Heidi Mendoza

Low-Lying Fruit

The president, by postponing many of the hard reforms needed for later, has possibly revealed an unflattering feature in his character.

In a bid to stem the slide in his net approval ratings, the president this week sought to go on the offensive. Claiming that he has been a victim of unfair and sensational treatment by the press (a notion seriously challenged by Amando Doronila), he sought to brandish his reform credentials by citing some of his achievements in the face of stiff opposition from certain quarters. The kind of reforms he has introduced however can be characterized as low-lying fruit, the kind that is easy to achieve with the least amount of risk.

Speaking at the Iloilo provincial capitol, President Aquino took a swipe at his critics saying, “It is noticeable that those against our budget proposal for the CCT (conditional cash transfers) were the same ones who blocked the impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. We are not surprised that they are the same ones who frequently criticize us.” This statement was aimed at both a national audience and a local one. The individuals being alluded to were not just opposed to his policies in Congress but have been competing with his provincial allies.

The expansion of the conditional cash grants to poor indigent families was only made possible by the grains reform. Winding down the rice importation and subsidy functions of the National Food Authority was long advocated by international multilateral agencies because the program not only benefited unintended recipients, it was a source of much manipulation and corruption. The populist overreach by the previous administration practically sealed its fate in the current one by exposing the wasteful use of public resources for little public benefit.

This is the first of the low-lying fruit because funds were already previously allocated. All that was needed was to re-channel them away from an ineffective program to one that had a greater chance of success in meeting roughly the same goal. In his first year, the president will be remembered for accelerating the growth of conditional cash grants to 21 billion from 12 billion pesos in the previous budget cycle.

This near doubling of the program’s allocation will bring relief to about half of the 4.6 million families that are the poorest in our society. To cover the other half would presumably cost another 21 billion pesos. Escalating the program to that level will be a much bigger challenge in the coming years given that he plans to address the classroom shortage as a prelude to extending basic education to twelve years and adopt universal health coverage at the same time.

The second set of low-lying fruit will be appointing people with integrity to the Office of the Ombudsman and Commission on Audit by replacing allies of the previous regime. Whether or not the Senate trial of the current ombudsman results in her conviction is immaterial as her term has or is about to run out anyway. This means she will have to step down one way or another. Her deputy has already been fired as a result of the Luneta hostage taking incident that resulted in eight deaths.

The appointment of the former COA auditor Heidi Mendoza, the whistleblower who exposed corruption in the military as commissioner of the agency and the recent replacement of the chairman will help the administration in straightening things out there. It seems that just getting the right people in these important posts is a big enough challenge these days. The larger challenge will be influencing events on the ground when it comes to exposing and prosecuting corrupt officials.

The third set of low lying fruit consists of improvements to tax collection pursued by the Department of Finance through various schemes against tax evaders, smugglers and corrupt revenue officials. These efforts have already netted some results in the form of higher than targeted collections in the first two months of the year, a few convictions and more cases filed. The larger task involves reforming the tax system to make it simpler and easier to administer and one that encourages greater investment and employment participation.

There are other bits of low lying fruit that are on their way, but have not yet been delivered, for instance the rationalizing of fiscal incentives (delayed because Finance and Trade officials cannot seem to agree on the terms having conflicting policy goals to contend with) as well as the standardizing (possible capping) of salaries and benefits for officers and directors of government owned and controlled companies.

We can call these low lying fruit because they are hardly unpopular bits of reform. Giving money to poor families so that they can send their kids to school and complete their immunization can hardly be controversial. Those who opposed it tended to do so against the grain of public opinion and on grounds that were quite valid (e.g. the capacity of agencies to absorb increased responsibilities).

They are also low-lying because the pain of reform has tended to focus on a few groups and individuals seen to be undesirable to begin with: tax cheats, smugglers, corrupt officials. If anything, these efforts would tend to lift the president’s approval rating rather than drag it down. Perhaps of all the changes instituted, the ones that were most painful for a wider set of the voting public involved reducing subsidies to commuters (lifting rates on MRT and tollways), yet even these were justifiable because it made no sense for provincial taxpayers to be subsidizing urban commuters in Manila.

If anything, the sudden drop in the president’s rating was not due to his forging ahead with some painful  but necessary reform but directly attributable to his inaction on a variety of things, such as: (1) his unwillingness to prosecute those close to him that were deemed liable for the botched rescue attempt of foreign hostages, (2) his failure to disclose fully the details of how he came to own a Porsche (was it a sale or a “donation”?), (3) his inability to stare down the Catholic clergy on the issue of responsible parenthood and reproductive health, and (4) his unwillingness to endorse the freedom of information bill as part of his legislative agenda.

In fact the most painful but probably most essential bit of reform required if the president is to be able to provide investor certainty and government capacity to pursue his social compact involves tax reform that he has put off until next year. This seems to be a conscious attempt on his part to make good on his electoral promise to avoid raising tax rates. Contracting expenses in the near term due to uncertainty over revenues has seemed to raise more doubts as to whether the forecast decline of fiscal deficits is attainable or not.

The political cycle means that getting new tax meaures passed through Congress in an election year will probably result in greater distortions and greater compromises with vested interests and vocal ratepayers than if such legislation had been contemplated in the opening months of a fresh administration. (Witness for instance the proposals being “seriously considered” to deal with the increased price of oil. Rather than having an automatic cap on the excise value on fuel whenever the price per barrel reaches a certain amount, the government is looking at extending fuel subsidies and lowering the VAT rate on oil.)

Failure to get the tax settings right will put his social reform agenda in serious jeopardy. By targeting the low lying fruit, the president has allowed himself to be seen as being either too lazy or unambitious with what he hopes to accomplish.

This is the folly of relying on the low lying fruit.


***

Explaining the term low-lying or low hanging fruit: “We have Mother Nature to thank for the expression low hanging fruit. A fruit-bearing tree often contains some branches low enough for animals and humans to reach without much effort. The fruit contained on these lower branches may be not be as ripe or attractive as the fruit on higher limbs, but it is usually more abundant and easier to harvest. From this we get the popular expression “low hanging fruit”, which generally means selecting the easiest targets with the least amount of effort.

In business, the term low hanging fruit is often associated with the sale of consumer products or services. Sales professionals, especially those who are just entering the field, are encouraged to seek out the easiest customers first, which sales managers may call “low hangingfruit.” Competitors may spend more of their time seeking out the higher commission sales of higher “customer branches”, leaving the lowhanging fruit behind for others to claim. Parents seeking low-cost insurance for school-age children, for example, may be considered lowhanging fruit by insurance companies.

Another use of the expression low hanging fruit can be found in the political arena. A politician may set a number of easily attainable goals, essentially low hanging fruit, and accomplish them with minimal effort. The voters may perceive the politician’s actions as proof of his strong work ethic, but in reality he only reached for the political benefits of low hanging fruit. Critics often use the expression low hanging fruit to describe someone who chooses a sure thing over a more difficult but more rewarding pursuit.

The idea of low hanging fruit can be viewed as both a positive and a negative. On the one hand, low hanging fruit is usually plentiful and often ignored by those looking for more attractive offerings. But low hanging fruit can also be seen as a negative, since the picker understands howlow the quality of the fruit can be and picks it anyway. Someone who consistently chooses the immediate gratification of low hanging fruitcould be seen by others as lazy or unambitious.

Critics of the low hanging fruit business model point to the examples of real fruit harvesters. Orchard workers routinely begin picking at the highest point of a tree, where the fruit has been exposed to the most sunlight and is usually the ripest. It makes sense to pick the low hangingfruit last, since it requires more time to ripen. In a business or social sense, it also makes sense to avoid low hanging fruit if a little more effort and time would result in a much better payoff.”

-From Wisegeek.com

(Note: The figures for the conditional cash grants program that originally appeared in this article have been updated)

The Challenge for Generation X: Build and Sustain

Over dinner at a “sustainable restaurant,” my college friends and I were catching up with each other’s lives and talking about the many decisions that we need to–and have had to–make at this life stage, the early 30s. We talked about the friends in our group that had already left the country, and were facing their own unique sets of challenges in their adopted homelands, and we found ourselves asking: Why do people leave in the first place?

A consensus arose from our cozy group of three. Our generation, Generation X–those who were born, and raised at the cusp of the transition between analog and digital–was a bit more detached from the country because we did not have to fight the wars that our parents, and grandparents did. We were born and raised in relative comfort, and with more options than were ever available before. Many of our parents’ peers who had left the country in the ’60s and ’70s felt that they had no other choice. Today, a good number of us leave because we WANT to.

I admitted to having been part of that demographic–that frustrated, disillusioned set who thought that the only way up… was OUT. I used to scout feverishly for opportunities to study, and stay outside (and never look back), and I once–very recently–almost took the plunge when an offer was given by an organization that I thought would be part of my “dream job.” To me, then, nothing worked anymore, and I was willing to do anything to get out of here, to where everything was safer, more comfortable, more progressive, more… different from here.

What stopped me was seeing my friends who had been out for several years now start to come home–with the intention of staying home for good, and using what they had learned outside to rebuild a life here.

Noting this, our dinner trio then talked about the challenges that our generation now has to face. Our grandparents grew up at a time when the whole world was at war, and our parents came of age at a time when the Philippines was yet again struggling to wage a war against tyranny and was trying to topple a dictatorship. Our parents’ generation succeeded with EDSA, but they failed in sustaining the momentum of People Power because they thought their job would be over once the new government was installed. We, too, grew up witnessing EDSA Dos, but we saw what happened to the Arroyo administration, and even after a “People Power” election we are seeing how the Aquino 2.0 administration is unraveling. It is not enough to tear things–even bad things–down. What is even more important now is to learn how to build the right things from the ground-up.

The difficult lesson that we need to learn from other generations, we then concluded, is how to BUILD and SUSTAIN change. Winning a war is the easy part; rebuilding after the destruction is the hard part. Toppling a dictatorship or electing a president with an overwhelming mandate is the easy part; participating in governance and strengthening institutions is the hard part. The reality though is that the hard part comes when it is now OUR generation’s turn to start stepping up and leading the charge.

Gawad Kalinga build
Photo from http://shareyourhelpinghand.blogspot.com

So what are we to do? For starters, let us not give up on our country, and believe that all hope is lost. Despite the grim news that make it to our daily headlines, let us be grateful for the fact that, for instance, we have a superb Justice Secretary (and this is now my own personal bias showing) who is hell-bent on doing her job properly against all odds. We have the likes of Heidi Mendoza, who has shown us the kind of integrity and courage that we ought to demand from our all levels of our government. We have social entrepreneurs who are re-imagining and re-inventing the status quo to show us new possibilities for offering livelihood, empowerment, and hope. Let us engage our bureaucracy and our systems to make sure they work, instead of entrusting them to the unscrupulous hands that have dirtied them in the first place these past few decades.

For another, let us go out and explore the world and all its possibilities, but let us come back home to transfer all this technology to THIS country, where such discoveries are greatly needed. Whether it’s systems in education, science and technology, the arts, enterprise, governance, or society, let us take what we can from the best of the world and see how we can adapt it to our own needs. Like the Ilustrados of old who saw the world and dreamed of an enlightened Motherland, so, too, should we find enlightenment and then illuminate THIS corner of the world.

Lastly, we shouldn’t be afraid of sticking to things to make them WORK. It’s always exciting to try out something new, and a bit more tiresome and boring to stick around for the long haul. It’s easier to leave when the going gets rough, and bit more draining (and sometimes thankless) to stay and work things out.

But that’s the irony of change, isn’t it? You know you’ve succeeded when you’ve already reached a point where not too much change is needed, and where you can then focus on the job of sustaining something and making it a part of everyday life. In our case, change has begun. Whether we can build on it and keep it going is the burden that now lies on our shoulders.

Corruption in the ranks

Courage, Integrity, Loyalty – These three words form the backbone of the Philippine Military Academy. Three words which may seem simple and appropriate guides in the noble profession of arms. Over the past few weeks however, the country has seen several exemplars and distortions of these three words. The nation was witness to the courage of a few, the cowardice of several; the integrity of a handful, and the corruption of a group; the loyalty of some men and women to the uniform and the flag, and the servility of a select group to personal and political interests.

Last week’s revelations on corruption in the Armed Forces of the Philippines by L/Col. George Rabusa and Commission on Audit auditor Heidi Mendoza have shed some light on what had long been rumors and suspicions of ill-gotten wealth and politics of convenience in the armed services. What Rabusa and Mendoza have taken upon themselves as their responsibility to the country is laudable and timely. They have given facts and figures to what many have always suspected to have been happening in the armed forces. Their actions have vindicated Magdalo soldiers and justified their claims of corruption among the brass.

The Aquino administration, in an effort to fight corruption in the armed services, said last week that it is encouraging the men and women in uniform to step forward and report cases of alleged corruption by the their superiors. Now for those who did not spend time wearing the uniform and given the burdens of command, this may seem a welcome development and a step in the right direction. But for those who were and who are in the military, this move by the administration, which encourages soldiers to denounce colleagues and superiors, undermines the very fabric of every military organization since time immemorial – the chain of command.

The chain of command is everything in a military organization. Without its observance and preservation, there would be dissension in ranks, disorganization in the command, and chaos in the service. The possible consequences from encouraging soldiers to rat upon their comrades and their superiors can range from “fragging,” mutinies, and even a coup de’état. Allowing anyone within the chain of command to accuse someone of anything will effectively subvert the armed services. The last instance in history where this was practiced was in Stalin’s Red Army, where the Cheka, and then later the NKVD, encouraged soldiers to report their superiors. The result was the effective elimination of the Russian officer corps, making it easy for Hitler to march up to the Kremlin’s doorstep.

Of course, the talk about eradicating corruption in the military and spit-shining the boots as well as the brass is always easier said than done. Being that the military is a conservative institution, pursuing reforms in the services would be met with silent but firm opposition in some quarters of power. But when those powers are won, and those in soiled uniforms charged and penalized, the rest of the organization will follow. And that would be made possible by the very structure which the Aquino administration might unintentionally destroy: the chain of command.

If the administration would pursue its plans to allow servicemen accuse other servicemen of alleged irregularities, then corruption, which exists in the organization by the apparent misuse of funds by the brass, would be complimented also with another form among the boots. Instead of following their orders and fulfilling their responsibilities, the men and women in uniform would be watching over their shoulder, questioning every command given by superiors, and actively looking at their superiors for actions which can be used to denounce their commanders. Theirs would be corruption in the ranks.

If the Aquino administration and the country’s policy-makers in the Senate and the House of Representatives are bent on curbing if not eradicating corruption in the armed services, then the solution should be proactive instead of reactive. They should address the possible opportunities for corruption, strengthen the military justice system, and properly inculcate in the men and women of the armed services, the values which serve as the motto of the country’s lone military academic institution: courage, integrity, loyalty.

[End]

Understanding Corruption in the Philippines

There are at least two varieties of corruption in the Philippines. First, the petty corruption that happens on the street. Like a traffic violation by a public utility vehicle and they bribe the enforcer, or an enforcer would simply flag a car and charge the driver for some trump up charge. The same petty violation exist too in say, a government agency. The second is the high-level corruption that exists in the highest echelons of society, where generals and politicians and businessmen play.

Petty corruption isn’t as bad as it used to be. Oh, it is still there largely because of economic reasons, and largely because the system is inherently inefficient.

Let’s set Petty corruption aside. Let’s focus on High Level corruption.

It still shocks me to no end when people find themselves surprised at say these things that happened in the AFP. The story isn’t new though the characters and settings are. Essentially, this is the same beast.

I’m still shocked to no end when people think that corruption is at an end, you know, just because Aquino took to power. And sometimes people magically believe that our problems will go away in a day, or in less than a year that Aquino is President.

Will the Senate investigations lead to actual people being charged and thrown in Jail? Or will we see the whole thing as just one live reality tv for political junkies?

There are obvious blocks in the system.

People for example don’t trust the Justice system. The Ombudsman clearly isn’t impartial, and the Supreme Court isn’t as trustworthy as an institution as well. People still see cops and investigators as incompetent. And of course, we really can’t expect to change to happen overnight, not even in six years. It is really an imperfect system.

So where does true justice lie?

To prosecute people and let them face the law in a fair trial?

Can we create a trial that is fair that can’t be railroaded?

For the short term, the unravelling of the problem is going to take awhile. It is going to be messy. It isn’t going to be instantaneous.

So let’s think long term.

For petty corruption, the obvious solutions include making the system easy. Make it so people can pay government dues, taxes, and fines with less hassle.  Use traffic cams to spot cars beating the red light, and such.  Really just invest to make a citizen’s life so much easier and make it less bureaucratic.

For high level corruption, what can we do?

A few days ago, a group of friends and I were actually talking about this. To think, to say, to imagine that this is simply a Philippine phenomena or that we somehow invented it is to ignore the whole of history.

Corruption exists everywhere. The difference between America and the Philippines, for example, the risks are greater in America. So that’s really the answer: Create a system that makes corruption so high risk in the Philippines that it’ll deter most people.

This is how we begin to understand corruption in the Philippines. This is how we turn it around.

It is going to take awhile for our nation to get there. You know, build a nation that makes corruption high risk. Build a nation that makes things easy for its citizens. That should be the dream. Building capacity, giving jobs to people, raising the economic standard will help. Nation building doesn’t happen overnight. Democracy isn’t something we do every three years to elect officials, or every six years to elect a new president.

Both nation building and democracy happen everyday. And both? They’re very difficult; it is heartbreaking. It is never easy. We reinvent our nation, and our democracy every single day.

The Game of the Generals

As the nation welcomed the Year of the Rabbit with a bang, pyrotechnics were being set alight in the halls of Congress as the investigations into the Carlos Garcia plea bargain drew to a close. It now appears that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez will seek the withdrawal of the deal before the Sandiganbayan graft court after she was prevailed upon by some eminent members of the august chamber of the Senate to do so.

Meanwhile Ms Heidi Mendoza, the former auditor who uncovered evidence of plunder by Garcia, is being hailed as a hero and enlisted by P-Noy for a senior appointment in the fight against corruption. Before she entered the scene, all it seemed had been lost. The Ombudsman said the evidence it had was not admissible in court making its case weak. Garcia was allowed to retain most of what was alleged he had stolen. Pleading to a lesser offense, he was allowed to post bail and was subsequently set free. Enter Heidi Mendoza, and everything changed.

It is rather ironic that Ms Mendoza, who holds a rank of lieutenant colonel as a reserve officer but normally works quietly behind a desk crunching numbers, should bring the military establishment to its knees. This is in contrast to Lt Antonio Trillanes IV who was all sound and fury. Having used the barrel of a gun (twice in fact during the Oakwood Mutiny and the Manila Pen Siege) to throw a spotlight on the condition of soldiers in the field, he and his cabal failed to effect any meaningful change save for getting himself elected Senator.

P-Noy who campaigned and got elected on a platform of anti-corruption (kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap) and prosecuting his predecessor for graft, was muddling through in this regard having a hostile Ombudsman to contend with and his Truth Commission declared unconstitutional by the Arroyo-appointed Supreme Court.

Yet when he announced his candidacy back in 2009, P-Noy who prided himself with being a trained economist demonstrated an understanding of the calculus of corruption and the tools required to counter it. The present case of corruption in the military demonstrates just how lopsided the incentives are in favor of being dishonest.

The game of the generals as I would like to call it is no different in fact from the practices of chief executives at any S&P500 corporation. Consider the manner by which AFP budget officer Lt Col George Rabusa recounted them: (1) upon assuming office, the chief of staff received a 10 million peso pasalubong or signing bonus, (2) while in office, each chief was given 5 million pesos in addition to his salary, an expense account in other words, and (3) upon retiring, a general was sent away with a 50 million peso pabaon or golden parachute.

Their method for appropriating such wealth to themselves? Creative accounting: just as chief executives cook the books in the short-term to claim bonuses and move on to a new company before auditors are able to decipher what they have done, these generals seem to have done the same using PCDA (or provision for command-directed activities) as the vehicle.

Just as in the corporate world, the only way to prevent such practices from spiraling out of control and protecting the interests of shareholders when the CEO controls the board and is in cahoots with the auditing firm is through whistle blowers from inside the company (women have been found to be more conscientious and less prone to corruption and are more likely to blow the whistle on the practices of the “bad boys” in the board room, which is the argument for appointing more women in senior positions).

To those who supported Gibo Teodoro in the last presidential derby, it must be exceedingly clear at this point why the revelations in the Senate would have never happened under his administration. In a democracy, it is always healthy for a turnover of the reins to occur from one party to the next. And so it is in our situation.

The question now is, what is likely to happen over the next five and a half years under P-Noy? Many have questioned his ability to run the government competently despite his probity. But as we have just witnessed, competence can be outsourced but not probity. P-Noy needs a few good men and women, especially women, in championing the cause of good government. Without them, he could  just be running in circles, manipulated by the masters of the game.

Erratum: the original version of this article referred to Lt Antonio Trillanes as being the 3rd instead of the 4th as it now appears in the article.

For whom the whistle blows

“It no longer shocks me.” That seems to sum up the sentiment of P-Noy following revelations of corruption in the military’s top brass. It was just the last of litany of reports on graft across the broad spectrum of the public sector. Indeed what is shocking is not that such appalling acts of brazen theft and collusion occur, but that there remains a few good men and women within the service who would not only resist this but also find the courage to blow the whistle on such nefarious activities.

Indeed, for Ms Heidi Mendoza, the former auditor who served as resource person at the Congressional hearing into the alleged anomalous plea bargain deal entered into by Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Gen Carlos Garcia, her whistle blowing was not just for the officials concerned, but for the entire polity for allowing such practices to come about. Her credibility as a witness seemed almost unimpeachable to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. So much so that he voiced his view regarding the need for the Ombudsman to review its deal with Garcia.

And so in this episode it would seem that the rear guard action conducted by Mrs Arroyo’s forces via the fixed term appointment of Ms Gutierrez as Ombudsman has been foiled. Given the weight of both public and legal opinion following the combined exposés of Lt Col Rabusa in the Senate and Ms Mendoza at the Lower House, it will be exceedingly difficult for her to maintain her stance with respect to the deal. Kudos to both Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Sen Teofisto “TG” Guingona III and Rep Neil Tupas, Jr for conducting their respective investigations so diligently.

The question now is to what extent legislation can be aided given the findings of their respective committees? With regards to this, I would like to hazard a couple of proposals whose relevance has now become much more apparent. Apart from administrative measures aimed at strengthening the budget processes and systems of procurement and disbursement within the military, there are a few more strategic pieces of legislation that need to be pushed forward.

If the thesis of Ms Mendoza is correct that not everyone who works in government is seeking to profit at the expense of the Filipino people, then we need to equip those individuals with the tools they will need in order to press their case against those who seek to profit from the system. It is not enough to deliver homilies to honor such individuals.

First of all, there needs to be a whistle-blower protection act. Consider how Ms Mendoza’s career was threatened and how she was forced to quit after 20 long years of service in government due to the pressures she faced. That could have been avoided if there had been a whistle-blower act. Seeing how she was told to go slow in her investigations, she could have filed a complaint against her agency for covering up the anomalies she had uncovered. This is the first proposal.

Secondly, the time has come to pass a freedom of information or FOI act. Without the oversight powers of Congress enabling it to subpoena important documents for the purpose of its investigation, the media had to rely on Ms Mendoza’s personal account of events in reporting the story. With an FOI law, any ordinary citizen or media outfit would have the right to obtain pertinent documents such as the COA report of Ms Mendoza and take it from there. The FOI law would work in tandem with the whistle-blower protection law in the same way that the audit documents corroborated Ms Mendoza’s testimony.

These two laws would subject government officials to unprecedented scrutiny by the opposition, the media, and ordinary citizens alike. They would encourage more whistle-blowers to come forth. While designing and implementing more sophisticated budget systems and procedures based on expert advice constitutes a good first line of defense, greater public participation and scrutiny of government would act as the final line of defense and might be more potent as a deterrent against illegal activity.

If the thesis of Ms Mendoza is correct that not everyone who works in government is seeking to profit at the expense of the Filipino people, then we need to equip those individuals with the tools they will need in order to press their case against those who seek to profit from the system. It is not enough to deliver homilies to honor such individuals.

At the start of the year, the president outlined his legislative priorities. These did not include the integrity and transparency measures mentioned here.  It is quite ironic that some of the funds diverted to provide golden parachutes for the generals was meant for the AFP modernization program. It is now becoming apparent that if we want to modernize our way of governing, then we first need to tack these items on to the public policy agenda.

The Daily Roundup: 3 February 2011

Aquino on corruption in gov’t: I’ve reached saturation pointby Regina Bengco and Gerard Naval

PRESIDENT Aquino yesterday said he was no longer surprised by former state auditor Heidi Mendoza’s statements about corruption in the Armed Forces because he has already reached the saturation point so early in his presidency.

“Marami na ang na-discover natin, at walang tigil ito. Naabot ko na rin ang saturation because ang reaction natin kadalasan, ‘Pati ba naman iyan, pati ito hindi na pinalampas.’ Akala malaki na iyan, yun pala (may mas malaki pa),” Aquino said in an ambush interview in Laguna.

“Parang nahirapan na akong magulat,” he said.

Read more at Malaya

Heidi Mendoza: May her tribe increaseby Solita Collas-Monsod

The Garcia plea bargain hearings have taken some unexpected but very welcome turns that give the country greater reason to hope: the emergence of a role model in the fight against corruption — Heidi Mendoza, may her tribe increase; and maybe, just maybe, the much lesser likelihood now of the rank and file following blindly in their officers’ coup attempts — nothing like realizing that their so-called gods have feet of clay.

At the same time, it opens the door for a closer scrutiny of what has been going on at the supposedly independent constitutional body called the Commission on Audit which seems to be turning out to be not so independent after all.

Heidi Mendoza exemplifies what social psychologist Philip Zimbardo (of Stanford Prison Experiment fame) calls heroism. But his hero is not a hero-cum-celebrity, or a hero cum-larger-than-life. Zimbardo defines his hero as a person who performs an ordinary action in an extraordinary manner. And an ordinary action becomes extraordinary when three requisites are met: it is an action in behalf of other people in need, or for a moral cause or principle; it is an action which costs the actor — there is a sacrifice involved; and finally it is an action which is done without thought of reward.

Read more at Business World

New taxes needed for devt goalsby Cai U. Ordinario

NEW taxes must be imposed, if the Aquino administration is to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, according to a study released by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS).

The state-operated think tank said in its study, titled “Financing the MDGs and Inclusive Growth in the Time of Fiscal Consolidation,” that while improving tax collection helped increase revenues, new taxes were still needed.

The study said the new taxes could be done by restructuring the excise tax on sin products; the rationalization of fiscal incentives; and reforming the road-user charge.

Read more at Business Mirror

DOST: ‘Creeping disaster ‘ in PHL due to La Ninaby Mia M. Gonzalez

A SCIENCE official on Wednesday warned of a “creeping disaster” in the Philippines due to La Niña, as shown by larger-than-usual flooding in parts of the country since November last year, and the expected stronger typhoons this year compared with those in 2010 due to the weather phenomenon.

In a Palace news briefing, Science Undersecretary Graciano Yumul Jr. cited the amount of rainfall experienced in Surigao City in January, which was 300 percent more than the normal rainfall for the month, and said that even more telling is the 1,000 millimeters of rainfall observed in some other areas.

Read more at Business Mirror

“Lower minimum wage seen on poverty data” by Darwin G. Amojelar

THE Philippines’ minimum wage is likely to contract as a result of the government’s new way of measuring poverty, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB).

“The poverty threshold went down under the new method so the minimum wage could go down,” Romulo A. Virola, NSCB secretary general told reporters.

Under the new official poverty estimation methodology approved by the NSCB Board, the Philippine poverty line would drop an average of 4 to 5 percentage points.

Read more at The Manila Times

Gov’t offers four PPP dealsby Jessica Anne Hermosa

A LIST of public-private partnership (PPP) projects up for bidding before July has been trimmed to the sale of two light railways and an airport plus construction of an expressway.

To be privatized are the Metro Rail Transit Line (MRT) 3, Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1 and Misamis Oriental’s Laguindingan Airport as well as implementation of phase two of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) expressway worth a total of $579 million, data from the Investment Relations Office (IRO) showed.

The latest list was bared in Tokyo on Tuesday where several Cabinet members attended gatherings of business leaders from both countries, the IRO said.

Read more at Business World

Budget deficit may be smaller, says Paderanga by Iris C. Gonzales

The government’s 2010 and 2011 budget deficit as a percentage of the economy’s total output or gross domestic product (GDP) may be narrower on the back of strong economic growth last year, the country’s Socioeconomic Planning chief said.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Cayetano Paderanga Jr. said that with last year’s GDP expansion recorded at 7.3 percent or the highest since the post-Marcos era, the deficit-to-GDP ratio would likely be below 3.9 percent for last year and below 3.3 percent for this year.

In the fourth quarter alone, the economy grew by 7.1 percent.

Read more at The Philippine Star

House leaders foreign chambers meet on pending vital measuresby Paolo S. Romero

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and other leaders of the House of Representatives held a dialogue yesterday with representatives of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce (JFCC) on the need for the swift approval of pending bills on various concerns, including taxes, mining, and environment.

Leading the dialogue for the House was Belmonte and Hubert D’Aboville, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines. Also present were chairmen of the key committees of the chamber.

Also present in the dialogue were representatives from the American Chamber of Commerce; Australia-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce; Board of Airline Representatives; Business Processing Association-Philippines; Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Capital Market Development Council; Employers Confederation of the Philppines; and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI).

Read more at The Philippine Star

ADB cited for organizational effectivenessby Edu Lopez

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is an effective, transparent, client-focused organization, and should continue with current efforts to further improve its effectiveness, according to a new donor assessment report.

The report, commissioned by the Multilateral Organization Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN) consisting of 16 donor countries, gives ADB satisfactory to high marks in most key performance indicators, including in areas such as making transparent decisions in allocating resources, focusing on achieving results, reporting results information clearly, and harmonizing procedures with other development partners.

“Over the past four years, ADB has been implementing a number of reforms designed to improve its effectiveness and the findings suggest that these reforms are providing the foundation for organizational effectiveness,” the report said.

Read more at Manila Bulletin