IT’S election campaign season again and candidates have started to harangue voters with a barrage of promises of reforms. When he came to power in June 2010, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III himself had pledged to install a transparent government, one that would reverse the opaque ways of the scandal–ridden administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
“I’M NOT hearing this,” the procurement expert recalls himself saying as he tried to cover his ears. He was recounting an interesting incident that happened sometime last year, while he was helping oversee a public bidding for civil-works contractors to build roads in a southern Philippines province.
The roads project was being funded by a major bilateral donor, which had hired the procurement expert to help ensure the selection of contractors was honest and transparent. The bidding had gone very well; there were many eligible participants and the price bids were genuinely competitive. Members of the bids and awards committee (BAC) also did not take a long time to recommend that the contract should be awarded to the lowest bidder.
THE PROVINCE of Pampanga is one of the worst places to be in during the rainy season. Located at the bottom of a geological depression, it lies at the heart of Central Luzon’s drainage system where floodwaters from surrounding provinces converge before rushing out into Manila Bay. And within it lies another sinkhole, the town of Candaba, an old lakebed whose swamps and fields offer a temporary resting place for migratory birds on their way to and from North Asia.
No wonder Candaba’s mayor was furious when Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson in late July 2010 cancelled a P78-million contract to repair the town’s dikes and riverbanks that help contain waters of the Pampaga river.
AMID the rampant misdeclaration or underdeclaration of their Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) by senior public officials lies a prettier, often overlooked, picture: the few good men and women in high and low positions who follow the law most diligently and truthfully.
To this minority of good SALN filers belong a number of Cabinet members and officials of constitutional commissions. The ties that bind them are a few things. Most came from the private sector or the professions where they founded their wealth. They are political appointees, but until they became part of government nearly all had no history of engaging in party politics or running in elections. Of fairly senior age, most are self-made names with fairly good credentials or work portfolio, even before public office beckoned.
WHATEVER THE outcome of the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, a once-ignored piece of document seems to be getting the attention it deserves at last. The question, however, is whether or not the general public’s increased familiarity with the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth or SALN would finally shame public servants into taking it seriously and accomplishing it beyond token compliance.
Corona is on trial at the Senate impeachment court in part for his alleged failure to disclose not just his SALN, but also the full details of his wealth. According to his prosecutors, Corona misdeclared, underdeclared, or did not declare multimillion pesos of cash and other assets.
MAGUINDANAO:The Quest for Justice is a documentary produced by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism on the second anniversary of the Maguindanao Massacre. After two years, the Ampatuans have allegedly ramped up efforts to reach a settlement with the families of the victims. The families of the victims continue to hold out against the proposed settlement, even as they try to survive from day to day. In the meantime, the Ampatuan clan continues to wield clout in the region with its vast resources and continuing political influence.
Is the President still part of the solution, or is he now part of the problem?
Advocates of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill raised this question after Malacanang again failed to include the FOI bill in its list of priority measures during the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council earlier this week.
In a statement sent out to media organizations, the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition noted with alarm that President Benigno S. Aquino III had raised new concerns over the proposed Freedom of Information Act during the LEDAC meeting in Malacanang. These concerns were apparently added to the list of other reasons that Malacanang had been using to defend its refusal to endorse the bill to Congress.
THE apparent inability of majority of Metro Manila local governments to respond quickly and fully to citizen requests for asset disclosure records of local officials, as well as documents on education, health, public safety and other essential services may well be a reflection of the Aquino administration’s own dithering over a Freedom of Information (FOI) law.
POLITICS and government, business and finance, education and culture. In all these and more, the national capital region, Metro Manila, is supposed to lead the rest of the nation. Here, bureaucrats and politicians thrive, mostly schooled and steeled in the art of governance and advisedly, the liberal ramparts of transparency and accountability.
It seems fair for citizens to expect that in Metro Manila, more than anywhere else in the Philippines, the people’s right to know and to access official information and documents would be respected. But that could well be plain wishful thinking for now.
IT HAS been described as an “investment in the next generation,” with its supposed results of millions of healthier, better educated Filipinos not expected to be realized anytime soon. But the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program is also an investment that is drawing a substantial chunk of its capital from foreign loans, a fact that has many observers raising red flags.
“The poor of the future will be the ones who will carry the burden of paying off this debt,” says Freedom from Debt Coalition Executive Director Milo Tanchuling, who believes it would be better if the CCT relied on locally sourced funds. That the government is also vague about alternative funding prospects for the program has only made those like Tanchuling uneasy – and wondering if it’s an initiative that is sustainable.