Head scratchers: ’22 budget, apology for drug lord slay

Since midweek you, readers of this column, may have read or heard from the mass media the following statements:

• President Duterte explaining why he is running for vice president in the May 2022 elections: “Out of ambition? Maybe. Love of country? Yes. I’d like to see a continuity of my efforts, like against terrorism. Gusto ko nandyan lang ako…”

• Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, on the “skewed priorities” of the administration’s P5-trillion proposed national budget for 2022: “Why is the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict a budget priority for the next fiscal year? Are we saying that the insurgency has become a bigger, more dangerous threat than COVID-19 and its fast-mutating variant? Are we saying that the NTF-ELCAC is more needed than our education sector?”

• Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, on the President’s appointing the inveterate “red-tagging” NTF-ELCAC spokesperson, now retired Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., as deputy director of the National Security Council: “(Parlade) served the (AFP) for many years until his retirement from the service. We are therefore confident that his length of fruitful service in the military would immensely contribute in the crafting of plans and policies affecting national security.”

• President Duterte apologizing, in a taped public address on Wednesday, for the killing of four persons identified as Chinese citizens in a PNP-PDEA anti-narcotics operation in Candelaria, Zambales: “I’m sorry for the loss of lives. Hindi natin ginusto yan. But I just hope that the countries from where these guys came from should understand that we have laws to follow… They were killed because they fought back, that’s what happened.”

Quite loaded quotes hard to digest. Still harder to accept, don’t you think so?

Now, let’s look at certain details in relation to these statements.

When Duterte, early this year, first mentioned his intent to run for vice president, the reason he gave was the mistaken idea that he could thereby retain his presidential immunity against being charged and prosecuted. He was referring to the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s having initiated in 2018 a preliminary examination on the thousands of extrajudicial killings in his “war on drugs.”

Unilaterally, he withdrew the Philippines from membership in the ICC. That didn’t stop the ICC from proceeding into a probable formal investigation on the “crime against humanity of murder” in the drug war committed prior to the withdrawal. Recently the Supreme Court ruled that Duterte cannot evade the ICC investigation.

Last Wednesday, he reiterated “his passion to stamp out illegal drugs” and that he disliked the idea of being sued for the extrajudicial killings and being jailed outside the country.

At the Senate finance committee briefing on the 2022 national budget last Wednesday, Drilon and other senators, including Senate Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Riza Hontiveros, called attention to the “skewed priorities” for next year’s public spending plans. The senators were also aghast that only 30 percent of this year’s Congress-allocated funds had been spent, whereas the spending plan is dubbed as “Reset, Rebound, Recover.”

Budget Undersecretary Tina Rose Marie Canda, admitting the low-spending rate, said “it should be higher at 85 to 90 percent.” In the case of the Department of Public Works and Highways, she attributed the slow spending to Duterte’s veto message that subjected fundings suggested/inserted by lawmakers to further review, classifying them as “for later release.”

Drilon specifically pointed out that the NTF-ELCAC is ensured a higher 2022 budget of P28 billion (from P19 billion this year), whereas no such assurance is made for funding anti-pandemic measures, with the Department of Health budget even being reduced from this year’s level.

Recto noted that while the DOH budget has been lowered, infrastructure agencies (DPWH and others) are given huge increases even as their spending records have been poor.

Hontiveros noted that the administration failed to allocate funds for the benefits of health workers at the frontline of the anti-pandemic crisis, cash aid or ayuda for new poor families, and service contracting; booster vaccination plans are under unprogrammed appropriations. All these will depend on the availability of funds.

“Billions are allocated for intelligence and confidential funds but we cannot even bother to take care of our health workers by funding their special risk allowance (SRA). There is no line item in the budget for hazard pay,” Drilon lamented.

Economic activity can only resume when the COVID-19 is effectively managed, Drilon said, as both government economic managers and the business sector have been asserting. “But how can we do that if we continue to disregard – as we have disregarded in this budget – the health sector?”

The Senate chief fiscalizer capped his criticism by saying that, having analyzed the national budget for 23 years now, the 2022 spending program is “the most detached from reality and has the most skewed priorities.”

For her part, Hontiveros saw Parlade’s being given a top position in the National Security Council as the recycling of a “disgraced official” and “rewarding bad behavior among public employees.”

Bayan Muna Reps. Ferdinand Gaite and Eufemia Cullamat likewise criticized Duterte’s “reusing and recycling” the NTF-ELCAC’s key red-tagger. Parlade should answer the cases filed against him before the ombudsman, Gaite said, otherwise he ought to stay “retired and silent.” Cullamat likened him to “bad garbage” devoid of any beneficial use in the public service.

Now, back to President Duterte’s contrition over the “unintentional” killing of four Chinese citizens in the Zambales anti-narcotics operation, wherein the PDEA-PNP team reportedly seized 500 kilos of shabu estimated to be worth P3.4 billion.

Duterte said they were members of a drug ring operating not only in the Philippines but in the whole of Southeast Asia. He identified one of them as Youhua Xu, who he said is “one of the biggest shabu importers in the Philippines. He was a member of a transnational drug trafficking organization.”

Can anybody guess why, and to whom, the President apologized?

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

Published in Philippine Star
September 11, 2021

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