This weekend’s plenary conference of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines will have much to ponder and pronounce upon. Several national developments gravely affect the lives of Filipinos, especially the poor, and raise issues of truth, justice and integrity.
Most prominent among them is, of course, the mammoth anomalies in state spending, with plunder charges against three opposition senators implicated in the pork barrel scandal, and the Supreme Court decision declaring the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional.
Other issues likely to come up are the food prices spiral squeezing the poor, the expiry of the land reform program, and deteriorating peace and order, claiming lives even in Metro Manila and raising threats in Mindanao. And with the rainy season upon us, disaster preparedness and recovery.
Audit all PDAF and DAP spending
The pork barrel and DAP controversies involve public funds exceeding P220 billion during the Aquino administration: P62 billion in Priority Development Assistance Fund releases since mid-2010 and P157 billion in DAP over the last three years.
So far, the Commission on Audit has reviewed P8 billion of the P26 billion in Arroyo-era PDAF disbursements in 2007-09—the only papers COA got from Budget Secretary Florencio Abad for its special audit of PDAF, despite repeated requests for all records.
As fellow columnist Rigoberto Tiglao reported in these pages on June 27 and 30, while the bulk of pork outlays for opposition leaders Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla were checked, most records for Aquino allies have been withheld by Abad.
Moreover, COA has yet to report on yet unnamed operators who handled P4 billion in the PDAF it has audited so far. That’s nearly double the P2.2 billion that allegedly went through accused pork barrel schemer Janet Lim Napoles.
All PDAF and DAP spending must be audited, and all legislators, agencies and operators involved in disbursements investigated. That is a must for truth, justice, and good governance to prevail, rather than the corruption-feeding belief that those in the ruling camp can plunder without fear.
Sadly, there is mounting concern that COA is dragging its feet on disbursements under Aquino or to his allies. Meanwhile, the high-profile trials of Senators Enrile, Estrada and Revilla make people think the government is addressing anomalies, not covering up.
The CBCP may wish to join other concerned sectors in calling on COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan to publish a timetable for auditing the rest of the 2007-09 PDAF and the Aquino-era pork and DAP. While that schedule may jeopardize her chances of being appointed to the Supreme Court, it would show that the Commission is performing its constitutional duty with independence and impartiality.
Cooking rice and crime data
Turning to life-saving issues of food, peace and order, and disaster risk reduction (DRR), one big problem in all three concerns is the wide disparity between what the government says it has done, and the reality on the ground.
Take President Aquino’s repeated claims of rice sufficiency, which is key to addressing food security and prices. Last week his Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala admitted failure in that goal.
While officially sanctioned imports declined, smuggling of the staple had in fact skyrocketed. Based on decades of rice production and consumption data, plus satellite images of cultivation, the US Department of Agriculture estimated that the Philippines needed to import 1.1 million tons last year, as recently cited also by Tiglao.
The USDA forecast a shortfall of 2 million tons this year —way over the government’s planned imports of 600,000 tons. That’s why rice and other food prices soared when shipments piled up in Manila ports due to stringent restrictions on trucks hauling cargo.
Another claimed achievement based on official data, but also looking dubious lately is the purportedly declining crime rate. Responding to warnings from Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, chief Palace spokesperson Herminio Coloma asserted that lawlessness declined since 2010, according to the National Statistics Office.
The NSO 2014 factbook seemed to bear out Malacañang, with total incidents down from 324,083 in 2010 to 217,812 in 2012. Last Friday, however, the Philippine National Police ’fessed up, so to speak, and came out with the alarming unadulterated numbers.
From January to May this year, PNP Director General Alan Purisima told media, there were a total of 289,198 crimes reported, up nearly 44,000 or 18 percent over the same period in 2013. That’s just for the first five months of 2014.
And judging from the 245,347 crime volume for January-May last year, it now appears that the correct data for all of 2013 is probably half a million. That’s more than double the figure given by PNP to NSO for 2012. And if this year’s trend isn’t arrested, there could be 600,000 incidents by December—nearly double the 2010 total.
No wonder the Mandaluyong, Pasay, and Taguig city police chiefs were relieved last year for reportedly falsifying papers to make it appear that crime was down in their areas. PNP’s National Capital Region Police Office also investigated seven other chiefs of police and station managers for fudging figures. And that’s just for Metro Manila.
Yolanda debunks Aquino
Probably the most glaring example of official pronouncements being totally debunked and instantly was the nationally televised November 7 speech by President Aquino two days before Supertyphoon Yolanda hit the Visayas.
Aquino assured the nation that the country’s C130 transports were ready and capable, along with 32 Air Force planes and helicopters, plus 20 Navy ships in Cebu, Bicol, Cavite and Zamboanga. And relief goods were pre-positioned in areas likely to be hit.
Yet days passed before any of those aircraft and vessels got to storm-surged Tacloban, and it took the US Navy to clear the airport runway of debris. Then, instead of balling out the Philippine military for either dismally slow response or faulty information on disaster readiness, Aquino castigated the opposition mayor of Tacloban.
Not content with one blooper, President Aquino tried to downplay the catastrophe by insisting that it claimed about 2,500 lives. It was, of course, unwise to give any casualty figure so early. Still, agencies promptly swung into action to affirm the presidential foible, even stopping the body count when it topped 6,000.
Perhaps it is asking too much, but the CBCP and the citizenry may wish to urge that the State of the Nation Address on July 28 should come clean on the true state of food security, crime, and disaster readiness, and spell out clear and effective remedial measures. It may just save more than a few lives.