POSTSCRIPT / September 24, 2013 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Where has the pork of Batanes’ Abad gone?

WHERE’S THE PORK?: Batanes is the country’s smallest province in population (16,604 in 2010) and area (219 square kilometers), but the Ivatans in its six towns have a big voice in their lone Rep. Henedina Abad, wife of the Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management.

Filipinos served daily news with pork fat à la Napoles know by now that the DBM, controlled by Secretary Florencio Abad, is the Grand Central through which all fund disbursements pass on their way to public projects or the pockets of racketeers, mostly the latter.

So we were shocked by a Malacañang appeal on Twitter for “relief/rehab materials for Batanes relief/airlift/sea lift ops.” Donors were requested by Palace presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte to contact Roel Montessa at DSWD NROC.

We had to tweet back: “Ilang bilyong pork barrel na ba ang naibigay sa maliit na kaharian ng mga Abad? Ngayon pinanghihingi pa?”

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MAMMOTH: Digging up a recent column of business writer Bobi Tiglao in The Manila Times, we reviewed the pork allocation of congresswoman Abad, the DBM secretary’s better half. Seeing again the figures has not dulled their shock effect on this taxpayer.

How much pork was released to her district in 2012? Tiglao wrote: “A staggering P92.5 million. Mammoth, considering Batanes’ population of 16,000 souls, making it the least populated province in the country, smaller than many barangays in Metro Manila.”

He wrote on: “Pork barrel funds under her predecessor and political rival, Dr. Carlo Oliver D. Diasnes, amounted to only P13 million in 2009 and P17 million in 2010.

“Abad’s P92.5 million pork barrel in 2012 is in fact the sixth largest among 289 members of the House of Representatives, even bigger than Speaker Feliciano Belmonte’s P65 million for his Quezon City district having a population a hundred times more than Batanes.”

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BARE IT ALL: The appeal for help for Ivatans should be directed at congresswoman Abad, as well as gofers in implementing agencies and non-government organizations who may have sliced off big chunks from the pork meant for Batanes.

For transparency, and decency, President Aquino should tell Secretary Abad to heed the clamor to publish immediately the Commission on Audit reports on pork barrel funds delivered to Batanes.

It is unseemly that the Abads, whose hands are on the budget release lever, are gorging on pork.

For that matter, the CoA should manifest its constitutionally-guaranteed independence by releasing its audit report FOR 2012 FIRST, then work backwards to 2011, 2010, 2009 and so on till its backlog is covered – instead of focusing on the political foes of Malacañang.

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DIOKNO REPORT: Lack of space prevented us from completing our report last Sunday on the assessment by Dr. Benjamin Diokno, UP economics professor, of the country’s economic performance midway through President Aquino’s term.

The former budget secretary discussed challenges facing the administration in a presentation before the Austrian business community gathered last Thursday at a Makati hotel. The meeting was organized by Austrian Commercial Counsellor Lisa Viehhauser.

He cited statistics showing that despite the 7.6-percent economic growth (which he said is not sustainable), Filipinos are still the poorest among the five original members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“What’s lacking is decisiveness, policy consistency and policy credibility,” Diokno said.

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DECISIVENESS: Going to specific issues requiring decisiveness, Diokno mentioned:

• The ongoing power crisis in Mindanao is crying for a concrete plan of action. We need roughly 600 megawatts of new power supply every year to support the 6-7-percent growth goal of the government. This cannot be done overnight.

• On airport infrastructure, President Aquino has to decide whether he wants two major international airports (NAIA or Clark) or just one.

• We have to ramp up public infrastructure spending. We need to build airports and seaports, highways, urban transit systems, power plants and water systems, etc., so that good jobs will be created and so we can make up for past neglect. Heavy public infrastructure spending would then have multiplier effects resulting in stronger and more inclusive growth.

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BALANCE: Diokno continued: “Labor-intensive, rural-based projects should complement large Public-Private Projects. To make growth even more inclusive, public infrastructure spending should be done nationwide, simultaneously, not sequentially.

“There is too much focus on PPPs. Large, slow-moving projects in urban centers should be complemented by small, quick-disbursing projects in rural areas. This balanced approach will ensure that the poor, most of whom live in depressed areas all over the country, are not left behind in the development process.

“We have to do these simultaneously, while the cost of funding is at its historic low and while the world economy is still weak, so that when it recovers, the Philippines will be stronger and more ready to march forward with the rest of the world.”

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MANUFACTURING: Batting for the revival of manufacturing, Diokno lamented that “we have given up too soon on manufacturing, where the good jobs are.”

He cited studies showing that “productivity in manufacturing is historically 2.5 times higher than in the services sector and higher than in the agriculture sector.

Moreover, he said, low-skilled workers in the manufacturing sector, on average, have higher wages than their counterparts in the service sector.

But Diokno said the revival of manufacturing is easier said than done, “especially since power rates in the Philippines are the most expensive in this part of the world, and the supply is dwindling and has become more unreliable.”

He noted that among the ASEAN-5, the Philippines has received the least Foreign Direct Investments in the last three years: Philippines, $5,916 billion; Thailand, $17,718 billion; Malaysia, $27,835 billion; Indonesia, $42,445 billion; and Singapore, $127,905 billion.

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

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