POSTSCRIPT / November 3, 2013 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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At issue is DAP pork, not Noy being a thief

MUDDLING ISSUES: There is no question that stealing public funds is evil and criminal. Even the thieves ensconced in government know that. Whoever does it should have his hands chopped off.

But the real debate is not over stealing. It is over the legality of presidential pork barrel, particularly the use of Disbursement Acceleration Program funds, an off-budget invention of President Noynoy Aquino and his now scarcely-heard-from Budget Secretary Butch Abad.

Most colleagues do not see an “old politician” confusing the public over the stealing of public funds and the abusing of presidential pork. If anyone is muddling the two subjects, it is somebody who will be 53 years old/young next February.

Everybody, keep your eye on the yellow ball, which is the presidential pork. And stay angry.

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WIN OR LOSE ALL: Nobody has accused President Aquino of stealing public funds, at least none yet.

To evade the core issue of misusing the FORCED SAVINGS hidden in the DAP barrel, he is trying to divert public attention and the debate to the evils of stealing which he is likely to win if anybody is distracted enough to take him on.

Fortunately, the discussion — apart from the formal hearings at the Supreme Court — can proceed now that the President has reiterated on TV his firm stand that it is legal to use off-budget DAP funds or realign them to other departments if one’s intentions are noble.

He thus served notice that he will rise or fall on the legality of presidential pork. If the High Court upholds his theory, his popularity will so soar that he might be able to do practically anything, including ruling by near-dictatorial edict.

But if repudiated, Noynoy Aquino the lame duck President, is finished.

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PANIC MODE: Outside the Court, there is the parallel campaign for the people’s mind, which the President hopes to win to (1) possibly influence the tribunal and (2) nip what is widely perceived as a growing disenchantment with his administration.

Malacañang will not admit it, but it looks like it is in panic, a situation made more obvious with the decision last Wednesday for the President to address the nation on prime-time TV, a rarely used maneuver.

I was among those who thought before his “Hindi ako magnanakaw!” spiel that he was so disturbed by the erosion of his trust rating and SC intelligence that he might just lose in the constitutionality challenge to his DAP.

Actually the simple solution to the porky problem is for the President to turn over all lump-sum discretionary funds to the Treasury for inclusion in the regular budgetary process. Bakit ayaw niyang gawin ito, di naman niya pera?

His pedaling back would be was just right, I thought, since I cringe at the thought of an upheaval triggered by the President’s going without an orderly constitutionally-ordained succession.

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I WAS WRONG: In an advance Postscript for last Thursday, I wrote: “I will stick my neck out and speculate that the President will clarify his position on the pork barrel issue, including the DAP fund whose constitutionality is under question before the Supreme Court.

“He still has time to make that one step backward before making two steps forward.

“I wish the President would relax his stubborn position, so he could salvage the deteriorating situation. From there, he could then try to regain lost ground, including his weakening public trust rating.”

My speculation about his possibly doing a sort of tactical retreat was proved wrong. After his address, I had to hurriedly rewrite my Postscript to reflect his reiterated firm stand. Good I was able to beat the print run.

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BAYANTEL REHAB: Billions in public funds have been lost to pork barrel scammers that could have been used to create jobs, among other things, by funding real ventures, not the “ghost “ projects that Napoles-types have inflicted on the economy.

From funds properly realigned from the pork barrel and other discretionary funds, the President could even allow for the rehabilitation of eligible distressed companies or the grant of less costly loans to manufacturing firms.

For instance, substantial benefits could be reaped from supporting the rehabilitation of such firms as Bayantel of the Lopez Group, which went into difficulties after the Asian financial crisis.

In its rehab plan as approved by the Pasig Regional Trial Court, the Ayala-controlled Globe Telecom takes over payment of certain debts of the company to protect the jobs of its 1,100 employees.

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COURT APPROVAL: The RTC has approved its debt restructuring and the new master restructuring agreement submitted by Globe, Bayantel, and Bayan Telecommunications Holdings Corp.

Globe would acquire a 56.6 percent stake in Bayantel through the conversion of 69 percent of Bayantel’s total debt. The restructuring is progressive compared to rehab programs of other firms in distress whose creditors have to wait until 2023.

The Globe debt initiative would pare down the outstanding principal debt of Bayantel by 69 percent to $131.3 million from $423.3 million. Its outstanding debt stood at $497 million when it was placed under corporate rehabilitation in 2004.

It has reportedly settled a total of P8.19 billion since it filed for supervised rehabilitation. It said it intends to pay its $325-million outstanding debt before 2023.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 3, 2013)

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