emergency funds

NP to field GMA's cabalen for speaker

NP to field GMA’s cabalen for speaker
By Ding Cervantes
The Philippine Star

MACABEBE, Pampanga, Philippines – A Pampanga congresswoman perceived to be an ally of President Arroyo is seriously eyeing the speakership of the 15th Congress, leading to a possible showdown with the outgoing president for the post.

Mrs. Arroyo’s “cabalen,” 4th district re-electionist Rep. Anna York Bondoc, said yesterday she plans to pursue the House speakership regardless of reports that the President is also interested in it.

Bondoc, of the Nacionalista Party (NP), is a granddaughter of the late former Senate president Gil Puyat and daughter of the late Rep. Emigdio Bondoc.

Mrs. Arroyo is running for Congress in the second district of this province and local voters say she is expected to win. NP standard-bearer Sen. Manny Villar was at the Bondoc family residence here last Sunday to attend the 41st birthday party of Bondoc’s elder brother Rimpy, who had served three terms as congressman in the fourth district.

She said Villar “took note” of her plans to seek the speakership.

“Anna, Rimpy and I are family. We would discuss and consider Anna’s plans. It would then be discussed by the members of the House but definitely the NP would field its candidate and we will see,” Villar said.

Bondoc made no reservations about her intentions regardless of reports that if Mrs. Arroyo wins a congressional seat, which in most likelihood she will, the outgoing president plans to seek the House speakership.

“The President and I are friends. We belong to different political parties. I am with NP and she is with the Lakas-Kampi-CMD. Besides, she (Arroyo) has not made any statement she would like to be speaker,” Bondoc said.

She stressed that she has always been independent from the dominant political party in the President’s home province. She ran under the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) in 2004, and then under the NP in 2007.

Bondoc said she was egged on by some sectors to seek the speakership, although she did not identify who they were.

“They are fed up with a Congress whose image is such that it does not fare well in surveys. It’s a Congress that has lost touch with the people,” she said.

Bondoc said she believed she is “eminently qualified” to become speaker as she could also represent the youth that comprise a majority of Filipinos.

During Mrs. Arroyo’s 63rd birthday Mass last April 5 in her Lubao hometown in this province, Lakas-Kampi-CMD chair Amelita Villarosa said the party, which includes no less than 100 members of the House of Representatives, will support no other candidate for speaker in the 15 Congress except the President.

This was confirmed by another Lakas-Kampi stalwart, Prospero Pichay, who said that the President’s speakership “is the most logical conclusion.”

Rimpy, on the other hand, was quoted by a local paper here as saying that Villar had vowed to consider his sister as speaker if he wins the presidency.

Editorial: Blank check

Editorial: Blank check
Philippine Daily Inquirer

PLACING the entire island of Mindanao under a “state of calamity” allows affected towns, cities and provinces suffering from a severe power shortage to use as much as five percent of their respective budgets to fund emergency measures. This provision, however, amounts to a virtual blank check that unscrupulous politicians can use, not only to help bankroll their own election campaigns, but also to underwrite election fraud.

The deputy presidential spokesman, Gary Olivar, gave the official rationale: “The importation of gensets, maybe even power barges, which have much higher mega-wattage, will require calamity funds that will be mobilized by the declaration of a state of calamity.” There is no quarrel here. The Arroyo administration has failed to prepare for the onset of the (cyclical) El Niño weather pattern, despite being long forecast, and as a result, millions of Filipinos have had to endure rotating power outages that run for hours; the need for quick fixes is dire.

It is a usually hands-on administration’s unusual lack of control on the use of the five-percent provision that is worrying. All together, the total amount must run into at least a few billion pesos. (In 2009, the share of Mindanao’s local government units or LGUs in the Internal Revenue Allotment or IRA amounted to a total of P68.9 billion. Since some LGUs have other sources of income, the figure of roughly P3.5 billion, about five percent of the total share of IRA, represents the minimum amount involved.)

An administration ally, Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Constantino Jaraula, noted that “although there is a chance for abuse” of the authorization to release five percent of respective budgets, people should “assume good faith” in President Macapagal-Arroyo. But that would be like turning the clock to before July 2005 and the Hello Garci scandal. The public’s ready assumption of bad faith on the part of the President is one serious consequence of her persistent crisis of legitimacy.

In other words, President Arroyo has not succeeded in rebutting the firm belief of the majority of the people that she cheated in the 2004 elections; that she used government resources, such as the fertilizer fund administered by Joc-Joc Bolante, to buy political support; that she utilized soldiers of the military to help manipulate the vote in Mindanao.

It doesn’t help Malacañang any when a politically tone-deaf Ricardo Saludo, now the President’s chief spokesman, called the warnings raised by rival presidential candidates about a possible diversion of the five-percent funds a mere “campaign stunt to land on newspapers’ front pages.”

Is accountability in the use of government money now no longer important enough to the Arroyo administration that raising concerns about it is derided as mere election campaigning? The last time we checked, accountability is the principal responsibility elected and appointive officials owe the citizens of a republic.

Subsequently, Saludo fine-tuned his approach. First, he said, the Mindanao LGUs’ spending “will be subject to COA audit.” Then, in a radio interview, he said that the spending would be monitored by non-government organizations and the churches. “We have civil society and private sector observers,” he said.

Nothing wrong with either measure—except that, at best, they can only confirm wrongdoing after the dirty deed is done. In a political system that virtually leaves election cheats unpunished, this will have the effect of encouraging the use of part of the newly available money for election-related purposes.

Jesus Dureza, chief of the new Mindanao Development Authority, offered an argument from consequence: “The Mindanaoans are suffering and will never forgive anyone who would fool around with the calamity fund at a time of crisis like this.” That is likely true, but fooling around depends to a great extent on when the foolishness can come to light. If the dirty deed is done, it may be too late.

Besides, no one is seriously suggesting that all of the five-percent funds, some P3.5 billion at a minimum, will go to the pockets of the politicians or to election-related spending. We will see generator sets being purchased, power barges being leased, alleviation programs for hard-hit farmers being launched. But then election operators won’t need all of that newly vulnerable money; just a few millions here, more millions there—and the dirty deed of defrauding the electorate is done.

GMA mulls increasing emergency funding for El Niño

GMA mulls increasing emergency funding for El Niño
The Philippine Star
February 23, 2010

MANILA, Philippines – President Arroyo is considering increasing emergency funding for government programs to address the debilitating effects of El Niño on the country’s food, water and power needs.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said Mrs. Arroyo was open to suggestions of some senators that supplemental funds in the budget could be used without resorting to emergency powers.

“This (increasing funding) is still being studied, especially on where these would be used as we are also awaiting more recommendations from the Department of Agriculture on the other measures to address our water needs and food situation,” he said.

Mrs. Arroyo is looking at other “available tools” to help mitigate the situation while the administration pushes long-term projects on power, water, irrigation, fisheries and agriculture, Olivar said.

Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro Jr. is pressing for implementation of Republic Act 6716 mandating the construction of rainwater catchments in every barangay.

“Sorry if they will say I’m politicking but the important thing to address right now is how our farmers and their families will eat,” he said in Ilocano.

The collected water can be treated or purified and used to supplement water requirements in critical areas during dry spells, Teodoro said.

Meanwhile, former economic planning secretary Ralph Recto sought a one-year postponement of the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections scheduled for October so the government can use the P3.4 billion allocated for the polls to aid farms ravaged by El Niño.

“A mere delay of one year in the election of village executives will create budget space to help farmers hit by drought without creating havoc on our grassroots democracy,” he said.

“A one-year extension in the term of our kapitans (barangay chairmen) is manageable. Multiple extensions, in fact, had happened many times in the past.”

Farmers assured of water

The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) has assured rice farmers in Nueva Ecija and other parts of Central Luzon that enough water has been stocked in Pantabangan Dam.

Antonio Nangel, NIA Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation System (UPRIIS) chief, said “well observed procedures in water releases” during the height of storm Ondoy last year enabled the dam to stock up on water.

“As a matter of fact, some areas even plan to have a third cropping this year,” he said.

Nangel said by April, when the standing crops shall have been harvested, the dam’s elevation is projected to be at 194 meters, which is only 12 meters below the ideal “rule curve” level.

“Given the 102,550 hectares we programmed for this dry crop in 2010 and its total water requirement of 1,283.7 million cubic meters until harvest time in April, Pantabangan Dam is still at the ideal or safe level of 194.00 meters,” he said.

“With this water elevation, UPRIIS can still program around 25,000 hectares for third cropping called quick turnaround (QTA) or ratooning or both at the same time.

“Additional 25,000 hectares of farmlands can be sustained by our irrigation capability for another cropping from July up to December.”

Nangel spoke during a meeting with DA Central Luzon director Redentor Gatus and Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) director Ronilo Beronio.

Also present during the meeting were representatives from the National Food Authority, Land Bank of the Philippines, Bureau of Post Harvest and Research Extension, National Seed Quality Control Service, DA officials at the local level, and federation presidents of irrigators’ associations comprising the Board of Directors of the UPRIIS Confederation of Farmer Irrigators Associations.

Drought hits Pangasinan

Drought has affected at least 50 hectares of rice land and partially damaged another 3,800 hectares, according to the regional director of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

DA Regional Director Cipriano Santiago said Pangasinan might lose about 250,000 metric tons of rice because of the long dry spell.

The purchase of shallow tube wells might be of help but this is dependent on the availability of water in the ground, he said.

Meantime, the National Food Authority (NFA) in Cagayan Valley has allayed fears of a rice shortage.

This as the mammoth Magat Dam in the Isabela-Ifugao border dropped below the minimum operational level, which could result in the temporary shutdown of its power generation facility. – Paolo Romero, Ding Cervantes, Eva Visperas, Charlie Lagasca, Katherine Adraneda, Jess Diaz, Delon Porcalla, Jaime Laude

Where are El Nino funds?

Legarda: Where are El Niño funds?
By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer

BAROTAC NUEVO, ILOILO—Nacionalista Party (NP) vice presidential candidate Loren Legarda Thursday took Malacañang to task for failing to promptly release emergency funds for El Niño under the 2010 General Appropriations Act.

Legarda demanded the prompt release of the funds after talking with rice farmer Pio Bernardo while campaigning in this third-class municipality, a one-hour car trip from Iloilo City.

Bernardo complained to Legarda and NP standard-bearer Manuel Villar that the weather phenomenon had drastically reduced the palay harvest from the usual 120 sacks of palay to a measly 10 sacks per cropping on his 1.5-hectare farm.

“It’s a yearly cycle,” Bernardo said.

Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said the El Niño funds should be released by the budget department to rehabilitate the irrigation systems and small water impounding projects of local government units, farmers and cooperatives.

P882 million needed

In Manila, the Department of Agriculture said its task force on El Niño would spend an initial P882.18 million to help affected farmers and fisherfolk in 14 provinces in Luzon and the Visayas. The dry spell in these areas is expected to last until July.

“Yes, we have funds because proceeds from the Malampaya (natural gas exploration) that should have been the source of (cash gifts to) victims of Storms ‘Ondoy’ and ‘Pepeng’ have yet to be released,” Legarda said.

“Second, there’s a provision for El Niño because the Department of Agriculture budget, which I worked for, is climate-sensitive,” said Legarda, the United Nations’ regional champion on climate change and disaster risk reduction.

According to Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, the task force had set aside P52 million for cloud seeding in northern, central and southern Luzon, Bicol, Western Visayas, Zamboanga, northern Mindanao, Davao and Soccsksargen (South Cotabato-Cotabato-Sultan Kudarat-Saranggani-General Santos).

Some P260 million will be spent on optimizing water delivery and rescheduling; P398,930 for the purchase and distribution of 2,500 units of pump and engine sets; P25 million for pest and disease management; P1.149 million for veterinary drugs and biologics; P35 million for mobile diagnostic laboratories; P104 million for fishery inputs and livelihood; and P5.9 million for crop shifting projects.

COA report

A militant party-list lawmaker scored the Arroyo administration’s “lack of preparedness” to help farmers fight the El Niño phenomenon, saying this could be due to the “rampant corruption and wastage of funds” in the agriculture department.

Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano cited a 2008 Commission on Audit report, which noted that the department “wasted almost P7 billion and is the ‘top performer’ in wasteful fund management either through bungled project implementation or missing and diverted funds.”

“Almost everybody in the agriculture department is fully aware that El Niño will hit the country. Unfortunately, funds intended for farmers and agriculture to counter drought are nowhere to be found,” Mariano said in a statement. With reports from Philip C. Tubeza and Riza T. Olchondra