A SPECTACULAR development that shocked the halls of Congress was the sudden ouster of Speaker Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez. The coup, as everybody believed, was engineered by Davao City Mayor Inday Sara, the President’s daughter. He was jettisoned from the totem pole of power and was replaced by former Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in a fashion that boggles the mind until now. It is a bad if not ugly omen for Bebot who was lording it over in the Lower House, but a celebration of many legislators, among them his intimate friend Rep. Tonyboy Floirendo, who were deprived of their District funds and committee chairmanships during Bebot’s incumbency.
But the ugly development that is rearing its head at present is the quarrel of Congress and the Executive Department on the alleged budget insertions by the Secretary of Budget and Management Ben Diokno. House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya made some dramatics over adjustments of what to Sen. Panfilo Lacson looked like the return of PDAF. What triggered the controversy was the discovery of a lopsided allocation of funds of P5-billion + for erstwhile Speaker Alvarez, P3-billion + for then Minority Leader Rodolfo Farinas and P2-billion + for ex-Congressman now Cabinet Sec. Karlo Nograles. And then later, there were new allocations ‘discovered’ for various projects which mysteriously was to be awarded to an unlicensed contractor. It was getting curiouser and curiouser.
The House summoned Secretary Diokno to shed light but he was treated with indignity by the legislators for what I think is more of the love of television klieg lights than fixing the budget. The problem with the House of Gloria is that they were sleeping on the budget and took the easy and lazy course of reenacting the 2018 budget. Given the list of projects for 2019 there is a dire need to revalidate the 2018 budget. Andaya and Arroyo should bear in mind that not a few congressmen were deprived of budget for their respective projects when Alvarez was Speaker. The Executive Department thru DBM and Congress could have easily facilitated the adjustments that would make up for a rational 2019 budget but the penchant for dramatics and one-upping have to satisfy their hubris.
President Duterte was prepared to call for a special session for this but it looks like Andaya and Arroyo have become so stubborn they took any suggestion from the Palace as an affront to their authority.
If that is not ugly enough, what could be more uglier than the search for the 3rd Telco. From a high of about 15 local and foreign telecom operators who were interested to vie for the 3rd Telco, on bidding date only three participated. Of the three two were outright disqualified. A case that questions the validity of the franchise of Mislatel and the sudden changes in the interpretation of the term “regional operations” in the Term of Reference on the bid is now with the Supreme Court. Being sub judice I will not comment any further. I surely hope that the Department of Information and Communications Technology stops issuing statements like it is lawyering for Mislatel until the case is decided by the High Court.
Again, back to the Lower House, the Committee on Franchises pre-empted the High Court and subsumed the House in plenary by validating Mislatel’s franchise. But then again that is the way with the lower Chamber. Let’s wait for judgment day.
Unless anything earthshaking develops between now until New Year’s eve, I’d say 2018 has been a very good year. The Balangiga bells are back, thank you for the “unrefined” diplomacy of President Duterte; and the Miss Universe crown is back in the Philippines the fourth time! Thank you to the intelligent and beautiful Catriana Gray.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!