THE first seven days of the Aquino administration saw the usual turnover ceremonies. It is a characteristic of delicadeza that these ceremonies normally take place with the maximum amount of fulsome praise for the outgoing administration, with modest, perhaps falsely modest, statements about how the incoming management hopes to do as well.

Not at DPWH.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

Incoming Secretary Rogelio Singson told outgoing Sec Victor Domingo: "We want to restore public trust in DPWH. People expect a big change in DPWH. I am here to lead DPWH into a new beginning." Translation: "Everyone knows that you are corrupt. I am going to change that."

Singson added in relation to the DPWH officials. "Either they keep in step with me or they can go." This is the standard "My way or the Highway" speech - appropriate for DPWH!

Herein lies the problem.

We have, more than ever before, a "new broom" cabinet. They will encounter, in their respective departments, incredible inertia from the career civil servants who will use relevant or non-so-relevant Republic Acts, Presidential Decrees, Executive Orders, established procedures and protocols to carry on as before.

This is not always a manifestation of corruption but can simply be the protective reflex of people who have spent many years in a job and see no reason to change.

Incoming Education Sec Bro Armin Luistro will surely have to face this problem. Is he able to meet the challenge? We hope so. As someone who enjoyed a rapid rise in the La Sallian community, he is used to being treated with deference. He will find less deference in his new role. He has already fallen foul of the press who asked him the Catch-22 question about Sex Education. Whatever answer he gave he would incur the displeasure of a significant proportion of the populace. So he berated the hapless journo.

Can Bro Armin handle admin?

Will he have the persistence and tenacity to get to the bottom of the chronically intractable DepEd/GSIS imbroglio? Can he cope with Winston Garcia? Can anyone!

Or will Bro Armin wait until Garcia departs and President Aquino appoints a new GSIS head who, according to Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda, will "ensure that government pensioners and current employees can enjoy the benefits due them under the law."? For GSIS to operate lawfully apparently requires a cultural change. If a decision has not yet been made, I would suggest that Romulo Neri's predecessor as SSS CEO would be a strong candidate. But if, as many expect, Neri resigns, then the situation is more complex.

A more tactical issue within DepEd is the question of the 2010 Census. After 41 weeks of valiantly coping with 23 million students, our 500,000 long-suffering teachers were thrown into fraught, front-line electoral duties. Before these duties were fully discharged the teachers were told to count how many people reside in the Philippines and to complete this task by 15 June when the 23 million students troop back to classrooms. A stingy meal and travel allowance was to be paid for census duties. Except that for many teachers it wasn't. So, some of the teachers who were assigned to the Census quietly undertook civil disobedience. Millions of us have been left uncounted. This makes a nonsense of the millions who were counted because an incomplete or fictitious census is worse than no census at all.

We anticipated this problem in our column seven weeks ago when it was evident that Education Sec Mona Valisno was no Raul Roco when looking after teachers' interests - particularly ensuring that they are properly and promptly paid when dragooned into service for other departments (Comelec and NSO).

So another tedious task for Bro Armin is to deal with the recalcitrant ones in NSO and/or DepEd who were responsible for holding back payments. Is he up to this or would he prefer to return to cloistered academe?

Now we hear that census enumeration will be extended until 20 July. A two month enumeration period will create problems. Some of my peripatetic family may be counted twice, others not at all. The population at the beginning of the enumeration period is estimated by me to be 93.7 million and at the end will be 94.0 million [400,000 will be born and 100,000 die]. We are taking snapshots of a moving target.

The saddest thing is that enumerators have horror stories of discourtesy from those they are trying to count. If there is a section of our community to whom we should be polite, it is our school-teachers. We trust the enumerators for the next census will be selected from the more egregious sections of DPWH, BIR, Bureau of Customs.

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This month, Canada is taking delivery of 113, 000 MT of raw sugar from Brazil. The price is US$377.88 per MT. Additionally, a freight cost of $46 per MT is incurred. So the landed cost in Canada is $423.88 per MT. At $1=P46, this means that the landed cost in Canada is P975 per LKG. But according to SRA CEO Bernard Trebol, we are paying a landed cost of P1, 700 to P1, 800 per LKG for raw sugar and P2, 300 to P2, 400 per LKG for the refined sugar that we are currently importing. This huge discrepancy is not explainable by differences in freight costs.

Does this mean that the President and Sec Alcala, both avowed opponents of middlemen, have a point? Can we improve the mechanism for acquiring sugar from overseas? SRA CEO Trebol tells us that our sugar consumption has increased by 23% compared to last year. That's nearly half a million tons! This tells us more about the seriousness of smuggling than impossible changes in our diet. Our consumption appears to increase when smuggling decreases. This is because smuggled sugar being illegal is not recorded. Smuggling declined markedly in late 2009 and early 2010 due to the high international market prices.

Cebu Customs Collector Ronnie Silvestre denies that sugar smuggling has been rampant in Cebu. I should hope so! Rampant means to flourish or spread unchecked. But NFSP has well documented evidence that there is smuggling in Cebu.

Justice Sec de Lima cites irregularities in the enforcement of anti-smuggling activities. She mentions rice, sugar, and oil as being the smuggling arenas which she will focus on first.

From a loss of revenue point of view, oil is the most serious but sugar is more important in terms of the impact that smuggling has on our vital industry. It may be worthwhile for NFSP to provide evidence to DOJ since Leila de Lima is operating on a wider platform than her predecessors.

Next week: Balikatan 2007 and much more.