POSTSCRIPT / December 18, 2018 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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House bullies crave for road fund pork?

THE HOMILY of Chito Cardinal Tagle on the first day of Simbang Gabi was timely. Quoting St. John the Baptist, he said: “Don’t be a bully. Don’t use your power as a license to be rude. Don’t use your power to coerce people. Don’t use your arms to level false accusations against others.”

His words reminded us of House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya and Minority Leader Danilo Suarez who have been bullying Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno since he put his foot down and announced that he would not release, upon instruction of the President, the Road User’s Fund.

Andaya and Suarez berated and badgered Diokno during the Question Hour on Tuesday and rushed a resolution asking the President to replace the budget chief. That backfired when all the Cabinet members wrote their own letters to the President vouching for Diokno’s integrity.

Instead of firing Diokno, the President not only stood up for him but also reprimanded the congressmen, saying any disrespect by the House for members of the Executive would not be tolerated.

Unfazed, Andaya and Suarez fired reams of daily press releases attacking Diokno. On Saturday, Andaya accused Diokno of allocating funds to Sorsogon to favor his daughter’s in-laws. It turned out that Casiguran Mayor Edwin Hamor, whom Andaya identified as Diokno’s in-law, was not an in-law but with the second family of his daughter’s mother-in-law.

Andaya also claimed that at least four projects for Sorsogon were favored by Diokno: a P49-million highway improvement for Ariman-Casiguran road, a P96-million construction of Barcelona-Casiguran diversion road, a P115-million tourism road leading to Bulusan National Park, and a P289-million Daang Maharlika section in the first district of Sorsogon.

Impossible, Diokno said in a radio interview the other day. Some media sectors checked the 2018 General Appropriations Act and found that the allotment for Daang Maharlika under the Sorsogon District Engineering Office was only P25 million for road widening and P43.857 million for off-carriageway improvement.

It appears that the game plan is to pressure Diokno to release the Road User’s Fund. Former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez himself said on Sunday that allies of Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo want Diokno dismissed because “they want to use the levy overseen by the Road Board as a source of pork.”

Alvarez said some lawmakers have earned and stand to earn huge kickbacks from road projects funded by the P45-billion Road User’s Tax. The fund is controlled by the Road Board but now being held by the DBM on instruction of the President until the issue on the Road Board abolition is resolved.

Malacañang data show that as of Nov. 30, the balance of Motor Vehicles User’s Charge funds with the Bureau of Treasury was P45.7 billion. But at the Senate hearing on the Road Board abolition, Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar said the amount still not released was P166.1 billion.

That pile of billions could make any bully craving for pork salivate.

 Crude handling ruined Balingaga rites

IT WAS unfortunate that the concluding chapter of the story of the 1901 Balangiga massacre and the looting by American soldiers of the three church bells in that Samar village had to be spoiled by the crude handling of the program for their return on Saturday.

President Duterte, known for often cursing the Catholic church, changed his mind about not attending. This time, to everyone’s relief, he did not utter any harsh word. Instead, he kissed one bell and rang it seven times while raising a clenched fist signifying whatever.

Then, reporting on what should be a joyous welcome for the war booty being returned by the US after 117 years, the Diocese of Borongan said in a Facebook post:

“Priests, including the Borongan bishop, the Archbishop of the Military Ordinariate (AMS) of the United States, and the Apostolic Nuncio, were earlier told to go out of the Balangiga plaza. Duterte only wants Archbishop Valles to be in the area. Some priests were even asked to remove their Roman collars so as not to offend the President, Also, chairs were placed in front of the priests to cover them.” (Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao is the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.)

We think Duterte would not debase the presidency by banning some members of the the clergy in a turnover of church property, but neither do we believe that those managing the program would selectively ban some church personalities without instruction.

Local reports had it that priests, including Borongan Bishop Crispin Barrete Varquez, the archbishop of the Military Ordinariate of the United States, and the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Gabriele Giordano Caccia, were told by Presidential Management Staff to clear the plaza.

CNN Philippines quoted Fr. Serafin Tybaco, parish priest of the San Lorenzo Martir church in Balangiga, as saying that priests and bishops were asked to leave before Duterte arrived, because the presidential staff were following the original program.

Tybaco said in Pilipino that the original instruction was for them to join only the first part of the program, and that they (the clergy) were supposed to leave after that. But because the papal nuncio was there, they thought their presence was still needed.

‏Denying that churchmen were shooed away, a presidential spokesman said: “We will not allow such a reported unwanted incident to spoil this momentous occasion. The tolling of the Balangiga bells ushers in a call of unity and peace among us Filipinos. We can only respond in heartfelt approbation.”

Like the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia used to warn of impending danger, the Balangiga bells were rung in 1901 to rouse the villagers against attacking US troops. Using crude weapons, the Samareños killed 48 Americans, at the time an unusually big toll in one battle. The US retaliated upon an order of Brig. Gen. Jacob Smith to massacre all natives strong enough to fight and to turn the area into a “howling wilderness.” Thousands were killed.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 18, 2018)

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