More Filipinos now poor, but senators are richer GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc

More Filipinos — 54 percent of households, or 10.9 million families — rate themselves poor. Compare that to 47 percent, or 9.5 million, who responded likewise last August to the Social Weather Stations survey. Both figures are double the already alarming official poverty estimate of 26.5 percent, or 23.14 million individuals.

Yet here’s Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, arrogating his chamber’s multimillion-peso budget savings for his and 22 fellows’ expenses. Many are appalled.

As the government is strapped for funds for social amelioration, officials are expected to operate frugally. Office savings are then returned to the national treasury, for reallocation to worthwhile projects. Not the senators. They’re discontent with P200-million yearly pork barrel each to spend, even pocket, at will. Their unaudited tens of millions more from 57 committee chairmanships is never enough. They have to pinch every peso for themselves, than reuse for poverty alleviation.

Enrile’s self-defenses in press interviews don’t wash. Such as:

• “Senators spend for and report their operations in accordance with state audit rules.”

Commission on Audit chairwoman Grace Pulido Tan says that senators usually do not submit BIR-approved official receipts or invoices. They file mere “certifications” that such-or-such expenses were incurred, along with easy-to-concoct office disbursement vouchers. These run to billions of pesos per year, but the COA raises not a pip. For, its annual budget is subject to the senators’ consent. The COA is stricter with executive agencies and local governments, disallowing un-receipted expenses. Long-time senator Enrile knows that.

• “The savings were made because Noynoy Aquino left the Senate midway into a six-year term to become President in 2010.”

In short, the senators knew that one of 24 offices would be vacant in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Still, under Enrile’s tutelage, they allocated funds for it — funds to then divvy up. “Unconscionable,” one senator couldn’t help remarking. In the executive, long-vacated positions are deemed abolished, and funds previously allotted no longer are disbursed.

• “Incurring and realigning savings has been happening since the time of Manuel Quezon heading the Philippine legislature.”

If true, then this country has the most benighted legislators. They supposedly scrutinize the government’s annual spending. Through the decades they must have learned where to cut costs and add funds. If still they have an excess of tens of millions of pesos, to divvy up at yearend, then they can only be doing it on purpose.

*      *      *

February is when tourists converge in Baguio City for the month-long Panagbenga (Flower) Festival. In time for the influx of vacationing throngs, workers are re-concreting Kennon Road, the most scenic of five routes up the summer capital.

Frequent visitors will come upon something unsightly, though. Countless shanties have sprung up by the national road, blotting out the cliff-side view of waterfalls, pine forests, and sunflowers.

Reportedly land-grabbing politicos have misused the law again. In the name of “indigenous (Cordillera) people’s rights,” they wangled entitlements to wider portions of the highway shoulder. On those curves reserved for emergency parking, they first built rest sheds, supposedly for hikers. Then they sold the rights to speculators, who in turn built store shacks and later hollow-block homes. The squatters come into view at the foothills of Tuba town, and teem across the Baguio City boundary.

Baguio is a vacation spot where one dreams of someday taking the kids and grandkids. But imagine if, a decade or two from now, more and more squatter shanties would line up the route. Will anyone then risk driving up to be robbed by the lawless along the way? Those squatters are the beginning of the end of Baguio.

*      *      *

Speaking of Panagbenga, the flower fest nearly will not push through this 2013. Credit-grabbers at City Hall had plotted to take over this 18th-year — for political and financial gain. The city council even enacted an ordinance barring the use of city property for private doings.

The local law laudably would avert any arbitrary grant of rights to build restaurants or shops on sidewalks or rotundas. But it also had the effect of covering the Panagbenga. The festival traditionally uses quaint Burnham Park for landscaping and handicraft exhibitions, and historic Session Road for flower parades, street dancing, and sidewalk dining.

A private non-profit Panagbenga Foundation organizes the event. Panagbenga attracts about a million tourists; with each one spending at least P1,000, Baguio’s economy gets a P1-billion boost of new money in just one month. Everyone profits, from the lowly street vendor of boiled corn to the big hoteliers. Add to that the festival sponsorships by biggies in telecoms, autos, and banking.

Fortunately the takeover plotters backed off. For, they could not use the name Panagbenga, copyrighted to the foundation. Too, City Hall cannot bar the festival from Burnham Park and Session Road, which are under the national tourism office.

*      *      *

Last January 13, on the 118th birth commemoration of Vivencio Baron Cuyugan, his heirs donated the historic ancestral home to the City of San Fernando, Pampanga. Cuyugan, who with Pedro Abad Santos founded the Socialist Party of the Philippines, was San Fernando’s first mayor under the Commonwealth in 1935. He was also the country’s first Socialist city chief. It was fitting that outgoing Mayor Oscar S. Rodriguez, a modern-day socialist, presided over last Sunday’s turnover. Noted soprano Fides Santos-Cuyugan Asensio represented the clan.

The Cuyugan manor abounds with memories. Not only was it home to famous scions, but also once served as the municipio. It was there that Mayor Cuyugan moved against abusive big business. Among these was Pasudeco, Luzon’s biggest sugar mill then, which he penalized for waste dumping into the San Fernando River.

In 1941 when the Japanese invaded, Mayor Cuyugan formed the resistance, with Luis Taruc, Mayors Casto Alejandrino and Mariano Sampang, and Apung Banal. Thus was born the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa hapon (Hukbalahap). Out of spite, the Japanese army confiscated the manor as its local headquarters.

Successor Rodriguez prizes historical and environment awareness as marks of real living. For citizens to rise economically, he believes they must take pride in their past, and conserve present resources for next generations. San Fernando’s middle class grew from the national average of 19.9 percent when he became mayor nine years ago, to 59.1 percent today. This he attributes not only to clean government, but also to constant history pageants, river cleanups, and urban planning.


2 thoughts on “More Filipinos now poor, but senators are richer GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc”

  1. The Legislative Department cannot create their own rules exempting these Legislators from providing receipts to back-up/support disbursements and COA merely saying they have their own internal rules.

    The Judiciary and Executive can therefore have their ow rules under the same principle but mind you, COA will cite a lot of Constitutional provisions and at the end saying the members of these two (2) departments have violated and therefore be investigated and punished.

    COA which is a Constitutional Commission to my surprise is satisfied during audit to just support disbursements and expenses by Legislators with a piece of certification.

    What we have done to the Judiciary should be applied to both the Executive and Legislative.

    Why not conduct an extensive audit and reporting of these pork barrel and let the public know the extent of these anomaly. Nasaan ang mga magigiting nating mga reporters, journalist na isiwalat ang ganitong systema sa Senado.

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