The ongoing row between state and private prosecutors in the Maguindanao Massacre case now hinges on Secretary Leila de Lima of the Department of Justice believing or dismissing accusations by the non-DOJ lawyers as well as two prosecution witnesses that her people accepted bribes from the accused Ampatuan family. Amounts of between P50 million and P300 million are alleged.
“I trust my people,” she told media.
“So if there are undesirable allegations, I really want proof.” She should ask the Anti-Money Laundering Council for any huge transfers into bank accounts of DOJ prosecutors. As agency head, she can look into Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth of all DOJ personnel. SALNs include waivers allowing data from any state body, including AMLC, to be used in checking statements. If that was done to a Chief Justice and a senator, why not government lawyers?
The Maguindanao Massacre case is just one among several issues that should be given urgent attention and action because they afflict disadvantaged and oppressed Filipinos. As usual, however, partisan politics is robbing precious national and governance attention and action from the poor and needy.
Of the countless issues and concerns constantly afflicting small and powerless Filipinos, the government, religious and civil society, business and development entities, and other key sectors ought to focus on problems of high urgency and impact. Here are three, and the Palace should report yesterday how authorities are addressing them.
The cargo crunch kicks up costs
First, the coming shortage and price spiral in basic necessities due to the continuing ports congestion. Authorities have eased the truck ban and undertaken other measures to speed the freight flow through the ports, which now include Batangas and Subic as Manila extension ports. But don’t expect those laudable steps to prevent the looming cargo crunch when Christmas goods and gifts surge starting next week.
What’s needed now is a sweeping check with manufacturers, importers and retailers which key necessities bought by low-income households are in short supply or steeply rising in cost. The Bureau of Customs is rightly prioritizing rice, but Filipinos do not live on grain alone. What about pork and poultry, widely used medicines including diabetes and hypertension drugs, school materials, clothing and footwear, and farming inputs.
Besides consumer goods, industrial and building materials used by high-employment sectors should be monitored. If key items run out, that would idle hundreds or evern thousands of workers in factories and contractors hit by shortages. Exporters too may falter due to huge losses from having to air-freight products or suffer order cancellations. The Trade and Labor Departments should check which industries are likely to suffer layoffs or work stoppages, and already make arrangements for alternative livelihood through food-for-work, public construction, and microfinance.
Thankfully, world oil prices have plunged since June by around a quarter to $80-$85 a barrel, depending on the type of crude. The government should ensure that petroleum savings are passed onto consumers, especially fisherfolk and public utility vehicle operators, and that fares are cut to reflect cheaper fuel.
Disaster recovery delayed
While poor Filipinos adversely affected by the ports congestion have yet to feel its Christmas effects, another group of unfortunates have been in dire straits for many months: the thousands of families displaced and dispossessed by last year’s Zamboanga siege in September, Bohol earthquake in October, and Yolanda supertyphoon in November.
Last month, IRIN, the news service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reported that 40,000 still-homeless Zamboangeños feel neglected a year after the attack by Moro National Liberation Front fighters. The MNLF occupied parts of the city in anger over its diminished clout under the Bangsamoro entity replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao created under the 1996 peace agreement with the Front.
More reports of delayed recovery emerged on October 15, the anniversary of the 7.2 magnitude Bohol temblor which killed 222 victims and affected more than 670,000 families across Central Visayas, including some 54,000 displaced in one city and 34 municipalities of the province.
Secretary Mar Roxas of the Department of Interior and Local Government admonished mayors in the provincial capital Tagbilaran for failing to submit work programs needed to access P2.4 billion in reconstruction funds made available only in June. Some local governments countered that they lacked engineers to do the plans. Amid the blame game, thousands of families are still camped out beside their devastated homes.
And as next week’s Yolanda supertyphoon anniversary nears, another round of disappointing news and finger-pointing over slow recovery looks set to erupt. A week ago, Presidential Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma denied that government efforts were not delayed—just a day after President Benigno Aquino 3rd himself said he just received detailed timelines for the recovery program.
In fact, his chosen Presidential Assistant for Recovery and Reconstruction, former senator Panfilo Lacson, said Aquino got the comprehensive recovery plan on August 1. Considering his job done, Lacson is considering quitting, but Aquino wants him to implement the plan.
Yet nearly three months after he got Lacson’s recovery plan, it has yet to get moving. And Lacson does not feel empowered enough to get things done: “I don’t have implementation authority, I don’t have a budget. [I have] three consultants under government payroll, no capital outlay, no MOOE [operating funds], and probably the only czar of its kind. A superman, if you will, without power.”
If Lacson is pressing for clout and cash, one reason is the immense job. Take housing: 490,000 homes were destroyed, and 520,000 damaged. More than 24,000 businesses were affected, of which about 10,000 were completely shut down. Nearly all the ventures were micro or small enterprises. And some 140,000 workers suffered. And the poorest families affected were farmers living off 600,000 hectares disrupted by Yolanda, including coconut cultivators—the poorest sector along with fisherfolk.
As for the Maguindanao Massacre, along with the Hacienda Luisita distribution, the trial is a bellweather of justice for the underprivileged. If such high-profile cases do not yield outcomes benefiting the poor and oppressed, then other cases with less prominence and even more powerless victims would likely go nowhere. Hence, President Aquino and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno must ensure that the Executive and Judicial branches deliver justice in both Maguindanao and Tarlac.
Maguindanao Massacre. Port congestion. Disaster recovery. Let’s hope relevant authorities give urgent attention and time to them and other concerns afflicting the poor and powerless. Otherwise, they would lend ammunition to those exploiting rich-poor frictions in our intensely divisive, insanely destructive politics.