Less corruption this 2014?

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Sunday, January 5, 2014


MATUWID na daan” being pushed by President Noynoy Aquino continues to shake the political landscape at the start of 2014 with news about how much some senators and congressmen pocketed out of the Napoles pork barrel scam.

According to the NBI, Sen. Bong Revilla allegedly pocketed P224.5 million. Sen. Jinggoy Estrada allegedly got P183.79 million and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile earned P172.8 million. The list also included congressmen and around 40 others who allegedly defrauded government.

Late last year, the investigation also dragged into the open the name and forced the resignation of former customs commissioner Ruffy Biazon.

With Biazon out, we got a sense that reforms at the bureau are well under way. The bureau’s new information officer Charo Logarta, for instance, has succeeded in breaching the old customs beat cordon at the national office and connected directly with mainstream media in the interest of transparency.

The Supreme Court (SC) likewise moved to abolish legislative lump sums commonly referred to as pork barrel and limited even P-Noy’s use of the huge Malampaya funds.

The SC is expected to announce its decision on the equally controversial DAP this January.

Many, especially highly critical members of Maghisgot Kita’g Politika, Bay (Yup, I make it a point that this 5,000-strong Facebook group reads my columns), would disagree, especially because of his dismal performance in response to the Yolanda disaster. But the general public seems to attribute to P-Noy and his “Matuwid na Daan” these anti-corruption successes. I consider this as one major reason for the President’s continued high survey ratings.

Lest people would misinterpret that I approve of P-Noy’s performance, allow me to restate what I have been saying that the President, along with his trusted DILG Chief Mar Roxas, messed up the government’s response in the Yolanda aftermath. P-Noy’s team falters when it comes to crisis response. Still, President Aquino continues to enjoy immense popularity even despite the public uproar against the pork barrel that persisted for months and discontent because of his government’s post-Yolanda response.

***

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake and Yolanda broke the anti-pork momentum in Cebu. Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma and members of the Cebu Coalition against the Pork Barrel System would have forged national unity with key anti-pork and anti-corruption figures all over the country last Nov. 8. Instead, we instantly went into relief mode.

However, coalition members met in general assembly at the Archbishop’s Palace last Saturday because of unfinished business and new developments regarding the anti-corruption advocacy.

Among others, legislators who missed their beloved pork are fighting back. Rep. Reynaldo Umali is leading an anti-SC move because of the momentous decision to ban the legislative pork barrel. After directly witnessing how government handled the post-Yolanda relief efforts–and a discouraging session weeks back on how COA is monitoring the donations that passed through national agencies and the LGUs–coalition members fear government has created a huge rehabilitation lump sum that looks and feels like pork barrel.

***

While most are just looking at the surface, there seems to be a cabal of bright boys creating a huge hole to smuggle shiploads of rice from Vietnam in the guise of providing aid for Yolanda victims. The public uproar over alleged customs delays in the release of donations prompted this scheme of importing rice.

The first attempt involved a shipment that arrived in Cebu before proceeding to Isabel, Leyte in early December 2013. The Cebu bureau questioned the shipment then.

But it seemed local officials faced immense heat, gleaning on how they handled the second shipment.

The second shipment worth P70 million of rice from Vietnam arrived during the Christmas holidays on board mv My Hung and was released immediately without paying duties and taxes after the consignee claimed the shipment would be donated to Yolanda victims. This shipment arrived at a time when an erstwhile favored importer named David Tan of the Binondo group was exposed in national broadsheets. According to the grapevine, DT is out. Another group is in. What’s the giveaway? The new group’s shipments are handled by a shadowy former customs man who is now a Manila-based customs broker.

The customs grapevine, however, doubt whether the NFA issued an Import Permit (IP) because rice is a regulated imported commodity. Even if tax exempt, there should be an import permit to prevent abuse.

Will there be less corruption in 2014 then?

(politika2013.wordpress.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 06, 2014.

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