Insatiable greed
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - December 28, 2018 - 12:00am

An information technology guy I know was happy to inform me that a new road and bridge built in his corner of these islands were opened recently, just in time to spare him from the usual heavy holiday traffic near his home.

Of course, he said with a wry smile, the new road and bridge traversed large tracts of real estate owned by the political clan in the area. The clan has members in Congress and both the national and local governments, so they not only get to pick the sites for road construction, but also to use people’s money for projects that will benefit the family’s properties.

The setup is hardly unique. A lawmaker once came under fire for using her pork barrel allocation to build a road whose main destination was a resort owned by her husband. There was no congressional ethics probe, of course. Her colleagues couldn’t wait for the issue to die down, or else similar projects involving their families might also come under public scrutiny.

In Congress, members generally learn quickly to live and let live – unless someone doesn’t know how to share, or else wants to hog the lion’s share and can’t moderate greed.

“Moderate your greed” is an admonition we heard two administrations ago. It prompted the philosophical adviser of yet another administration to ask: is there such a thing as greed in moderation? Isn’t greed intrinsically immoderate?

*      *      *

As often happens in this country, all the hue and cry over greed, moderate or immoderate, amounted to nothing. Like the Marcoses, the “tong-pats” pack has staged a spectacular comeback.

Some of the tong-pats characters like showing off their Catholic piety, so perhaps they might be genuinely touched by Pope Francis’ Christmas message, about the perils of “insatiable greed.”

The pontiff undoubtedly was not singling out any country in his message directed at the entire Christendom.

Still, it was a timely message as we watch our politicians slug it out over how they can use public money for personal ends, especially with the midterm elections approaching.

Persons and groups scrutinizing public fund utilization and the budget process estimate that a large chunk of the annual national outlay is lost to corruption or allotted to projects that benefit mainly the lawmakers who are empowered to earmark projects for funding.

If thieves in government aren’t misusing our money, the administration will have no excuse for imposing whatever phase of TRAIN or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion, especially the fuel excise tax.

*      *      *

We need greater public awareness of where our taxes go. In France, Emmanuel Macron retreated from his planned increase in fuel taxes after mass protests and rioting in Paris.

In our country, we’re glad that a fight has erupted over the budget allocations for each congressional district under the proposed 2019 General Appropriations Act and the Road User’s Tax. Now we have an idea of who among the lawmakers are afflicted with greed, moderate greed and insatiable greed.

With the amounts mentioned in connection with the Road User’s Tax, you have to wonder why we still have such crummy roads even in Metro Manila. And why there are so many toll roads, with the private operator allowed to collect toll forever. Where do our taxes go?

The World Bank Group has undertaken studies showing that in many countries, road projects are among the biggest sources of corruption. The quality of governance, according to the studies, is often reflected in the quality of the road network.

This is so true in the Philippines, where the road network is not so much a network but a patchwork of uncoordinated piecemeal projects picked by different government officials to benefit their family businesses or partisan interests.

The road projects are often carried out by contractors not properly vetted by authorities. These are companies that are often owned by relatives and cronies of the government official who picked the project.

Just look at the patchwork quilt of asphalt, concrete and dirt pavement along Sucat Road-Ninoy Aquino Avenue in Parañaque, one of the thoroughfares leading to the NAIA. When piecemeal repairs are done on this sorry excuse for a road, the project proponent even has the gall to claim credit for it on a billboard.

In certain areas, even perfectly fine roads are dug up for the flimsiest excuse just so repair work can be done and the congressman or local government executive or public works official can get a commission.

*      *      *

It’s good that President Duterte didn’t blink in the battle between the executive and the HOR, or the House of Representatives, over the abolition of the Road Board, which administers the Road User’s Tax.

There are people who are seriously hoping that Duterte would employ something akin to Oplan Double Barrel against crooked public officials.

In China under Duterte’s idol Xi Jinping, officials convicted of corruption have been executed. Since there is no death penalty in the Philippines, Double Barrel will do.

Even certain individuals close to Duterte, however, are tainted by large-scale corruption, weakening the impact of his promise to stamp out graft.

Some of them cultivate an image of piety. In reaction to Pope Francis’ admonition, they’ll probably make the sign of the cross and mutter that they are just plain greedy, not insatiable.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with