santiago, allocated for the departments of health, public works and highways, social welfare and development, labor and employment, and the Commission on Higher Education.
I have devoted three columns explaining that Aquino, in order to defy the Supreme Court ruling in 2013 banning the pork-barrel system, simply tweaked it and renamed it. Aquino called his pork-barrel fund “Bottom-Up Budgeting Projects” allocation in 2014, totaling P20.1 billion, and “Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Projects” in 2015, amounting to P20.9 billion. (See “Aquino defies SC, renames pork,” Sept 1; “Largest pork barrel ever: P21B in 2015,” Nov. 2, 2014; and “Soliman, Abad dupe ‘Open Government’ body,” Nov. 4, 2014. )
That the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting scheme is a sham and that it is in reality pork-barrel system in disguise is obvious in the fact that it asks us to believe that P20.9 billion in local projects such as “barangay halls,” “organic farming,” “livelihood projects” – the kinds of projects used in the now infamous Janet Napoles rackets – were determined by assemblies of civil-society organizations. That may be true in a few, exceptional cases where NGOs have been operating for decades. Local power, though, in probably 95 percent of the country’s 1,600 cities and municipalities, is undoubtedly in the hands of the local socioeconomic elite, mainly congressmen and local executives. If Aquino-Abad’s “Grassroots Participatory Budgeting” were real, we would be the most democratic and egalitarian nation on earth, making Sweden and Australia — countries that tried to adopt such budgeting system but gave it up later — look like feudal systems.
What Aquino and his budget secretary Florencio Abad have done is merely to have the legislators list the local projects they want before the budget is enacted into law, and pretend that NGOs and local governments proposed these projects in assemblies in cities and municipalities. Have you, dear reader, heard of such assembly in your city or town?
Santiago, in her speech, revealed the mechanics of the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting system: The budget department had asked congressmen to list their projects and had provided them forms designed to make such chore easy.
Former Iloilo Representative Augusto Syjuco filed Tuesday a petition in the Supreme Court, in part asking it to stop the “Grassroots Participatory Budgeting” allocations since they contravene the Tribunal’s ban on the pork-barrel system.
The new pork-barrel system amounting to P20.9 billion plus the P37.3 billion in lump-sum funds, which Santiago exposed, total P58.2 billion in pork-barrel funds – an astronomical sum compared with the P5 billion annual average since Aquino’s mother Cory instituted it in 1990 as the “Countrywide Development Fund.” Such magnitude is necessary because of the fact, as Santiago alleged, that the funds could be used in the 2016 elections: Some to build up patronage and some to skim off for campaign expenses.
Aren’t the rest of the senators shamed by Santiago’s exposé, made at the most difficult time of her life when she should be at home with her family or in some hospital to make sure her stage-four lung cancer doesn’t get worse?
Aquino’ three stooges – senators Antonio Trillanes, Alan Cayetano and Koko Pimentel have spent most of this year leaving no stone unturned for them to claim that Vice President Jejomar Binay is corrupt and, therefore, shouldn’t consider running for president. They must have spent months poring over probably fake documents their obviously mercenary witness showed them. And they haven’t studied the most important piece of legislation the Senate passes every year – the General Appropriations Law?
Never mind, of course, the three jailbirds — Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla: You can’t fault them for thinking now of nothing but how to get out of jail. Never mind Aquino’s political lieutenant, Senate President Drilon, who is battling for the first time in his life serious corruption charges, and those two kids, Sonny Angara and Bam Aquino (include there JV Ejercito) as they were just asked by their elders to fill up the Senate seats.
Forget Chiz Escudero, who’s busy with his wedding-of-the-year preparations and who seems to be more interested in a movie career if some film company would just give him a break, and Teofisto Guingona 3rd, who oddly with his “what-me-worry?” smile seems to be absent-minded in most Senate sessions.
But what happened to the senators we would have thought had the brains, independence and courage to protest this ignominy that is the 2015 budget – the economist Ralph Recto, the level-headed Sergio Osmena, the once swashbuckling Greg Honasan, the business-minded Cynthia Villar and the mestiza Grace Poe? Nancy Binay should be told she is not in the senate just to defend her father while Ferdinand Marcos Jr. should remember his father was a studious, bold opposition leader at least for a time. Are Loren Legarda and Pia Cayetano still senators?
History will condemn the 16th Congress as the worst ever — Aquino’s rubber stamp, especially for the 2015 budget.
It will celebrate, though, the heroism and audacity of Santiago, the only senator who, despite her stage-four cancer, did her sworn duty as a public servant and stood up to protest Aquino’s most corrupted budget.
FB: Rigoberto Tiglao

Lawyer Sixto feels above any law

Land titling fraud is so rife it’s no longer news. Any landowner may learn that his ten hectares in Batangas has just been registered in someone else’s name. It’s fake, he’d sue in court.
But the reverse is news. Alan Purisima, Philippine National Police chief, is told that ten hectares in Batangas has just been registered in his name. His spokesman swears it’s fake, so not in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth.
Just like that. No court action to return the land to its real owner. Not even an investigation of fraud, by the highest lawman in the land.
*      *      *
Here’s similar news. Ex-Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado is told that 4.5 hectares in Batangas is in his name but not in his SALN. Swiftly, like Purisima, he disowns it.
But Mercado does more. He alleges the true owner to be estranged political ally VP Jojo Binay. He was just one of many dummies for Binay’s supposed secret 150 or 350 hectares.

*      *      *

As proof, Mercado donates the 4.5 hectares to landless tillers. But the Secretary of Agrarian Reform hesitates to accept, due to hazy legality. For, how can anyone donate anything he swears isn’t his?
Children’s songs and games aim to teach: good morals, facts of life, ambidexterity. One nursery rhyme goes, “Ring a ring o’ roses, a pocketful of posies; Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!” Historians say it’s about the plague that ravaged Europe, and warns of contagion by touch. A local equivalent is the game “Tapikan Estatwa (Statue Tap).” Here the “It” chases to tap and immobilize (“infect”) the players, who can run again if re-tapped (“cured”) by one of them.
All we need to know we learned in Kindergarten, so...
...We quarantine our UN peacekeepers in an island for 21 days, upon their arrival from Ebola-stricken Liberia. They already had been confined for 14 days before flying home. But we’re extra careful, to keep our country Ebola-free. The deadly virus instantly spreads by contact with body fluids of the infected.
Our troops dutifully abide, devising sports fests to busy themselves. One suffers severe chills — a symptom of Ebola — is flown to a special clinic, but confirmed to have contracted malaria. The quarantine goes on quietly until...
...On the morning of Day 5, the Armed Forces chief and the acting-Secretary of Health fly into Quarantine Isle to shake everyone’s hands. They wear smiles on their faces, not WHO-prescribed protective suits.
The Ebola-precautious public is alarmed. The general says he only heeded advice of the Secretary, who says she only heeded WHO protocols. No need to wear protection with one who has no Ebola symptoms. They needed to assure the soldiers of their concern.
Which only made the public ask, if they had to pep talk the troops, why couldn’t they Skype or FaceTime? If the troops needed visiting, why not send the wives or kids? If the troops aren’t contagious, why isolate them at all?
Didn’t they ever sing nursery tunes or learn anything in Kinder?
*      *      *
Epilogue 1: After the visit, the Secretary then shook hands with state doctors who will go around the country to heal the precautious public. With a handshake too the general sent off President Noynoy Aquino to Singapore, where he shook hands with the Prime Minister, who welcomed with handshakes conferencing British and Asian tycoons.
It’s been 12 days since, but observers are counting to 21. If Ebola spreads to Asia and Europe from Africa and Manila, let’s all hold hands in a circle and sing, “Ring a ring o’ roses....”
*      *      *
Epilogue 2: There’s an acting-Health Secretary because the real one is sick. Unofficially he’s being investigated for procuring inefficacious vaccines, something only a penny-pinching non-doctor would risk. His version is that he has scalp infection from hair dye, something only a penny-pinching non-doctor would risk too.
*      *      *
Lawyer Sixto Brillantes feels above the law. As Comelec chief he is unbound by the Election Automation Act. He bought for P3.5 billion in 2013 the faulty voting machines that his predecessor wrongfully had leased for P7.5 billion in 2010. He then spent P4 billion more for add-ons and warehousing. This was despite the shady supplier, Smartmatic, not being the developer, as the Act required. Too, Smartmatic had no source code in the 2010 and 2013 elections, also contrary to the Act. Smartmatic machines never passed test runs, or finished the ballot counting, in breach of the Election Code.
Brillantes’ alibi to buy the machines in 2013 was that Comelec was bound by an option to purchase under Smartmatic’s 2010 lease. Untrue! The Government Procurement Policy Board in fact had ruled in 2013 that the option automatically expired when Comelec did not buy the leased machines by Dec. 31, 2010.
Brillantes not only defied the GPPB. He also withheld the vital info from the Supreme Court, where Smartmatic’s critics had complained. He is above the GPPB and the SC.
Brillantes’ word is law. Last Nov. 20, videotaped by reporters, he slandered opponents of his negotiating with Smartmatic to refurbish the machines for another P3 billion. He said Comelec’s legal division wanted public bidding, but he was un-inclined to heed it.
*      *      *
Chief Supt. Noel O. delos Reyes, one of the PNP’s finest officers, retires from the service today. A testimonial parade will mark his departure as Muslim Mindanao regional director. In holding various field and staff positions, delos Reyes earned renown in intelligence and investigation. His expertise helped identify the 198 Ampatuan massacrers of 2009. He served as special adviser to the government peace talks with Moro separatists.
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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).


The Aquino administration has two negative sides that even its political enemies do not seem to notice probably because these “mishaps,” bordering on indecision, are covered by his sterling performance in helping the economy grow and in the more important matter of his regime being so far  “untainted” by corruption.
The President is unmoved by the necessity of issuing permits to new mining operations.  One company, Sagittarius Mines is committed to invest a whopping $5.9 billion to develop the rich gold-copper deposits in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
The company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in community development for the B’laan tribe and pre-operating expenses. |Sagittarius has not throne in the towel after waiting for permit to operate for five long years but it has markedly reduced community development expenses.
It seems President Aquino has been waylaid, in fact may have been blackmailed, by a few non-government organizations who claim without proof that open pit mining poisons the environment.  
If it does, the government has been remiss in implementing anti-pollution laws. Why should the President prejudge the new mining companies as non-compliant of the laws when he would not give them a chance to operate?  
That is like putting the cart before the horse.
Two foreign market research firms – A.C. Nielsen and Oxford Economics – have near-identical reports that Mighty Corp., makers of low-end cigarettes could well be cheating the government of taxes in the tens of billions of pesos by not declaring for tax purposes its total production volume.  
The Bureau of Customs caught Mighty red-handed in technical smuggling when it persistently declared it was importing tobacco at only $0.68 per kilo when the world average is between $4 and $6 per kilo.
The commercial attaché in the Philippine embassy in Washington DC certified Mighty is not reporting the correct price for acetate tow, the raw material for cigarette filters.  The Department of Finance gives a cold shoulder to what appears to be pure technical smuggling that in turn saves Mighty oodles of money in tariff payments.
Customs fined the company   more than a billion pesos for the glaring “crime.”  Is it enough for “criminals” to pay a fine instead of being charged in court and jailed if proven guilty?  To the Bureau of Customs a fine is cruel enough as punishment.  Charging a suspect in court is not part of punishing an offense.   
For underdeclaring the price of imported tobacco a fine  is a drop in the bucket compared to what Mighty allegedly evades by not declaring the correct production volume to the BI|R.
BIR Commissioner Kim Jacinto Henares claims the Oxford Economics report is biased because the study was commissioned by Philip Morris International.  She should not make a conclusion of bias until she has verified the accuracy of the report.  
But she would probably talk about the moon with her neighbors rather  than verify the accuracy or lack of it of the Oxford Economics findings.  
The reports of A.C. Nielsen and Oxford Economics have been submitted to higher authorities particularly the secretary of finance.  President Aquino must have been informed of the alleged tax anomaly.
He pretends he has no knowledge about the problem. He cannot seem to dress his thoughts on the subject of his refusal to issue new mining permits and on the alleged massive tax evasion.
Refusing to do a duty   is a heinous crime of indecision.  The President does not seem to think the two matters are of national significance.  
The new mining companies are missing record high prices of metals in the world market because the President would not allow them to operate.  
Allan Purisima, PNP chief, has been variously described as incompetent.  Instead of replacing him, the President heaps words of praise on the man saying he enjoys his trust.
The President closes his eyes  to the fact that many members of the PNP are involved in crimes.  The latest is the arrest of three police officers holding up somebody on the way to a bank to make a deposit.
How does a President trust a PNP chief whose policemen are involved in holdups and other crimes they are supposed to prevent?
He skirted the unconstitutional pork barrel by pooling savings of government agencies and called  it Disbursement Acceleration Program.  The only accelerated disbursement we know is giving favored senators hundreds of millions presumably for their favorite projects.  The Supreme Court ruled pork barrel is unconstitutional.  The President replaced it with the DAP.  Same dog, different collar.
The DAP money has a political motive.  And he said recently he would not seek a second term.
The President’s mind seems to have been poisoned by his own success in making the economy grow.  
The Chief Executive has time for little things.  He sees the trees but not the forest.  In the case of Mighty’s alleged tax evasion and his being taken for a ride by NGOs which claim mining poisons the environment, the President has shown  firmness for the wrong reasons.  
His psychological makeup is a serious downside on his capability  to hasten  growth of the economy.  He could not even spend enough for infra-structure to hasten growth.
He seems to be so concerned with how taxpayers’ money should be spent.  He has become so careful that his government cannot spend enough   although the treasury is bursting at the seams with cash – from taxes and borrowings.  
I know I sound like a broken record on this subject.  I am flogging a dead horse.  Unfortunately, I am a firm believer of man’s capability to change.  President Aquino is not an exception.
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Motherless in Italy?

On my way home Sunday from Rome, where I attended Humanum, the international interreligious colloquium on the complementarity of man and woman which Pope Francis opened last week, the monotonous stillness of the flight from Dubai to Manila was suddenly broken by the uninhibited bawling of a Filipina passenger on the window seat immediately behind us.
It caught everyone’s attention in our section of the plane, including those who were asleep or had their head phones on, glued to the movies. The woman cupped her face in her hands as she wept and babbled in her dialect even though she had no one to talk to at all. A foreign passenger on the aisle seat same row stared at her across the empty middle seat, speechless and lost. My wife, who was directly in front of her, turned to her from the space above her seat to ask her what was wrong.
She replied that her mother, who apparently had been ill, had died just a few minutes ago in Moncada, Tarlac. She was flying home from her place of work in Spain in order to be at her mother’s bedside before she breathed her last. But the angel of death came like a thief in the night, and she got the cruel news as soon as it happened, on Facebook. That’s the wonder and cruelty of modern communication. She was disconsolate, and she did not mind letting the entire world know it.
My wife tried to console her, and promised to pray for the dear departed. She asked her to keep strong and to bear her loss with faith and courage. The foreigner next to her finally broke the ice and began to converse, and a flight attendant came over to ask if she needed anything to eat or drink. She needed nothing, but she was thankful for the offer, and after a while she calmed down. She sat in prayerful silence the rest of the flight.
This incident confirmed with far greater eloquence than any of the brilliant insights I had heard from the world religious leaders and scholars at the Vatican the most important truth about a woman’s irreplaceable and unrepeatable role, which defines her complementarity with a man, that of motherhood. Indeed, only a woman can become a mother by giving birth to a child, something which no son or daughter could ever forget. And this was the witness I saw from this woman who did not mind proclaiming to the whole world her grief upon her mother’s death.
In today’s world, there is a determined effort on the part of the lesbian-gay-bisexual, transgender (LGBT) agenda to abolish motherhood, by replacing the woman with a man in order to produce two males in a same-sex union, which they would like to call a “marriage,” and by pairing off one woman with another woman in another same-sex union, which they also would like to call a “marriage.” But however far they might succeed in caricaturing “marriage,” they can never imitate “motherhood.” Even though not every adult woman in marriage becomes a mother, or chooses to become a “mother,” it is the gift and grace of motherhood, or the natural biological and anthropological ability of a woman to become a mother—after everything else is discounted—that ultimately distinguishes her from the other sex.
Motherhood, no matter how the radical gender feminists try to downgrade it, shows the ultimate difference between and the innate complementarity of the two sexes. This was one of the cardinal truths that shone out from the witness of the various religions in the three-day conference.
But among the 130,000 or so Filipinos in Rome, removed from the erudite discussions on male and female complementarity inside the Vatican, the rights of “motherhood” have given rise to a diplomatic issue that demands urgent attention and action from both the Italian and Philippine governments. The issue has to do with the right of Filipino nationals to use their maternal surname in writing their full name in official Italian documents.
Philippine law does not require Filipinos to use or to omit their mother’s surname. But it is a matter of custom, and almost every official form that we fill out includes a space for the maternal surname or middle name. Every Philippine passport holder is identified by a full name that includes the maternal surname; even the pre-departure and arrival immigration forms filled out by every Filipino traveler contain a space for it.
No Filipino has to prove that he or she was born of a mother, but the use of a maternal surname serves at least one, although it serves far more than one, useful purpose. If there were two Francisco Tatads trying to transact business with you, the middle initial “S”, other things being equal, should help identify which one is the writer of this column, and which one is the someone else. The other fellow need not suffer any injury for the atrocious errors I commit in my columns; nor should I risk being arrested if my namesake turns out to be a felon.
But Italians do not normally use their middle names. This does not compel the Italian government, nor does it give them any authority, to require other nationalities to drop their middle names in their official documents: the Spaniards normally have at least three names; the Egyptians and the Arabs have more, and in Italy they write their own names, according to their custom. The Filipinos in Italy used to do the same–until sometime in 2010.
But on July 10, 2010, the Italian ministry of foreign affairs asked the Philippine embassy in Rome how Filipino names were to appear in Italian official documents. On August 27, 2010, the embassy replied in a note verbale that Filipinos were to be registered by their first and last names only, without any middle name. This was about the time President B. S. Aquino 3rd let it be known, according to reports, that his official name will not carry “Cojuangco” or the initial “C” as a middle name.
On October 2, 2010, the Italian Ministry of Interior, acting on the embassy’s advice, issued Circular No. 29, directing the proper registry of Filipino names in Italy should include the first and last names only, without the middle name. This circular took effect on October 7, 2010.
This was met with instant protest from the Filipino community, which complained that they were never consulted nor informed beforehand about the proposed change. The change entailed renewing all work and other related documents issued by the Italian government, each one of which required a prior certificate from the embassy attesting to the correct identity of the Filipino applicant. Each of these certificates costs 25 Euro, according to one affected Filipino male. Assuming just one certificate for every Filipino expat–although some would require more than one certificate for various purposes– this means an additional income of at least 3,250,000 Euro for the embassy, the man said.
Many Filipinos have banded together under “Alleanza Filippina in Italia” and demanded that the embassy and the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila admit to the Italian foreign ministry that the embassy’s 2010 note verbale was all a mistake, and ask that Circular No. 29 be revoked. At least 2,800 of them have signed this demand. They have even asked President B. S. Aquino 3rd to intervene, except that they could not say if he ever received or read their letter of November 5, 2012.
The demand appears to be not without merit. But the embassy cannot act on it now because it had recommended the original policy. Nor can the Italian government act on it now, without imposing its will on the Philippine government. The only solution, it seems to me, would be to negotiate the issue at the highest level, or at least at the level of foreign ministers. But is Aquino inclined to give it the importance it deserves, or will he simply tell the Filipino expats to give up the use of their maternal surnames just as he has given up his? Or will he find the courage to tell them to simply wait for a more competent and caring government?