"This is a serious matter."
By the time this column comes out, it’s likely that the brewing budget impasse will not yet be resolved.
Senators Lacson and Sotto have dug in their heels over what they say are unconstitutional actions by the congressmen. On the other hand, Speaker Arroyo is determined to maintain her so-far perfect record of pushing Duterte’s agenda through the House before she steps down in a few months.
Who’s saying what in this lamentable face-off?
One: The senators claim that the House itemized budget allocations in violation of the draft approved by the bicameral conference. They say this was unconstitutional.
But House appropriations committee chair Nonoy Andaya points out that the bicameral draft only contains lump sums for various agencies and programs. These sums still need to be itemized. The House proposed such itemizations, as did the Senate as well. Who wouldn’t want such clarity?
As for constitutionality, Andaya believes this becomes an issue only when you start fiddling around with a budget already enacted into law upon the President’s signature. In fact, this is exactly what happened with the DAP fiasco engineered under PNot, which the Supreme Court unanimously declared to be unconstitutional.
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Two: Senator Lacson charges that Speaker Arroyo steered unusually large budget funds to her own 2nd district of Pampanga. He’s also threatened to bring her to court for technical violations of the budget preparation process.
However, Arroyo’s district as a matter of fact only ranked something like 100th among all 200-plus congressional districts in terms of budget allocation for 2019. And Andaya says her only directive to the congressmen was to ensure that no district—even those of her opponents—should be denied any budget funds at all, which is what used to happen under her predecessors.
If Lacson wants to sue her over this or any other issues, he should really go ahead and do that—as advised as well by Palace spokesman Panelo—instead of endlessly playing to the media. No less than any other citizen, the lady deserves that much.
Three: Duterte’s economic team is warning that delays in budget approval could lead to a reenacted budget (using the same 2018 budget this year) that would slow down economic growth by as much as 2 percent.
This is a serious matter. Public spending to stimulate economic growth will be reduced, including Duterte’s Build Build Build program for which loan and construction agreements have already been signed. Among these projects are prospective new sources of water for Metro Manila. If we end up with man-made droughts in the future, we will certainly know some of those who should be blamed.
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As the water shortage in Metro Manila enters its second week, it seems clear that the blame falls squarely on the private water concessionaires—specifically Manila Water, the Ayala-owned operator of the “East Zone.” They seem to have screwed up on their short-term capacity and distribution planning, compounded by a failure to aggressively develop short-term water sources similar to Maynilad Water’s Putatan treatment plant beside Laguna de Bay.
That said, these mistakes are absolutely no reason at all to reject privatization of water distribution and go back to the bad old days of government control under the likes of NAWASA, when water supply was chronically short and overpriced. The two concessionaires have in fact made water privatization here a model for other countries.
It is government—who insisted on holding on to its exclusive role as wholesale water provider—that has consistently fallen short. The economy and the population won’t stop growing, so it should make sense to continue hunting for new water supply, right? Apparently, though, not to our bureaucrats.
There are at least four huge potential new sources of rainwater-fed supply: the Wawa dam now being proposed by billionaire Ricky Razon’s group; and the Laiban, Kaliwa and Kanan dam projects, which are intended to capture the 8 billion liters of rainwater dumped by an average of 25 typhoons a year on the Sierra Madre, only to flow back to the Pacific Ocean unused. However, it was only last November that a formal agreement was signed with the Chinese for building the Kaliwa dam.
If we want to exploit these opportunities, the whole water sector may need to be reorganized, the same as with the power sector after EPIRA in 2001. According to a knowledgeable consultant, three new entities must be created: a Department of Water to run wholesale water operations; a National Water Corporation to co-venture with the private sector on new water projects; and a Water Regulatory Commission to regulate the entire sector.
Two water reform bills have already been filed in Congress earlier, by Speaker Arroyo and by her close ally Congressman Art Yap. If anything good comes out of the current water crisis, it may well include the substitution or consolidation of these and other pending bills into a comprehensive blueprint for reform.
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The President last week released his latest list of 46 narco-politicians. Most of these were mayors (although three congressmen were also included) and many of them are now running for reelection. This time the list has reportedly been thoroughly vetted—by PDEA, PNP, AFP, and the National Intelligence Coordination Agency (NICA).
Predictable howls of protest were raised from the usual quarters about “violation of human rights” of those on the list. Unfortunately, those same critics also criticize the administration for letting off the big drug lords and only going after poor users and pushers. You can’t run after the little ones, you can’t run after the big ones—exactly what do these critics want government to do?
They also forget that the media routinely publishes the names and photos of crime suspects hauled in for questioning by the police. Are we now to believe that mayors and congressmen presumptively deserve better treatment?
These alleged narco-politicians have met the lower test of “probable cause” that must be applied in order for them to be charged in court. We think that this lower test is also relevant in the case of those running for reelection. And if these candidates still get themselves back into office—well, that will have to be blamed on the voters themselves.
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