The gold rush area that is Compostela Valley is a disaster waiting to happen. The steep mountainsides are honeycombed with tunnels dug by small-scale miners lured by that yellow mineral that many people are willing to die for. Well, they are dying for it. A landslide during heavy rains last Monday has killed 27 persons so far, and the digging and counting for more bodies have not yet stopped. That was the second fatal landslide in the area in two years.
Even without the tunnels, Compostela Valley is prone to landslides. The steep mountainsides surrounding it are devoid of trees whose roots should have held the soil together. Loggers raped the forests a long time ago. Miners made the soil even looser by digging tunnels into it to look for gold. Then they built their huts on the valley below, at the foot of the mountain. It was like committing suicide.
About 50 miners were taking shelter in these huts last Monday when a loud noise roared like thunder. Then they saw boulders and mud tumbling down the mountainside toward them. They all began to run but the wall of mud and boulders overtook them and buried them. Isn’t it ironic that the miners who took great pains to burrow into the soil looking for gold are now buried under that same soil, perhaps with gold nuggets buried with them?
This is not the first landslide that has killed scores of people in the Philippines. Nor would it be the last. As the typhoon season dumps more rains on the mountainsides, there would be more landslides, killing the people below.
As in Compostela Valley, authorities have identified areas in danger of landslides and have advised people in the path of these potential landslides to move to safer locations. But people are hardheaded, especially those in the gold rush area. Greed has closed their eyes and common sense to danger.
But death also lurks in places away from the gold rush area. Any area below mountains where loggers operated years ago is in danger. For the greedy loggers had stripped the mountains of the forests that held the soil together. We are now reaping the whirlwind that these people started.
Mark my words, there would be more floods and landslides during rainy seasons. With no trees to hold the rainwater soaking the ground, the water would rush down the mountainsides to flood the lowlands. The creeks and rivers would not be able to hold the abundant water. So they would overflow their banks and flood the surrounding countryside.
Worse, the rains would loosen the soil and without plant roots to hold them, the mud, together with boulders, would cascade down the mountainsides and bury the sleeping villages below. It had happened many times before; and it would happen again.
Have you noticed that there are more frequent floods and landslides now with the slightest rain? Those are the handiwork of the loggers, the charcoal-makers and the kaingineros (slash-and-burn farmers).
Local government officials should take great pains to move people living in danger areas to safer locations. If they don’t, there would be nobody left to vote for them in future elections.
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The 2008/2009 Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR), financed by the United Nations, put the blame on the spread of graft and corruption on the executive branch of the government. Congress has abdicated the power of the purse to the executive, the report said.
Wrong. The executive and the legislative branches are actually in cahoots to rob the people of their taxes.
The root cause of all the corruption is the pork barrel hidden in such innocent-sounding appropriations as Countrywide Development Fund and Priority Development Assistance Fund. What is developed is not actually the countryside but the private pockets of legislative and executive officials. Almost half of the appropriation of each and every project goes to corrupt officials. In the process, these officials contaminate private persons who do business with the government such as contractors. Contractors have to kick back about a third of the contract price to government officials or else the contract would be given to somebody else willing to give “commissions.” As a result, the work of the contractor becomes substandard as he has to get back somehow the money he kicked back to officials. There is almost no government project, big or small, that is not tainted with corruption.
Members of the House of Representatives use the sobriquet “power of the purse” in giving themselves the pork barrel allocations. So it has not abdicated this power to the executive. But it is true that Malacañang has an even bigger pork barrel hidden in “intelligence,” “confidential,” “representation” and other high-sounding names. The generic name for all of them is “stolen funds.” They were stolen from the taxpayers.
The executive branch allows Congress to steal the pork barrel funds because Congress also allows it to steal a bigger share. A case of you scratch my back, I scratch yours.
Also, the pork barrel allows Malacañang to control the congressmen and senators by the simple expedient of not releasing the pork of uncooperative legislators. Cooperate and you get your pork; play hard-to-get and you get nothing. That is the Malacañang practice.
Abolish the pork barrel system by obeying the Constitution (it is not in the Charter), and you cut corruption by about two-thirds. Malacañang and Congress will not do that, so it is left to the Supreme Court to overturn its earlier decision that the pork barrel is legal. How can it be legal when the Constitution says that the job of Congress is to enact laws and that of the executive is to implement them? But with the pork, legislators usurp the functions of executive officials such as the secretaries of public works, education, health, etc. Plain common sense.
Corruption undermines democracy, human rights, civil liberties and sustainable development. The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) provides a comprehensive framework for curbing global corruption. The Philippines ratified the UNCAC in 2006 and is therefore a party to it.
Despite this and its no less than 13 anti-corruption laws and elaborate policies, the Philippines, according to a perception index, is now seen as the most corrupt country in Asia. Recent surveys also revealed that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is perceived to be the most corrupt president. And because of unabated corruption and the endless series of scandals, as well as the way presidential powers are being wielded, another group in the United States describes the Philippines as “somewhat a democracy.”
Are we going to accept all these shameful number “one” rankings indifferently?
UNCAC’s Articles 13, 32 and 33 highlight the strategic role of civil society in translating the fine words of the convention into actions. The articles recognize that the success in the fight against corruption depends on those professionally and morally courageous enough to report or denounce corruption at work and in society. We are angered by the killings of journalists and anti-corruption activists, as well as the sacking, suspension, harassment and persecution of a large number of workers. Those who report and denounce corruption are exercising their basic human right to freely express themselves and, therefore, deserve protection.
But the Arroyo administration seems hell-bent on making this country one of the most dangerous places not only for journalists but also for whistle-blowers; in fact, on making whistle-blowers vulnerable to the counterblows—physical, psychological, or legal—of the powers-that-be who believe that being in power gives them the right to steal, commit wrongdoing and violate all moral and ethical standards with impunity. I need not elaborate the tragic “criminalization” of NBN-ZTE whistle-blower Jun Lozada and the “canonization” of criminals and pathological liars.
While whistle-blowers struggle to put food on their family tables and to pay the monthly bills and their children’s school fees, the culprits are having the best time of their life making hay.
—ANNIE ENRIQUEZ GERON,
Public Services Labor Independent
15 Clarion Lily St.,
St. Dominic Subdivision I,
Project 6, Quezon City
The impending arrest of Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada is not just another of the continuing moves to harass a witness who blew the whistle on the corruption surrounding the $329-million deal for a national broadband network between China’s ZTE Corp. and the Philippine government. It is also intended as a warning to would-be whistle-blowers on other anomalous transactions entered into by the Arroyo administration, perceived by the people to be the most corrupt in the history of the Philippines.
The perjury charge filed by Michael “Mike” Defensor, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s former chief of staff, is just one of 16 cases filed against Lozada, ranging from dishonesty, perjury to theft. Lozada and his family also said they have received death threats as a result of his exposé. For the past year or so, Lozada and his family have been living in seclusion at the La Salle Green Hills, with security provided by nuns.
Contrast this with the freedom that former Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos and former Socioeconomic Secretary Romulo Neri are enjoying. Abalos purportedly said, “Sec, may 200 ka dito.” (This has been interpreted as meaning that there was P200 million for Neri in the deal.) Neri acknowledged that he heard the offer but recommended the approval of the deal anyway. There was a bribery attempt, but the bribe offeror was not charged. Neri, instead of being dismissed for not reporting the bribery attempt, was transferred to another government position.
The courts and the law enforcement agencies are continuously being used to harass Lozada, his wife and other family members. The Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines said that the government’s latest move— the order for the arrest of Lozada—“is a warning to other people both inside and outside the government who have knowledge of important information related to the practice of corruption of people in power to shut up—or else.”
The continuing harassment of Lozada and his family is not going unnoticed by civil society. Former President Corazon Aquino has thrown her support behind Lozada and has urged those “who support the truth” to speak out against his impending arrest on the perjury charge. Former President Joseph Estrada has joined Aquino’s call. Estrada said, “It is not a democracy where those who speak the truth are imprisoned or threatened to be imprisoned while those who abuse the people run free.” Some senators have also spoken out in support of Lozada. The wonder is that the case has not sparked a bigger public outrage. Probably the people are waiting for the actual arrest of Lozada before they speak out and stage protests? Or probably they consider a perjury charge too small a case to get exercised about?
Lozada has said that he is not going to post bail and would not resist arrest as a sign of protest against what he called the government’s continuing harassment through a number of cases filed against him and his wife.
We hope this latest government move is not just a ploy to further isolate Lozada. We hope that the case will be tried soon, so that the people will know the truth about the NBN-ZTE deal, for whose signing Ms Arroyo, according to a Malacañang press release, “left like a thief in the night,” leaving the bedside of her husband who was at that time recovering from a life-threatening operation.
If the trial court will be fair and just, the administration may not get the result that it wants in causing the filing of the perjury charge against Lozada. The case, Lozada said, might provide the starting point for a full-blown court hearing on the alleged irregularities in the NBN-ZTE deal. That would be ironic justice, because it would result in the disclosure of the truth and the exposure of things that the administration would like to stay hidden.
MANILA, Philippines—The House of Representatives will need about P2.31 billion for the pork barrel alone of the additional 33 party-list lawmakers that should be proclaimed because of a Supreme Court ruling that is effective immediately. This, on top of the P200 million needed for their staff and day-to-day operations.
The amounts exclude the expenses for their new offices, electricity and other needs for the remaining eight months of the year, Speaker Prospero Nograles said in a statement.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court increased to 55 the number of seats in the House for party-list groups, or 20 percent of the chamber as prescribed by the Constitution, when it ordered the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to follow a new formula for allotting party-list seats.
There are currently 22 seats in the 14th Congress occupied by party-list groups.
Each member of the House is entitled to P70 million a year in Priority Development Assistance Fund, more commonly known as the pork barrel, to finance their pet projects. Senators get P200 million a year.
The pork barrel is not given in cash, though. The lawmakers just identify the projects and beneficiaries for which funding should be allocated.
A total of P200 million is needed for the salaries of the lawmakers’ staff, office supplies and other office needs.
A lawmaker is entitled to a minimum of six regular staff members in the House, plus consultants.
Lawmakers also get transportation allowances, which varies depending on where their districts are located.
The House would need to pass a supplemental budget to fund the new lawmakers’ needs, according to Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte and Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia.
Garcia said the budget for 2009, which was already signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was intended for a House of 240 members.
Nograles also has another problem aside from where to get the funding.
Where to put them
He does not know where to put his 33 new colleagues since there are no office spaces currently available.
“My other problem is where to put these new party-list congressmen and where to get new funding for their staff and day-to-day operations because they have no allocation under the 2009 General Appropriations Act,” the Speaker said in a statement.
The other day, Nograles said that if there would be no budget for the new lawmakers, “then everybody takes a cut, I guess.”
He said new offices would be available at the Batasan Complex in Quezon City after the completion of the four-story South Wing Annex Building. The P700-million building is expected to be finished next year.
But the Speaker said he had no choice but to accommodate the 33 party-list representatives.
CTALK By Cito Beltran Updated March 13, 2009 12:00 AM
I don’t know how the United States does it, but in the Philippines, it seems that the BIR has already declared their hunting season open! In fact things are so bad that some businessmen are now more afraid of certain BIR personnel than kidnappers.
Participants in a recent tax forum expressed shock when a top official of the BIR casually said that as far as they are concerned, they are willing to turn a blind eye to whatever means BIR agents use as long as the agency meets their revenue targets or collection quotas. In response to the pressure and the desperation to hit targets, the BIR has foregone restraint and accountability among the good and the bad within its ranks.
Is this a confirmation that the Arroyo government is desperate for money and desperate times require desperate measures? If this is the mindset of the BIR commissioners, then they are welcome to use the tag line: “QUOTA AT ANY COST”.
Filipinos traditionally lament during March and April because it’s time to pay income tax, but this year there has been a marked increase in the number of harassed taxpayers who have decided to go to tax lawyers and the media to complain about letters and inquiries from the BIR that have escalated to downright shakedowns.
But more than just complaining, people have started to record letters, meetings and conversations with BIR officers and representatives. It would be interesting to find out whose faces will show up on security tapes in various restaurants, spas, country clubs as well as offices if the Senate investigates the situation.
Unlike in the past where “victims” keep quiet and simply pay the tax and bribe the taxman, the victims are now openly talking about the shakedowns and the price of compromise.
The corrupt are now asking for an average of P350,000 not to do their job and after a couple of weeks, the reported average rate of accepted bribe is P200,000. There are no distinctions made between feast and famine and if the “agent” gets transferred, the thieves have a referral system.
In short, corrupt agents trick the sinner or the ignorant into believing that their problems are solved once they pay. What they did not realize was they simply enrolled themselves as perpetual hostage to corruption.
Clearly, there is a national phobia of the BIR for the longest time they have promoted and enlarged the myth that “You don’t mess with the BIR”. Because of the G-men characterization, it becomes all the more easier to make delinquent taxpayers cower to corrupt arrangements.
In a recent tax seminar conducted by an ex-taxman now working for SGV accountants, the speaker warned his audience: “Whatever you do, don’t antagonize the people from the BIR, because even if you are compliant they will always find some way to get at you”. Can you believe that statement?
Considering the fact that the Filipino taxpayer is the principal partner of the BIR in meeting their revenue targets, shouldn’t we promote an image and a relationship between taxpayer and tax collector that is cooperative and supportive instead of threatening and combative?!
The Filipino taxpayer is entitled to Respect, Compassion and Understanding.
Respect the fact that we all work hard for the money the BIR needs, wants and demands. Be compassionate about the taxpayers’ reluctance to part with money that could spell the difference for a better education, a better house to live in or an opportunity to enlarge their business. Understand that we are not knowledgeable about the tax system and it is the BIR’s obligation to extend the assistance and the courtesy to people as their share in working for the money.
Those who persist in creating the monster and the negative myth to promote their illegal agenda should start realizing that the once untouchable, corrupt civil servants and officials are now targets of exposés, lawsuits, cases with the ombudsman, pursued and arrested in foreign countries and in extreme cases judged and executed right in front of their families.
On the other hand, those who would rather pay ransom have no right to complain unless they are willing to come clean and correct their situation. It is also high time we go after accountants and auditors who sign off the statements as correct and then sell out their clients when they don’t get the rates they want! Imagine telling your client to cheat and then feel offended when you are cheated!
The problem is that the Department of Finance has not put up a “sanctuary system” where the penitent and negligent taxpayer can enroll under the supervision and protection of the DOF as well as the DOJ or the NBI who can then pursue an investigation and the filing of cases against extortionists. Those who have tried to play straight had to deal with threats and harassment! Right now an amnesty program will insure that the government gets the money but we still have to get the crooks out of government.
Today we clearly have a developing situation where the BIR is under the gun to produce money by any means available to the agency but at the expense of the citizens, both the innocent as well as the guilty. Instead of pushing the people too far or against the wall, Secretary Gary Teves and the BIR should ask the people for better solutions.
Apparently the Arroyo administration has started to believe their own propaganda and refuses to accept the closure of many businesses and ignores the reality of several years of bad business as well as the world wide economic crisis.
Ultimately, “Quota at any cost” may cost this government much more than they bargained for.
Updated March 15, 2009 12:00 AM
Enforcement police of the Securities and Exchange Commission raided the other day the office buildings of the Legacy Group. Numerous criminal charges have also been filed against Legacy owner Celso de los Angeles, who could face life in prison if convicted of the offenses. Meanwhile, victims of the collapse of the rural banks and pre-need firms of the Legacy Group await relief from their woes, however limited, that can be provided by the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp.
SEC Commissioner Jesus Marti-nez was forced to go on leave a day before his retirement after witnesses said he received lavish gifts including a house and lot from De los Angeles. Martinez is under investigation for corruption, and authorities are trying to determine if other SEC officials were involved in the scam.
Now what about the lawmaker who, according to the same witnesses who pinned down Martinez, received P100,000 a month from De los Angeles as consultancy fee? The House of Representatives, not surprisingly, has refused to touch Parañaque Rep. Eduardo Zialcita, who denied acting as Legacy consultant and claimed that all he accepted from De los Angeles were “donations” for his impoverished constituents. It is probably too much to expect that the House would approve rules prohibiting congressmen from accepting such “consultancy fees.” Speaker Prospero Nograles, who by De los Angeles’ accounting lost P18 million in the Legacy scam, prefers to leave the fate of Zialcita to the witnesses and Legacy victims.
Apart from Legacy bank depositors and pre-need plan holders, there are other victims in this scandal: responsible, legitimate rural bankers. Rural banks serve a need in communities that have not been reached or are not adequately covered by the big players in the banking industry. Public confidence is indispensable in banking, and with the Legacy mess, that confidence in rural banks is eroding. If regulators do not want more problems in their hands, they should look at the concerns of the rural banks affected by the Legacy scandal.
When the Legacy mess is finally cleaned up, those directly responsible should be behind bars and the coddlers punished. New measures must also be in place to ensure the soundness of the country’s banking system and regulatory environment.