The red flag is up
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2019 - 12:00am

There was a 2016 House hearing which should have immediately triggered remedial action on the Passport E-printing mess. According to Sec./Cong./Sen. (ex-future) Harry Roque, the Congressional resolve to investigate and pinpoint culpability quickly faltered when lawmakers were brought to Europe to inspect printing facilities. In Harry’s words, “after their field trip in Europe, the issue was gone.”

Sec./Spox Salvador Panelo, while still Presidential Legal Counsel back in February 2017, reviewed the 2015 contract between APO Production Unit Inc. (APO), an agency attached to the Presidential Communications Operations Office, and the privately owned United Graphic Expression Corp. (UGEC). Atty. Panelo concluded in his legal opinion that APO’s agreement with UGEC to outsource the printing of machine readable, ICAO compliant passports “may subject the APO and/or UGEC officials responsible for the same to criminal and administrative liabilities.”

In 2017, Malacanang was investigating the matter, according to Rep. Aniceto Bertiz. The Philippine Association of Free Labor Unions (PAFLU) relentlessly baited PCOO Head Martin Andanar to explain why the contract and the excessive charges imposed on OFWs was still being enforced. 

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s first Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. is convinced he lost his Cabinet post when he ordered the cancellation of the contract outright. The contract, he says, was never sustained. But it was not abrogated because powerful members of the Commission on Appointments intervened. 

So how and why are we even here? 

This is a prescription for a full blown Senate hearing. But don’t bother with the APOU-UPEG subcontract. There is no disputing that the same is irregular. Rather, take your pick: violation of law; a joint venture in which the split is 90-10 in favor of private company UGEC; a joint venture curiously entered into by APO one year before it was officially tasked to take over passport printing responsibilities from the Bangko Sentral; UGEC is not 100% Filipino, among others.

Aside from verifying the theft or loss of personal data, which may boil down simply to a case of incompatible formats, what society wants to know is how this anomalous contract managed to remain in force so long after it was exposed.

The emperor has no clothes. Sec. Locsin has been fielding his share of scorn after the breach, no breachfirestorm which he ignited. Senator Antonio Trillanes worries that the Ateneo Law and Harvard Law educated former Congressman, publisher, columnist and Teditorial host dawdles much on social media. The editorial of a broadsheet would like him autopsied for the slip, calling him out for making rash and scandalous claims.

But, right now he is the only one seeing and speaking the truth. And many are grateful that Sec. Locsin continues with his expostulations.  

There really shouldn’t be an issue about officials making use of social media platforms. Each message posted takes but a moment of the time otherwise spent if the Sec. were to be interviewed or to speak in front of  microphones and cameras at a function. This way, official responses are more immediate. And with no filter! 

Could the Senator have been confusing the furious thumb twiddling on gadget of Sec. Locsin with the truly distracting video game habit that famously bedeviled certain high government officials of yore?

Double standard 101. It is a marvel of tartufferie to witness Malacanang’s quick resort to reason when Sec. Locsin first announced that the data breach compels applicants for passport renewal to resubmit the originals of their PSA (NSO) certified birth certificates. Immediately, Sec. Panelo sent the soothing message that: “applicants should not be burdened by submitting original copies …, obtaining which requires another application process …, to renew … just because …. lost their relevant data.” 

Contrast this to the alacrity with which the Spokesman immediately disqualified Sen. Trillanes when his relevant data relating to his Amnesty grant had been lost. 

Warpaths. Majority Leader and Ex-Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya has been busy. After outing the former House leadership and his favorite Duterte Cabinet member for alleged unauthorized budget insertions, he now faces his own tribulations as the Sandiganbayan suddenly scheduled his arraignment for the Malampaya fund misuse case. 

“Nice timing,” he laments. Of course, he quickly got scolded for the statement by Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Tang. In fairness to Majo Andaya, the timing was really surprising. 

This has to be one of the most provocative case studies of the principles of check and balance, given that the protagonists are both leaders of the President’s coalition. The entry of the Sandiganbayan completes the cast of characters. Now, all three departments are in play.

Realpolitik in disguise. It’s been a truly educational experience watching the entire board. For every move, a countermove. Breathtaking attacks, sublime defense strategies. Retreat and castle.  Ignoble knights, impious bishops. Clearly, we see two kings. 

Never too far away. The Universidad De Manila ended 2018 by hosting a symposium to mark the landmark passage of R.A. 11036, the mental health law. Among the speakers were Jerika Ejercito Estrada, mental wellness advocate and one of the prime movers behind the enactment of the law. Schools and both public and private organizations can truly be relevant in heightening awareness of depression and other health issues. 

The best help that you can give to those who suffer is to first understand. Its a struggle to have to fight every single day. Its not a sadness. It’s an illness. Often, we try to empathize only to see good intentions turn hollow.  Without meaning to, we end up making things worse instead of making it better. A good start would be to stop dismissing and start listening. The latest, very public episodes of victims seeking relief in the deep end echoes the urgent need to be understood as well as to understand. 

For anyone who needs or knows someone who does, there are numbers you can reach for free counseling (from the SOS mental health resource page). Crisis Line - Landline: (02) 8937603; Globe Duo: 0917-8001123; Sun Double Unlimited: 0922-8938944.

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