Florencio Abad

5 things you need to know about PNoy’s Disbursement Acceleration Plan (DAP)

Screenshot 2013-10-02 21.55.08

1. Disbursement Acceleration Plan (DAP) is a government stimulus package.

It was meant to address the government’s low-level spending. Did it work?

The World Bank in March 2012 stated in their quarterly report on the Philippines: “The government’s Disbursement Acceleration Plan was partially successful and contributed 1.3 percentage points (ppt) to GDP growth in Q4”

In 2012, the National Statistical Coordination Board reported: 6.6 GDP. As of the 2nd quarter of 2013, the economy posted 7.6 GDP.

2. The Department of Budget and Management realigned unreleased appropriations from 2010, and 2011 plus windfall revenues from government-owned and controlled corporation dividends.

3. As of December 2011, the government announced that it had already spent 85% of DAP.

As of March 2012, the World Bank reported that 53% of DAP were released to National Government Agencies, and 37% to Government Controlled and Owned Corporations as well as 10% to local government units.

4. Former Budget Secretary Ben Diokno is questioning the propriety of DAP. What did Former Budget Secretary Diokno say about DAP in 2011? Here’s this article from Malaya’s business section:

“With only 10 weeks remaining of the year, the P72-billion acceleration program will barely have an impact on the country’s growth target.

“With 10 weeks to go before the end of the year, and the slow-moving bureaucracy, I expect that, at best, only one-tenth of the proposed outlay will be spent this year, the rest will be spent next year,” said Benjamin Diokno, University of the Philippines economist.

Diokno said that 10 percent of P72 billion, or P7.2 billion, won’t make much difference in a P10-trillion economy.”

5. So why were Senators involved? Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said on DAP releases in 2012: “2012, most releases were made during the period October-December, based entirely on letters of request submitted to us by the Senators.”

Image credit: Screenshot of World Bank’s Table 4.1, Philippines Quarterly Update (March 2012)

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: Or why De Quiros is a bit of a crank

In his two most recent op-ed pieces published successively in the Inquirer between Monday and Tuesday this week, Conrado De Quiros proves why his writing should be taken with a grain of salt.

Apologist

In Repetitions, Mr De Quiros talks of parallels between the two Aquino administrations and uses the argument that history may be repeating itself against those who despair at the current lackluster performance of PNoy in his freshman year. The implicit parallelism here is between the Marcos and Arroyo loyalists who claim that life deteriorated under their successors.

De Quiros uses a number of “lies, damned lies and statistics” in making his case. These fibs undermine his credibility. He states first of all that

(o)ne year after he came to power, the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) loyalists are out saying how things have gotten worse from GMA’s time. Proof of it is that unemployment is rife, prices are higher and the hungry are getting hungrier. And they have the figures to show it.
What they forget to say is that Gloria borrowed more than Tabako (President Fidel V. Ramos) and Erap (President Joseph Estrada) combined in the course of her long, vicious and illegitimate rule from January 2001 to May 2010 which did not keep prices from soaring anyway, and which debt has added immeasurably to an already gigantic one the people are paying during P-Noy’s time and will continue to pay well past P-Noy’s time.

Ok, let us subject the first part of the argument to the Truth-o-meter. What was the level of external debt during the presidencies of Messrs Ramos and Estrada in contrast to Madame Arroyo? The chart below is taken from World Bank data which is hosted on Google Data Explorer.

It shows that the total external debt stock in 1991 prior to the election of Pres Ramos stood at 32.5 billion current US dollars. In 2000, the year before Mrs Arroyo succeeded Mr Estrada in office it rose to 58.3 billion dollars. That is a jump of about 25.8 billion. In 2009, the year before Mrs Arroyo handed power to Mr Aquino, the total external debt stock was 62.9 billion dollars or an increase of a mere 4.6 billion!

So on point one, Mr De Quiros’s claim that GMA had borrowed more than Messrs Ramos and Estrada combined is not only untrue, it misses the truth by a longshot. The growth of debt during the latter was 5.6 times more than under the former.

Let us examine the second part of the argument about price inflation under the Arroyo administration. The chart below shows inflation from the same data source. I am afraid that again in this case, the data conflicts with De Quiros’s claim. It shows that under GMA, inflation was tame. The country experienced some of the lowest price rises that it experienced since the 1970s, much of this is a result of the economic reforms instituted since the mid-80s of course.

So on point two, once again Mr De Quiros is caught fiddling with the truth.

Moving on to the rest of his argument, De Quiros states that

The economy Gloria left to P-Noy is not a rundown restaurant that has been sold to a new owner who with unlimited funds can renovate it and open with the sign, “Under new management.” It is a horse that has been starved and flogged to near-death and bequeathed to an impoverished nephew by a good-for-nothing aunt upon her death. You cannot make that horse spring back to life overnight, especially when it’s all you can do to keep body and soul together. It will take a great deal of nursing to make it so. Along with a great deal of cursing the departed.

You can’t blame everything that is wrong with the economy on Gloria. But you can, and ought to, blame her for a great deal. The people of this country did not start getting unemployed during P-Noy’s time, they started getting unemployed during Gloria’s time. Hell, they started getting hungry—yet another statistic a few months ago said people had gotten hungry of late—during Gloria’s time, as a result of abandoning the farmers completely and relying on importations of rice. And stealing billions of bukols along with the rice.
Gloria is the cause, this is the effect.

So, to verify these claims, let us look first of all at the level of income during Mrs Arroyo’s presidency. The chart here shows that per capita incomes grew quite rapidly and consistently for the most part during her term from $899 in 2001 to $1,752 in 2009, an increase of about 95%.

In a comparable period from 1991 to 2001, GDP per capita only rose from $710 to $899 or an increase of a mere 27%. Again, it seems that calling the economy a rundown hand-me-down does not seem appropriate.

Well, you might say, De Quiros is really talking about the hardships suffered by the most marginal sectors of society getting worse under Mrs Arroyo. So, let us examine the income share of the poorest quintile of the population in the following chart.

We find here that the lowest 20% of the population had a 6.5% share of total income in 1988 and this dropped down to 5.36% in 1997 and remained steady at 5.37% in 2000. From there it rose to 5.6% in 2006 where the time series stops. So it seems that for the greater part of GMA’s term, the decline was arrested. The time series unfortunately ends there, right before the surge of rice importation.

As a sidebar, it is worth noting that the economic liberalization instituted since the mid-80s as prodded by the Washington Consensus may have moderated inflation but failed to provide protection to the most vulnerable. Mrs Arroyo’s rice program was also aimed at limiting the effects of price rises, but may have impacted the farming sector adversely. In that case, it was simply extending the existing policies further.

Revisionist

In Visions and Revisions, the second thesis of De Quiros is a stab at economic revisionism. His very first line exposes him to this charge:

P-noy isn’t making things worse, economically or otherwise, but he’s missing a lot of chances to make things better.

Unfortunately, the first quarter results say otherwise. The latest 4.9% GDP growth figure reported by the National Statistical Coordination Board, while nothing to sneeze at, was at the lower end of the expected range that analysts had predicted of between 4.8% and 5.6%. It was almost half the 8.4% growth registered in the same period of the previous year under Mrs Arroyo and a far cry from the government’s own target of 7-8% for the year. Given the recent tweaking of the way GDP is computed, the growth rate of 4.9% is actually higher than it would have been under the previous method.

PNoy tried to remain upbeat and blame the less than targeted performance on economic headwinds coming from conflicts in the Middle East and North African region as well as natural disasters closer to home. He also sought to paint a favorable picture by comparing it to the milder growth experienced by our ASEAN neighbors.

What he conveniently failed to mention was that the growth could have been higher had his government not contracted spending by 17%. Today’s banner headline of the Businessworld says it all, Underspending Curbs Growth. What this means is that the higher unemployment, hunger and poverty reported during the period is partly the government’s doing.

None other than Budget Sec Buth Abad confirmed that the first quarter was “not regular” in that government spending slowed as a result of project costings being reviewed. While he claims they can play catch up during the remainder of the year, Prof Ben Diokno, a former budget secretary, and Gov Joey Salceda, a former analyst and political advisor to Mrs Arroyo think otherwise.

Unfortunately, not only is “PNoy missing a lot of chances to make things better”, he is also “making things worse, economically”. No amount of economic revisionism can change that fact.

In bolstering his claims, Mr De Quiros needs to steer away from using spurious statistics. He has failed the truth-o-meter on all counts. Such flagrant misrepresentations do not aid his cause one bit. They merely expose the hollowness of his arguments.

Aquino gov't aims to reduce deficit-to-GDP to 2%

Aquino gov’t aims to reduce deficit-to-GDP to 2%
By Lala Rimando
abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines – The Aquino administration wants to bring down the country’s budget deficit to 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the next 3 years, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said Thursday.

The budget shortfall is forecast to reach P325 billion or 3.9% of GDP this year.

“We want to bring down deficit-to-GDP ratio to 2% starting 2013 from 3.9% now,” Abad told reporters at the sidelines of the Public-Private Partnership Conference in Pasay City.

“We are making renewed commitment to fiscal responsibility,” he added.

The deficit hit P259.8 billion in the first 9 months, already 80% of the 2010 ceiling.

Abad said the budget gap will not exceed the full-year target as the government tightens spending and shores up revenue collection.

“We will make sure that deficit will be within or below the P325-billion target,” he said.

The Aquino government, who took office in June, earlier said it would improve revenues by enforcing existing tax laws and cracking down on tax evasion and smuggling.

DBM – “Guardian of public expenditure” to get a 19% budget cut

Malacanang
A September 28, 2010 press release prepared by the Department of Budget Management

DBM Secretary Abad: Reforms to roll-out towards “WALANG CORRUPT, WALANG MAHIRAP”

The Department of Budget and Management’s very own budget will decrease by P180.7 million or 18.8% to P780.9 million under the proposed Reform Budget of 2011. But even so, the institution vows to faithfully perform its role as “guardian of public expenditure.”

Budget and Management Secretary Florencio B. Abad even said the DBM will play a key role in fulfilling the promise of the Aquino government, which got an overwhelming mandate in the 2010 national elections, of people empowerment through honest and participative governance.

“Like other agencies, the DBM has had to postpone expenditures on many of its priority projects so funds can be freed to augment vital social and economic services. Nonetheless, we are committed to rolling-out important public expenditure management reforms in line with President Aquino’s platform of kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap,” he said.

The DBM budget decrease in 2011 is mostly due to less capital outlay for next year, to P31.62 million from P231.3 million. He said capital expenses of the department for next year will only be for budget improvement projects, particularly the purchase of information technology equipment. The budget for personnel services will also decrease to P351.3 million from P355.3 million this year.

Meanwhile, maintenance expenditures increased to P397.9 million from P375.00 million, with provisions for the internationally-acclaimed Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS). Abad said the PhilGEPS will make possible, for the very first time, electronic bidding services in procurement by the 1st quarter of next year.

Abad added “we welcome this public debate on the national budget, and even the criticisms. This only means that the people, more than ever, recognize the national budget as important to their lives and that they want to take part in this process. I hope this public discourse is not just seasonal, and that it is maintained even after Congress approves the budget,” he said.

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Aquino: New anomalies uncovered will ‘shock’ nation

Aquino: New anomalies uncovered will ‘shock’ nation
By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III said Friday his Cabinet uncovered a number of new anomalies committed during the administration of his predecessor that “even those of you in the know will be shocked.”

Aquino said he would discuss some of the anomalies in his first State of the Nation Address on Monday but gave the press a preview of the salient points at the turnover of the top Army post in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig.

He mentioned in particular the depletion of the P1.54-trillion 2010 national budget and calamity fund.

“Halos nilimas na po ang pondong dapat magagamit natin sa darating na buwan [They’ve nearly bailed out the funds we should be using in the coming months],” he told Army officers and men at the Army Grandstand.

“Not even half of the storms that we’re expecting this year have come in. So when I call on you for search and rescue operations, you will be armed only with your heart and courage because of the dearth of funds and resources,” he added in Filipino.

In a briefing later at the Army Officers’ Club, Mr. Aquino confirmed reports that P949.2 billion of the 2010 budget had been released, and that only P591.4 billion remained.

But the problem was, P300 billion of the remaining balance has been earmarked for “automatic appropriations,” leaving the Aquino administration with only more than P100 billion at its disposal, he said.

“If you have 10 percent left to take care of the last six months, that’s a bit bloody. But again I will emphasize to them to resharpen their pencils. Can you do the computation again so that we will precisely know what’s left?” he said, referring to budget officials.

Otherwise, this would necessitate “a lot of austerity,” he said.

The bulk of the P949.2 billion went to the payment of salaries and personnel services, Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad said.

In the same briefing, Mr. Aquino said that the depletion of this year’s calamity fund was just as surprising.

As of June, the government had used up P1.4 billion of the calamity fund, leaving a balance of P592 million, budget officials said.

“When ‘Ondoy’ and ‘Pepeng’ struck, it was revealed that there were no more funds… I asked them what other calamities visited the Philippines that would necessitate the use of the fund. It turned it was the repair of infrastructure for the previous years,” Mr. Aquino said.

“They did it again this year. So it’s depleted again. But it seems there was a particular district that benefited but was not affected by Ondoy. Twenty percent of the funds allegedly went to the singular district,” he added.

When pressed if the district was in Pampanga, home province of former president, now Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Mr. Aquino said: “Can I tell you on Monday?”

“But let me assure you, there will be a minimum of five [anomalies] we have uncovered. You will be very, very surprised at the things we have discovered. I think the common reaction was: ‘What, they did that?’ There’s no sense. There’s no rhyme or reason,” he said.

He later added: “I can’t give you every detail [of the Sona]. It’s still a work in progress. It might be totally overhauled by Monday. But I assure you, even those of you here, you will be shocked.”

The national budget will be a key point in his 30-minute Sona, which was re-written for the fifth time Friday and which is entirely in Filipino, Malacañang said.

Mr. Aquino will report the state of government resources, propose “doable solutions” to a host of problems given the budget constraints, and push for his legislative agenda, according to presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.

“As I said in the beginning we have to ascertain what the problems are. Therefore these problems will point to certain solutions that would be best to solve… all of these problems,” Mr. Aquino said when asked about his message to the Filipinos on Monday.

“If you misidentify the problem you are guaranteed to not come up with a correct solution and you will exacerbate the problem,” he added.

Mr. Aquino admitted that the problems left behind by the Arroyo administration “left a lot of us gasping for breath and aghast at what has been done.”

“In terms of gaining knowledge Monday’s Sona speech will really set the truth on so many things,” he said.

DBM: Food-for-School to be redesigned, not scrapped

DBM: Food-for-School to be redesigned, not scrapped
Press Release

Malacañang, Manila – Department of Budget and Management Secretary Butch Abad today clarified that the food-for-school program will be redesigned and not altogether scrapped, as part of the reallocation proposals resulting from the zero-
based budgeting process.

“Di naman sa tuluyan nating tatangalin ang food-for-school program, kundi itutuwid natin ang paggamit ng pondo para dito at sisiguraduhin nating masmagiging epektibo ang pagsasagawa nito. Nakita kasi naming na hindi lahat ng dapat mabigyan ay nabibigyan,” said Abad.

Abad also said that leakages were discovered in the program and certain changes will be proposed on its mode of implementation in order to benefit people in a more targeted manner.

“For example, we’re looking at consolidating the food-for-school funds with those of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program since these programs have overlapping beneficiaries and objectives. This would perhaps result to an expanded conditional cash transfer that would not only mean a more efficient use of resources, but would also be more beneficial to targeted recipients. Also, we are seeing that DSWD is better structured to implement this program than DepEd,” said Abad. Abad however pointed out that while the food-for-schools program will be redesigned, its salient objectives such as encouraging students to attend school in order to reduce drop-outs will remain to be priorities.

Following orders by President Aquino to adapt a budget process that will prioritize relevant and effective programs, the DBM has been conducting a thorough review of various government projects in coordination with concerned agencies.

“Ang food-for-school program ay isa lang sa mga programang aayusin natin upang masigurado na ang paggamit ng kaban ng bayan– kulang at kaunti man, ay magiging kapaki-pakinabang sa mga talagang nangangailangan,” Abad said. “So we encourage the agencies to look into the programs they are implementing and see which of these are aligned with President Aquino’s priorities and are really responsive to the needs of the people,” he added.

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In his own words: Why they’re Aquino’s Chosen

In his own words: Why they’re Aquino’s Chosen
By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer

WHO IS THE CABINET member whose “first assignment” is to get at least “three hours of sleep” daily? Who did President Aquino have to “beg” to join his official family? And who “possesses 80 percent” of his brain?

Backed by an overwhelming electoral mandate, Mr. Aquino has assembled a team of new faces and old hands—a number of them from the Cabinet of his mother, the late former President Corazon Aquino—to help him take on the huge task of running the country.

Here, in his own words, are the key men and women who will help bring about the “real change” that he promised during the campaign.

PAQUITO “JOJO” OCHOA JR. (executive secretary). I’m not a lawyer; Jojo has helped me understand the intricacies of the law ever since I started in public office. Our relationship is on a second-generation basis already.

Our parents were allies in the Liberal Party, and we have been consistent allies throughout our lives. He has given me the most sound advice on so many matters pertaining to my work as legislator. Therefore, I’m very confident of his role as the guardian of my back. He’s more than qualified.

ALBERTO ROMULO (foreign secretary). He has graciously consented to retain his position. And we are very fortunate to have him as a senior member of the Cabinet.

CESAR PURISIMA (finance secretary). I think his credentials speak for himself. But for most of these people, their credentials speak for themselves.

LEILA DE LIMA (justice secretary). I am very sure you are familiar with the quality of her work. The judicial branch is a very important portion of our platform, and again we are very fortunate to get her to consent to carrying the burden primarily for judicial reform.

VOLTAIRE GAZMIN (defense secretary). Perhaps he is one of the key people who gave me the opportunity to be present before you because he took good care of us [throughout] the numerous coup attempts during my mom’s incumbency. And then there is his continuous dedication to the Filipino people in this very abnormal situation we find our country in.

BR. ARMIN LUISTRO FSC (education secretary). I think his coming from the Ateneo de Manila University already speaks highly of his qualifications, that I begged him to join the Cabinet.”

FLORENCIO ABAD (budget secretary). The Department of Budget and Management will have as its head my mentor, who is obviously older than me. He has been a five-time congressman.

The budget is the enabler of all our policy decisions. We believe he is the best person at the present time to assist us in judiciously spending the people’s funds.

CAYETANO PADERANGA JR. (socioeconomic planning secretary). We will have a National Economic and Development Authority that will give us sound advice based on economic, and not political, considerations.

PROCESO ALCALA (agriculture secretary). One of his innovations was to enable farmers in his district to have a centralized market where buyers and farmers deal with each other directly, bereft of middlemen. This increased profits of farmers and dropped prices for consumers.

He has been heavily involved in environmental concerns in and outside Quezon. Organic farming and so many aspects of agriculture have been his advocacies.

RAMON PAJE (environment secretary). He graciously agreed to serve as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

JOSE DE JESUS (transportation and communications secretary). He served in my mother’s Cabinet, both as secretary to the Cabinet and as public works secretary. He was one of the most, if not the most, hardworking members of my mother’s Cabinet.

As public works secretary, he slept three hours a day to make sure government projects were done in a timely and correct manner. His only luxury was a five-hour rest period on Sundays.

His first assignment is to make sure he sleeps more than three hours a day because he is a work-driven individual who will oversee the transformation of the Department of Transportation and Communications, which was characterized by the NBN-ZTE deal, into an agency that truly serves the interests of the people.

ROSALINDA BALDOZ (labor secretary). She used to head the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, among other agencies. Her concentration also is on the workings of the National Labor Relations Commission, which, we believe, is in need of very strong reforms. We find in her the capability to make the labor department truly responsive to the needs of the working man.

ENRIQUE ONA (health secretary). In our interview, we saw in him the potential to become a complete alter-ego, especially given the fact that the health agenda is No. 3 on our platform. And he has been given instructions specifically to expedite universal coverage of PhilHealth, which is one of our campaign promises.

ALBERTO LIM (tourism secretary). He has been involved in various business endeavors including the setting up of [the world-class resorts of] El Nido and Amanpulo.

The bottom line is that tourism is seen as one of the key venues for increasing jobs. We need someone who has proven competence in this field. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, we will have as aggressive and successful a campaign as Thailand’s with regard to visits by Filipinos there.

GREGORY DOMINGO (trade and industry secretary). He served as undersecretary for the Board of Investments, and also was executive director of SM Investments Corp. and international trade law and business law lecturer of De La Salle University’s MBA program.

We see the trade and industry portfolio as very essential, to be headed by a very competent individual who will foster the necessary trade and investments that will lead to the fulfillment of the first part of our platform, job generation.

CORAZON SOLIMAN (social welfare secretary). She needs no introduction.

MARIO MONTEJO (science and technology secretary). He is a man of numerous titles, meaning many degrees, and a person I have known for decades. He is among a group of academicians who set up a corporation to translate their scientific studies into practical and applied technology for their countrymen.

Among their inventions were deep-well filters which were previously imported from Australia to the tune of 80 percent. They designed the filters and also invented the machinery to produce all these filters.

Are you familiar with the amusement park Water Fun, the first that featured slides, waves, etc.? That was Filipino technology—Dr. Montejo and his team’s effort.

None of it was licensed from abroad. It was Filipino-designed, -enhanced, and -experimented.

We expect him at the helm of the Department of Science and Technology to provide the backup for any agency that would propose projects involving technical considerations—be it the creation of a dam or the provision of IT services—to include the capability of Phivolcs and Pagasa.

We want an agency that can completely evaluate the proposals presented to us.

The current practice is to ask the proponent to evaluate and justify his proposal, which I think is counterproductive. The DOST under Dr. Montejo will be a real partner as an agent of change.

JOSE RENE ALMENDRAS (energy secretary). I’ve known him since our college days. He is a very good friend of mine and [was] with Manila Water. His main training is in finance.

For the energy portfolio, obviously we want somebody who is not part of the industry inasmuch as there will be a lot of dealings with the industry. We do not want to fall into a trap of regulatory capture.

He has proven competence in the various firms he has headed and worked for. This enables him to handle the Department of Energy, which is primarily a finance-heavy component of our Cabinet.

ROGELIO SINGSON (public works secretary). He has a very extensive CV and is not a stranger to most of us. It is coincidental that he [was] with Maynilad.

Hopefully, our water utility sector will not suffer with his and Almendras’ absence.

VIRGILIO DELOS REYES (agrarian reform secretary). I met him for the first time at the interview and I was very impressed with his knowledge of the problems pertaining to agrarian reform… which unfortunately are not covered by the Carper law.

Hopefully he will help us craft amendments to make sure the Department of Agrarian Reform is able to fulfill its primary mandate of empowering farmer beneficiaries throughout the country.

TERESITA QUINTOS-DELES (presidential adviser on the peace process). She is the second most closely guarded secret among the Cabinet appointees.

JULIA ABAD (Presidential Management Staff chief). I have been served faithfully by her ever since I became a senator three years ago. She has undergone extensive schooling. But more than that, she has my absolute trust, having run my office. If I have been able to do anything in the Senate, it is because of her. I think she possesses 80 percent of the brain I am holding. (See story on Page A1).

EDWIN LACIERDA (presidential spokesperson). He has been, will be, and hopefully will always be [my spokesperson].

EDUARDO DE MESA (presidential legal counsel). He is one of the first lawyers who helped when I took on public service in 1998.

PATRICIA LICUANAN (Commission on Higher Education chair). She will, as her primary mission, rectify the current situation where the agency tasked to oversee higher educational institutions seems to be sleeping on the job. For example, we have over 40 nursing schools who have not had a single board passer for quite a long time.

She will refocus CHEd so that it will serve the interest of the people rather than institutions that have no right to set up courses they are not competent in teaching.

KIM JACINTO HENARES (Bureau of Internal Revenue commissioner). She has been functioning in effect as secretary to the Cabinet in all the policy briefings that I have been subjected to. She has been very effective in answering a lot of questions in my rushed preparations for the presidential campaign.

More importantly, it is through her and the customs commissioner (whom we have yet to designate) that we hope to recover the tax collection efficiency first demonstrated by the Ramos administration, and, together with the finance secretary, give us the needed revenues without unnecessarily resorting to new taxes.

Drilon questions 78% hike in Maguindanao voters

Drilon questions 78% hike in Maguindanao voters
By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Former Senate President Franklin Drilon Tuesday questioned the “improbably high voting population” in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), particularly the province of Maguindanao, and urged the Commission on Elections to purge the voters’ list in the region.

Drilon, a Liberal Party senatorial bet, noted that while other provinces in Mindanao registered voter population increases between eight and 16 percent from 2007 to 2009, the province of Maguindanao registered an unbelievable 78 percent.

Citing figures from the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), Drilon said Lanao del Sur’s voting population grew by 16 percent (from 396,722 in 2007 to 459,012 in 2009); Sulu by 12 percent (from 250,571 to 280,257); Tawi-Tawi by 11 percent (from 140,232 to 156,027); and Basilan by eight percent (from 181,445 to 195,845).

Maguindanao recorded the biggest increase from 336,774 to 601,057, he added.

Drilon noted that the ARMM had gained notoriety in the 2004 presidential election as the alleged site of massive fraud that favored President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The ARMM is composed of the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Maguindanao and Sulu. It had a registered voting population of 1.6 million as of early 2009, Drilon added.

He said a National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB) official, whom he did not name, also felt that the region’s listed overall population growth rate of 5.4 percent—more than double the national average—was “patently unrealistic.”

Drilon said the LP was worried that local ARMM officials were padding the region’s population figures so they could carve out new districts to get higher local budget allocations.

“Already, we are getting persistent reports that the unrealistic population growth rate in the ARMM is causing so much confusion among government data gatherers that a technical committee in the census department is studying whether to accept the numbers as valid or not,” Drilon said.

The Ampatuan connection

Drilon then linked the ARMM voting figures to the Department of Justice’s recent decision to release two members of the prominent Ampatuan clan accused in the Maguindanao massacre.

“It might be a prelude to massive administration cheating in the region during the elections,” he said.

“To make the elections credible to the Filipino people and the international community, I am urging Comelec Chairman Jose Melo to seriously review the existing voters’ list in ARMM and have it immediately purged,” he added.

Earlier, LP campaign manager Florencio Abad said the DoJ’s decision to clear Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan from involvement in the Maguindanao massacre could mean the “Ampatuan cheating machine” in the ARMM would be put to work again during the May 10 elections.

“With 23 days left before the May presidential elections, the timing of the dismissal of the case and order of the release of the two…can only fuel further suspicion that the Arroyo regime will once again employ the dreaded but effective Ampatuan cheating machine in ARMM to manipulate the coming elections according to Arroyo’s whims,” Abad said in a statement on Sunday.

The Ampatuans were close allies of Ms Arroyo before they were implicated in the massacre of 57 people, including 32 journalists, on Nov. 23, 2009.

Zaldy was suspended as governor of the ARMM while Akmad as vice governor of Maguindanao as a result of their alleged involvement in the massacre.

In the 2004 elections, President Arroyo enjoyed a comfortable lead over her opponents in the region allegedly due to the Ampatuans’ influence over the electorate, Drilon said.

He agreed that the DoJ ruling revived fears that the Arroyo administration “might again resort to massive fraud in the ARMM” to have its candidates win in the May elections.

For Villar on Thursday, Aquino on Tuesday

For Villar on Thursday, Aquino on Tuesday
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Is sporting orange baller IDs (rubber bracelets) or wearing a yellow T-shirt and flashing the Laban sign an indication of one’s choice of a presidential candidate?

It usually is.

But Andal Ampatuan Jr., accused of carrying out the country’s worst election-related killings, did both in a span of five days.

Orange is the campaign color of Manuel Villar, Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer, while yellow is the color of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, presidential candidate of the Liberal Party (LP).

On Thursday, the principal suspect in the slaughter of 57 people in Maguindanao, wore two NP ballers at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City where he was transferred from a cell at the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila.

One bore the name of Villar in white letters and the other the name of NP senatorial candidate Gilbert Remulla in orange letters on a purple background. (Remulla is a brother-in-law of Andal’s lawyer, Sigfrid Fortun.)

That image of Andal Jr. shown on ABS-CBN News coupled with reports that Remulla visited Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., the clan patriarch, in his hospital room in Camp Panacan in Davao City last month, fueled speculation that the Ampatuans were for Villar.

Twist

But in a strange twist, the younger Andal called a press conference Tuesday at the Metro Manila District Jail in Camp Bagong Diwa where he announced that the Ampatuans were supporting Aquino.

“Our whole family is endorsing Noynoy Aquino because we believe in him,” said Andal Jr., who was wearing a yellow baller ID and was not handcuffed.

He then smiled as he flashed an “L” hand signal (Laban sign) that is used by Aquino.

“Noynoy tayo, ha?” Andal Jr., mayor of Datu Unsay, Maguindanao, kept reiterating.

Asked if he had talks with the camp of Villar, he said: “We had no communication with them. As I have said, (the rumors) are part of politics. ”

In a message to Aquino, Andal Jr. said in Filipino, “Don’t let the administration rig the election. I want you to win.”

Joke

Aquino treated as a joke a report that the Ampatuan clan had declared its support for his candidacy.

“No, thank you” was Aquino’s reply to reporters seeking his reaction to Andal Jr.’s press conference.

Aquino said he had not talked to Andal Jr. “I am not running after their endorsement.”

The LP standard-bearer said that he was a victim of cheating in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 2007 when he ran for a Senate seat. Andal Jr.’s brother, Zaldy, is the suspended ARMM governor and one of the accused in the massacre, who along with Maguindanao Vice Gov. Akmad Ampatuan, was cleared last week by acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra.

“Sen. (Francis) Escudero and I were laughing about it. He told me not to look at the (Maguindanao election returns) because I’d just feel bad. But I told him at least I got 13 votes and he (Escudero) only got 12,” Aquino said.

Family decision

Andal Jr. said that when his father and brothers arrived in the same jail with him on Thursday, they talked about the candidates they would endorse.

He, his father, brothers Zaldy, Sajid and Anwar, and nephew Akmad are detained in a 64-square-meter cell in the headquarters of the National Capital Regional Police Office in Bicutan, Taguig.

He said someone from Aquino’s camp had talked to him.

“We are supporting Noynoy because we believe he is the one who can expose the truth about what happened in the massacre,” Andal Jr. said.

He said that if he were to make a choice it would be Villar.

But Andal Jr. said he was praising Aquino because the latter’s family had defeated the strongman President Ferdinand Marcos.

“Noynoy would be our instrument to achieve justice,” he said.

Relaxed

He was relaxed and smiled as he gave his most expansive comments to the media since being arrested last year for the slaughter of 57 people.

“I had no role in what happened,” he told the reporters.

He gave a variety of scenarios as to who may have been behind the Nov. 23 massacre in Maguindanao, where his family had dominated politics for over a decade.

The family is accused of orchestrating the killings to stop a rival politician, Esmael Mangudadatu, from running against Andal Jr. for the post of Maguindanao governor in the May 10 national elections.

Andal Sr. was grooming his namesake to succeed him and the son is accused of leading 100 gunmen in carrying out the murders.

Among the victims were the wife and two sisters of Mangudadatu, along with 32 journalists traveling with them in a convoy to register his candidacy for the Maguindanao governorship.

Roxas, senatorial candidates

Andal Jr. said the Ampatuans had already told all their supporters in Maguindanao to support Aquino.

Apart from Aquino, the Ampatuans are also endorsing his running mate Mar Roxas, senatorial candidates Juan Ponce Enrile, Tito Sotto, Miriam Santiago, Adel Tamano, Risa Hontiveros, Pia Cayetano, Sergio Osmeña III and Ralph Recto.

On their choices for party-list groups, Ampatuan mentioned Anakpawis, Gabriela and TUCP.

Crude stunt

LP campaign manager Florencio “Butch” Abad assailed the police for allowing the younger Andal to hold the press conference.

“How can a dangerous prisoner like (Andal Jr.) be allowed to hold a press conference inside a high security prison without the Arroyo regime being complicit in it? And who is expected to be the prime beneficiary of this stunt other than the candidate originally endorsed by Andal Jr.?” Abad said.

Arroyo allowed private army

Until the massacre, the Ampatuans had been close political allies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and were used by her to contain Muslim fighters waging a decades-long insurgency in Mindanao.

As part of this containment strategy, the President had allowed the Ampatuans to maintain a private army numbering thousands, as well as massive amounts of weapons and ammunition.

“If this was a way for the Ampatuans to instantly repay the Arroyo regime for the legally questionable and undue haste by which two of their kin had been set free, it is a crude and reprehensible stunt,” Abad said.

He added that the stunt showed how low the Arroyo regime regarded “the people to expect them to believe such a cruel joke.”

Senior Insp. Lloyd Gonzaga, jail warden at the facility considered a Quezon City jail extension, said the press conference was requested by one of the Ampatuan lawyers on the phone. Reports from Niña Calleja, Gil Cabacungan, Philip C. Tubeza and Agence France-Presse

Aquino, Roxas: Bolante must be stopped

Aquino, Roxas: Bolante must be stopped
By Philip Tubeza, Felipe V. Celino
Philippine Daily Inquirer

ROXAS CITY, Philippines—To the top two candidates of the Liberal Party, Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante of the fertilizer scam saga stinks to high heavens and must be stopped from becoming governor of Capiz.

In a press conference Thursday at the airport here, LP standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III said he was willing to do what was needed to stop the former agriculture undersecretary and alleged brains of the P728-million fertilizer fund scam from getting elected.

“If we need to go house to house, we will do that. This is a clear contrast between black and white. If [Bolante] wins here, we will again be included in the Guinness [Book of Records] for ‘only in the Philippines,’” Aquino said, adding:

“But I’m proud to be Filipino and I believe most Filipinos know right from wrong. [If Bolante wins], then the world would have really turned upside down, so [his electoral victory] is impossible.”

Aquino called on the people of Capiz to maintain the province’s clean image and not vote for Bolante and his allies.

Opposite of Jun Lozada

Roxas warned that Capiz could become the laughingstock of other provinces if Bolante won and became governor.

Aquino said that even if Bolante won, he would still have to respond to accusations that he masterminded the fertilizer fund scam that helped Ms Arroyo’s campaign during the 2004 presidential election.

“He cannot be above the law. No ifs, buts, wherefores. If you committed a crime, you should pay the price,” Aquino said.

Aquino observed that despite the Commission on Audit’s extensive findings on the fertilizer fund scam, Bolante had yet to be haled to court.

“In contrast, [whistle-blower] Jun Lozada saved the Filipino people billions of pesos in the [scrapped] NBN-ZTE broadband deal, but he ended up with a lot of cases [filed against him],” Aquino said.

Bolante, who is running against reelectionist Gov. Victor Tanco under the Ugyon Kita Capiz party, has managed to split the local LP machinery in the home province of Aquino’s running mate, Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II.

He is reportedly backing Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Sen. Manuel Villar, and has the support of 12 of Capiz’s 17 mayors, including that of the capital city of Roxas.

But Aquino and Roxas claimed that Tanco, the LP provincial chair, was way ahead of Bolante in the surveys.

“If we need to go house to house, we’ll do that. But we don’t need to do that because of Tanco’s large lead,” Aquino said.

Battleground

The visit of Aquino and Roxas to Capiz coincided with the 62nd death anniversary of former President Manuel Roxas and the 109th founding anniversary of the province.

Roxas said Capiz would be the political battleground between the Liberal Party and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

He said Bolante’s candidacy was proving that Malacañang wanted to continue its corrupt governance and hide evidence of questionable activities.

“The fight in Capiz is the LP’s ‘Tuloy ang Laban (On with the Fight)’ versus the present administration’s ‘Tuloy ang Ligaya’ (Let the Good Times Continue),” he said.

Roxas also said he was “hurt” that the people he had helped “become successful in their political career” were “the ones that abandoned us in favor of Bolante.”

The senator was referring to Roxas Mayor Vicente Bermejo and other former LP allies who had defected to Ugyon Kita Capiz, which Bolante formed together with Rep. Fredenil Castro.

Bermejo had been with the Roxas camp for 25 years.

Earlier, LP general campaign manager Florencio Abad said the political fight in the province was not just a simple local election.

“The election in Capiz has drawn national significance because Bolante is closely associated with President Macapagal-Arroyo,” he said.

Abad also said the people were hungry for leaders with decency, transparency and integrity, and that the national and local elections were “a golden opportunity for us to choose leaders with clean records.”