POSTSCRIPT / January 10, 2019 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Give us a president, not a standup comic

WILL somebody please whisper to the Mayor that “Joke Time” is over, and that what the nation needs badly now is a President, not a standup comedian.

After two years of improvising from one distraction to another, the President is expected to be able to give his 100+ million constituents not comic relief but the promised deliverance from crime, corruption and economic difficulties.

Not the least, the dominantly Christian population want to see in their leader moral rectitude, not a scheme to lower the moral bar by incessantly ridiculing and flouting long-established rules of conduct and accountability of public officials.

The President’s ventriloquist cannot be forever jumping in after every gross Duterte statement with an assurance that his boss was, again, just joking. That lame “Joke Only” excuse has been worn thin, it is no longer selling.

A direct statement of the President captured in official video clips is more credible than the standard “he was just joking” clarification of his attorney-spokesman issued after the fact.

In his latest outburst Tuesday, Duterte made the comic suggestion that Commission on Audit personnel be kidnaped and tortured for making it difficult for officials to pursue projects. We are still awaiting his apologists to explain that, again, he was just joking.

(It might help if the program emcee would interject “What you are about to hear is just a joke” before the Duterte spits out his trademark abusive remarks. The disclaimer might also serve as a cue for the audience to laugh.

(It has been noticed, unfortunately, that the audience’s laughing at the dirty jokes has been mistaken by the standup comic and his handlers as approval of his foul language. So the cursing and sexist remarks have become standard, especially when Duterte entertains homesick Filipino workers abroad.)

• Duterte takes aim at gov’t auditors

IN THE LATEST episode of the 2019 Comedy Season, Duterte took potshots at watchdogs of the Commission on Audit who, he said, were making it difficult for government officials to do their jobs.

Addressing Metro Manila officials Tuesday at the Barangay Summit on Peace and Order in Pasay City, Duterte suggested at one point kidnaping and torturing auditors:

Ah putangina ‘yang COA na ‘yan. Leche kasi yung COA, everytime may mali talaga. Ano ba naman itong COA na ito? Kung magkidnap tayo ng taga-COA, lagay natin, i-torture natin dito, ‘tangina.” (Those sons of bitches in COA. That COA, every time, there’s always something wrong. What’s up with this COA? What if we kidnap someone from COA, we torture them here? Sons of bitches.)

The President should know that COA, an independent constitutional body, is mandated precisely to monitor government use of public funds and resources. As Davao City mayor, he himself has received critical COA reports.

It might help if, as Chief Executive, he instructs instead all agencies to just obey the law and follow auditing procedures. Threats and tough talk do not help.

But he said: “Sino ba gusto makulong nang ano? Pero yung ano, pahirapan, ‘yan ang ayaw ko, yang pahirapan.” (Who wants to be jailed? But making things difficult, that’s what I don’t like.)

In a similar vein, Duterte has also railed against courts’ sometimes issuing temporary restraining orders when giving due course to petitions of taxpayers questioning controversial deals entered into by the government.

A related problem is likely to arise with the President’s announced intention to use the Road User’s Fund for cleaning polluted Manila Bay and upgrading hospital facilities and services.

The law imposing the road tax provides, however, that the money be used only for road maintenance and related projects. Duterte now wants the Road Board that is managing the fund to be abolished, thus freeing the money and reallocating it according to his plan.

In September last year, the President also said in a light vein something about throwing a COA auditor down the stairs for reporting unfavorably about expenditures of the Ilocos Norte provincial government led by his ally Gov. Imee Marcos.

In the presence of Marcos and other Ilocano politicians, Duterte blurted out: “Sino’ng taga-COA dito? Ihulog mo na sa hagdan para ‘di mag-report.” (Who’s from COA? Push him down the stairs so he won’t be able to file a report.)

• COA’s guarding public funds defended

REACTING to Duterte’s attacks, former COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza had reminded all and sundry that COA personnel deserve respect as they play a critical role in safeguarding public funds.

While conceding that some auditing guidelines may appear impractical and outdated to some, they help ensure that public officials are held accountable for how they spend taxes. Recently, COA’s vigilance unearthed misuse of public funds in some agencies under Duterte.

For instance, COA discovered massive misuse of public funds at the Tourism Promotions Board, leading to the resignation of its chairman, movie actor Cesar Montano.

At the Department of Tourism, COA also found irregularities in the award of a P60-million advertising/promotions contract with PTV-4 that benefited a brother of then Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo Teo. She had to resign, but the money has not been returned as promised.

In other post-audit examinations, COA flushed out what were deemed extravagant travel expenses of former Philippine Health Insurance Corp. interim president Celestina de la Serna.

Audit also disclosed overspending and allegedly anomalous contracts entered into by the Presidential Communications Operations Office for the government’s hosting of the last Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 10, 2019)

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