It’s a Shame

They have stolen the vote; they are stealing taxpayers’ money; they have been stealing the lives of those whose only sin is to work for the common good; and they continue stealing what is left of our national pride. If we let them get away with it, the shame will be on us all.

Vol. VII, No. 35, October 7-13, 2007

The Social Weather Station (SWS) has just released the results of its hunger survey for September 2007. The results are consistent to what every Filipino feels: that the incidence of hunger has increased. Overall hunger increased by 10 points above the 11.8 percent average in 38 quarterly surveys from mid-1998 to the present. The September 2007 survey results revealed that involuntary hunger affected 3.8-million families (21.5 percent). Extreme hunger registered an increase from 2.2 percent in June to 4.1 percent in September. Moderate hunger increased from 12.5 percent in June to 17.4 percent in the latest survey.

These results doused cold water on the claims of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration that the economy is about to take off with its claim of a 7.5 percent Gross Domestic Product growth during the second quarter of 2007. The Arroyo government, of course, has been telling us to be patient for it would take time for the gains of the economy to trickle down to the ordinary Filipino. But we have been waiting for some significant change to happen since 2001 when Joseph Estrada was ousted from the presidency. All we got are false claims of growth in the economy; massive fraud in the two elections presided over by the current administration; a spate in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances; and corruption scandals involving the Arroyo family.

The SWS survey results for September came at a time when the country is being rocked by the corruption scandal regarding the National Broadband Network (NBN) contract with ZTE of China. And the scandal was exposed by somebody close to the ruling coalition, Jose De Venecia III, son of the House Speaker, and the accused are no less than recently-resigned former Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin “The Broker” Abalos Sr. and Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo.

The $130 million overprice is bad enough. And the fact that the Filipino people would be made to pay a loan through taxes, what could have been gotten for free through a Build-Operate-Transfer scheme made it worse. But terribly insulting and a shame is Abalos the Broker being caught dangling $10 million to Jose De Venecia III to “back off” and P200 million to Romulo Neri, former director general of the National Economic Development Authority, to make a favourable recommendation on the contract with ZTE.

There are Filipinos experiencing hunger while Abalos the Broker is giving away, or rather bribing away a scandalously inordinate amount of money which is not his anyway. That is a shame!

But Abalos – no matter how crooked he looks, much like Norberto Gonzales – no matter how devious he looks, or Raul Gonzalez – no matter how unjust and illogical he looks, is just an implementer, a hitman, and a lapdog like his abovementioned friends and co-conspirators. To be exact, he is merely a “broker,” even if he is a rich one at that. The really shameless being is the one who approved the deal and would have gotten the lion’s share of the $130 million overprice.

Imagine how many hungry Filipinos could have been fed by this $130 million. Better still, how many jobs could have been created by an honest investment of $130 million.

It is a pity that the Senate had to temporarily stop its investigation until October 25 to gather more documents. Neri, the man of the hour last September 23, has finally turned out to be a shame for stopping at the Broker and keeping mum when being questioned regarding the big fish behind the NBN-ZTE scandal. His claim of executive privilege is nothing more than an effort to hide the truth and obstruct the investigation.

It has been exasperatingly clear that the Arroyo government’s response to the investigation of its wrongdoings is to hide behind the cloak of secrecy. The recently-issued Administrative Order 197 directing the Department of National Defense and Armed Forces of the Philippines to draft legislation to “protect military secrets” is meant to cover-up the Macapagal-Arroyo administration’s culpability in the “Hello Garci” scandal, and the forcible abduction of Jonas Burgos and other victims of enforced disappearances, as well as extrajudicial killings. To try to soften the impact of this administrative order, it also directed the AFP to “solve” the problem of extrajudicial killings, which is another source of shame for the Arroyo government. The recently-released report of the Human Rights Watch criticized the government for not being able to solve a single case of extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance. Its report also echoes what all independent investigations, including that of Philip Alston the UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial killings, have concluded: that the AFP is involved in these abhorrent crimes.

The Senate has to pursue its investigation until it gets to the bottom (or rather the top) of the NBN-ZTE scandal. Otherwise the shameless acts of those who steal while the multitude goes hungry will become a national embarrassment. It also has to continue with its investigation of the “Hello Garci” scandal. If not, we will continue to live under an administration which has shamelessly usurped power. While at it, it can also investigate the spate of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Otherwise we will continue to be viewed as a country of human rights violators. In Burma, the military junta imprisoned the opposition leader, suppressed and arrested Buddhist monks and violently dispersed demonstrators. Here the government and the AFP are killing and abducting activists with impunity.

They have stolen the vote; they are stealing taxpayers’ money; they have been stealing the lives of those whose only sin is to work for the common good; and they continue stealing what is left of our national pride. If we let them get away with it, the shame will be on us all.(

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