POSTSCRIPT / November 19, 2013 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Fudging of casualty figures unfortunate

SHAVING FIGURES: To what extent will bureaucrats go to support the announced wish of President Noynoy Aquino for a zero-casualty management score in the typhoon Yolanda devastation?

Since it is too late to save the victims, why not shave instead the death count?

That was what some officials appeared to have done, based on a report of Joy Cantos of Pilipino Star Ngayon writing last Friday on the fudging of casualty figures on the tally board of the Office of Civil Defense in Tacloban City covering Region 8 or Eastern Visayas (Samar, Leyte).

In full view of reporters, she said, the 5,026 death toll on the board based on actual body count was changed to 3,422. The shaved figure was forwarded to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) at Camp Aguinaldo.

Some bureaucrats down the line should be told that disaster risk reduction does not mean casualty count reduction.

One also wonders if the police officer who was sacked after he estimated the death count to hit 10,000 would be reinstated if proved right eventually.

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REVERSE FLOW: In Metro Manila, meanwhile, alarm has been raised over the steady influx of thousands of people displaced from the devastated Visayan barangays.

While there is a program to send back to their home provinces squatters who had taken over vacant lots, banks of rivers and esteros, as well as the underside of bridges in Metro Manila, the reverse flow from the Yolanda-hit areas may negate the resettlement program.

Officials, however, expressed confidence that when life in the ravaged areas returns to normal, those who had fled to as far as the national capital would go back home.

Most of those ferried to Metro Manila have relatives with whom they can stay, according to the social welfare department. But even in that case, the uprooted families will add to the strain on social services and on relatives who have given them shelter.

The government still has to present a viable program for caring for and giving jobs to the urban refugees. It also has to devise a scheme to make sure the displaced families will return to the provinces at some point.

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BUDGET ISSUES: Will last-minute amendments to the P2.268-trillion national budget for 2014 affect the Supreme Court hearings on petitions questioning the pork barrel (Priority Development Assistance Fund) and lump sums being used by the President?

Substantial amendments are expected to be made in the Senate, where the proposed General Appropriations Act is pending. The House has approved it, but congressmen are still talking of possible amendments.

The SC was reported ready to hand down this week a ruling on the constitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program, a barrel invented by Malacañang where forced savings had been impounded and later used at the sole discretion of the President.

Parties challenging the DAP have expressed fear that the Palace might use the Yolanda emergency relief and rehabilitation as extra-legal argument to convince the tribunal to rule favorably on the President’s position.

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THIRD CHAMBER: Despite the clamor for the total rejection of the pork barrel, congressmen merely realigned the sum, cut it up into innocent-looking bits and hid them in Executive departments for their future use.

Majority of senators have expressed resolve to delete their PDAF in the 2014 budget and use the money to augment the calamity funds of the President.

Whatever is the outcome of the haggling over pork billions, watchdogs must not relax their monitoring. The bicameral conference committee – a sort of third chamber of the Congress – may insert amendments departing from the decision to delete budgetary pork.

Still untouched by the debate are the off-budget billions tucked in the President’s special purpose fund and his social fund contributed by the state gambling firms Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

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HOUSEKEEPING: Retrieved from my Yahoo inbox is an old letter of Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco reacting to my Oct. 24 Postscript that said it was not true, as he had complained, that congressmen had less than two hours to read the budget bill before the vote for its final approval.

I had said in my column that the budget measure was submitted to the House the day after the President’s state of the nation address on July 22, giving congressmen three months to study it, not just 1-1/2 hours.

The opposition congressman had said on Twitter: “GAA Main Book 1,107 pages, Volume 1. 1,154 pages, Volume 2. 964 pages Total 3,225 pages. We were given 1-1/2 hours to read.”

In his rejoinder, Tiangco said the budget kept changing as it went through three readings during which amendments were being inserted here and there.

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WHAT EMERGENCY?: By the time the measure was presented for approval on third and final reading, Tiangco said, nobody was able to scrutinize its final form and content in the 1-1/2 hours given the chamber before voting on it.

He said: “When will members find out if their proposed amendments were accepted? Is an hour and a half enough to read through and compare the changes in the proposed GAA submitted during the first reading until its submission for the third and final reading?

“How can one determine if there were insertions? Considering that it is the final version to be approved by the House, the members should have been given reasonable time to read and study the version before them.

“The Certification of Urgency for the suspension of the three-day rule is qualified ‘to meet a public calamity or emergency’. But it does not apply since GAA funds can only be spent starting the next calendar year and therefore do not meet the ‘public calamity or emergency’ qualification.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 19, 2013)

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