A ‘touching and revealing’ letter

SENTINEL - Ramon T. Tulfo - The Philippine Star

An open letter from Benny Antiporda, former acting administrator of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), was both touching and revealing.

The letter was dated Dec. 22, 2022, and published in The STAR two days later (Dec. 24).

It was “touching” because although he was not informed beforehand about being replaced, Antiporda still thanked President Bongbong Marcos for “giving me the opportunity to serve this government, no matter how briefly.”

“Just like our President, I am convinced that corruption is the bane of good and effective public service and should therefore be addressed,” said the unceremoniously dismissed former NIA chief.

Antiporda said he and his family are “forever grateful” to President Bongbong for the chance to serve the present administration.

The letter was “revealing” because Antiporda exposed the inefficiency and corruption at the country’s irrigation agency.

Months before, over a cup of coffee, Antiporda – a former colleague in journalism – told me he was introducing reforms in the agency. The public did not pay as much attention to the corrupt practices in the agency as they did to similar issues in the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs.

Being a dyed-in-the-wool journalist, Antiporda unearthed the shady practices at the NIA several days after he came to the agency as senior deputy administrator during the previous administration.

“I’ve found out that our rice farmers have small harvests because their lands are not irrigated or lack irrigation,” Antiporda told me.

“Sinisisi natin ang ating mga magsasaka, kuya, dahil sa maliliit nilang mga ani, pero di natin tinatanong ang dahilan (We blame our rice farmers why they yield minuscule harvests, but we don’t ask the reason),” said Antiporda.

He told me to wait a bit before exposing the corruption and inefficiency at the NIA in this column, as he had hardly warmed his seat.

This columnist had the first glimpse of what Antiporda said in his swan song.

“In my brief tenure, the saddest conclusion that I made is that for the longest time, NIA has been the milking cow for unscrupulous officials and private individuals,” said Antiporda.

The corruption at the NIA was responsible for the delays in the completion of the country’s irrigation projects, according to Antiporda.

He cited figures to support his claim.

He said NIA has irrigated only about 65.23 percent of its total potential coverage areas since it was founded on June 22, 1963.

The incremental yearly increase from 2008 to 2021 at 0.02 to 0.12 percent “would take us another 30 years to fully irrigate the country’s farmlands.”

“We beg to ask why and how come that after nearly 60 years now, the NIA remains woefully behind its irrigation mandate?”

*      *      *

I know Antiporda to be very passionate in what he does – from buying up the tabloid Remate, running the National Press Club (NPC) for several terms and being in government.

Remember the dolomite beach on a stretch on Roxas Boulevard? That was his brainchild when he was undersecretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

He was fatherly in dealing with NPC bar and restaurant employees but very strict with erring subordinates.

Antiporda forbade travels by NIA officials that were “counterproductive to their work” and reassigned several officials who, he thought, were not doing well.

He also filed graft complaints against two NIA lawyers for losing a “crucial case” in court in 2022, which involved a construction contract with a private contractor worth P205 million.

The affected officials, apparently acting like spoiled brats, went to the Office of the Ombudsman. Antiporda was suspended.

Methinks Antiporda should have been given due process – probably suspended while the case against him at the Office of the Ombudsman was ongoing – instead of being dismissed unceremoniously.

Anyway, it’s all water under the bridge now.

Let’s hope his replacement is as concerned as Antiporda was with how the people’s money is being spent at the NIA.

*      *      *

Until now, there has been no word from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) if the items stolen by its agents during raids on two houses in upscale Ayala Alabang village will be returned.

The theft of items not related to drug trafficking was first exposed by this column on Dec. 10; I wrote about it again in my column on Dec. 13.

All the items were mentioned in detail in that exposé.

Items cleaned out of the two houses included food in the refrigerators, all the grocery items on the shelves, alcoholic drinks, watches and shoes. Two French bulldogs were also taken.

I wrote that the French bulldogs, bought at millions of pesos, need special care and food; otherwise, they will die.

The newly appointed PDEA chief, retired police general Moro Lazo, will have a hard time cleansing the agency of undesirable agents.

If Lazo were to do the cleansing in earnest, he would have only a small number of agents left.

Looting of places suspected to be drug havens is allegedly SOP among PDEA agents.

SOP stands for “standard operating procedure,” which corrupt government officials and employees use to mean “the usual way” of going about their work.

In short, corrupt practices.

*      *      *

Joke! Joke! Joke!

A blond woman wearing a mini skirt was in a shoe store. She noticed that the man assisting her in trying on selected shoes for size was looking up beyond her knees.

“Hey, buddy,” she said as she gave him a playful kick. “I bet the only reason you work here is to look up girls’ skirts, isn’t it?”

“That’s an absolutely ridiculous accusation, ma’am,” the man said sternly. “I don’t even work here.”

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