"Congressmen are still busy making insertions here and there."
Despite calls for change under the Duterte administration, it appears things remain the same.
Take for instance the much-delayed approval of the 2019 national budget by the House of Representatives, which has moved its final enactment to November 28.
As Senator Panfilo Lacson, the nemesis of pork barrel, said, members of Congress are still inserting their pet projects into the budget although it is ready for third and final reading. Normally, budget insertions are done before the second reading of the budget.
Why is this so?
The obvious answer is that next year is an election year. Reelectionists must show their constituents that they have some kind of achievement. What a scam, right?
Allocations for roads, bridges, highways and livelihood projects go to their favorite contractors, a system where reelectionist congressmen gets a kickback of anywhere between 20 and 30 percent.
This explains the delays.
If as scheduled by the House, the budget gets enacted by Nov. 28, it leaves the Senate only about six session days to come up with its on version. My gulay! With the printing, and the approaching Christmas holidays, there is reason for senators to worry. Even Senate President Tito Sotto is beginning to doubt if they could come up with their own version before the year ends.
The problem with a reenacted budget is that Malacañang will have the power to allocate funds from savings to its allies. Neat, huh?
The Supreme Court has ruled against the pork barrel system. But who can stop the President from allocating funds?
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With all the accolades given to visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is on a two-day state visit here, questions are raised on the relations between our two countries.
Polls show many Filipinos do not trust China despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s “love” for his counterpart. The same polls also show that Filipinos want the Chinese to leave the contested shoals and islets they had occupied for military purposes.
There are even misgivings on the loans and investments that will be signed during this visit. Will these result in a debt trap?
There are problematic arrangements being signed by the two countries like that on the joint exploration of the West Philippine Sea. Another issue is the consortium that is slated to be the third player in the telecommunications industry. Mislatel is partnering with China Telecom, a government entity, on this one.
Another question that may be asked —who is Dennis Uy? There are rumors he is the biggest campaign contributor of President Duterte. The rumor is that Uy represents Chinese money in the Philippines.
Speaking of Mislatel, I doubt that it can break the duopoly of Smart and Globe right away.
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I don’t know how far the 600 or so members of the Armed Forces, ordered by the President to help Customs Commissioner Leonardo Rey Guerrero, are doing in their mission. What I do know is that entrenched syndicates at the agency will run circles around them.
I have known past presidents who tried their best to stop corruption and smuggling...and failed.
The reason is that Customs is a highly specialized job. Valuing imports is tricky and it will take months for new officials to learn the intricacies of the job. I covered Customs decades ago and I know that syndicates try their best to take advantage of a newcomer’s learning curve.
I wonder what the 600 soldiers will do when hundred of imported containers are unloaded at the Manila Port?
Nothing will scare these corrupt Customs people. And nothing can stop smuggling even right under the noses of the most well-intentioned officials. This is why smugglers are so brazen.
So long as there is human intervention and discretion at Customs, it will continue to be corrupt. The presence of the AFP will not deter the presence of fixers who can navigate their way around Customs.
President Benigno Aquino III had six Customs Commissioners. President Duterte is on his third year—and his third Commissioner as well. I have often said that the solution is privatization. Is Mr. Duterte listening?
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A dear friend of mine, Gualberto Lumauig of Ifugao, died last Sunday after a lingering illness. He was a former governor and congressman. He was also a journalist and former chief of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taiwan.
Bert’s wife was my wife’s classmate at UP. We often saw them at parties.
We will miss Bert. To his family—our deepest condolences.