DEMAND AND SUPPLY
By Boo Chanco
The Philippine Star
No one has any illusion it could be done overnight or even by the end of P-Noy’s term. But many, including potential local and foreign investors, have taken to heart that P-Noy seems genuinely sincere about his Daang Matuwid. If anyone can walk the talk, it is P-Noy.
I wouldn’t take it against P-Noy that some anomalies have been reported under his watch by Commission on Audit chair Grace Pulido-Tan. She told a budget briefing that COA has raised questions on how the Bureau of Customs, DSWD and National Development Corp. have handled government funds. Pulido-Tan, a P-Noy appointee, showing independence is a plus for P-Noy’s Daang Matuwid.
The COA chair revealed audit findings adverse to Customs for having issued P26 billion in what COA believes are illegal refunds of Customs duties and taxes in 2011. That was more than double the P12-billion refunds made in 2010 that were also questioned by COA. As far as COA is concerned, the tax refunds and deductions on customs duties are not authorized under the Tariff and Customs Code.
Pulido-Tan also cited COA audit findings that indicate unaccounted “over-the-counter” disbursements of P3.77 billion for the Conditional Cash Transfer scheme, the flag ship anti poverty program of the Aquino administration.
Also revealed by Pulido-Tan is the failure of the National Development Co. (NDC), a holding firm under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to remit the correct dividends amounting to P1.9 billion from 1999 to 2010.
Customs replied that they are obligated to give those duty drawbacks under the law. COA insists the refunds have no basis.
As for DSWD, they explained that there is a lag time in the liquidation of the cash advances but that these are continually being liquidated even after the COA report was issued. The DSWD also said they are improving their procedures to effect faster liquidation in the future.
I have not seen any explanation by the NDC.
Rather than be disturbed by the COA revelations I see it as the system working. The watchdog is being alert and the line agencies know they have to be accountable. A court ruling may be needed to resolve the different interpretations of the law advanced by COA and Customs but that is part of the system in operation.
What worries me about Daang Matuwid is the persistence of reports that P-Noy is looking the other way when favors are asked by key Liberal Party stalwarts. For instance, I heard that the discredited Bridges to Nowhere project of Ate Glue was retained by P-Noy at the instance of a Liberal Party heavyweight.
These so called mega bridges use imported French modular steel at a total cost of around P10B. They were acquired during Ate Glue’s time without knowing where exactly they will be installed. I am told the cost is from six to eight times more in comparison to the usual pre-stressed concrete used by DPWH and in the private sector.
From what I heard, the person who sold Ate Glue these bridges is now a congressman representing a party list group. Once extremely loyal to Ate Glue, the person managed to worm his way into the Aquino administration with the help of this Liberal Party heavyweight, who vouched for him with P-Noy. This is the same character actually named in a British House of Commons investigation report about corruption in a British funded bridges program during Ate Glue’s watch.
In other words, tuloy ang ligaya! P-Noy scrapped the Laguna de Bay dredging and the overdesigned ports project but the Bridges to Nowhere is alive and well. How could P-Noy be so trusting of people around him so unworthy of it!
And speaking of bridges… I just got a copy of a letter sent to DPWH Secretary Babes Singson about a bridge project in Iloilo. The group that calls itself Citizens Infrawatch had been asking for some explanation from Singson but feel they are being ignored.
The project in question is the P53-million Dungon bridge in Iloilo City. The group does not believe a new bridge is needed given the traffic volume on it. At most, the group thinks the bridge can be rehabilitated to include such retrofits that would enhance its safety.
According to their letter, the project started as a “two lane reconstruction of the bridge” and the initial cost as stated in the billboard put up by DPWH on the site is P31,408,120.15. It was later announced in the press to have a funding of P36 million from the pork barrel fund of Iloilo Rep. Jerry Trenas.
The watchdog group pointed out a discrepancy of P5 million from the reported initial funding. An additional funding of P16.9 million was sought and received “to expand the bridge from a two lane to a four lane to accommodate more vehicles.”
And here is the worse part. Says the watchdog group: “there was no need to replace Dungon bridge if the justification is to widen it to four lanes… the traffic along El 98 Road from Jaro to Manurriao (leading to Benigno Aquino Ave.) does not justify the expansion from two lanes to four lanes… and what is the value of a four lane bridge when the road before and after it remains two-lanes?”
I guess it is safe to believe this is not the only horror story going on out there. If the watchdog is right, we wasted P53 million which could have been used for more worthwhile projects also in Iloilo. At the very least, Babes Singson should encourage such citizen activism as part of Daang Matuwid by engaging them and not ignoring them.
There are still many twists and turns on the Daang Matuwid. P-Noy can set the example but he cannot police everybody. P-Noy, however, can be more discerning even of the Liberal Party politicians who are his allies.
It would not do P-Noy’s legacy any good if in the end, people will say his watch was like that of his mother’s. They both stayed clean but the folks around them were dirty as hell.
Mar to DILG
I say it is a good move for P-Noy. Getting Mar out of DOTC had become an obvious necessity. This Rep. Joseph Abaya is supposed to be an engineer and a lawyer and should be able to move projects faster.
For a politician, this Abaya has done a marvelous job of keeping himself below the radar so that when his name was mentioned, very few knew who he was. As chairman of the House appropriations committee, he should have had more visibility.
It is good to know he is reputed to be honest and his technical knowledge as an engineer should hopefully mean he won’t require another year to study all the DOTC projects all over again. Hopefully he has nothing to do with another young Abaya who was reputed to have wasted a few billion pesos tinkering with jatropha at PNOC Alternative Energy Corp. during Ate Glue’s watch. I wonder why the Ombudsman isn’t looking into that one.
As for Mar at DILG, one thing going for him is his honesty and commitment for clean government, same as Jesse Robredo. But I am not sure he can empathize with the mayors and governors the way Robredo did. Mar has never held a post in a LGU.
I also wonder if Mar has the stomach for the dirt that goes with the DILG job. We are talking here of jueteng, corrupt LGU and police officials, private armies, drug lords and criminal syndicates that I am sure Mar would rather not have anything to do with.
If he was scared about signing documents at DOTC, the documents he must sign at DILG are far more perilous… overpriced police helicopters, overpriced fire trucks, overpriced guns and other supplies. The syndicates are also more entrenched and probably murderous. And in a crisis like that Luneta carnage, Mar cannot say ‘teka teka’ and then order consultants to study the options.
If Mar wants to prove himself worthy of being president in 2016, this is a good learning post. But Jesse Robredo has set the bar high for both honesty and tangible results. Mar is okay on the honesty side but still to be tested on his ability to produce results we can all see beyond mere talk.
Lawyer Sonny Pulgar sent this one.
A lawyer awakened after a serious operation only to find himself in a room with all the blinds drawn.
“Why are all the blinds closed?” he asked his doctor.
Well, the surgeon responded, “They’re fighting a huge fire across the street, and we didn’t want you to wake up and think the operation had failed.”
Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco