POSTSCRIPT / September 17, 2006 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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What does De Castro need P30M pork for?

MISINTERPRETED: It is sad that the address of Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg mentioning Islam and jihad has been misinterpreted by some Muslim sectors whose views are now being spread to fan hatred for the Holy Father.

For whatever it is worth, here is the English translation of the statement of Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican press office, on the interpretation of certain passages of the Pope’s address:

“what the Holy Father has at heart — and which emerges from an attentive reading of the text — is a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence.

“It was certainly not the intention of the Holy Father to undertake a comprehensive study of the jihad and of Muslim ideas on the subject, still less to offend the sensibilities of Muslim faithful.

“Quite the contrary, what emerges clearly from the Holy Father’s discourses is a warning, addressed to Western culture, to avoid ‘the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom’ (homily, Sept. 10). A just consideration of the religious dimension is, in fact, an essential premise for fruitful dialogue with the great cultures and religions of the world.

“And indeed, in concluding his address in Regensburg, Benedict XVI affirmed how ‘the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion to the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.’

“What is clear then, is the Holy Father’s desire to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward other religions and cultures, including, of course, Islam.”

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PORK IS BACK: Siyempre, to preserve the peace in the Old Boys Club, Malacanang and Congress will have to give Vice President Noli de Castro his own pork barrel — P30 million in the proposed budget for next year.

You must have read it in Jess Diaz’s story in the STAR quoting Albay Rep. Joey Salceda that pork barrel for Congress has not only been restored but padded to P21.3-billion in the proposed P1.136-trillion budget for 2007.

Whereas pork was reduced two years ago to P40 million per congressman and P120 million per senator, next year it will be P70 million and P200 million for each congressman and senator, respectively.

That will cost taxpayers a total of P16.5 billion for congressmen, and P4.8 billion for senators. That outlay will pass without a whimper since there is always bipartisan and bicameral unanimity when it comes to the pork barrel.

(Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya said, however, that Malacanang had proposed only P20 million for each congressman and P60 million for each senator.)

* * *

FAMILY BUSINESS: That will be next year. This year, at least 196 congressmen (you guessed it, they belong to the Palace stable) who could not wait and whose votes were badly needed by Malacanang were doled out P70 million each, although they were entitled to P40 million only.

Officially, that extra P30 million each supposedly came from President Arroyo’s own funds. Actually, it came from the pockets of taxpayers.

No wonder most lawmakers do not want to let go when time is up. When they are overtaken by term limits, they pass on their office like family inheritance to their wives or children. The Constitution’s order to stamp out political dynasties has become a dead letter.

Those who are not sure of reelection or find the campaign too cumbersome and too costly are now pushing for charter change to ensure their carryover to the proposed Parliament. As bonus, they even earn several millions dancing for cha-cha.

It is all so gross, it is a wonder the people allow it.

* * *

WHAT FOR?: Regarding Vice President Noli de Castro, he claims that he needs pork barrel for his constituents, an average of 28,000 of whom he said he helps each year.

But like other officials elected nationally, the Vice President should not talk of a constituency in the same sense that congressmen and local executives can.

What national officials address is a market. These officials are actually products being packaged and peddled like soap and instant noodles. The selling and selecting process is not an election as a political process, but a popularity contest in the marketplace.

The Vice President claims that the P29.4 million pork barrel that he wants next year will pay for “subsidies and donations… to address the requests for assistance on basic social needs” of his constituents.

His constituents’ needs, he says, include “medical (hospitalization, medicine, and other medical and surgical procedure), economic (food and shelter), employment, education, transportation, burial, housing, and other family problems.”

But attending to those social and family requirements of chosen households is not part of the job of the Vice President.

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HIS SOLE FUNCTION: I wonder if Mr. De Castro has read the Constitution, and understood it.

The function of the Vice President, as defined in the charter, is simple and should not be that financially draining to harassed taxpayers.

His only job is to wait for the President to get incapacitated, or to die, be impeached or resigns. Then the Vice President becomes the President. Or if the President is temporarily unable to discharge her duties, the Vice President acts as president.

Why should overburdened taxpayers be pressed to give the Vice President P30 million extra annually to do his only job, which is to wait for a presidential vacancy?

* * *

EXTRA CHORES: Even if we appropriate that P30 million for Mr. De Castro’s continuing education and preparation for the presidency, that would still be too much because the cost should be in proportion to his capacity to absorb the lessons.

To preserve their political marriage of convenience and keep the president-in-waiting from mischief, President Arroyo has assigned him such harmless pursuits as relocating squatters and kunwari supervising the evacuation of dislocated overseas workers, but these extra chores are already covered by special funds turned over to him.

The Vice President should be reminded that his office is not a social welfare agency or a charity sweepstake office, or a games and amusement corporation. As we may have to repeat endlessly, his job is simple — to wait for a presidential vacancy.

Does he need 30 million precious pesos, a pork barrel of sorts, to perform that solitary job?

(We can keep saying this till we are blue in the face, but the Congress will approve the pork barrel of the Vice President anyway. Mark my word. You see, they have to scratch one another’s back.)

* * *

MINING MANTRA: Responsible Mining seems to have become the keyword of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Angelo T. Reyes in his handling of mining investments coming to tap the estimated $1 trillion worth of unexplored mineral wealth of the country.

Reyes used the term in welcoming Africa-based mining investors at the start of the four-day Indaba in Philippines Mining Conference in a Makati hotel.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has identified around 23 mineral projects expected to bring in at least $6.5 billion in investments in the medium term. The country is rich in gold, copper, silver and chromite, among other metals.

Mining firms from Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, United States, China and the United Kingdom have conducted exploration and development of mineral deposits in the country.

* * *

BY THE BOOK: Reyes made it clear, however, that mining will only be done by the book to ensure equity in returns for mining firms, the government and all Filipinos, while protecting the environment.

He said there would not be any gold-rush scenario in which irresponsible mining leaves mined areas as wastelands.

Reyes said that mining contractors are required to spend at least 10 percent of their initial capital investments on environment-related infrastructure, and three to five percent of direct mining and milling costs for annual environmental protection.

“We remain fully committed to the vital and important task of safeguarding the environment and of promoting social equity in all our mining programs,” Reyes said.

* * *

GOV’T AN ALLY: Responding to Reyes’ assurance that the administration is committed to revitalize the mining sector, President Philip Romualdez of the Mining Chamber of the Philippines described the government as an ally. He said the mining chamber’s members subscribe to responsible mining.

“The important thing is that we have a government which is open to dialogue and ready to forge a consensus on issues in making the right decisions,” he said. “After all, in so far as the basic objective of integrating environmentally sound mining practices is concerned, this chamber and the government share the very same commitment and vision.”

Romualdez welcomed Reyes’ assurance of the government’s “use-it or lose-it” policy which would free non-performing mining tenements or applications for new investors after they are declared abandoned.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 17, 2006)

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