Battle for dominance through pork barrels
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - January 4, 2019 - 12:00am

Parked pork” engrosses politics these days. On that issue Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s camp aims to control the pace of government. Its moves became apparent before Congress recessed for Christmas. It inserted in the 2019 national budget multibillion-peso pork barrels for its members, previously outlawed by the Supreme Court. It then delayed the House of Reps’ relay of that budget, to stampede the Senate into enactment along with the illegal pork. And it rustled up a draft federalist constitution to please President Rodrigo Duterte, but stuffed it with self-serving riders to prolong its reign. Now by exposing “parked pork” it is eliminating Cabinet resistance.

Leading the charge are House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya and loyalist Minority Leader Danilo Suarez. Yesterday they began public hearings on pork funds that Budget Sec. Ben Diokno allegedly parked in the 2018 and 2019 expenditures. The proceedings were held in Andaya’s Camarines Sur province not only for home-court advantage. It was also to point up Diokno’s purported favoring of political in-laws in adjacent Sorsogon province. Andaya implicates him to single proprietorship CT Leoncio Construction that dubiously bagged P10 billion in infrastructure projects. Supposedly his in-laws Sorsogon Vice Gov. Ester and mayor Edwin Hamor cornered P325 million in their Casiguran town by tying up with CT Leoncio.

Andaya alleges that an ex-Cabinet man running in Election 2019 also has P300 million in “parked” pork in Bicol Region, courtesy of Diokno. The fund purportedly is in the name of a congressman, awaiting official release for ghost flood-control canals. Diokno also purportedly bloated to P544.5 billion the P488 billion that the Dept. of Public Works and Highways requested for 2019. Allegedly he padded it with P114.4 billion in flood works. Flood projects are the new preferred, easy source of kickbacks because the measurements are indeterminate, Andaya says.

The imputations are meant to make Diokno resign. The Arroyo camp earlier got the House supermajority to ask Duterte to fire him. On fellow-Cabinet men’s advice, Diokno was a no-show. That only left the raps un-refuted. He was blamed for initial delays in House budget hearings, supposedly due to his grant of P75 billion in pork to the faction of ex-Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. All Arroyo foes were bashed.

Dinned out of the news, meantime, is Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s exposé of P2.4-billion pork for Arroyo and P1.9 billion for Andaya in their 2019 budget. Forgotten too is the to-do over the P45-billion road users’ tax. Duterte had asked Congress to abolish the Road Board that allocates the tax collections in equal lump sums to congressmen. It has been a source of up to 55-percent kickbacks. Notoriously during Arroyo’s Presidency, bulk of the money went to a bureaucrat’s love nest. Before ouster, Alvarez passed the abolition bill. Last Sept. 12 the Senate got wind of a plan by Arroyo’s newly resurgent camp to rescind it, as the money would come in handy for Election 2019. The senators adopted the Alvarez version en toto to preclude any more conflicting provisions, for the President’s immediate signing into law. Later that day the Arroyo camp did get the House supermajority to recall the bill. Having made lemmings of the congressmen, it then refused to transmit the abolition measure to Malacañang. Oddly calling the shots then was the Minority Leader. That’s how their camp dictates politics.

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Iloilo City’s 95-year electricity franchisee Panay Electric Company (PECO) is to expire in two weeks. On plea of the city council and consumerists, Congress replaced it with newcomer MORE Power. President Duterte reportedly is to sign the franchise any day soon. If not, it would lapse into law just the same. Government wants no more blocks like the media war that accompanied the franchise hearings. Or else the Dept. of Energy would step in. The 65,000 electricity customers must be afforded a smooth transition – no service disruption.

Customer welfare was at the core of the bitter fight between PECO and MORE. Both sides had presented contending justifications for their franchise applications. PECO accused MORE of inexperience, political hocus-pocus, and business grabbing. In the end, Congress ruled against PECO’s deteriorated and faulty facilities, frequent power fluctuations and blackouts, leaning poles, and unsafe overhead clearance of high-voltage lines. Worst was the repeated overcharging of customers; regulators had ordered PECO to refund P631 million in excess billings.

MORE is banking on the separate experiences of its executives in power operations. It is recruiting and orienting personnel on customer care. Biggest stockholder Ricky Razon, the ports and casino magnate, is plunking P2 billion (not only P700 million as earlier reported) into modern equipment and better service. Power supply and voltage will be stabilized, substation capacity increased, unsafe connections corrected, defective transformers repaired, and fault indicators installed. About P400 million is to recompense PECO’s 70-percent Cacho family owners. As international port concessionaire in the Americas, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia, Razon is staking his name for Ilonggo consumers.

Electricity rates are to be lowered through technology, expansion, and efficiency, MORE says. Customers will be holding it to that promise.

Barring any hitches, full turnover from PECO to MORE is expected by Feb. or Mar. With an operating permit till Apr., PECO gradually can bow out. MORE smoothly must slide in for the best interest of customers.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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