September 2013

Bakit Kami Lang?

The theme of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s interminable privilege speech, “The untold PDAF story that the people should know”, is selective justice is injustice or as we say in Tagalog, “Bakit kami lang?”

He said, “We have been singled out, Mr. President, as our people should know, in the so-called 10-billion peso PDAF scam.”

As proof of being singled out, he pointed to 82 foundations, numerous local government units, and other members of Congress mentioned in the COA report as also having engaged in questionable transactions. “What makes us so special Chairman Pulido-Tan?” he asked the chair of the Commission on Audit.

Yes, Madame Chair, what makes him and his co-accused so special?

Nothing except that they were stupid enough to get caught. The others who remain uncharged had enough smarts not to partner with Janet Napoles. As we would say in Tagalog, Oo maraming gago sa gobyerno, hindi lang kayo, ngunit mukhang kayo lang ang gagong bobo. Sa karami-raming questionable NGOs na pagpipilian ninyo na maka-partner, bakit si Napoles pa ang pinili ninyo? Stroke of genius po ba yun?

Contrary to what Sen. Estrada believes, he and his friends were not singled out by “certain institutions, like the media, the Commission on Audit, the Department of Budget and Management, and even the Blue Ribbon Committee of the Senate”, they were singled out by whistleblowers who provided the authorities with a truckload of documents detailing their transactions. And so they became the low-hanging fruits in a vast orchard of crooks.

Sexy, Pogi, and Tanda will not be the only ones charged, there will be others, but the distinction of being the first fruits picked will belong to them. They could also earn a further distinction – if they pursue the line that they did not know that their most trusted staffers were engaged in unauthorized criminal activities – of being the first senators to be charged with plunder complexed with stupidity.

There was also another interesting, and probably unwitting, revelation by Sen. Estrada, one that raised the question, “on which side of the political fence was he during Gloria Arroyo’s nine-year rule?”

He said, “During the administration of President Gloria Arroyo, it was a known fact that those who were not friendly, or allies of her government had to beg for the release of their PDAF and infrastructure funds. Some of us just totally gave up and chose not to avail of our allocations because we knew that we will not get any releases because we are from the opposition. We know too that the executive has used the releases for PDAF and infrastructure projects as a form of reward or incentive to secure the support of legislators for or against certain pet legislations or for other political purposes.”

Ano ba yan pinagsasabi mo, Senator?

Sen. Estrada was with the opposition and yet he received hundreds of millions in PDAF from Gloria Arroyo. How did that happen? Was he or was he not with the opposition? Furthermore, did he recieve PDAF from Gloria “as a form of reward or incentive to secure the support of legislators for or against certain pet legislations or for other political purposes”?

Finally, I feel sorry for impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona who rejoiced when he heard Sen. Estrada say, “Hahayaan ko na ang taong bayan ang gumawa ng konklusyon kung ito ay totoo o hindi, pero ito ang aking maidadagdag sa kwento — after the conviction of the former chief justice, those who voted to convict were allotted an additional 50 million pesos as provided in a private and confidential letter memorandum of the then chair of the senate finance committee.”

Corona immediately issued a statement, “Nagpapasalamat ako sa Diyos sa bindikasyon na ibinigay niya sa akin sa araw na ito. Hindi ako nagulat sa rebelasyon ni Sen Estrada sapagka’t kinompirma lamang niya ang alam namin at ng marami sa ating mga kababayan.”

Sorry Chief but Jinggoy God took back whatever vindication He gave you.

During the interpellation period, Sen. Enrile, who as Senate President presided over Corona’s impeachment trial, asked Jinggoy God (JG) if He was making bribery accusations. JG said He was approached by someone but was not offered a bribe. Sen. Drilon then asked, “But categorically, You can state it was not a bribe?” JG replied, “It was not a bribe. It was never a bribe.” Then Enrile asked, “It was simply an appeal?” And JG replied, “It was simply an appeal. There [were] no talks of giving a reward.”

And so ex-Chief Justice Corona still awaits vindication. That’s what he gets for elevating Jinggoy Estrada to Godhood.

Now can we move on and let the NBI and the Ombudsman do their jobs? Jails are waiting.

From Erap’s Playbook

Jinggoy

Jinggoy is no stranger to controversy. More than a decade ago, he and his father were jailed for participating in the Jueteng scandal exposed by whistleblower Chavit Singson. He was later released on bail by the Sandiganbayan and acquitted. His father Joseph Erap Estrada however was not so lucky. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, although later pardoned by the woman who deposed and prosecuted him, Mrs Arroyo.

The fact that Mr Estrada today enjoys his freedom and greater popularity than Mrs Arroyo is nothing short of a stunning turn of events. It should be recalled that in the lead up to his impeachment, Erap’s popularity was plummeting. He had always denied any involvement in the Jueteng scandal, maintained his innocence throughout the judicial proceedings, refused to recognise the legitimacy of the trial and its verdict, and likened his predicament to that of many famous dissidents like Ninoy Aquino and Nelson Mandela.

In 2010, the rehabilitation of the Estradas was complete as Erap overtook Manny Villar to claim second spot after Noynoy Aquino in the presidential derby. His ability to knock off Alfredo Lim in 2013 to become Manila mayor is testament to the success of his strategy to regain the people’s trust despite having been convicted of a high crime by claiming himself a victim of political persecution by someone he presented as a usurper of his office. The fact that Mrs Arroyo damaged her own credibility by subsequent events fed into this narrative.

But now his son, who has been tagged by whistleblowers to be a principal in the Janet Napoles P10 billion pork barrel scam, is seeking to lift a page from the father’s playbook. In a privilege speech before the Senate, the younger Estrada claimed he was a victim of trial by publicity, of political persecution and of demonisation by his colleagues. He decried the fact that despite the COA’s identification of anomalous transactions by his colleagues, he and two other opposition bloc senators have been singled out by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee investigations.

In an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of proceedings at the senate, he accused its president Sen Franklin Drilon of offering a gratuitous amount of P50 million to reward him and his colleagues for voting to convict Chief Justice Corona with the imprimatur of Budget Secretary Butch Abad. After accusing his fellow senators of dragging his name through the mud, he then proceeded to name a number of them as well and question why the spotlight hasn’t been focused on them.

There are several reason why this ploy by Jinggoy may not work effectively against the current administration as it did against its predecessor. One is the fact that President Aquino enjoys the public’s trust and confidence, maintaining his net satisfaction rating at high levels three years into his presidency, something unheard of since data has been collected on this. Two is the fact that Jinggoy has not denied receiving and using his PDAF allotments. Third is the unpopularity of pork barrel, in the light of the ostentatious display of wealth by one of its fixers Ms Janet Napoles.

Unintended Consequences

Deep within the depths of a cancer center, a medical physicist is knee-deep at work. In front of her is a treatment planning computer. Malignant tumors are identified. It is the job of the medical physicist to calculate the right dosage, and the right shape of the beam to target malignant tumors— Cancer— and kill it like a Smart Bomb with its precision. This is how it is with Medicine. One patient may need radiotherapy, a process, roughly described here. It can be a combination of techniques. One to weaken the target for another set of treatment to kill. Sometimes, when lucky, there is a precise treatment possible.

The notion that cancer is eating our society is nothing new. Our nation celebrates the heroism and genius of Jose Rizal, who viewed society to suffer from cancer. The question now is: are we competent enough to recognize the difference between Cancer, and the symptom of the disease? Are we intelligent enough to design precision solutions?

Thanks to the Internet, we now live in an age where as Bill Clinton once put it, “People of modest means” can “band together”, and do some good. We’ve seen this happen in the Philippines. Whether it was Ondoy, or habagat; whether it was the cybercrime law, or the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom. All translated to some form of action. All through some form of online and offline activity. All of modest means.

Now we are met with the Million People March. Organized like many success stories before it: through Facebook and on Twitter. All of modest means, formed from the feverish anger at the lavish lifestyle that Janet Lim Napoles displayed, coupled by the eye-brow raising way— that these people supposedly stole our taxed monies? So forged with the fire of anger and rage, the Million People March came along, branded as an organization that was leaderless. Perhaps to copy other such grassroots indignation, failing to realize that the whole idea of a leaderless “organization” is a nice romantic notion. As we’ve seen with Occupy Wall Street, and its right-wing counterpart, the Tea Party, both lead to disastrous result. The former, scattershot, ran out of steam. The latter, co-opted by the extreme right that the whole idea has been perverted. So the Million People March came with such a diversity of beliefs, desires and end goals— not in itself wrong, in fact, a strength, but the weakness of such a romantic notion is inherently dangerous to pursue change.

Many of my friends came to the Million People March to express their own anger at being robbed blind. This is understandable that they, like most of society needed to vent their rage. It is representative of what the sane, and quiet majority express behind the comfort of their living room and their watering hole talk.

Now, we’re here. Nearly a month after, slowly, the wheels of justice are turning. Napoles is in custody. Charges have begun. Familiar names like Revila, Enrile and Estrada are in the news, and some unfamiliar like their staff, and heads of government agencies are being charged. Stories made out, like Kit Tatad’s are debunked. The call for more heads on the chopping block are there. Understandable, and not without merit, but one wonders if our motivation is simply bordering on a witch hunt or if our cynicism that nothing else will happen shines here. Amidst this crusade, few, if at all have stopped and thought. The lessons of the PDAF scam are… what exactly?

The people’s wish and marching order is simple. It is summed up as, “We want our monies accounted for, and spent properly. We want our monies going to the right projects, and not in the pocket of a few”.

Abolish PDAF?

Getting there of course isn’t as simplistic as “abolishing PDAF”. There are unintended consequences with its outright removal. It sure as hell going to upset a whole lot of people. Imagine if you were one on the take, and you’ve already advanced payment? That would be just about right for the rest of us taxpayers, correct?

There are two other unintended consequence of this. First, it would simply realign the burden towards the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and the various line agencies. While the President has said that the “new” way is far stricter, and that lawmakers will be able to choose only from a smaller menu of options, how certain are we that the other weakness in the chain has been patched?

The PDAF scam happened because of a conspiracy. The President himself have said so. From the suppliers to Members of Congress and their staff to the Department of Budget and Management, the implementing agencies, and the Commission on Audit. The agencies in theory are the controls set in place to prevent fraud. The problem, as per the COA report was simple: the lawmakers controlled everything from the ability to dictate where the money goes and who to implement. So the implementing agencies wasn’t the government, but the non-government organizations handpicked by the lawmaker. The President’s solution is simple: cut off a lawmaker’s ability to dictate where the monies go, and ensure that a bidding process is executed.

The President’s solution solves some of the problem. What is this? Getting authentic non-government organizations to participate in the bid. Well, not just non-government organizations, but specifically legitimate organizations. Bid documents will help filter fraudulent, and fly-by-night organizations. At the very least a bid process allows for the verification of the organization bidding for a project.

The President’s solution of bringing what the lawmakers want as line items in the General Appropriation Act does improve transparency. It makes everything clear where the monies are spent. Again, this solves part of the problem.

So again: it solves two key element in the problem: ensuring a project goes into a bid prevents a fly-by-night, or fraudulent organization like Napoles’ from participating because documents need to be verified. Second, transparency– the line item is in the budget makes it possible for ordinary groups to keep track and point out anomalies.

This ties down the lawmaker part of the process.

What about weakness in the executive department? What is to stop these legislators or another Napoles to connive with DBM to have their specific projects inserted in return for monies? With the lawmakers interfacing with DBM more to get what they want?

Let’s start with the Commission on Audit. COA is part of the chain to ensure that transactions are above board. They, after all do the audit. We asked Commission on Audit Chair Tan, “What other reforms need to take place within the COA itself so that we can be assured of transparency, accuracy, and integrity beyond PNoy’s administration? How can the public be reassured that COA is acting independently?”

“Beefing up our manpower complement with the best, brightest and most upright; continuously improving their capabilities thru targeted training and workshops; properly rewarding them for their hard work and protecting them from harassment; computerizing our processes so reports are more informative and timely.”

So there is some movement in that region and we simply need to wait for it to pan out. That leaves the Department of Budget and Management and Implementing agencies.

Another step, which we haven’t heard enough of— is Secretary Abad working on cleaning his own house? Is there a sweep from the ground, in the various regional offices of the DBM? A conspiracy like this doesn’t happen if there isn’t some connivance. The COA itself alluded to this when DBM records they sourced out were hard to find, and misleading.

Charges haven’t been filed with regard to DBM or the COA. Was there institutional failure? Was there a missing link? We do see some charges filed against implementing agencies, and hopefully investigators will come around to figuring these questions out.

Open Government

On the DBM side at the very least is this. They are publishing information on tracking PDAF disbursements. The information is bare, of course. There isn’t much color. Numbers. Location. Lawmaker. And when the money was disbursed. This initiative is particularly stunning. Open Government, and improve transparency. That’s one good step.

To put it simply, it is raw data. In itself doesn’t prove fraud. It is simply the beginning, and building on the promise of Open Government. This is fantastic. This is important in a democracy. This is important so Media— both mainstream and the blogosphere can comb through, and mine.

What to do with the monies?

The target of PDAF seem to be a mixed of a whole slew of things. Fertilizers and seedlings for Farmers. It also targeted scholarship or educational programs, health care, and peace and order. An example of the latter is the deployment of a vehicle used for patrolling a village. Health Care is mostly paying for health care cost for indigent victims asking for financial assistance.

It seems the way to solve the problem is to do it holistically. Understanding the complex needs, and designing specific solutions around it.

Peace and Order

An example is how we approach the problem. It can be argued that every Barangay (village) in the nation would need some form of transportation. Not only to patrol, but for emergency services. Mobility is essential. Communication is likewise, essential. Communication between the Barangay Hall and the mobile units like the “Barangay Tanod” (neighborhood patrol), and the Barangay (village) vehicle. If you’re trying to catch a crook for example they will need it. If they’re transporting a victim that needs medical attention, they need the vehicle, and comms. In some villages they may need a boat as well as a land based vehicle. So radios, and vehicles are essential for every village in the nation. Gasoline too.

Is there an inventory of how many of our villages have this system in place? Is there a computation on how much capital expenditure is needed to implement, operational expenditure needed to maintain this? Down the road these vehicles and devices will need to be maintained or replaced when something gets broken.

So surely, this is a question best addressed at the grassroots level— the villages, local governments, regional governments and ultimately brought to the Department of the Interior and the Department of National Defense to include as part of their planning, civil defense initiative and all that.

This is a discussion best addressed by putting our collective heads together so the bean counters can properly funnel projects towards the people in the ground.

So why isn’t this happening?

Healthcare

One Sunday afternoon a Barangay Health Worker approached my uncle, a Roman Catholic priest after he celebrated mass. The health worker requested him to visit a sick man in a far flung village. They drove fro 25 minutes through rough road. The sick man’s home was at top a small hill, inaccessible by vehicle. So they took the remain trip on foot, hiking up to a small bahay kubo (hut).

My uncle was greeted by a widow. She was the mother of the patient. What my uncle saw was extreme poverty in the flesh. Think and pale, Larry at the time was 32. Sick for several years, he could neither sit nor stand. He could use his arms to lift his torso several inches above the bamboo floor to answer when nature called.  He cleaned himself on the same spot where he eat and slept. Neither Larry nor his mother had any money. Government was able to help, but it was only enough to pay for pain relievers.

So my uncle with the help of a few people took him to the local district hospital, which was something difficult to do because the man required a gurney to bring down. There was none. Using a plastic bench they carried him downhill to their car. The journey was too much for Larry, and he was in terrible pain.

Larry was diagnosed with stage four penile cancer. Doctors tried to give him every possible means to ease his pain and to give comfort. In the end, Larry opted not to take further treatment. So after a brief time at the hospital, Larry passed away.

There are many more such sob stories around the country. Perhaps, much worst. In many household, healthcare can drain the family coffers really fast. People ask for financial assistance from the government, and from politicians and PCSO and everyone.

So, we make life a priority. No matter the burden.

Ask any office, particularly any legislative office and you will find some mechanism to address this. So PDAF is used to provide the indigent monies for healthcare. Many, like Larry do fall through the cracks. Many like Larry, people can’t help enough.

The poor get sick, and the poor wouldn’t get the opportunity to be treated because they can’t afford it. There are indeed long lines, not just at government hospitals, but in the offices of legislators, local governments, churches of people asking for monies to pay for family members who are sick.

I can tell you sob story out of sob story after another. Many for some of you reading this, you probably have had healthcare issues in your family.

Healthcare is expensive. And many fall through the cracks.

There is nothing free in the world. Healthcare being one. Why? Someone needs to pay for medicine. Someone needs to pay for treatment. Sutures are not free. Radiotherapy isn’t cheap. Someone needs to pay the electricity to keep the hospital lights running. Capital expenditure and operating expenditure need to be paid out. Doctors need to get paid, and many of them like the rest of us simply need to put food on their table. This is true of government and private hospitals.

So an indigent patient who needs to get treatment needs to pay. Sometimes this is shouldered by a charity. Some are shouldered by PhilHealth.

On one hand, the process with the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes is a long line of people requesting for assistance. Lines are long. The process is documented with a video camera and names and numbers to identify. It is entirely demeaning, and humiliating, but for people who virtually beg, is there an alternative? The end result is the same: a whole lot of people need assistance.

How can we build a system beyond PDAF that help reduce, if not entirely wipe out the need for PDAF and indigent patients? Are we using the monies allocated for healthcare to its maximum effect?

How do we help address these little human tragedies?

Attacking the problem

What’s clear so far is this: the solution that the government intends to implement solves part of the problem. Without reforms in the implementing agencies and the DBM, in fifteen years, we will have another scandal on how monies were not properly disbursed. And without institutionalizing reform in the Commission on Audit the problem won’t go as well, because they are needed to solve the problem.

The other problem is how do we attack the fundamental weaknesses in allocating monies for development? I cited an example of peace and order as one of many problems supposedly being addressed by PDAF. Perhaps, we need a more active grassroots to solve that particular problem.

The problem of Oriental Mindoro maybe different from the problem of Batac, Ilocos Norte, or for that matter, Zamboanga City, but the nation needs to attack all of this holistically. We need villages, local governments and regional governments to provide data and information so the nation can attack problems holistically. We need to get them to start thinking about solving problems and with both national and regional governments coming together for solutions. So we need a clear picture from every village, and very local government.

The same can be said of flood control projects, which legislators seem to be fond of funding. So we need serious people solving serious problems.

That being said, to simply cry “abolish pdaf” without institutional changes to the DBM, to local governments and to the COA will only pass the buck and create new opportunities for failure.

The Fourth and Fifth Estate

We have, up to now only discussed what government is doing, what it needs to do, and what it ought to do. An important pillar is citizen participation.

What we’re seeing is an increase in Open Government solutions. The fact that DBM is releasing data is fantastic in itself but the question is: would both the Media and Civil Society be able to take advantage of it?

We can put whatever system in place to replace PDAF. We can put whatever reform in government there is, but without a healthy, vibrant Fourth and Fifth Estate, the whole thing doesn’t work.

Is the Media up to the challenge?

That’s a question for the media to ponder. In terms of the Fifth Estate it is a question that pops in my mind. Especially of late with regard to the PDAFscam and its state, and long term goals.

At the beginning of this piece, I quoted Bill Clinton that “people of modest means,” can do so much more today. And they do. And they are.

Apologies if this may sound self-congratulatory, but I can only refer to the work PHNetDems have done, and to the work of ProPinoy has done over the years. The work in either case is just beginning, and whether both or one of them is successful, well, that’s a story for another time.

Bits and pieces— at least my small contribution to PHNetDems’ Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom can trace its seed to things we’ve written on ProPinoy like the broadband cap story from awhile back.

There’s one interesting lesson with regard to PHNetDems: passion. Passion for Internet Freedom. There is also a focus on solving the problem from a holistic point of view. Rights alone isn’t enough if network neutrality isn’t in play, or building the necessary infrastructure to make the Internet an economic engine successful, then what good is having rights? The same can be said of Cybercrime provisions that would be abusive if it was written without people’s rights into consideration. So it is attacking the problem from a strategic as much as a tactical point of view. It is looking at the forest, but not mistaking the importance of trees.

This I think is lacking with the current initiative against PDAF and pork. It is an indictment of what’s sorely lacking from the Fifth Estate perspective. We don’t’ know what we want, and we’re letting just government solve it for us.

Don’t get it wrong. I think President Aquino is solving it the best way he think it is. Scrapping PDAF, and inserting the reform through DBM and line budgeting are good first steps, as I’ve written, but as I keep mentioning, I think just part of the puzzle.

The government has provided information from the DBM. The data is raw. And yet, there is little move from the Fifth Estate in terms of mining the problem. I think too few people are passionate enough for it or have not reached critical mass for it to be achieved. I think this is something that the Fifth Estate can evolve to. It seems such a waste for all this information to go not mined.

PHNetDems and many others across the country are actively working on Internet Freedom. That’s a clear focus. There is a clear path for a solution. With PDAF scam, the Fifth Estate doesn’t seem to be a clear path for a solution.

What solutions?

That being said, we assume that the PDAF is the disease. It is not. PDAF is a symptom of the underlying disease. To simply cry, “abolish PDAF” is simplistic and prone to unintended consequences. In fact, it would not solve the problem. It may appear to solve the problem, but not really.

Bill Clinton rightly put it when he said, “I think incapacity is a far bigger problem in poor countries than corruption, and feeds corruption.”

I think we’re starting to change things. The opportunity of Open Government for instance and its greater push for transparency is clear step towards the right direction, if both the Fourth and Fifth Estate can take advantage of it.

Both Doy Santos and Nik de Ynchausti have written about what to do with Pork Barrel Reform. Doy looks at it from a political reform perspective. Nik thinks about it from Solving the development conundrum perspective. Just like the President’s solution to the problem, both perspectives are equally, important in my humble opinion in solving the the underlying disease. Reformatting how we think— how we solve problems of small or national scale is likewise important. We need to look at the problem from a design perspective. What are we building a nation of?

If there is also anything to be learned from how President Aquino is handling the Zamboanga crisis is this. He is letting his lieutenants work. So we got to do this for every community. We have to energize them. It is about activating passion and getting passionate people the means to succeed.

I think the solution to the problem of PDAF is to bring development to the grassroots level, which is a focus on Healthcare; a focus on peace and order; a push for real solutions for real problems; a clear focus on different problems. Fixing the political parties too is an important part of the reform process. If you really want to get your taxes to work then we have to focus on issues on the ground. What are you most passionate about? How can you turn that idea into transformative action?

Rizal was right that our nation’s problem is a cancer. If there is anything medicine and science has taught us to fight cancer: we need precision as well as a big picture look at it. To simply “abolish PDAF” without looking at its unintended consequences or the deeper underlying problem is a mistake. In a nutshell, to “solve the problem” is to fight against incapacity. There isn’t one magic key to solve the symptom of PDAF because it is simply that: a symptom of the underlying decease of incapacity, which is fed in turn by corruption. So it is this incapacity that we must fight against.

Rebuilding Trust in the Mining Industry

The mining industry has been hard at work to skew mining fiscal policy in its favor. It has been grumbling about its financial obligations ostensibly because raising taxes on mining makes the country less competitive. The truth is that as owners of the mineral resources, the Filipino people are only getting 2% of the gross value of our mineral resources. The industry would argue that they are paying more than the 2% excise tax, citing a recent study by the IMF that our average effective tax rate is about 60%. Read more

Binay’s Binaying

Binay Spock

(Updated) The crisis in Zamboanga reached epic levels yesterday as more than 62,000 people were displaced by the band of the Moro National Liberation Front’s siege on Zamboangw City effectively paralyzingly the city and its economy. In response, the country’s leadership descended into the city. President Benigno S. Aquino III and his crisis management committee— principally the heads of the Armed Forces, the secretary of defense, the secretary of the interior, and the social services secretary where on hand to deal with the crisis together with Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco.

Miscommunication, and confusion was rife. The day before— a Friday had social news site Rappler declared that 80 rebels surrendered. The news turned out to be inaccurate when no such surrender took place. Rappler subsequently published the side of Zamboanga councilor Teodyver Arquiza who is also a reporter involved in surrender.

Then yesterday morning, GMA 7’s banner headline read: “VP Binay says Zambo ceasefire in effect but fighting continues”. The article reads: “The truce Binay announced Friday night gave hope to Zamboanga residents that their nightmare would end. The city has been paralyzed, with ATMs out of cash and gas stations out of fuel; food is running out. Sea and air transport in and out of the city has been suspended.”

The story in a nutshell, the Vice President declared a ceasefire. He said the secretary of Defense knew about it. The palace rebuffed it, saying no such thing, and that operations were on going.

The Inquirer wrote that “Tweeple gave Binay ‘epal’ flak on Zambo truce.“. To add to the fire, Joey Salgado, of Vice President Binay’s media team tweeted that the Vice President was meeting with the President, the Defense secretary, the Philippine National Police Chief, and Makati a Mayor Jun Binay.

What was the Mayor of Makati doing in Zamboanga? Certainly, Zamboanga has its own, more than competent Mayor Climaco running the show, protecting her city. And is Mayor Binay high up in the food chain to have a security clearance?

On leaving Zamboanga behind the Vice President’s office issued a statement. It went: “The Vice President is sad that his efforts to secure the release of the hostages in Zamboanga City did not prosper. Both the MNLF and the Philippine government wanted peace but there terms set that were not acceptable. The Vice President asks everyone to pray for the safety of the hostages and for peace in Zamboanga City.”

The Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted a cabinet official that the Vice President was not authorized to negotiation on behalf of the government nor the President. The quote goes: “He (Binay) is trying to insert himself. He’s jeopardizing the safety of the troops because of politicking,” said the official. “Per Volt (Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin), there’s no ceasefire.” The Inquirer further verified the Vice President’s statement and asked the National Security Adviser, as well Peace Process Adviser Teresita Deles.

Rappler asked the Vice President about his failed trip to Zamboanga. Here’s a snippet of that conversation:

Rappler: The local crisis committee and some Cabinet officials who spoke anonymously to media said you did not coordinate with them.

Binay: I don’t know with them if they said that. It seems that they are lying. As I’m telling you, I said that on Wednesday, I told the President about it. Thursday morning, I was talking to Secretary Gazmin. Friday evening, I was talking to Sec Gazmin. What are they saying that there was no coordination?

On Sunday, Jim Paredes tweeted that VP Binay on television said that Nur Misuari “authorized him to announce a ceasefire”. Paredes added, “I didn’t know Nur was his Commander-in-Chief.”

Last I checked, aiding and abetting enemies of the state were grounds for treason. Did the Vice President indadvertedly commit treason? Whose side is he on?

The best the Vice President can come up with is that the government uses “twitter” as a payload for propaganda. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that in a time of crisis, the Vice President kept pushing himself into the conversation. Which begs the question: doesn’t he have a direct line to the President?

The Secretary of the Interior, Mar Roxas is on the ground. Roxas being the interior secretary and once the Vice President’s rival for the VP role has all the cameras on him. He is taking an active role in solving the problem. Tweets based on Roxas’ performance thus far said they don’t like that the interior secretary downplays their plight. In many ways, Roxas is acting as the President’s right hand man on this mission.

In the waning days of the 2012 United States Presidential Campaign between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. Obama, being president was on television and on cable doing what president’s do: being President. It musth ave irked Romney to no end that he couldn’t actively use the disaster to portray himself as more presidential. It was simply uncalled for.

For the next three years Binay and Roxas has that relationship. The former is the President in waiting, and the latter a possible contender for the higher position on the land. It doesn’t hurt that that for Roxas, the role of Interior Secretary is a prominent one. It also doesn’t hurt that the President uses him as his go to person in time of crisis. Something a Vice President ought to be in such a situation. We’re wrong to continuously vote President and VP from different parties. I think it doesn’t help and makes for a disastrous political life.

For an astute politician like Jejomar Binay, why does he insist to be on the ground in a crisis, if the President should fail, where he has the opportunity to tell the public, you know what, I asked the President to help but you shut me out and look where it got us?

Manny Pinol who is similarly disgusted with the situation wrote, “Somebody must shake up Vice President Binay and remind him that while he may be a cinch to become the next President, he is not the President yet.

Binay’s move, while it may contribute to ending the stand-off in Zamboanga City is an obvious politicking and leaves a bad taste in the mouth.”

Does it matter who brokered the final deal? Does it matter who brought peace to Zamboanga? Of course not. The problem simply was that Jejomar Binay and others inserting themselves into the process when there was a clear chain of command. The world is split. On one side, Filipinos fighting for peace and on the other side those trying to be relevant like Binay and the Left.

Aurora Pijuan published on her Facebook timeline this photo with the caption: “Binay is just trying to help… di ba? Was Junjun there to distribute the bags?”

Binay is just trying to help... di ba? Was Junjun there to distribute the bags?

When Vice President’s rumored brokered ceasefire didn’t materialized, I tweeted “Binaying should mean burning fail and epalling?”

@raggster quickly replied, “Binaying” IMHO should mean “being epal in a grandiose, brazen manner disproportionate to the actual scope of one’s position.”

In a nutshell, the Vice President’s disastrous foray can be summed up as, Binay was Binaying.

Photo by Jesse Siason

Tanda, Pogi and Sexy in the dock

I predict Tanda will be acquitted. Pogi will admit he is Pogi. Sexy will also admit but he will face an additional charge of perjury.

Tanda has from the very beginning stated that he does not know Napoles, that he has had no dealings with her. In addition, he said that due to his age his doctors have advised him to stay away from pork. And so he passed the pork to his chief of staff. He is off the hook. But that has placed his chief of staff on the spot.

Prosecutor: “Madame, who is the Tanda referred to in the code book of Mrs. Napoles?”

Chief of Staff: “I don’t know.”

Prosecutor: “A number of witnesses testified that Tanda was Mrs. Napoles’ code name for your boss.”

Chief of staff: “My boss does not know Mrs. Napoles, he has never had any dealings with her.”

Prosecutor: “But documents show that his PDAF went to NGOs controlled by Napoles. If he never had any dealings with Napoles then that leaves you, Madame. Are you therefore the Tanda in the code book of Mrs. Napoles?”

Chief of Staff: “How dare you! I am not tanda, excuse me, may asim pa ako!”

Sandigan Judge: “May asim pa nga siya. (Stage whisper: “Miss, pwede mo ba ako i-friend sa FB?”) Not guilty! ”

Pogi was next on the stand.

Prosecutor: “Senator, are you Pogi?”

Pogi: “I hear that a lot, sir.”

Prosecutor: “So you are admitting that you are Pogi?”

Pogi: “Hindi naman po sa pagyayabang pero hindi lang si Janet ang tumatawag sa akin ng pogi.”

Prosecutor: “Aha! Meron pa palang iba maliban kay Mrs. Napoles?”

Pogi: “Of course, hindi lang siya, box office king ako, sir, malakas akong tumabo sa taquilla.”

Prosecutor: “The State rests, Your Honors.”

Sandigan jusdges: “Guilty!”

It is Sexy’s turn.

Prosecutor: “Are you Sexy?”

Sexy: “Well, I have been called sexy ever since I lost a lot of weight.”

Prosecutor: “Mr. Senator, remember that you are under oath, let me ask you again and I advise you to weigh your answer carefully, are you Sexy?”

Sexy: “Yes.”

Prosecutor: “Your Honors, I would like to cite the senator for perjury.”

Sandigan judges: “Kuya, are you sure you want to stand by your statement that you are sexy?”

ProPinoy Exclusive: COA Chairperson answers some of your questions on PDAF Scandal

ProPinoy caught up with COA Chairperson Grace Pulido Tan and asked her about COA’s work in the pork barrel scandal, what we can expect next, and some plans underway to make government auditing a community effort. Read on!

PP: If COA conducts annual audits, why were these fraudulent projects not caught earlier? Why did it take a special audit under your direction to investigate these anomalies?

Pulido-Tan: The yearly audit of agencies is more in the nature of a compliance or financial audit, the main focus of which is to determine whether the financial statements are in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles. In the process, certain deviations or questionable transactions may be uncovered and reported, but the audit is not as extensive or in depth as a special audit. A special audit, on the other hand, is focused on a specific program of government and involves several agencies involved in the program, like the recent PDAF special audit. This kind of audit is more extensive and in-depth, and the auditors assigned for audits like this are more highly trained and skilled. The PDAF special audit was started in May 2010, before my time; it was completed in July 2012. Writing the report and getting the comments of the covered agencies took another year, hence it was released only in July 2013.

PP: In a previous interview, you mentioned uncooperativeness from the DBM resulted in some errors in the special report. Is this common when conducting an audit?

Pulido-Tan: In any audit, we rely on certain reports and information given by agencies, like the DBM, specially on matters within their functions and authority, like releases from the budget. We have the right to presume that official duty has been regularly performed. Nonetheless, we also have procedures to validate these reports, but we also need other documents which the DBM could not give us despite repeated requests. It is not uncommon for agencies to be uncooperative, because in an audit, vulnerabilities are usually uncovered. Sometimes, it is not a matter of being uncooperative; it could simply be a cavalier attitude towards record keeping and accountability on the part of the agencies. Not everyone takes these things seriously.

PP: Can you describe COA’s process of contacting the NGOs and beneficiaries concerned? What is the best effort applied by COA?

Pulido-Tan: COA exerted all efforts to contact and reach the NGOs, and this is standard procedure. We sent letters, rarely any responded. We went to their given addresses. Some we found, many we did not. It’s either the addresses were fictitious or located in residential areas or turned out to be occupied by different persons.

PP: Some legislators denied their signatures in projects the COA was auditing. Is this common? Were their records falsified, or does the evidence suggest that the lawmakers (p59-60) were indeed involved in the scheme?

Pulido-Tan: It is not for us to make a determination whether their signatures are fake. We simply state that in our report. It is a matter of defense for them, a rather common one.

PP: Can the COA report itself be used to file charges? What can government and ordinary citizens do to file substantial charges against the implicated persons and entities?

Pulido-Tan: The Report can be the basis of further investigation. This is what the IAAGCC (Inter Agency Anti Graft Coordinating Council) is now doing. The IAAGCC is composed of the Secretary of Justice, the Ombudsman and the COA Chair, the “three furies” as news reports call us. The role of the COA is to turn over and present our source documents on which our report is based for the evaluation of the OMB and DOJ Sec. This is called the fact-finding phase of the investigation. They are the ones who will decide if cases should be filed and against whom.

PP: What are COA’s next steps after releasing this report?

Pulido-Tan: We shall continue to do our work as faithfully and well as we can, without fear or favor, and assist the OMB and DOJ Secretary in the investigation and build-up of cases.

PP: You were recently at a World Bank forum unveiling the COA’s Citizen Participatory Audit (CPA). How can such the process be strengthened and rolled out to involve the public in auditing the PDAF? Are there plans to institutionalize the CPA?

Pulido-Tan: The CPA is a new program we launched last year, to involve citizens in actual audit of certain projects that impact their day-to-day life in a real way. We have piloted it on flood control, garbage collection systems, disaster aid, basic health care in every barangay, and availability of schools and classrooms. We are in the process of institutionalizing it and hopefully, we can do it for PDAF- funded projects as well.

PP: What other reforms need to take place within the COA itself so that we can be assured of transparency, accuracy, and integrity beyond PNoy’s administration? How can the public be reassured that COA is acting independently?

Pulido-Tan: Beefing up our manpower complement with the best, brightest and most upright; continuously improving their capabilities thru targeted training and workshops; properly rewarding them for their hard work and protecting them from harassment; computerizing our processes so reports are more informative and timely.

Skewering the Pork Barrel

The system known as pork barrel was first introduced to Filipinos nearly a century ago by the American colonial “tutelage” in the ways of democratic representation. Needless to say, in all this time that pork has been on the table for our legislators, the pendulum has simply swung from one way of treating it to another: from it being proposed individually and inserted in line agency budgets to it being listed as a separate item with fixed allocated amounts per house and per member.

With the present move to abolish Priority Development Assistance Fund by President Aquino and his allies in Congress, pork has merely caused the pendulum to swing back to where it was originally. The institution of pork remains, it is just the institutional arrangements to skewer it that have changed. The same arguments favouring the preservation of the pork barrel that have been there since the 1920’s have also been put forward by the present regime. In light of this one could say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

If I were to assess the chances of us abolishing pork permanently, I would place the odds of that happening at a million to one, perhaps a billion. Even after the #MillionPeopleMarch and the congressional hearings over the misuse of pork in both houses, it does not seem likely that we can do away with this institution for very long. A momentary cessation to placate the public’s revulsion and to allow patron-client networks to reconfigure is possible, but eventually the practice of pork barrelling will re-emerge in some shape or form.

When you scan democratic countries around the world, you will find that the system of allowing local concerns to trump national interests emerges everywhere. In Australia, you will find inordinate amounts of public money being spent in marginal seats in the lower house which could swing the outcome of an election one way or another. In the US, congressional earmarks will be incorporated in specific pieces of legislation to win support from legislators whose votes are needed to get it to pass.

Even in relatively corruption-free Norway, the disproportionate number of regional country seats allows them to get a larger proportion of public investment even though they account for a much smaller share of the population. But on the flip side, the existence of pork or patronage in these countries, does not lead to a total breakdown of accountability and honesty that we see in the Philippine setting.

It is in this context that many are now asking what is the proper way forward for the administration given the rubric of daang matuwid (righteous path) that it has constructed for itself. Many are wondering whether in its haste to prosecute Mrs Arroyo for corruption, it used pork to gain support in Congress and whether it allowed some of the worst forms of abuse to persist under its watch.

If this is the most honest administration that the Philippines can produce in a generation, imagine what will happen when it steps down from office in 2016?

Many see the abandonment of pork as a litmus test which this administration needs to pass. The question is for how long it can afford to do this. By 2016, the Liberal Party will be facing an uphill battle to prevent the seeming juggernaut of Vice President Jejomar Binay from claiming the presidency.

Given Mr Binay’s expansive control of the central business district of Makati including the Fort Global City that formerly was under Taguig, his ability to raise a rich war chest for his candidacy with which to rain down patronage on supporters from the masses is formidable.

For the LP to remain competitive in that race, it will have to match the campaign spend that Mr Binay is sure to unleash. The only way it can do that without reinstating pork or plundering the national coffers would be to enact some form of campaign finance reform that would allow state funding of political parties based on their share of votes cast at the last election.

Given the advantage of incumbency, the LP will be in a better position given the turncoats that have sided with it since the 2010 presidential elections which it won. The 2013 elections could well be the high water mark of its membership at the local level if it gets thrown out of the Palace in 2016.

Although I have couched this policy proposal in terms of the politics of 2016 and the interests of the incumbents, I believe that such a reform will provide a more permanent solution to the abuse of pork than existing proposals out there. Introducing bottom-up budgeting using central authority and central funds goes against the very principle of BUB.

Having a Freedom of Information law will help enhance accountability, but is very much reliant on a post-audit and ad hoc investigative process than a systemic one. The longevity of pork abolition can be called into question simply because it is based on the voluntary restraint exercised by politicians.

In the long-run, what will allow legislators to refrain from the abuse of pork is if they have the support of strong political parties that are able to deliver platforms and programs of government rather than promises, and are able to finance their local campaigns with money sourced in a transparent manner from taxpayers. If by abusing their privileges, they would risk losing such support, then a powerful incentive would be in place to keep them on the straight and narrow.

The threat of prosecution might not be enough to deter politicians from engaging in the worst forms of corruption. If caught, they would simply use their power, influence and money to avoid a jail sentence.

In the short run, it will pay for the administration and its allies in congress to propose the abolition of pork. In the medium to long run however, they will have to phase in reforms that address the root cause of the problem. Pork in and of itself is not it.

It is just a manifestation of a much deeper problem–the costliness of elections and the absence of strong political parties, which reduces our politics into a semi-feudal state comprised of political dynasties which do not distinguish personal from public resources, and as such engage in plunder to dole out patronage during elections to perpetuate themselves in power.