POSTSCRIPT / January 8, 2006 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Boncodin okayed P10-B for 'bridges to nowhere'

ROADS TO FOLLOW: There is this campaign story of a congressional candidate promising the townspeople at a miting de avance to build a bridge for them. When the mayor whispered to him that there was no river or creek in the area that might need a span, the candidate was unfazed.

“It’s all right,” he supposedly went on, “we build the bridge first, then worry about the river later.”

This line seems to have been rewritten to “Let’s build the bridge first, the roads will follow” as it has been shown that under the “Tulay ng Pangulo sa Kaunlaran” (The President’s Bridges to Progress) program, some bridges were built even when there were no roads yet to connect to them.

An opposition senator who had no sense of humor promptly snatched the anomaly and went to town ridiculing in a PowerPoint presentation what he said were the “Bridges to Nowhere” of President Gloria Arroyo.

But it ceased to be funny when we read later in a report of the UK-based Guardian that the bridges built by the British firm Mabey & Johnson had cost more than £429million (P40 billion), that they were overpriced and that some smart operators with Palace connection made a fortune from the program.

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P10-B OKAYED: After I took off from the Guardian and revisited the “Bridges to Nowhere,” a number of people stepped forward with documents purporting to show that the bridges program, indeed, needs some cleansing and deodorizing — and that some crooks must go to jail or on exile.

A Malacanang mole offered documents showing among other things that just before then Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin joined disgruntled Cabinet officials in resigning last July 8 and asking President Gloria Arroyo to step down, she approved the release of another P10 billion for the bridges program.

The DBM’s Forward Obligational Authority (FOA) dated June 28, 2005, signed by Boncodin confirmed budget approval for another Mabey & Johnson project under the “Tulay ng Pangulo sa Kaunlaran” program.

Ten billion pesos is a lot of money to spend on rickety temporary Bailey bridges — especially as a few of them were reportedly put up in zero-traffic sites where roads to connect to them still had to be built as if in an after-thought.

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OVERPRICE: Just 30 percent of that fresh P10-billion release is P3 billion in you know what! It was gross, considering that the country was in fiscal crisis at the time and the government was left scraping the bottom of the barrel after the massive May election spending.

And then, as a POSTSCRIPT reader asked, why is the Arroyo administration unusually interested in assembling temporary Lego-like spans that are priced much higher than solid permanent bridges that could last a lifetime?

Quoting highways department internal figures, the Guardian reported that Mabey’s steel superstructures cost about £4,800 (P442,000) per lineal meter.

In comparison, the British paper said an Austrian firm, Waagner-Biro, won a small contract from the highways department to supply comparable superstructures for only £3,138 (P288,000). A UK consortium, Balfour-Cleveland, was quoting £2,899 (P266,000), it added.

To whom did the apparent overprice go? Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez would be able to tell us taxpayers if only she would muster enough courage to look under the bridge despite her known closeness to the First Family.

(To get the peso values above, I used the exchange rate of £1=P92. But in the DBM papers signed by Boncodin, the exchange rate applied was £1=P100.)

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CRY FOR VENGEANCE: Lawyers have taken over the rape case brought before an Olongapo court against four US servicemen and the Filipino driver of the van allegedly used to grab and rape the victim at the Subic Bay Freeport last Nov. 1.

With that, the well-known short span of attention of Filipinos has taken over and the case is now hardly reported on the front pages.

This may be a welcome respite for some, considering that there have been more blood-curdling rape cases, such as one involving a small girl raped and killed by drug-crazed teeners. These stories cry to heaven for vengeance, but do not get to the front pages or the TV evening news.

From the point of view of humanity, what values would the Subic rape case have that set it high above that of an innocent girl mangled by maniacs and left unnoticed by an uncaring society?

I cannot answer that question. Maybe readers would have their individual responses to it.

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SEARING SCRUTINY: Looking at the case of the four GIs one more time, I concede that my view of the violation of a Filipino woman in Subic was heavy on the political level, specifically in the realm of bilateral relations with the US.

While that does not diminish the heinous nature of that alleged rape in Subic, assuming it was rape, the fate of that innocent girl gang-raped by maniacs cries louder — not only for justice, but even for vengeance.

The Subic case is made more reprehensible by the immoral antics of Philippine officials who belittled the incident, and shamelessly made statements tending to favor the American suspects prematurely and extra-judicially.

That was one of the reasons why I felt the Subic case should be exposed in the searing light of public scrutiny.

Meanwhile, we insist that top officials of the departments of foreign affairs and justice stop commenting on the case so as not to mislead those tasked to investigate and decide it.

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BALANCE: To balance the picture, here is one of several emails I have received from readers overseas.

From Bill Foskey, writing from Atlanta, Georgia: “I read your column frequently, and enjoy it, even when I disagree. Your January 3rd column was one of those.

“I am a retired detective in the US , and hate crime of any kind, committed by anyone. That said, I take exception to your column for two reasons: (1) Trials should be held in court rooms, and not newspapers. I, nor you, know exactly what transpired in the alleged rape. If, however, the Marine is guilty, then he should certainly be punished.

“(2) I’m really more concerned (though your newspaper obviously isn’t) about the 15-year-old twin sisters whose home was invaded and robbed, and they were gang-raped by five men. I think that story was on Page 10, and only once. Any suspects arrested yet? Any followup by the police? Any followup by any newspaper?

“I also read of the rape and murder of a three-year-old, and that was on Page 12. One of your congressmen said 3,500-4,000 women are raped there every year, one-third of them children. If they can’t get on TV, or quoted in the newspapers, they could not care less about those unfortunate people.

“You say in your story (para 12), ‘If he, or we, cannot perform that basic act of justice, we would be the laughing stock of the watching world.’

“First, how often have you ever seen justice performed there? Second, you assume that anyone else in the world really cares what happens there, and third, if your President’s taping the muzzles of guns didn’t make the Philippines the laughing stock of the world, I assure you, nothing ever will. Even my Pinoy friends here thought that was more hilarious than anything Dolphy ever did. You’ve really got to be proud of a leader (?) like that.

“Keep up your good work (you’re good, whether I always agree, or not).”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 8, 2006)

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