Jun Ledesma

In his State of the Nation Address, Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte leafed through the pages of his performance report. Despite the magma of critical issues that were highlighted by organized coteries of critics that are out to discredit his administration, Duterte read through the pages among these were written in blood. He assured his domestic and foreign critics that there will be no let-up in his war against drugs. So Iceland and the rest of European countries that signed the UN Commission on Human Rights resolution to investigate what they claimed are human rights resolution in the Philippines can go fishing for evidence as they please. Not only has the angry Duterte said he will fight to the end of his term, among the first legislation he asked during the joint session of Congress is to pass a legislation that would revive capital punishment in the country. He made his message even simpler for the drug syndicates to understand and that if they escape the bullet for fighting it out with the law they will still end up in the gates of hell. That part of the SONA is for the Bad which in the context of Duterte’s message includes the drug lords and the 18 countries headed by Iceland that wants to conduct a probe the mythical 27,000 victims of extra-judicial killings in the country.

President Duterte did not mince words in describing the pervading corruption and inefficiency in the government bureaucracy. His words cut through the thick hides of those present in the halls of Congress. In the feat of frustration and disgust he wished for an earthquake with a magnitude strong enough to bring down the concrete walls of the Batasan to all those present in the SONA so that the nation can have a new beginning. Of course the hyperbole is characteristic of Duterte’s language but that gives us how the barnacles of corruption are still very much around not only in the government but in private enterprises. He specially made mention of the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Health. DOH? I thought it was only about the rip-off engineered by PhilHealth functionaries and Wellness! I got this persistent information the source refused to be identified for fear of reprisal from DOH. There is in fact another looming controversy involving anti-rabies vaccines. Twice DOH conducted a bidding for the supply of the vaccines but it comes as a surprise why no purchase had been made. Will DOH conduct another bid for a favored supplier to win, never mind if the anti-rabies campaign is a national program and who knows the supply had dwindled?

Talking of inefficiency, while President Duterte makes Davao his showpiece in terms of how government efficiently process documentations and how 999 quickly responds to emergencies, that, I concede is only true to functionaries under the City Government supervision. The national government agencies are another story. It can take eons for the Register of Deeds to transfer a simple land title of a 150 sqm-lot from the seller to the buyer.

These are among the Ugly residues of corruption and inefficiency that mar the image of our country.

President Duterte made special mention of PAGCOR which significantly delivered the biggest share of revenues to the government coffers. PAGCOR Pres. Andrea Domingo took a bow. I think the secret of Andrea is in the data monitoring. She must have finally found a way to track to the very last centavo how much revenues flow into the gaming enterprises especially off-shore gaming operators. It can be recalled that among the first order of the day issued by Duterte when he became President was to close the operation of online gaming following the scandal surrounding the Philweb operations. When she took control of the helms of PAGCOR Andrea moreover, put in place monitoring mechanisms that audit offshore gaming operations in a manner ATMs and food franchise operations work. What maybe excited the President is that the Philippine Off Shore Gaming Operations (POGO) which is played online cannot be accessed locally. “Magpasugal ka pa”, the President who hates gambling quipped during the SONA. I will not be surprised anymore if there will be a long line of POGO applicants lining up. If the Chinese haters thought that it is China who dominates POGO they better think again. They might just turn out to be a minority. In fact I can bet on that.

The National Bureau of Investigation under Dir. Dante Gierran also received an accolade during the SONA. There are matters of course that only the President and the NBI know so we should take the President’s statement at face value.

There are items in the President’s report that are still blank spaces simply because these would need legislation. Among these are the creation of the Department of OFW and the Department of Water. These are long overdue. DOFW because our foreign workers are the biggest contributors to the nation’s coffers. DOW because water is life and while we are visited by at least 20 typhoons that bring rains can cause devastating floods every year many parts of the country, particularly Metro Manila and Cebu are always on the brink of running out of water. In the preSONA forum in Davao City, I pointed out that while the participants were talking of disaster preparedness there is a louder prayer for natural disasters like typhoon and rains to avert shortage of water supply in our taps.

There are of course solutions but Metro Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System had ran out of ideas on how to address the problem. The concessionaires leave it to MWSS and mother nature to solve the shortage of water supply. The irony is that when it comes to supply of potable water there are overlapping agencies mandated to insure the sustainability of water. What happens however is that they play different roles and read different script which result in paralysis. Let’s name them. Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) whose members of the board are from other government departments and regulators. They hardly meet because they cannot muster a quorum. We are not surprise if they have conflict of interest. Then there is this National Water Resources Board which has regulatory and quasi-judicial functions on how water will be allocated. And then MWSS which has regulatory power over the water concessionaires in Metro Manila but the members of the board, I heard, are actually being paid by the concessionaires. So how can you supervise, exact sanctions or order these firms which feed you?

All these agencies should be collapsed and all their regulatory and quasi-judicial powers should be placed under DOW. Government through DENR should delineate the protected area from the watersheds which are identified as recharge areas of aquifers, rivers and lakes where surface waters are sourced from and cede these vital protected areas to DOW. These suggestions for starters.

I was hoping the President would take up the plight of the rice farmers but I do not mind it for now as he focused more on the strict implementation of agrarian reforms. But I still hope that he will give impetus on increasing the rice productivity of our farmers. As I write this I have it from unimpeachable source that there are more than 150 silos all over the country that had been idled when the regime of Cory Aquino took over. Silos or dryers are one of the vital infrastructures that could double rice productivity. But that is another story.

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