President Duterte enters the second half of his first year in office unrelentingly pursuing his bloody war on illegal drugs, which during the electoral campaign he had promised to complete in six months. The fulfillment of another campaign promise has now been added to that: weeding out corruption in government.
Comes now the disclosure by Sen. Panfilo Lacson that the 2017 national budget, signed by Duterte last month, is bloated with billions of hidden pork barrel. (In 2013 the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in the form of the Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF. Since then, a number of former senators and some congressmen have been indicted by the Ombudsman for corruption in the use of their PDAF allocations.)
“Change is coming? Maybe, but it’s pork allocations changing hands from the Liberal Party congressmen [under the previous administration] to those from Mindanao,” Lacson caustically remarked, alluding to Duterte’s campaign slogan, in a statement to the media.
In fact the pork-barrel retention in the first Duterte administration budget may be worse. Lacson said that some Mindanao congressmen claim to have been allotted P1.5 billion but others got P5 billion each. Some senators find this unfair as they get only P300 million each for their pet projects.
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Most of these projects will be funded from lump-sum appropriations for the Department of Public Works and Highways. The DPWH original budget was increased to P454.7 billion via a P9-billion realignment – which may have been part, Lacson said, of the P21.5 billion slashed from the budget of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund. “What is sad here,” Lacson lamented, “is the thought of sacrificing the victims of calamities for political favors and alliances.” (Understandably, Duterte needs to cater to the needs of his “supermajority” coalition in the House, which includes most of the LP solons, and his majority hold on the Senate.)
The pork-bloated budget can become a sore point in Duterte’s declared campaign against corruption. It’s the latest indicator that the change promised during the campaign and embraced by the electorate may not be fulfilled to the people’s satisfaction.
Already darkening clouds have hovered on other specific promises he made during the campaign and after assuming office. For instance:
On ending labor contractualization: His administration’s “win-win” approach is strongly rejected by organized workers – both the militant and the conservative segments – because it seeks to appease the capitalists more than it redresses the long-standing grievance of labor.
On agricultural land conversion: Farmers lauded the President when he approved DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano’s recommendation for a two-year moratorium, to ensure sufficient land for food production and attain national food security. Yet his economic managers (the secretaries of finance, budget, and economic planning) have collectively opposed the moratorium, invoking its adverse effects on non-agricultural land development enterprises.
When his predecessor P-Noy vetoed the bill raising by P2,000 the monthly pension of retirees under the Social Security System, Duterte promised to approve the same should he be elected president. But now he is holding back, even as the pension raise is being staggered over four years under a congressional joint resolution. Reason: he seems to defer to his economic managers, who oppose the raise, invoking the same reasons P-Noy used – that it would shorten the life of the pension fund and adversely affect the country’s international credit rating.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, whose leaders Duterte had invited to a dialogue in Malacanang twice and got their backing for his pro-people pronouncements and intended policies, recently cautioned the President to beware of his economic managers. Tagging them as a “neoliberal triumvirate,” Bayan said:
“If the economic managers can offer this much resistance to such a basic reform measure as pension increase, what more can we expect in the [GRP-NDFP] negotiations on far-reaching socio-economic reforms?” The President, Bayan further urged, “should listen to the ordinary people and not to the pro-business, pro-foreign economic managers.” It warns of looming mass protest actions over the government’s failure to make good on its promises to the people.
As regards the peace talks, the third round of formal negotiations under the Duterte government will take place in Rome on January 19-25. It will principally focus on the exchange by the two panels of their proposals for a comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms. Such deep-going reforms – highlighting agrarian reform and rural development linked with national industrialization – constitute the core elements of the entire peace negotiations. By consensus, the panels are targeting the completion of the negotiations midway in Duterte’s six-year term, to enable initial or substantial implementation before he bows out of Malacanang.
However, further advances in the negotiations may be hobbled due to the stalled release by the Duterte government of more than 400 political prisoners, as previously pledged. The prisoner releases are in compliance with the CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law) and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees; both were reaffirmed by the two panels in August. It’s what is holding back the signing and implementation of a bilateral indefinite ceasefire agreement, intended to accelerate the pace of the peace negotiations.
Thus, as the year 2017 moves on, President Duterte has to decisively act on his promises that the people desire to see fully realized. The darkening clouds should not lead to a storm. Before his political capital is dissipated, his positive actions can stop, and even reverse, the trend.
Published in The Philippine Star
Jan. 7, 2017