• Save the Republic

    Ben D. Kritz

    Ben D. Kritz

    Earlier this week, a disturbing rumor I first heard a part of some months ago was confirmed by an eminently credible source in an on-the-record discussion: It seems that there are people within the Department of Education who are providing lists of teachers whose net pay is above a certain threshold to lenders—banks and finance companies—who then offer loans to the teachers. The loans are usually for very large amounts, several hundred thousand pesos in many cases, and usually have very attractive interest rates.

    Teaching is among the lowest-paid professions in this country, and what makes many of these prospective borrowers even more susceptible to the lenders’ marketing is that many of them are young, recent graduates who have suddenly found themselves responsible for their own finances—and not at all well-trained to handle it—after having been supported by their families for all their young lives. Naturally, having their lack of experience taken advantage of by unethical lenders (and not insignificantly, people in the government department that is supposed to be protecting their interests) leads many of these teachers into a debt trap that is usually only escapable if they forego their chosen profession for something a little more lucrative, such as an unrewarding service-industry job overseas.

    Stories like this are all too common, and most of them never see the light of day, because there is little evidence one can present to support them—the Filipino love for excessive paperwork and record-keeping does not extend to criminal and other abuses in government agencies or elsewhere. For example, just try asking anyone in the Bureau of Customs about the revelation made a few weeks ago by the head of a major industry association that a “hidden cost” faced by that group’s 200-odd members is a P500 “transaction fee” (for which receipts are not issued, naturally) for any transaction, no matter how inconsequential; at a monthly average of around 40,000 transactions per month for this particular industry group, this amounts to an extortion racket worth around a quarter of a billion pesos per year.

    Not that any of this is actually a surprise; stories like these have been part of the grapevine since time immemorial. What is a surprise to many, however, is how stereotypical the government of President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd has turned out to be. Most business people, if for no other reason than simple practicality, have up until now been inclined to give President Aquino the benefit of the doubt. Shenanigans like those described above were supposed to be stopped but no one expects everything to be fixed overnight; as long as things generally appear to be moving in the direction of greater consistency and process accountability—and as long as the general business environment is still profitable, of course—business people, being a rather politically conservative lot, keep their complaints to a minimum.

    The revelations of the past week, particularly those about the so-called “Disbursement Acceleration Program,” or DAP, have destroyed the last of that goodwill. The DAP appears to be an illegally contrived slush fund used to bribe legislators—to hear it characterized as that by a high-level commercial banking executive and unapologetic financial backer of the Liberal Party is unnerving, to say the least—and is a stark reminder of how “unprogrammed funds” such as the Priority Development Assistance Fund, the President’s Social and Special Purpose Funds and the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund have ballooned under President Aquino. As more than one business leader has pointed out, even if the creation and use of the DAP and other funds is completely legal and backed by honest intentions on President Aquino’s part, they are economically unsound to the extent that they have had a negative impact on the economy that cannot be overlooked or tolerated any longer, no matter how sincere B.S. Aquino might be.

    And very few believe B.S. Aquino is actually sincere at this point; that might be unfair, but the disclosures being made certainly leave that impression—and as a consequence, there is a growing discussion among people who ordinarily would be loathe to raise the topic, speculating whether it is possible that the Aquino administration could be brought down, and whether that would actually be better for the country.

    Most cooler heads now agree that yes, it is possible, and that is a prospect they do not welcome. The memory of the criticism leveled at the country after the ouster of Joseph Estrada, even though he was replaced with someone whose qualifications were well-known and respected by the international community, has not gone away. Any sort of extralegal change in government will have deeply negative ramifications for the Philippines’ United Nations-level dispute with China, its standing within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and its still-necessary close relationship with the United States. And there is no clearly better alternative; no one has emerged as a possible leader with a significantly better plan for the country.

    The better solution, at this point, would be for President Aquino to listen to some hard advice for once and do the job that he said he would do, if that is indeed his intention; if it is not, then he should resign and allow the country to form a caretaker administration under Vice President Binay for the remainder of the term. Fixing the system and reestablishing his personal credibility involves just a few steps, but they are big ones.

    First, the 2014 budget now before Congress must be torn up and replaced with one that eliminates all “unprogrammed” or “undesignated” funds of any kind, most especially the P1 trillion earmarked for the Office of the President. Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, who is seen as the chief culprit in the financial malfeasance being revealed, and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima should be compelled to resign, along with every Executive Branch official implicated in the ongoing “pork barrel” scandal, the alleged misuse of the Malampaya Fund, and other cases that might arise. The Commission on Audit (COA) must be provided all the documents now being withheld from it by the Budget Department, and be able to make a full public report. An Executive Order making all finances of any government entity—that is, eliminating exemptions now granted to certain funds of the President and other offices—subject to COA oversight must be made. The ongoing “hearings” in the Senate—which provide nothing more than entertainment value, even more so because suspects are conducting their own inquest—must be immediately halted to allow the appropriate agencies to conduct a thorough investigation. And finally, all personalities, regardless of affiliation, for whom sufficient evidence is present to warrant charges, should be immediately charged and subjected to a fair but thorough trial.

    If President Aquino is not willing to take those steps, which, he should be reminded, are those outlined by important people who finance and support his and his party-mates’ elections and continuing terms in office, that is his prerogative. He may step aside and pass the challenge on to his successor, and he would probably be regarded without prejudice for doing so; what he needs to realize is, it’s not about him—it never was. It’s about what’s best for the country.


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    1. Excellent article. Very well said and I totally agree on all your points including the one on the rule of succession (Binay) and upholding the rule of law. Unpalatable as it may be, it was the electorate, meaning us Filipinos who put him there in the first place. You made your choice so live with it. We only have ourselves to blame for letting all of these things happen. Simply because we allowed these personalities to either buy their way into office or abuse the power they had when appointed into office during the time of Cory when she appointed all of these undesirable OICs. I only hope something good comes out of all of these issues such as a change of Constitution to address all of these defects once and for all.

    2. Here’s my take on the whole “Binay is unpalatable” point of view, which seems to be fairly common: That’s your constitutional alternative, deal with it. If the idea of Binay as President is so off-putting, then you (the collective Philippine electorate “you”) should not have elected him to the position that puts him one heartbeat away from it. Of course, no one thinks of that kind of thing when they step up to the voting booth.

      I’m not going to offer a judgment on Binay, because that’s irrelevant. I’ve already offered my judgment that if the country should choose to change its CEO, that must be done in accordance with established legal procedures — preferably, as I’ve said, by the CEO making the decision to step down on his own if he is unable or unwilling to do his job properly. In that case, the VP is the legal replacement, and that is several orders of magnitude more preferable than the “extralegal” option, no matter who the VP is.

    3. Franklin j. Gujol on

      Are you crazy, kritz? You want pnoy to leave the country to binay as caretaker? From which planet are you coming from? Did you not hear about binay’s questionable riches? Do you hear about pnoy’s questionable riches? Do you think these graft and corruption cases would have been investigated if binay is the country’s leader? No way. Your suggestion is like “saving the country from fire and into the frying pan” or however that saying goes.

    4. Great article, almost perfect. But one phrase ruined it all– “he(PNoy) should resign and allow the country to form a caretaker administration under Vice President Binay”

      • Yup, Binay taking over is as unpalatable as it gets, but that doesn’t mean that Noynoy Aquino should not resign or be ousted (as Jim Paredes et al would like us to believe, being the new yellow mantra). By any means, Aquino should cease to be the leader of this country.

      • Nieves Godinez on

        The repulsion against Binay is understandable, but if we want a smooth and legitimate transition to take place, we have to accept Binay as a legitimate successor. I don’t see how he could be any worse than the current abusive president. He has got to be more rational, a quality lacking in the current administration. What the country needs is not a chaotic power grab by just any one group. Binay, being the sitting vice president could prove a smooth transition to a government which is not tainted by the unbridled corruption of the Aquino administration!

    5. Teresita Humilde on

      Oh my goodness! This is the first time that I’ve read your article Mr. Kritz and I am so amazed how much you know about the political environment in the Philippines. How long have you lived in the Philippines? You are an excellent writer not to mention very knowleageable of the political condition of the country. I hope President Aquino will read this article because if everything you wrote is true then yes, he should voluntarily resign as President of the Philippines and the rest of his cabinet members or croonies/friends! I’ve lived in the US for the past 39 years and I am now getting more involved in what is going on there in my beloved birth country. I am appalled by all the corruptions in the Philippines from top to bottom of the public sectors. It is quite infuriariting, disgusting, disappointing, in short I am angry to all the public officials in the Philippines, they’re all corrupt! What a shame that my country has not yet learned from the past corruption and it’s getting worst to the bone! When will it ever end? When? I pity the poor Filipinos who has to suffer because of the inept, no conscience and souls of those who are in power! SHAME TO ALL OF THEM! They should be all in prison for the rest of their lives! Filipinos wake up! This is the time to oust all the corrupt politicians in the Philippines! Do not re-elect any of these hoodlums! They’re the worst people (the politicians) on this planet!

    6. ram c. aguilar on

      that is absolutely malfeasance of public trust and turned out to be abusive and scandalous character of public officials……que horror y impertenente de la guardia nosotros de nero en la nacional