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Business

Presidential promise

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

There are at least three things that Filipinos are eagerly awaiting as of press time.

First is how our Filipino athletes will perform in the Japan Olympics which opened yesterday (July 23).

As mentioned by our sports officials, we have one of the best and most prepared group of athletes. Our very own golfer Yuka Saso, at 19 years of age, is currently ranked eighth in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. This, of course, was fueled by her incredible win in the 2021 US Women’s Open, becoming the first Filipino to win a major golf event. Yuka also won the gold in the singles event during the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia when she was still an amateur.

Also part of the golf contingency is Bianca Pagdanganan, who competes in the US LPGA tour, and Juvic Pagunsan, who won the 2021 Gateway to the Open Mizuno Open on the Japan Golf Tour.

Second is Malacañang’s announcement on the new quarantine classifications in light of the Department of Health’s confirmation of local transmission of the dreaded Delta variant.

The third is President Duterte’s last State of the Nation Address  (SONA) on Monday where the President is expected to talk about his legacy and what he intends to do in the remaining months of this administration.

When the President assumed office five years ago, he made two distinct promises: to stop corruption in government, and to end the drug problem in the country.

Just recently, he admitted he could not end the country’s illegal drug problem before his six-year term ends next year, saying little did he know that he would be fighting his own government.

He acknowledged the fact that he was elected precisely to eliminate the narcotics trade as part of his campaign promise, even as he lambasted the International Criminal Court for wanting to investigate his administration’s crackdown on illegal drugs.

But if there is one thing that President Duterte abhors more than illegal drugs, it is graft and corruption in government. In most of his televised public addresses, the President has made it a point to shame or recite the names of civil servants either suspended or dismissed from the government service because of official misconduct or misdeed.

In fact, in his most recent TV address last week, the President called on the public once more to report to him anybody in the government guilty of any shenanigan or malfeasance.

One thing that has truly infuriated the President in recent months were reports on how certain elective officials had messed around with the multibillion-peso subsidies under the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), even he requested the Office of the Ombudsman to dismiss from the service those found guilty of misusing the cash grants. He has even urged the public to report local officials stealing emergency ayuda intended for poor families.

Last year, the Department of the Interior and Local Government revealed that 437 local elected and public officials and their civilian co-conspirators are facing criminal charges while 626 more are being investigated by the police for alleged anomalies in the SAP payouts. We hope that during his SONA, the President can provide the country an honest-to-goodness update. I know that people want convictions, not charges or investigations, especially of so-called big fishes in government.

One of those being investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman and subject to a number of cases in court is Iriga City Mayor Madelaine Alfelor who is now facing over 16 criminal, civil and administrative cases involving the alleged misuse of some P397 million in public funds, including the SAP subsidies.

The PNP CIDG has filed criminal and administrative complaints against Alfelor and other respondents before the Office of the Ombudsman for violations of the anti-graft law Bayanihan I Act for disbursing SAP funds to disqualified beneficiaries.

At a hearing last year by the House Committee on Good Government, then chaired by Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado, at least three people unqualified to receive the P5,000 cash subsidy admitted that it was the mayor herself who had handed out the money to them.

She is also being investigated for allegedly handing out SAP grants to employees of the University of Northeastern Philippines, which is allegedly controlled/owned by the mayor’s family, and for obtaining a P275-million loan from the Land Bank of the Philippines to build an amusement park at a time when mobility restrictions continue to be imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her constituents say the funds are better spent for healthcare, considering that Iriga is the only city in the country that has no public hospital of its own.

Alfelor is also facing criminal complaints for undocumented procurement transactions and advances to various contractors, irregularities in the release of scholarship funds, procurements without public bidding, and unliquidated cash advances, among other graft charges.Two of the complaints were filed with the Office of the Ombudsman by her cousins.

The Office of the Ombudsman is, of course,  up to its neck in terms of the number of complaints it has look into. These include the case involving 80 immigration officials over the alleged pastillas scheme, the one involving officials of PhilHealth – including against the agency’s former president Ricardo Morales, among others.

The President has promised the nation that he would dedicate the remaining months of his stay in the Office of the President going after corrupt people, but he likewise said  eradicating corruption completely is impossible and cannot really be achievable.

He has assured the public that he is trying his very best to eradicate corruption in government under his watch.

Graft and corruption and the drug menace are, of course, two of the biggest problems this country and government are facing. The President could not have expected the COVID-19 pandemic to take up most of his and the government’s attention during the last three years of his administration.

Right now, Filipinos are more concerned about government’s response to the pandemic. No one really expected the President to eliminate graft and corruption and the drug problem which are already ingrained in our society, but expectations are high in terms of how this administration deals with the pandemic and the resulting impact on the economy. The same holds true for our local government officials.

I believe that Filipinos are going to make a better choice next year in terms of who their next set of leaders are going to be. All of us have personally experienced success or failure in terms of delivery of public services in connection with the pandemic. Since this virus is not going away anytime in the foreseeable future, we need leaders who can help us get on better with our lives as we all have to learn to live and co-exist side-by-side with COVID-19, whether we like it or not.

 

 

For comments, e-mail at mareyes@philstarmedia.com

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