‘Advance campaign funds’
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - March 25, 2019 - 12:00am

As the House of Representatives belligerently stand their ground and insist on the passage of “their” version of the 2019 government budget, the greater the suspicion and accusation that the reason the House Leadership insists on having their way is because the illegal insertions or budget allocations made after the Bicameral conference are meant to cover “projects” by contractors who have advanced campaign contributions, even for members of Congress who are no longer eligible to run or are retiring by June 2019.

According to some “independents,” if the conflict of versions between the Senate and the Congress were merely about the usual pork barrel, then the simplest solution to the budget impasse would be for both houses of Congress to grant what the Duterte administration is asking for and everyone else walking away from the table without a single centavo of pork barrel. But when members of Congress lost access to their kitty fund called the Road Users Tax, members of Congress especially those close to the leadership found themselves low and dry. 

At this point, there’s a lot of speculation and accusation from analysts and non-aligned disgruntled congressmen that some of their associates may have turned to contractors and suppliers to “Advance the funds.” Historically speaking, this is a publicly known practice among contractors and suppliers who participate in government biddings and projects. Since time immemorial, contractors and suppliers have willingly taken the risk and advanced the money for initial start up of projects including kickbacks during past administrations. Others call it a necessary investment to build relationships with people in power.  Some contractors I spoke with in the past told me that it was part of doing business with government and it was no big hit in terms of cost of money because the general practice back then was to make sure there was a 30 to 40 percent mark up to cover all contingencies including kickbacks.

All of these past sins or practices have once again resurfaced because of the budget impasse that could not have come at a more suspicious time and circumstance. It is already suspect given that we are now in the campaign period, and it gets a lot more credence when shared or expressed by disgruntled members of Congress. Some people also wonder why the discussion of both houses on the thorny issue has to be behind closed doors considering how public everything was when they conducted budget deliberations? We can only hope that members of both houses of Congress realize that their standoff is now giving birth to a lot of ugly suspicions and accusations. As they say, “Where there is smoke – there’s fire” and at this point it would be to everyone’s interest if our legislators go public and settle the matter.

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The cost of gasoline and diesel is expected to hit the roof this week and so are the tempers of vehicle owners and commuters. Chances are most of us will be inclined to target the big 3 oil companies in the Philippines who stand to profit the most. But thanks to TRAIN 1 or the Duterte Tax law of 2018, it seems that the top 3 oil companies find themselves between a rock and a hard place; namely increase global pricing and the government’s new taxes. As a result, none of the price increases has substantially added to their bottom line, in fact, many customers have instinctively reduced their consumption, delayed purchases or limited their vehicle operations or trips. Many bus and jeepney operators have taken such drastic action because running a half empty bus or jeepney results in losses.

There are however some enterprising if not criminally minded companies selling fuel who are doing much better than the big 3 and are raking in more money by intentionally looking and operating like Mom & Pop stores while mixing in smuggled fuel with their “legal stocks.” As industry players put it, “how can they sell much cheaper fuel compared to us who already process our own in bulk?” The government’s concern over Oil or Fuel Smuggling is clearly there since the DOE and DOF have been talking and promoting their action plans on fuel marking. The only problem with the program is that authorities or the people doing the fuel marking and testing have been doing it on the Big 3 oil companies instead of checking the usual suspects or areas that are historically know depots for smuggled fuel such as Subic, Davao, or other ports or piers.

It’s always the underground business; the Mom & Pops that government does not want to deal with. But these are the ones that have the numbers and the flexibility to find the loopholes, or to make the money and run! Fuel marking should start where the smuggling regularly occurs.

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I was just in Tagum City in Davao del Norte last week where I joined the kick off of the B-Meg Fiestahan caravan for 2019. It was the first of about 20 other provincial educational and livelihood events hosted every year by B-Meg/ San Miguel Foods Inc. aimed at educating and empowering farmers, housewives, teachers, retirees etc., in the area of backyard hog raising. This is the fifth year that we’ve done these Fiestahan events and it has brought me to as far as Aparri, Cagayan in the north, and all the way down to many parts of Mindanao. The annual project which is more than CSR is a major expense that requires weeks or months of preparation per site but in the end, the whole day seminar where we also provide food, prizes, even motorcycles or piglets as raffle prizes always results in reducing the fear, risks and losses of brave Filipinos who often dive into a business they know absolutely nothing about. This is why I love sharing my mistakes and experiences raising pigs, so others can avoid the mistakes and failure. My new mantra for our audience this year: Sa B-Meg Bawal ang Bigo!

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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