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Friday, April 19, 2024

But will they talk?

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“But is the owner of the corporation that sold the laptops untouchable?”

The president, justifying his staying on as agriculture secretary, said: “For me in the DA, there really are things that I can do that it would take (another) a long time.”

“The president, they cannot say no to. And if they don’t fulfill my order, I can chastise them,” he continued.

Very true, Mr. President.

That is the reason why most of us supported your taking over the agriculture portfolio, knowing how troubled the agency is, and how imperiled the food security of the nation is.

Because you are the agriculture secretary, both the DBCC and Congress gave in, almost without question, to the hefty increase in the budget of the Department of Agriculture.

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And because you are president and concurrent agriculture secretary, both your free market economic advisers recommended, and your Congress approved an outlay of P184.1 billion for 2023.

This was an almost 40 percent increase year-on-year over the 2022 budget.

To be fair, policymakers saw merit in William Dar’s ministrations for a bigger budget, because there were valid reasons; there were doable directions. They gave DA P132 billion for 2022, and P102.1 for 2021.

They “starved” Manny Pinol in 2020 at P64.7 billion, and P49.7 billion in 2019. It was even lower during PNoy’s DA secretary Procy Alcala’s tenure. Ask your economic managers why. Some of them served both PNoy and Duterte.

As I understand, Willy Dar asked for a certain amount for cold chain facilities, both for fisheries and soil-based products like vegetables and onions. Has the DA implemented these in 2022?

Yes, Mr. President, you are correct — in theory. Nobody says “no” to the agriculture secretary who is also the president of the land, more especially someone with an electoral mandate as huge as yours.

The question is whether your sub-alterns, from undersecretary to the more knowledgeable assistant secretaries, to the regional directors and bureau heads, are talking.

Do they report the realities on the ground that they should be doing? Do they report to your 83-year old OIC/Senior USec, the highly experienced Doming Panganiban?

And, also, are those realities reported actual, or are they “manufactured” data?

Sometime in the past, a performance audit showed the NIA reported great performance, having completed thousands of kilometers of irrigation canals dug.

But when field audits were done, many of these ribbons of canals had no source of water.

Naghihintay ng ulan. Canal nga naman. The report is good on paper, until you see the reality on the ground.

A brash Benny Antiporda saw the problems, but he was thrashed by the Ombudsman, later the Office of the President, for conduct unbecoming over a bureaucracy riddled with the ineffectively corrupt.

Are the president’s executives in the sprawling, multi-tasked department now silenced, paralyzed even, after the Leocadio Syndrome?

No decisions are made; nothing acted on fast; no urgent recommendations sent, “baka ma-Sebastian na naman.”

In fairness, Mr. President, you have done your most important task as agriculture secretary — there is an ample budget for 2023.

If you were not the DA secretary, your economic managers would have been niggardly in allocating a hefty increase for agriculture, preferring to import cheaper produce to satisfy the consumers.

But with your multifarious and no less urgent tasks dealing with other national issues, can you preside over the speedy and proper implementation of those funds?

Or will they go again to useless farm-to-pocket roads, irrigation systems where the end of the line has no water, made-in-a-neighboring country machineries and equipment that conk out after a few months of use, seeds that do not germinate well enough, etc., etc., etc?

And pardon our impertinence, may we ask who have been rightly “chastised”?

The last time someone was chastised was when Leocadio and the SRA officials were fed to the lions. It turns out they were right all along, and acted with urgency.

Will there be a second coming for the upright and knowledgeable Leo Sebastian?

***

The Blue Ribbon Committee, after several hearings where layers and layers of layered conspiracy were uncovered in the PS-DBM cum DepEd’s overpriced and underspecified purchase of laptops, finally came up with its findings and recommendations.

Systems-wise, it recommends the abolition of the Procurement Service division of the Department of Budget and Management.

That may or may not be a good idea, because while theoretically, bulk purchases of commonly-used items are cost-efficient, it is in the practice by the PS-DBM where anomalies can be done.

When there was a General Services Department and budgeting was just an office under the Office of the President prior to martial law, and we had officials like the late Vicente Duterte and Constancio Castaneda, and Faustino Sychangco doing the numbers of the budget, there were hardly any scandals.

The Blue Ribbon Committee also recommended the prosecution of officials of PS-DBM and DepEd.

But pray tell us, what about the supplier/s who obviously conspired with the government bureaucrats?

If, as the Blue Ribbon report concluded, there was malfeasance, implying therefore bribery of government officials, who bribed them?

Obviously the seller.

But is the owner of the corporation that sold the laptops untouchable?

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