POSTSCRIPT / February 20, 2003 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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US lobby, local runners shape key gov’t policies?

$41-M LOBBY FUND: We take seriously the warning by senators and congressmen that a US-funded lobby has influenced shaping of government policy to the point that we invariably drift in the direction that the US wants.

Sen. Ralph Recto, Leyte Rep. Aniceto Saludo and other alarmed lawmakers were specific in their denunciation of the foreign lobby. They identified it as the Development Alternatives Inc. based in Maryland.

They identified the alleged local operator of the US firm as Agile, or Accelerating Growth Investment and Liberalization with Equity. The group reportedly has succeeded in planting its operators in key government offices.

The $41.2-million lobby fund of ADI came from the US Agency for International Development as a six-year grant, according to Recto.

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MOLES IN GOV’T: To help ADI push pro-US policies, Agile is reportedly carrying out, in the words of Recto, “the entire economic policy and governance portfolio” of the USAID mission in Manila.

Sen. Sergio Osmena said that from its office in the Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong, Agile manages operators and “satellite teams” in sensitive government offices. He said Agile has infiltrated Malacanang, the Central Bank, the departments of Finance, Budget and Management, Justice, and Agriculture, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commsiion, Civil Aeronauctics Board and the National Telecommunications Commission.

He hinted even the Supreme Court may have been compromised also when it allegedly received a P306-million grant in 2001 for the Judicial Reform Project.

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PRIVATIZING TAX COLLECTION: Congressman Saludo also pointed to Agile as one of those pushing the restructuring, ultimately privatizing, the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

The House committee on ways and means headed by Rep. Julio Ledesma (more popularly known as the fiancé of sexy actress Assunta de Rossi) has endorsed the bill replacing the BIR with a National Authority for Revenue Administration.

Privatizing tax-collection, which is a state function, is preposterous. Might as well also privatize the armed forces, the courts and the printing of money.

If ADI and Agile have registered as lobby groups and submitted periodic disclosures as such, as required by law, full reports on their activities should be made public.

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ARTISTS OUT OF TESDA: The storm over the graft-attended certification of overseas performing artists by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) is unfortunate, because it is unnecessary.

The obvious solution is to remove this function from Tesda, a government agency tasked with the training and certification of technicians and skilled workers. Tesda should have nothing to do with singers, dancers and similar performing artists who are neither technicians nor skilled workers.

But Labor Secretary Pat Sto. Tomas, whom we admire, does not see it that way. She insists on outbound performing artists being tested and rated by Tesda. Ugh!

Tesda director general Dante Liban wants performing artists removed from under his jurisdiction, and thereby fuels the big debate over OPAs being processed and milked by some Tesda personnel and their cohorts in the talents business.

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COMPROMISE HIT: Liban tried a compromise by bringing in expert screeners from the academe and the industry, to beef up the Tesda bureaucrats already doing the job, but he was denounced for it.

So his position hardened — which is to get rid of this problem which is inherently not a Tesda concern. He wants it given to the private talent industry.

If, say, Nora Aunor (is she still around singing?) is being recruited for six months of nightly singing engagements in Tokyo and she wants to take it, is she required to audition before a Tesda factotum for testing and certification?

The present setup says Yes she has to, because before accepting a contract, an outbound performing artist must secure — for a fee — this piece of paper (called Artist Record Book) saying the talent is of export-quality.

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LUCRATIVE RACKET: La Aunor having to prove her “technical” competence and singing skills is a bit askew, isn’t it? But Secretary Sto. Tomas and others interested in this expensive and unnecessary red tape insist on it.

Maybe Pat Sto.Tomas is just too busy to pay attention to these details. But we’re sure she will see the point of Liban that the screening and certification of singers, actors and dancers be taken away, please, from Tesda.

We’re sure she has no link to the Tesda syndicate moving heaven and earth to keep this lucrative screening business. We’ve been reliably informed that some crooks have been extorting P20,000 to P30,000 from each performing artist wanting to go abroad even if not qualified.

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TESDA MISSION: Let’s go back to basics. Tesda’s mission is to develop technicians and skilled workers with world-class competence and desirable work values. It is responsible for direction setting, quality assurance and support to TVET (Technical Vocation and Education Training) provisions.

Tesda got involved with performing artists only after the issuance of DoLE Order 3 in January 1994, now superseded by DoLE Order 10 issued in October 2001. The issuance set the guidelines for training, testing/assessment, certification, and deployment of overseas performing artists.

Explaining his move to turn over to the private industry the chore of passing upon talents, Liban said: “An OPA is not a skilled worker but a person possessing talent, and as such, there is difference on how on OPA will be developed and assessed. Talent is the natural endowments of a person and a special, often creative or artistic aptitude. It is normally assessed through audition, a trial performance to appraise an entertainer’s merit.”

“Tesda is not really walking away from responsibility,” he adds. “It has laid the foundation and the reform leading towards an industry-led OPA training, assessment, and certification. It is just about time to put things in order and for Tesda to focus on its bigger responsibility on technical education and training.”

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TEST SADDAM, TOO: Our email from readers is split over our suggestion that US President George W. Bush make a full disclosure of medical records pertaining to his state of mind before his finger presses the war button.

Anyway, our purpose as stated in the previous column was to know the state of mind of this man who could just plunge the world into an avoidable war. It helps to know what or who moves people who have access to levers of power.

In fact, it would also be interesting to read a paper or medical report on the personality makeup of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. (We are not saying that either Bush or Saddam, or both, are mentally ill. Leave that to their doctors to determine.)

Our problem is that what we see of these men is only their reflection as beamed to us by manipulated media. We don’t know the real Bush or the real Saddam.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 20, 2003)

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