Wednesday, June 18, 2008
A deadline was given for a 15-million pesos ransom yesterday noon, with the threat that the hostages will be beheaded if the money was not turned over by noon yesterday. As I listened to the news on the radio yesterday, some stations were doing a sort of countdown, counting the minutes before the 12-noon deadline.
SOmehow, the deadline was extended into the afternoon, perhaps through the persistent negotiations with the kidnapppers. As I was sleeping last night, my wife, who was watching the late night news, woke me up to tell me that the hostages were released already.
What a sigh of relief. In my work as a government official, I have encountered several instances of kidnappings, some high profile such as this recent one, and some which did not even merit a news item. In many of those instances, although I had concern for the hostages, there was no compelling emotion that made me personally concerned.
But in this particular incident, the relief at the news of their release was more personal because I knnow Ces personally, she had interviewed me several times before, and she is also a PMA 61 brat. Our fathers were classmates in the Philippine Military Academy.
So now that they are released, the country can breathe easier, without the prospect of our breakfasts being soured by frontpage news that innocent hostages beheaded for non-payment of ransom.
Some would make an issue about whether or not there was ransom paid. I firmly believe that government should maintain a firm position of upholding the "no ransom policy". Government should not be bullied into giving in to terrorists. Period.
We should never put at fault other people who have genuine concern for the hostages to do do anything for their safety. But that should not happen at the instance or the initiative of government. The government should not be part of any form of concession to terrorists.
Why? Because it remains the government's responsibility to run after and bring to the court of justice those who break the law. Kidnapping is a criminal offense that is punishable under existing laws. Kidnapping with ransom, is considered terrorism, which is a crime under a special law, the Anti-terrorism Act.
If the culprits refuse to be taken before a court of justice, it is the government's responsibility to use necessary force to subdue or even eliminate such threats to society. They should be made to face the full might of the troops of AFP and PNP, if not the prosecutors or the judges of the courts.
Whether there was ransom or not, with the hostages safely released, the government must now pursue the kidnappers relentlessly until they are either captured or eliminated. The government must show that in this society of law and order, there is no room for anyone who will prey on the innocent and earn from the misery that they inflict on their victims and their families.
That's why government should maintain the "no ransom policy". It will give the government a free hand in implementing the law against those who break it.
Friday, June 13, 2008
But that incontestible fact should not prevent an objective critique of how the subsidy is implemented by the government.
According to statements by government officials, the subsidies for the estimated two million Meralco consumers in Metro Manila shall be distributed through five branches of Land Bank around the metropolis. It does not take a genius to figure out that the plan is bound to cause a lot of inconvenience to the people, if not chaos.
One of the distribution centers was the Land Bank branch in Batasang Pambansa, as if to show to the congressmen that indeed, the government was helping a lot of people with this dole out. What we saw were people enduring the excruciating heat in lining up outside the bank, waiting for their turn to face one of the four tellers and dswd personnel who were tasked to hand over the 500 pesos upon verification of the claimaint.
There are 2 million estimated beneficiaries. Five distribution centers. You do the math.
The evening news report ( http://www.gmanews.tv/largevideo/latest/24036/Saksi-Hundreds-line-up-to-get-P500-power-subsidy ) showed the result of this foolish idea, which forced people to go out of their way, spending time, money and effort, to suffer such inconvenience.
OF course, it need not be said that the distribution was not completed in one day. There are other days scheduled for the bank distribution, but perhaps realizing the limitations of that method, the DSWD plans to deploy personnel down to the barangays to continue the distribution of 500 pesos.
Anyone who has ever spent time in the grassroots will tell you what will happen when you give dole outs in the field, especially if it involves money. Imagine dropping a piece of candy in the middle of an anthill.
From the outset, the government's distribution plan was obviously a logistical nightmare. While indeed, government will eventually be able to had over the subsidy to the people, the cost of doing so will only highlight the inefficiency of their system and the incompetence of those who thought of it.
In order for the distribution plan to be implemented, government would have to mobilize manpower to do the distribution, secure the distributors and the money, maintain order in the distribution centers, and other measures needed to undertake such an activity. All these translate to expenditures just to carry out the plan.
Never mind if there was no other way to go about it. But as it turns out, there is another way. Common sense will tell you that the easiest way would be to turn over the subsidy to Meralco and have them deduct the amount from the next bill of the consumers. Simple as that. In the age of computerized banking and finance, it will only take minimum effort and a lot of savings to the government instead of what they are doing now.
If they course the subsidies to Meralco, not only would it avoid inconvenience to the public, but it would ensure that only the qualified beneficiaries will receive the subsidy, that the susbidy will really go to the purpose for which it was given, and it would be much, much easier to implement.
But it turns out that the government officials handling this are not entirely ignorant to such an idea. In the provinces, where the other 2 million of the 4 million target beneficiaries are located, the government intends to implement the subsidy through the electric cooperatives, so that the subsidies will just be credited to the accounts of the consumers. No distribution centers, no lining up.
In a news article, DSWD Secretary Cabral was quoted, "Pinag-uusapan namin ngayon ng NEA kung ano ang pinakamahusay na mekanismo para makarating itong subsidy na ito sa mga tao ng hindi na sila naiistorbo…Isang paraan ay ike-credit ito sa account nila, dun sa mga kooperatiba at private distribution units at babawas na lang doon iyung kanilang electric bill."
I'm dumbfounded. While they are considering this scheme for the distribution of the subsidies in the provinces, where they will have to deal with dozens of electric cooperatives and private distribution units which service the estimated 2 million electricity consumers in the provinces, they did not think about doing the same with Meralco, the lone distributor of electricity to the estimated 2 million consumers in Metro Manila.
It crossed their minds to ensure that the consumers in the provinces will not be inconvenienced, yet they inflicted on the Metro Manila consumers the agony of lining up in the inefficient distribution centers in the metropolis. I can only gnash my teeth....
Well, the pundit in me sees one thing----it's political.
The subsidy itself is political. It's not a solution to the rising cost of electricity, it's just a reaction to the situation; a situation where people are straining under the weight of economic burden, and may just cling to those who offer salvation from the government.
The method of distribution is politically tainted. They avoided coursing the subsidy through Meralco because right now, Meralco is under siege by the administration's allies. They don't want the company to be part of anything that would earn the public's appreciation.
The government doesn't care if the power subsidy goes to pay the electric bill of the so-called life-line consumers. In a radio interview, the DSWD secretary herself said they don't care where the money will be spent and they won't track where the money goes. She said their only concern is to hand over the 500 pesos to those claiming it.
Let's just hope and pray that the poeple who earned the subsidy will indeed spend it for the purpose it was meant to be, because if government doesn't care, then the people will really need our prayers and divine intervention.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
The House of Representatives is currently laboring to pass the bill extending the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law which is set to expire this month. The bill has been certified urgent by the President, which should be taken as a marching order to her allies in the Legislature to enact the measure.
In fact, aside from the certification which is an official act, more personal efforts were taken to ensure the cooperation of congressmen. Last Tuesday, the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office individually reminded congressmen to attend sessions and stay until its passage. Likewise, the Office of Speaker Prospero Nograles sent text messages to the Members of the House, urging them to be present during session and not leave until debates are concluded and a vote is taken.
It is not the first time that such persuasion was used on congressmen. The Anti-Terror Bill, the R-VAT Bill, and many others were passed with the same kind of prodding from the Office of the President and the Office of the Speaker of the House. While other bills languish in suspended animation, there bills which enjoy the active support of the leadership, to which members of the majority are all too willing to accommodate.
But of course, the passage of a bill depends on the presence of a quorum, that magic number that allows the House of Representatives to conduct business. The rule is No Quorum, No Session.
In the leadership change effected several months ago, one of the major criticisms against the former leadership was the persistent problem of attendance during sessions. Somehow, the Speaker of the House was made accountable for the failure of congressmen to attend sessions. It became a battlecry for those calling for change in the House leadership.
So with the President's certification of the bill and the leadership change still fresh in the House, it was expected that the CARP extension bill would not encounter difficulties in passing. Although debates have been going on for almost three weeks owing to some lengthy interpellations by a few congressmen, it seemed that yesterday was going to be the last day for debates. There were several congressmen lined up to ask questions, including myself, but the intention was to go overtime if needed, just so that the bill would come to a vote.
We have also done that many times, conducting marathon sessions stretching one day to the next, just to give everyone an opportunity to ask questions and yet have the bill voted on as soon as possible.
At first it seemed that the congressmen were going to maintain the pace and close the deliberation of the bill and finally vote. But as the night wore on and the debates became longer, the numbers began thinning. At around 8:00 PM, one congressman from the administration coalition suddenly stood up and questioned the quorum.
It was obvious then that there were not enough numbers of congressmen in session. The proceedings were suspended and the quorum bell rang, calling all congressmen to proceed to the hall. Proponents of the bill tried to convince the member who questioned the quorum to reconsider his position. But he stood firm, and eventually the session had to be adjourned.
Hundreds of farmers and other interest groups were there to witness the workings of Congress. They were hoping that the House would pass the bill, which would benefit them and other farmers all over the country. These past few weeks, they had even resorted to various tactics and gimmicks to convince congressmen to maintain quorum and vote on the bill. One time, they handed out sachets of 3 in 1 coffee, with a note that said “Walang Tulugan! Ipasa ang CARP Extension!”
But yesterday, that would not be so. The House of Representatives bowed to the congressional illness known as Lack of Quorum.
I wondered why this was so. The head of the administration coalition already signified her desire to have the bill passed. Why weren't her allies in congress accommodating this desire?
The reformists already had achieved change in the House, on a platform of reforming the House and improving attendance. Why are they putting the Speaker that they put into the leadership of the House in an embarrassing situation? It appears that the same headaches that inflicted the former Speaker is now hounding the present Speaker.
What is evident here is that reforming the House of Representatives does not rely on who the Speaker is, but more on the sincere desire of the entire membership of the House to reform themselves and the political will to act on those desires. The House of Representatives is a collegial body composed of 238 members, each with equal standing. The Speaker is the primus inter pares, the First Among Equals, meaning that while he heads the chamber, he really does not enjoy command over every congressman. Ultimately, each congressman is responsible for himself and at the same time, the institution where he belongs.
Unless each member reforms himself/herself, there will never be reform in the institution.
Another thing that is evident is that while there exists a political party system where the party stand is expected to be upheld by its members, when the individual interests come into play, party interests or even national interests take the backseat. There are reports that the delay in the passage of the bill is due to the protection of personal interests by certain personalities.
Perhaps that's a reality of Philippine politics. The question now is, do we simply accept it or do we change it?
It was another morning in a day in my life as a public official and as I was traversing the stretch of South Superhighway on the way to work, I was observing the other vehicles crawling along the same clogged roadway that leads to the heart of Metro Manila. If the country was a human, it would have needed an angioplasty, so congested and slow moving the byways and highways are.
The somber look of the people in the other vehicles, with the exception of a frowning face once in a while, reflects the mood of the Filipino people nowadays. Their expressions matched the news and the commentaries that I heard on the radio--- rising cost of fuel, the food crisis, government inefficiency, etc. Not really a good way to start the day. You're just about to embark on your daily grind but you're already weighed down by the country's woes. But what can you do? That's the reality we have to face.
Well, for starters, we can do what the song says---say a little prayer. The moment you wake up. As you put on your make up. Say a little prayer. Not just for yourself, but more so for your country.
I was listening to one of my favorite programs on radio, that of two very smart and witty commentators who never fail to make me smile with their wisecracks but compel one to deep thought with their sharp commentaries especially on governance and government.
They interviewed a cabinet secretary who is quite visible nowadays, owing to the current issues that the country is facing. They talked about the food crisis, and what the cabinet secretary intends to do about the problem. The interview was a long distance interview, since the secretary was abroad attending a conference.
After discussing the food crisis, the two commentators asked the secretary what his reaction was to a news item that he was included in a list of possible senatorial candidates of the administration. The cabinet member replied that he was flattered but surprised since he did not have it in mind to run for senator and would rather focus on his present job.
Of course, it was a standard politically correct response. But I doubt if everybody believed it. Within political circles, your name is included in a list of potential candidates only if you sound off your intentions or you are recruited to join the group. It's never a surprise.
The point is, why not be truthful about one's intentions? I'm one who believes that being truthful about one's intentions is the start of being transparent. If someone is unable to be transparent about intentions, how can that person be trusted in his / her actions?
I believe that it shouldn't be taken against politicians if they reveal their intentions early. It gives people a chance to scrutinize those who desire to serve the public. We should disabuse ourselves from the mindset that politicians expressing their intentions deserve disdain and be shunned. It's never too early for potential candidates to reveal their intentions because it is never too early for the people to know more about those seeking their trust and support.
In my view, it is more disadvantageous for the people if those seeking an elective position to declare their intentions just before the election period begins because by then, there wouldn't be enough time for the voters to truly assess the person courting their vote. Everything will just be superficial, enhanced by marketing techniques employed in political campaigns. It will then be all about packaging, promotions, and hype.
With the 2010 elections just two years away, the people should not wait for the last minute before attending to election concerns. Although it is a common trait for Filipinos to wait until the last moment before taking action, the selection of leaders should not be done in such a whimsical manner. That's how we got into the mess we're in now.
If we want a future that we can truly say is an improvement from the past and the present, then we should not set aside for later what we can do now. The time is right for us to know those who intend to join public service and use the period between now and 2010 to scrutinize, evaluate, and select those who deserve to be given the opportunity to serve the people.