FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - December 20, 2018 - 12:00am

This is unprecedented.

The House of Representatives passed many months back a bill abolishing the Road Board. The Senate agreed with the House version completely and passed the same bill.

This is now an enrolled bill. There is no need for a bicameral conference on the matter since the House version and the Senate version are one and the same. President Duterte indicated he would sign the bill into law as soon as it reaches his desk.

But wait. The House is now withdrawing the bill it forwarded to the Senate months ago. Apparently, under the new leadership, the chamber has changed its mind. It now wants the Road Board retained.

The Road Board, however, is part of the Executive Branch of government.  The President wants the P45 billion fund collected from the motor vehicle user’s charge that motorists pay each time they renew the registration of their vehicles returned to the national treasury. Thereafter, the money will be appropriated the usual way: through enactment of the national budget.

President Duterte’s thinking on the matter is a most sensible one. All taxes and fees collected by government go the national treasury. They are disbursed according to the national expenditure plan enacted by Congress.

The Road Board, with powers to decide on how the road user’s tax is to be spent, is an anomaly from the very beginning. The fact that is allocated the fund nearly evenly to all the congressional districts is anomalous. This is a set-up so obviously intended to facilitate leakage of public money.

The Road Board has long been plagued with charges of anomalies. It has benefitted the congressmen, not the motorists who were force to cough up the money for this contraption. The stench of corruption has been overpowering.

This contraption is so obviously a mechanism for processing pork barrel lard without calling it such. It is the product of evil genius. The motorists could not possibly evade the charges; those who preside over the disbursement of billions are not accountable to the taxpayers.

There could not be a better-designed contraption for defrauding the nation. It shakes down the poor and rewards the powerful. It favors the incumbent and disfavors the challenger. It helps entrench the political aristocracy.

Ours, after all, is a political system run by lard. In any other jurisdiction, this will not be called a democracy. It will be fittingly called “organized crime.”

This contraption produces a good amount of political lard to benefit the political lords. Those who are now clamoring that the Road Board be retained can only be called parties to well-organized highway robbery.

They must be exposed as such.


There should be an extra spring to our steps these days.

First, we got back the Balangiga bells. These bells, looted from us 117 years ago, are heavy with symbolic value. They remind us of that brutal war waged against our young nation waged by what was then a rising imperialist power. Our population was literally decimated, by famine and by massacre, in the course of that lopsided war.

The brave men of Balangiga, inferior in arms but superior in courage, decided to take the war to the enemy that fateful day of battle. The US Army suffered its worst defeat in the Philippine-American War and retaliated with extreme barbarity against the civilian population of Samar.

In our textbooks, the Philippine-American War is underplayed. The heroes of that war have not been extolled as much as they deserve to be. The Americans called them bandits. It is time to resurrect them as the true freedom fighters that they were.

The return of the bells underscores the need to right the narrative. As far as the Philippine-American War is concerned, our historians have not been as patriotic as they should be.

Last Monday, in Bangkok, Filipina Catriona Gray won the Miss Universe pageant with aplomb. That is a big thing for this pageant-crazy nation. She took to the competition with guts as well as grace, with heart as much as hope. She brought so much intelligence and talent to the contest she overwhelmed the competition.

As much credit should go to her Bicolana mother for raising a daughter as impressive as Catriona is. She allowed her daughter to blossom into the complete package she has become, sharpening her many skills and taking to the competition with so much confidence.

Catriona, we now know, trained in music theory as well as in the martial arts. She worked for NGOs helping children in poor communities. She was pure dynamite.

When she went to compete in Bangkok, she was with a talented team that thought through every detail: from her walk to her clothes, from her posture to her messaging. She was there to present to the world a modern Filipina woman: cosmopolitan, engaged, educated and confident.

This was not one woman doing extremely well. This was a whole nation dedicated to triumph: from Team Catriona to the horde of supporters to saved up to be in Bangkok to cheer her on.

Some of the joyless feminists see beauty contests as nothing more than meat shops displaying flesh for patriarchs to feast on. Therefore, they see participation in such events as degrading to women. They see nothing redeeming in Catriona winning the Miss Universe title.

They are entitled to that point of view, of course. It is not entirely without merit.

But in a moment like this one, where Filipinos find a rare reason to cheer, they are like the Grinch who stole Christmas.

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