POSTSCRIPT / June 18, 2006 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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If insurgency is gone, what happens to AFP?

INSULT TO FLAG: If city officials cannot show respect for the national standard, they should just haul down all those flags they hung along streets and on public buildings for the last June 12 Independence Day festivities.

Strolling or driving down Roxas Blvd., note the forlorn Philippine flags outnumbered, dwarfed and relegated to secondary role by the taller, bigger and more numerous, and more dominant, festive banners flapping in the wind.

The national flag, which stands for all of us, must take pre-eminent position when placed beside other emblems. Also, the flag should not be used as decoration, political prop or background for text and other images printed on it.

Not content with insulting the flag, City Hall hung right below it — on the same short pole — a larger propaganda tarpaulin carrying a political blurb and the usual picture of Mayor Lito Atienza. (Is he campaigning for the presidency already?)

Go to Roxas Blvd. and see for yourself. Please lang, let us remove the poor flags if we cannot show respect for them.

After all, kumita na yang mga yan. I mean, somebody must have collected already the usual commissions on those flags (much like in the purchase of Christmas lights, lanterns and decor during the yearly yuletide shopping spree).

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BILLION FOR AFP: President Gloria Arroyo has ordered P1 billion given to the armed forces so they can wipe out the communist insurgency in three years. The money, according to the news, will come from last year’s savings.

They must be talking of money under the old budget, which by common consent of the House and Malacanang has been carried over.

(If I may digress, why do media refer to a “reenacted” budget? Do we, can we or should we, ever reenact existing laws? Did the Congress actually reenact the old budget law or is the budget of last year merely carried over till a new one is approved?)

The news about releasing P1 billion has confirmed fears that a fallback to the old budget favors Malacanang and its chosen few since the President is able to juggle funds in the old budget with the least restrictions.

Don’t you wish she would give likewise P1 billion, or even P2 billion, to public elementary and high schools?

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P8-B TRUST FUND: Did you notice how easy it was for Malacañang to pull out P1 billion as if it were coming from a magician’s hat? When they want or need money, for anything, it is suddenly available.

If there were savings in last year’s appropriations, how come there was not enough money for classrooms, books and teachers? Malacañang could have tapped savings, if it wanted to, a full six months before the opening of classes last week.

Actually, in the case of the P1 billion for the armed forces, the President need not even dip into last year’s savings.

She could have called up Kuya Eddie and asked where he tucked in the P8 billion raised from the “sale of the century” in 1995 — that of Fort Bonifacio to the excited local runners of the Salims of Indonesia.

By law, the P8 billion raised from the Bonifacio sale was to go to a trust fund — meaning it may not be spent for anything else — intended for the “modernization of the armed forces.”

(On second thought, since Ms Arroyo is still courting Kuya Eddie to support some of her initiatives, maybe she should not inquire about the billions. He is quite touchy about that.)

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MODERN SOLDIERS: Bonifacio, the camp, was sold more than a decade ago. I have developed eye strain, and will soon run to the Asian Eye Institute for repairs, scouring the papers for news that the P8-billion trust fund has been located and found intact.

Assuming no sticky fingers had touched it, the money must still be there, unused, since I have not noted any “modernization” in the armed forces, or for that matter in any part or instrumentality of the Strong Republic. Have you?

In fact, the marauding Moros in Sulu-Mindanao are better equipped, and possibly better motivated and better paid, than our modern soldiers. (“Soldiers” here refers to the foot soldiers, not to the general-millionaires having the grand time of their post-PMA lives.)

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GRANDIOSE TERMS: We tend to hide behind puffed-up balloons. We use grandiose terms to refer to small, mundane things.

We just want to acquire reconditioned helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft taken out of the US museum, plus maybe a few repainted US Navy boats and we call that “modernization” of the AFP.

Modernization? Wow!

I did not invent that word. When the Ramos administration was justifying the sale of that valuable real estate called Fort Bonifacio — some said just to improve the yearend financial statement of the government – “modernization of the armed forces” was the excuse given.

Now, more than 10 years later, have we modernized the armed forces yet? Maybe the lifestyle of most generals, yes, but not the life-and-death reality in the armed forces.

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NOT TERRORISM?: And here comes another P1 billion for the armed forces, this time from savings kuno. (It seems they have run out of things to sell Bonifacio-style.)

I am waiting for Malacañang to trot out that “modernization” word again, but it does not. This time it is the communist bogey they are using to pry open the war chest.

The Arroyo administration could have used the more fashionable term “terrorism” and possibly caught the eye of a problematic George W. Bush, but Ms Arroyo and her advisers turned to the left and cried communism instead.

Malacañang watchers will be busy divining the reasons behind the resurrection of the communist rebellion, which is supposedly in the doldrums, as a rationale for a priority expense.

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INSURGENCY NEEDED: Talking of problems, has it ever occurred to our military planners that in the unlikely event that the armed forces, by some miracle, are able to obliterate dissidence at the cheap price of P1 billion, what happens?

I am asking, because the armed forces actually need the insurgency problem, as they need the Moro secessionists, the Sabah issue now in the back burner, and other national defense concerns.

If we did not have these strategic problems, there would be no need for a huge armed forces and a gargantuan military budget that siphons off money from such essential concerns as education and public health.

The armed forces actually need dissidence, secessionist warfare and such problems to justify their existence. Otherwise, barefoot soldiers would be reduced to planting rice to the guitar accompaniment of generals by the paddies.

Without such big military concerns, the entire structure of government and budgetary priorities would have to be revamped.

Now, if you were a general, would you want the insurgency and secessionist problems solved?

And then, without Joma Sison and his aging troupe in the Netherlands, how do we justify those expensive excursions to Europe of peace panels and fellow travelers?

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YAP & BRION ARE IN: Before I forget, let me pass on a little chismis I picked up junto al Pasig days ago.

You can put your money, daw, on Arthur Yap returning as agriculture secretary and Court of Appeals Justice Arturo Brion as labor secretary.

Outgoing Ding Panganiban of agriculture and Pat Sto. Tomas of labor are dedicated and competent workers, but you know how it is in the Malacañang menagerie.

Re Panganiban, I think Ms Arroyo should look for other ways to tap his expertise and dedication. Sayang siya. Same thing with Sto. Tomas, one of the disciples of the legendary Labor Secretary Blas F. Ople.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 18, 2006)

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