POSTSCRIPT / October 24, 2013 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Not true solons given 2 hours to read budget

RUSH JOB: Some opposition congressmen, notably Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, complained the other day that they were given less than two hours to read the 3,225 pages of the 2014 national budget bill before the House approved it Tuesday night on third and final reading.

Tiangco 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.” (GAA is General Appropriations Act, the budget law.)

The posting reminds one of the impeachment of then Chief Justice Renato Corona last year, when an overwhelming number of congressmen signed the impeachment papers even without reading them.

Even if they had wanted to, they could not have read the voluminous document as it was then still being printed and rushed reportedly on orders of Malacañang dangling pork barrel allocations.

It is remarkable that under Speaker Sonny Belmonte, the House has always been able to approve the budget before the deadline, ensuring that the previous year’s budget is not automatically reenacted in the absence of a new GAA.

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THREE READINGS: Tiangco was not entirely truthful when he said that they had only 1-1/2 hours to read the P2.268-trillion budget before it was passed with a vote of 219-22 without the Priority Development Assistance Fund, known as the pork barrel.

Note that the action was approval on third reading, meaning there were a first and a second reading. The budget measure was submitted by Malacañang to the House the day after President Noynoy Aquino delivered last July 22 his State of the Nation Address.

That means the budget bill was with the House for three months, during which time it should have been studied (not only read) by the congressmen, if they were conscientious with their job.

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HIDDEN PORK: What Tiangco can do, if he has the time and the inclination, is run a series of public and media discussions on what he and the opposition think is wrong with the budget as approved.

Opposition congressmen can also look for ways to influence the Senate before the latter acts on the measure.

While the House removed the controversial P25-billion PDAF, cut up the pork and hid the greasy chunks in the budgets of six executive departments for “future reference”, many senators reeling from the pork barrel scandal want the PDAF totally deleted, period.

Congressmen may have given up direct access to the pork, but they retained the discretion to propose infrastructure projects, although they have to tag them while the budget is still in the legislative mill.

Those who did not do their homework and had no ready project to insert as line items in the executive department budgets will be “porkless” — and reduced to whining that the ghost of PDAF is still there to haunt the House.

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BIG BULGE: Drowsy as I read the other night the online editions of newspapers, I was jolted awake by a headline screaming that Napoles “sent millions of dollars to US in suitcases”. Wow!

Assuming one had succeeded in slipping the hot money through the usual corrupt watchers at the Manila airport, how could anybody, even a Napoles, have lugged suitcases bulging with millions of dollars past eagle-eyed US Customs?

The millions must have been in $100 bills, the biggest denomination. How big a bulge will $1-million in $100 bills make? Think also that suitcases are normally checked-in, not hand-carried, and X-rayed.

Anyway, I am ready to be impressed by the almost magical powers of Napoles over checkers in US ports where any amount beyond $10,000 has to be declared.

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TORRES THORN: After dropping the red-hot Rico Puno who was his right-hand for police and other interesting matters, President Aquino finally got around to easing out, via retirement by the end of the month, controversial Asst. Secretary Virginia Torres.

Plucking the Torres thorn out of the side of his public image was another good move. Other associates giving him PR headaches, including forked-tongue spokesmen, should follow. After all they serve at the pleasure of the President.

In 2011, Torres’ suspension as chief of the Land Transportation Office was recommended by the Department of Justice for having connived with a nuisance group attempting to forcibly take over the LTO IT System and its database holding the records of all licensed drivers and motor vehicles.

The President ignored calls to dispense with her services then. Later she was headlined for being linked to carnapping, but the boss again disregarded the bad publicity and calls for her resignation.

It was only when she was caught casino-gambling twice on camera, and after being reportedly disowned by the Iglesia Ni Cristo to which she belongs, that the President finally let Torres go.

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MRT BRIBERY: Another challenge to the President is the clearing of the Department of Transportation and Communications of allegations of corruption by Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar linking MRT General Manager Al Vitangol III.

The ambassador identified Vitangol as the man behind an alleged $30-million bribe (later reduced to $2.5 million) in exchange for a Czech firm’s to be granted the contract for supplying MRT coaches.

The NBI is set to summon Vitangol to answer the claims of the Czech ambassador and officials of Inekon, the coach supplier, after it subpoenas Manolo Maralit, the alleged middleman between Vitangcol and Rychtar.

What is puzzling is the slow drag of the case. Will the public wait three long years, as in the case of Torres?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 24, 2013)

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