CHINO HILLS – We only live life once. We want to live it well. There comes a point in the lives of many when they resign themselves to the fates. They do so because they have come to the realization that they have lost control of their lives. That they are helpless in the face of the circumstances that they find themselves in. That they have become irrelevant. That nobody cares. That there is no hope.
This reality that sets in is not the same for everyone. It ranges from retreating into the relatively safe confines of our immediate families, our friends, our social circle to the the taong grasa we ignore in our streets who has lost all sense of self-respect and human dignity. We re-define our existence and ignore the ugly realities that assault our senses every day. We ignore the taong grasa.
To those of us who are lucky, we try to stay above it. We stop caring because what can we do about it. We complain of the inconveniences like traffic, of not having a place to park in our workplaces – when we should be thankful that we have a car to get us to work. We blame everybody in our sights for everything that is wrong or take the “that’s not my problem” route. I am not preaching – that is how many of us think.
For many years, probably since the grant of independence in 1946, our country has lurched this way and that. No matter how you put it, the Philippines has ceased to become relevant in this world if it ever was in the first place. Oh yes – we say we are relevant because we provide many of the workers that keep many of the economies in the world going. The doctors, nurses, seamen, domestic helpers and other professionals who have abandoned their country and continue to do so. Who can really blame them?
Even as we extol them as heroes, we choose to forget the damage to the social fabric caused by this phenomenon. The forced separation of families, children growing up without parents, parents dying without having seen their children who have departed for greener pastures kasi baka hindi na makapasok uli sa America dahil out of status (i.e. TNT).
When you talk to many of these OFWs, many don’t really have nice things to say about the home country. They endure humiliation, discrimination, bigotry and assaults on their dignity. Yet when you ask them about coming home to the Philippines, may ask – “bakit?”. Magulo, mabaho, mainit are some adjectives they use. There is no overwhelming sense of pride in the country. Yes – some go to other countries hoping to come home at some point para makaipon. Many more leave with no intent of coming home instead waiting for the time when they can start a petition for the immigration of their relatives.
More than the lack of economic opportunities, however, there is the sense that the ability to advance in society is just not possible. Social discrimination remains firmly entrenched in Philippine culture. You either belong or you don’t. It is not something that is commonly overt but it is so encompassing that people just assume that such and such is their place in society. Our movies even promote this mentality with lines like – hindi mo puwede pakasalan si ______ dahil hindi ka karapat-dapat sa kanya. Mahirap lang tayo.” The rags to riches tale, such a sellable plot or cultural imperialism.
Maybe we don’t really care. The fact is that we have not matured as a nation. We have very little understanding of what it takes to become a real nation.
Business pages of today’s newspapers blare out the fact that we remain one of the fastest-growing economies in the planet. Yes, economic growth and development is essential to elevate the lot in life of our countrymen. Yet – several years into this economic expansion you still see poverty and hunger subsist in a great number of people. The lack of economic uplift for the common tao is not a cyclical economic problem, it is a structural one. And, the current structure perpetuates inequality by having the fruits of economic growth being enjoyed by a concentrated few.
It is here where government should be making a difference. Not by hand-outs, not by one-off projects, not by pork barrel economics. Government should make a difference by crafting policies designed to promote widespread investment in the countryside. Stop putting money in the money-pit that is Metro Manila. Incentivize companies which choose to locate in the provinces. Put into place regressive business taxes and levies that will make the cost of doing business in Metro Manila very, very expensive. Be bold, be creative.
As we vent our anger on Janet Napoles and her ilk, our Senators, our Congressmen and others involved in the pork barrel gravy train, let us not forget that their being called to account is not the end but a means to an end. Our ultimate goal is to have our tax pesos spent in a transparent and rational way that benefits not everyone, but really those who need these most.
The matuwid na daan mantra of the current administration will die a natural death without a path to progress that people will understand. The going after tax-evaders and other similar campaigns will end up being a one-hit wonder when the personalities change if more is not done to educate and solicit buy-in from the people of the bigger picture. Put in all the punitive measures that you can, set up the best infrastructure to try to prevent all of these – well, none of that will stand the test of time if people don’t believe in the whys of these things that are being done.
We are at a crossroads. Put away the Napoleses of this world, the corrupt Senator, the crooked Congressman and throw away the key. But then what?
The tangible things that can be done to punish those accountable are necessary and should be done. The difficult part is changing the mind-set of people about business as usual. We have to continue to keep people accountable. We have to continue to be vigilant. And more important – we have to make ourselves accountable.
We have to care. We have to stop retreating into the safety of our comfort zones. We have to individually and collectively subscribe to what we say. If we say that people should follow the law, then you should only cross the street when the pedestrian light turns green.
CHINO HILLS, CA – When we launched Kasibulan, the Grassroots Program of the Philippine Football Federation, we were able to win the support of PAGCOR (a GOCC) with P20 million in financial support. The funds were released in 2 tranches of P10 million each. The release of the second tranche was subject to the full liquidation of the first tranche. Despite our preparations and focus on documentation, the release of the second tranche was delayed due to the logistical challenge of collating receipts and other similar items from 33 provinces all over the country. Eventually everything was accounted for, down to the last centavo.
I wonder how the DBM authorizes the release of susbsequent tranches of the PDAF funds to our legislators. Are these subject to the same stringent procedures that we were made to comply with? Hearing what I’ve been hearing, I’m not quite sure.
Like our experience – each and every legislator should be made to account for each and every centavo of his or her PDAF. Being supposed representatives of the people upon whom trust is reposed, they are subject to a higher standard.
Morally, they should be judged as guilty of misuse of public funds until proven innocent by a full and transparent accounting of the moneys entrusted to them.
The Commission on Audit (COA) should not stop at their first audit report on the (mis)use of the PDAF which covered the period just before the current administration took over. It will be a herculean effort but this is something that needs to be done. It would surprise me if any of our legislators complied with all the administrative requirements covering the release of government funds. As per my experience it is a pretty comprehensive and exhaustive process which I presume has been conveniently ignored by our lawmakers whether willingly or unwittingly. At the very least, the rule on the release of funds without full liquidation of previous releases appears to have been “overlooked”.
When going through this investigative process, the COA, DOJ and the Office of the Ombudsman need to have a systematic plan. As it is, an honest to goodness investigation will take at least a couple of years to be completed. This assumes of course that these agencies are given the necessary resources to carry out this task given the enormity of what needs to be done. I am predisposed to think that many of the possible findings would result in a relatively small set of grounds for prosecution or administrative action. The administrative action that will need to be taken should be relatively easy to dispose of given that violations of purely ministerial rules and regulations (e.g. timely liquidations) should be clear. The difficulty will be in cases that would be passed off to the DOJ for prosecution before the Ombudsman.
This will not be easy. If pursued vigorously and systematically, this will take at least to the end of the term of the current administration. Who knows what will happen after that. In the meantime, legislation will likely slow down as our lawmakers hide and engage in other actions to either comply with what they should have complied with in the first place or find ways to rationalize why they should be exempt for all these.
While the Office of the Ombudsman is theoretically an independent body immune from political considerations, Justice Carpio-Morales will face annual impeachment cases against her meant to distract and harass her Office from discharging its proper duty. Then, sometime during the next administration, her term of office will end. Then, the earnestness by which these cases are pursued will be up in the air again.
Of course, I am getting ahead of myself. As alluded to earlier, seeking accountability from those we have reposed with trust will be an uphill battle. This thing is huge. The possibility that the majority of our legislators have been remiss in one way or another in handling their PDAF is a strong possibility. Somebody will try to propound ways to expediently resolve this fiasco which will leave no one totally happy. In the end, an expedient solution may be the only way we are able to put this behind us. A solution that calls to account the most egregious villains but not all of them.
Throughout all this, the only antidote to political backroom dealings will be continued vigilance on the part of the general populace. It will be tiring and many who were in the #MillionPeopleMarch just for the heck of it will fade away. But for those who want to see this through, continued vigilance will be the only way to exact our pound of flesh from those who have taken us for fools for so long.
Makati – As we suffer through another delubyo, we see the same scenes of heartbreaking loss, unthinkable suffering broken up at times by admirable bravery. This would all be boring like a well-worn movie script if not for the fact that this is real. We will see the same tiresome calls for better flood control, the same blame placed on improper garbage disposal, etc. etc. The sad fact is that there is no fighting nature. We can only try to mitigate its effects and hope to ride out the worst of its wrath. It is in this that we are failing miserably.
A couple of months ago, the government revealed its flood management plan for the National Capital Region even as flash floods inundated the metro. The PLAN took only (!) 22 years to be completed, will take another 22 years to complete and cost P351 billion in today’s peso which means that it will eventually end up costing over a TRILLION pesos and will likely never be completed in its current form. One of the components of the plan calls for the relocation of squatters from flood-prone areas into resettlement sites outside the metro. These squatters always come back for the same reason as always – there are no livelihood opportunities where they are dumped. This current iteration, however, seems to at least show promise by providing decent housing.
My point is this – we are going about all of this in a wrong and boneheaded way, Let me repeat – there is no fighting nature. So what do we do. We adapt. We have to tear up the pro-forma prescription of flood management for Metro Manila. Metro Manila is already one of, if not, the most congested places in the planet. That means that people will live wherever they can live with no regard (or foresight) for the consequences. Areas designated by nature and past human intervention as daanan ng tubig will be filled up by people. No amount of flood management will alleviate the consequences of this because people who live in those areas are in effect – fighting nature. This is compounded by the detritus of human existence which will up clogging canals, drainage systems and well, the streets. To spend a TRILLION PESOS (okay P351 billion) to remedy this is folly. It simply won’t work.
There is a simpler and probably cheaper solution. You create opportunities across the country. Use the money instead to fund multi-billion peso projects and give tax breaks, even subsidies, to force rational private businesses to realize that it is better to be somewhere else other than Metro Manila. Stop investing in Metro Manila. Yes – doing so will make life miserable in the metro. That is the intent. Eventually people will come to the realization that the opportunities that will be created by doing what is prescribed in the previous paragraph will make life worth living somewhere else. When enough people leave, Metro Manila might become manageable and livable again for those who choose to stay. Less congestion, less traffic, less pollution – yes, less is more.
How do you start? For good or bad, government needs to send a very strong message of this intent. Move the administrative center of the country away from Metro Manila. You can leave Manila as the capital city but national government should relocate somewhere else. How will you fund this? The only comparative I can think of is the move of Malaysia’s administrative center to Putrajaya from Kuala Lumpur. When the Malaysian parliament was thinking of moving to Putrajaya in 2010, the cost of a new parliament building was estimated at 800 million Malaysian Ringgit or about P10.5 billion. We can do without that grand-scale and work out a plan that would relocate the executive branch of government and its departments over a 6-year period at a cost of about P20 billion a year. Where do you get the money? Take away the PDAF and use it for this purpose. With 285 members of Congress at P70 million a pop and 24 Senators at P200 million each, that’s a total of P24.75 billion. As for the P351 billion (or roughly P16 billion annually) for the 22-year Metro Flood Management Project, reduce that to P4 billion a year and use the balance and the PDAF savings to entice economic development outside Metro Manila. I bet that if you do this, Metro Manila wouldn’t need the entire P351 billion over 22 years as the money can instead be focused in areas and projects where it actually makes sense rather than spreading it in many areas even areas where it doesn’t make sense to do flood control.
This may be a pipe dream but it’s a pipe dream that equitizes development by benefiting more people instead of just Metro Manila, helps Metro Manila by de-congesting it and leaving it with the attendant benefits of having less people, gets rid of the PDAF (ha ha ha) and may actually save us money. It is time that we clear the slate and do this thing right by focusing on long-term solutions that actually benefits the country, elevates the Filipino’s quality of life and hopefully saves lives. In the end, aren’t these what really matter?