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On August 26, 2013 as the multitude of angry protesters convened in historic Rizal Park to hold the Million People March I spoke in Pinky Webb’s Mornings at ANC program and said “I am against the outright abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) because it is a simplistic solution to a complex problem.”

I received a lot of flak for that statement including allegations that I have become the spokesperson for Congress and Malacañang. But my position is clear and simple. The issue is not the abolition of the PDAF, or the later and more controversial Development Acceleration Fund (DAP), or graft and corruption. The issue is about “discretion” in the use of public funds.

Over time, we have given a small number of elected and appointed officials in government vast powers, and broad discretion, to determine how public funds will be appropriated and spent.

Many of these decisions are done behind closed doors and are not subject to public scrutiny and transparency. The broad discretion, lack of transparency, weak accountability mechanisms, and poor government controls breed corruption.

If “pork” is defined as lump sum appropriations, the disposition of which is left solely to the discretion of an office holder, then it now exists in all branches of government. It is called PDAF in Congress; includes the Social Fund and Malampaya Funds of the President; and lump sum appropriations in every department for “intelligence,” livelihood, farmers’ assistance, public safety, peace building, pollution control, road safety, and capital outlay for various purposes. There is the Judicial Development Fund (JDF) in the Supreme Court, and pork barrel in all provincial boards and city councils.

When we say “we should abolish all pork” what exactly do we mean? Abolish all funds that are subject to the discretion of public officials?

While abolishing all “pork” will pander to the public outcry against corruption it will create more problems than solutions. How do we expect the President (or key cabinet members) and local governments to respond to the needs of affected communities hit by disasters?

Will the President tell victims to wait for the next year’s budget so funds can be appropriated for the relief and reconstruction of their communities?

And if we abolish PDAF will corruption suddenly disappear in government projects? What about corruption in executive agencies? Will shifting expenditures exclusive to executive departments reduce corruption?

This is what I mean when I say we should not have simplistic solutions to complex problems.

The issue of discretion and misuse of public funds can only be discussed and resolved if we do the following:

First, we need to see the whole picture on the misuse of public funds. How much public funds are subject to the discretion of public officials? Where are these funds? What are the lump sum appropriations that are worded in generic terms such that these can be misused? We know that the PDAF amounts to about P25B but beyond that we don’t know the numbers. We might be shocked when we find out that the “pork” in the other branches of government (and local governments) is much bigger than the PDAF that we are so agitated about.

If we find out that discretion results in the misuse of public funds, then we must make sure that these officials must be punished. This is non-negotiable. I support not only the filing of cases against corrupt government officials but also the public shaming of these officials to make sure they will not win in the next election.

We must then decide—should discretion be stopped altogether? Or do we still allow discretion but put stronger control mechanisms in place? We also decide who among the government officials should have some discretion in the use of public funds.

Finally, once we know the amount of public funds subject to discretion, how discretion has been exercised, and determine the officials and offices that should continue having some discretion, then we debate on the proper allocation of public funds. I support the call for re-channeling these funds for education and health care but this must be decided upon in full public debate, not just by politicians and bureaucrats in the executive and legislative branches of government.

The recent Supreme Court decision on the PDAF has put in place some of the reforms in the use of pork. Legislators now cannot be involved in the identification of, and amounts to be given for, projects in their district or any part of the country. Even before the SC decision, the House of Representatives required its members to submit a list of infrastructure projects (worth P25M) to be implemented in their districts in 2014. This list will be included in the proposed 2014 General Appropriations Act (GAA) and will be implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). This reform is consistent with the SC decision and takes the form of “earmarks” in the US model of pork barrel.

This is possible for “hard pork” or infrastructure projects which can be pre-identified but impossible for “soft pork” such as scholarships or medical assistance for constituents. The PDAF allocation for scholarships and medical assistance has been put in CHED and DoH with a provision that there will be “consultation with the representative in the district”.

This violates the SC decision. The CHED and the House of Representatives must now find creative ways to allow legislators to participate in the selection of beneficiaries.

Sixteen senators have decided to forego their P200M PDAF allocation and want it deducted from the proposed 2014 budget. The question is—what happens to the other senators who want to continue receiving PDAF? How will this lump sum appropriation appear in the GAA? What would be the mechanism will be used in the implementation of this fund? Will this mechanism be consistent with the SC decision?

Interestingly, the SC decision can now be used to question the pork barrel in local governments. Local legislators enjoy broader and wider discretion in the use of pork compared to their counterparts in Congress. Control mechanisms are weaker at the local level, and NGOs and the media are not as active in monitoring public expenditures. It is about time that we look into the local government pork.

There are other reforms that need to be undertaken if we want to make sure that public funds are used judiciously, effectively, and go to targeted beneficiaries. One, we need serious and drastic reforms in our auditing system. The Commission on Audit must immediately make public all audit reports in the past years, explain why some agencies and years were not audited, and penalize their personnel who failed to audit agency expenditures.

The knee jerk response of COA is to say that they lack the personnel. COA must now think out of the box and partner with private audit companies and associations like the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) to effectively undertake its audit responsibilities. This is a standard practice in many developed countries and is allowed under the constitutional provisions creating the COA.

Two, we must hold the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) accountable for their systems and procedures that allowed the Napoles NGOs to conduct business. These NGOs had the proper papers from SEC and accreditation from DA. The congressional hearings have identified these lapses. People must now be held accountable and new systems have to be put in place.

Three, the DBM must also make public all the projects funded through DAP if it is true, as the agency claims, that these accelerated the economy. I know a lot of projects funded through DAP that were beneficial, implemented well, and were not accompanied by corruption allegation. But I do not know whether this is the same situation across agencies and regions. The piece-meal and “by installment” approach of showing beneficial projects funded from DAP does not allow for full public debate and the negative public perception on the DAP will continue.

Finally, we need serious budget reform in this country. The line item veto power of the President and the mechanism for automatic appropriations must be abolished because these unduly tilts the balance of power towards the executive branch, creates an imperial presidency, and creates fiscal irresponsibility among legislative and executive officials.

- J. Prospero E. de Vera, DPA, Professor, National College of Public Administration and Governance, UP Diliman

(Source: up.edu.ph)

The general rule is that where part of a statute is void as repugnant to the Constitution, while another part is valid, the valid portion, if separable from the invalid, may stand and be enforced. The presence of the separability clause in a statute creates the presumption that the legislature intended separability, rather then complete nullity, of the statute. To justify this result, the valid portion must be so far independent of the invalid portion that it is fair to presume that the legislature would have enacted it by itself if it had supposed that it could not constitutionally enact the other. Enough must remain to make a complete, intelligible, and valid statute, which carries out the legislative intent. The void provisions must be eliminated without causing results affecting the main purpose of the act in a manner contrary to the intention of the legislature. The language used in the invalid part of the statute can have no legal effect or efficacy for any purpose whatsoever, and what remains must express the legislative will independently of the void part, since the court has no power to legislate.

The exception to the general rule is that when the parts of a statute are so mutually dependent and connected, as conditions, considerations, inducements, or compensations for each other, as to warrant a belief that the legislature intended them as a whole the nullity of one part will vitiate the rest. In making the parts of the statute dependent, conditional, or connected with one another, the legislature intended the statute to be carried out as a whole and would not have enacted it if one part is void, in which case if some parts are unconstitutional, all the other provisions thus dependent, conditional, or connected must fall with them.

- Ruben E. Agpalo, Statutory Construction

Collective memory is more about the present than the past because it is integral to how a group sees itself. And what that memory is can be and often is the subject of debate and argument where, in Halbwachs’s words, “competing narratives about central symbols in the collective past, and the collectivity’s relationship to the past, are disputed and negotiated in the interest of redefining the collective present.”

- Margaret MacMillan, The Uses and Abuses of History. (via iwriteasiwrite)

…the facile dichotomies between Light and Darkness, free world and obscurantism, sweet tolerance and blind violence, tell us more about the overweening pride of their authors than the complexity of the contemporary world.

- Tzvetan Todorov (via iwriteasiwrite)

Aftershocks - A. E. Stallings

We are not in the same place after all.
The only evidence of the disaster,
Mapping out across the bedroom wall,
Tiny cracks still fissuring the plaster—
A new cartography for us to master,
In whose legend we read where we are bound:
Terra infirma, a stranger land, and vaster.
Or have we always stood on shaky ground?
The moment keeps on happening: a sound.
The floor beneath us swings, a pendulum
That clocks the heart, the heart so tightly wound,
We fall mute, as when two lovers come
To the brink of the apology, and halt,
Each standing on the wrong side of the fault.

Some readings regarding the DAP

For those, like me, who find themselves concerned and befuddled by the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and the controversy that has erupted around it, but have no particular wish to join the rabid, malice-afflicted hordes who are foolishly calling for the impeachment of President Aquino, I proffer the following list of links.

I do not pretend that this is a definitive set of readings in any way, but I will say that I’ve found these helpful in terms of forming my understanding of what the DAP is, notwithstanding my personal opinion that Aquino erred gravely* when he addressed the nation regarding the recent Supreme Court decision partially invalidating the program.

*His error, in my view, was one of tone: haughty and belligerent, and therefore, finally, impolitic. Such characteristics do not automatically render his speech invalid or his conduct illegal, of course, but tone is the first thing that an audience grasps about any given utterance, and, if insensitively calibrated, can move said audience to respond reflexively, rather than with sober understanding. One reason, if not the main reason, that opponents of this administration—some of whom are not so much keen critics (that would require actual, rigorous thought) as obnoxious provocateurs—have been so successful in flogging the image of Aquino as a puerile, incompetent Chief Executive is that he has proven to be rather tone-deaf, always rising to the bait or baiting others in turn. His recent call for supporters to wear yellow ribbons doesn’t do him any favors.

Random Ageist Verses - Peter Porter

Here is the body fearfully beautiful
The pushy you of just nineteen –
How could you know, in shin or skull,
What’s dead already in the sheen?

Immersed in time, we question time
And ask for commentators’ rights.
The amoeba has a taste for slime
Among its range of appetites.

It’s always too early to die – Oh, yuss!
Says Churchill, dew-lapped TV hound
To The Man on the Clapham Omnibus –
The ice-cap’s melting; seek high ground!

The relief of growing old – it’s easy
To take long views and shun the short.
Consult the frescoes in Assisi:
Ignore the Kinsey and the Hite Report.

Like Auden, I have always felt
The youngest person in the room.
His too too solid flesh might melt
And show him God. I’ll need a tomb.

"Senex Scintillans" – we’re bright
As glazing on a Peking Duck.
The Elderly insist Insight
Is not worth much compared to Luck.

Hers is a most convincing face,
“Col tempo” lightly in her hand –
Age lived-through need show no trace
Of lines time likes to draw in sand.

Who is this young architect
At work on death’s blank inventory,
Correcting everything correct?
It is Thomas Hardy, OM, he!

"Gone is all my strength and guile,
Old and powerless am I.”
So, Joseph Haydn – all the while
Comes “Laus Deo” in reply.

The greyness of the sky is streaked
Along its width with shades of red;
The pity of the world has leaked
But who are these whose hands have bled?

(Source: theguardian.com)

'Until you have said it to me, there can be no peace between us.'

He was exhausted at last: he sank heavily to his knees, breathing hard and streaming with sweat, his fine body curiously diminished now in its ravaged apparel.

'I adore you, Lupe,' he said tonelessly.

She strained forward avidly. ‘What? What did you say?’ she screamed.

And he, in his dead voice: “That I adore you. That I adore you. That I worship you. That the air you breathe and the ground you tread is holy to me. That I am your dog. Your slave…”

But it was still not enough. Her fists were still clenched, and she cried: “Then come, crawl on the floor, and kiss my feet!”

Without a moment’s hesitation, he sprawled down flat and, working his arms and legs, gaspingly clawed his way across the floor, like a great agonized lizard, the woman steadily backing away as he approached, her eyes watching him avidly, her nostrils dilating, till behind her loomed the open window, the huge glittering moon, the rapid flashes of lightning. She stopped, panting, and leaned against the sill. He lay exhausted at her feet, his face flat on the floor.

She raised her skirts and contemptuously thrust out a naked foot. He lifted his dripping face and touched his bruised lips to her toes; lifted his hands and grasped the white foot and kissed it savagely— kissed the step, the sole, the frail ankle— while she bit her lips and clutched in pain at the windowsill, her body distended and wracked by horrible shivers, her head flung back and her loose hair streaming out the window— streaming fluid and black in the white night where the huge moon glowed like a sun and the dry air flamed into lightning and the pure heat burned with the immense intense fever of noon.

- Nick Joaquin, “The Summer Solstice”

Feb 9

‘Porno’ named Young Critics Circle’s Best Film of 2013

Porno, Adolfo Alix Jr.’s triptych film of individuals linked through pornography wins big at the Young Critics Circle’s 24th Annual Citations, bagging five of the six main awards, including Best Film and Best Performance for Carlo Aquino who tied with Jhong Hilario for Badil.

Porno also took the prizes for Best Screenplay and Best Sound and Aural Orchestration, and tied with Frasco Mortiz’s Pagpag for Best Editing.

Mel Chionglo’s Lauriana is named Best Cinematography and Visual Design.

Porno was one of the entries to the 2013 Cinemalaya Film Festival but, due to its mature content, was only exhibited in the Cultural Center of the Philippines, unlike the rest of the entries that were screened in select commercial theaters.

Alix has now won three Best Film awards from YCC, previously winning in 2009 for Adela and in 2012 for Haruo. He has also previously won for his production design in Kalayaan (2012).

Both Aquino and Hilario have been previously nominated for Best Performance by the academe-based group: Aquino for Minsan May Isang Puso (1999) and Baler (2008), and Hilario for Muro-Ami (1999).

Having previously narrowed down the year’s cinematic output to a long list of 22 films, the group last night further reduced the list to 13, and, after more than six hours of intense deliberations, arrived at record-number nominations in most categories: Film (8), Performance (15), Screenplay (8), and Cinematography and Visual Design (11).

To encourage the growth of emerging filmmakers, YCC decided to introduce a new special category – Best First Features, to be given to the three most outstanding feature films of debuting filmmakers. This year, the recipients are Angustia (Kristian Sendon Cordero), Puti (Miguel Alcazaren), and Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin (Randolph Longjas).

The awards ceremony is set on the third week of March, with the specific date and venue to be announced soon.

[Click through for the list of other winners.]

Unbeautiful Pageant

yccfilmdesk:

09DEC

Jaime Oscar M. Salazar

At the outset, Slumber Party (2012) establishes a situation that is not especially objectionable, and certainly contains within it the potential to be entertaining. On the eve of the Miss Universe pageant, which within the realm of the film coincides…