SOMETHING must be really wrong with the way the government is being run when President Benigno Aquino III must defend his highest-paid Cabinet secretaries for violating the Constitution or for failing to do their jobs, an opposition lawmaker said Sunday.
“The Cabinet secretaries are supposed to be the ones to defend the President at all cost in all issues, not the other way around,” said Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, the head of the independent minority bloc in the House of Representatives.
“The President has been spending precious time defending his alter-egos. They are dragging him down. They are his baggage. Once the President starts to defend his men, that’s an indication that something is wrong with the way they run the government.”
Romualdez, also president of Philippine Constitution Association which successfully challenged the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program before the Supreme Court, said Cabinet secretaries such as Budget Secretary Florencio Abad who was behind the DAP should vacate their posts because they have already become “too hot to handle.”
The secretaries should not wait for the public to demand they resign or the President to sack them, Romualdez added.
The left-wing Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) also slammed Cabinet secretaries such as Abad, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Energy Regulatory Commission chief Zenaida Ducut for collecting fat salaries, saying they were “unworthy of the scandalous and obscene pay” amid the rising prices for basic commodities and the corruption that has tainted the government.
United Nationalist Alliance secretary general and Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco urged the Palace to “move on and buckle down to work than waste time justifying the DAP.”
“The Supreme Court did not say government should stop because of its decision to declare DAP unconstitutional. Why keep on justifying something that has been unanimously ruled as illegal?” Tiangco said, after the Palace announced that President Aquino would make a nationally televised address on the DAP Monday night.
“If President Aquino will keep DAP brains Secretary Abad, then Malacanang had better identify fast who should be held accountable or be penalized for it,” Romualdez said.
Somebody has got to suffer the consequences after the DAP was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, he said.
“The Constitution, the supreme law of the land, was violated. When a law is violated, the violator must be punished. No one breaks the law and walks away untouched, as if he didn’t do anything wrong,” Romualdez said.
“That would be the height of disrespect for the Constitution and a mockery of the justice system,” Romualdez said.
Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said not one member of the Cabinet received paychecks of less than P1 million last year.
The top grossers emerged even as their departments were being besieged by such controversies as spiraling prices of commodities, a crime wave, joblessness, hunger, homelessness and poverty, he said.
“We protest the huge salaries and bonuses given to certain government officials at a time when millions of Filipinos continue to reel from poverty, the disastrous effects of Yolanda, and the policy of unbearably low wages and salaries, giving government bonuses in the millions is patently oppressive and grossly insensitive,” Reyes said.
“When Benigno Aquino III announced his ‘no wang-wang’ policy in 2010, he was certainly not referring to the entitlements and bonuses of his appointees in government, which include classmates, friends and relatives. As we can see from the Commission on Audit’s 2013 Report on
Salaries and Allowances, tuloy ang ligaya,” Reyes said.
Reyes said the huge salaries and bonuses are made more insulting by the fact that some of the recipients are accused in the pork barrel scam and are facing charges before the Sandiganbayan or are being investigated by the Department of Justice and the Ombudsman.
Other officials have performed badly and do not deserve to be rewarded with big bonuses, he said.
“The case of Alcala sticks out like a sore thumb. He earned more than P4.1 million in 2013 because he was ‘compensated’ for his supposed work in the Department of Agriculture and concurrent chairmanship of the National Food Authority council. Alcala faces five plunder complaints before the Ombudsman and he has failed to stabilize the prices of rice, garlic and other agricultural products. He has also failed to address the infestation threatening coconut farmers in Southern Luzon. Alcala has also been implicated in the pork barrel scam and is also being accused of accrediting several bogus non-government organizations as implementors of DA projects,” Reyes said.
Abad, Reyes said, made some P2. 018 million last year, and is now facing plunder charges before the Ombudsman after he was tagged as the “architect” of the DAP
Alcala has shrugged off the accusations as a “mere nuisance” while Abad maintained the DAP funds were disbursed “in good faith.”
Abad had offered to resign but the President rejected it. President Aquino has defended Abad and Alcala on several occasions.
Reyes also said Ducut, who is also being investigated for her role as Janet Lim Napoles’ agent in the pork barrel scam, earned P2.1 million in 2013.
The ERC was heavily criticized for allowing the Manila Electric Co. to increase its rates by more than P2 a kilowatt hour in December 2013. It took a Supreme Court temporary restraining order to stop the rate hike.
Others accused of involvement in the pork scam were National Livelihood Development Corp. head Gondolina Amata, who earned P2 million in 2013 while NLDC directors Chita Jalandoni and Alexis
Sevidal, who got P1.5 million and P1.3 million, respectively.
Reyes said the head of the Government Service Insurance System, Robert Vergara got P12 million for 2013 while the head of the Social Security System, Emilio de Quiros, Jr. got P7 million in salaries and bonuses. The GSIS and SSS are besieged with complaints from their members and beneficiaries, he added.
“President Aquino’s straight path turns out to be crooked and riddled with anomalies and double-standards. The salaries and bonuses of many top government officials are definitely not deserved. They are obscene especially when seen in the light of government’s refusal to increase the salaries of government employees such as teachers and health workers,” Reyes said.
“We call on the public to examine the salaries and bonuses of these government officials and let them know that they are undeserving of such perks because of their poor performance and because of the anomalies they are implicated in. As taxpayers, we are the ones paying for their bonuses. We have every right to be outraged,” Reyes said.
Tiangco said no amount of explanation or reasons could justify something that was intrinsically wrong.
“The cardinal principle is simple: No one is above the law,” Tiangco said. “You may not be using sirens, but you are directly violating the Constitution that you are sworn to defend and uphold.”
Tiangco said he was puzzled why the President and his allies were wasting precious time defending the DAP when the Supreme Court has already ruled it unconstitutional.
He said the President should use the remaining two years of his term improving the lives of the people instead of defending the DAP.
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