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Writing on Water

Juan MercadoBy Juan Mercado

“There’s a crocodile in every big river,” the Waray proverb says. “_Balang sulug may buwaya._” And predators lurk in those brawls, whether over quadrupled Press Office phone bills to Commission on Audit reports of runaway travel costs by the President and hangers-on.The President’s travel itch, Bukidnon Rep Teofisto Guingona III claimed, cost taxpayers “close to P2.5 billion,” COA’s tally from 2001 to 2009 reveals this exceeded, by. P1.3 billion, what the till held. If our copy boy’s math adds up, that could buy 13.15 million sacks of rice.
Faced with the hard data, the Palace opted for, well, candor. Deputy Executive Secretary for administration and finance Susana Vargas confirmed budget caps were fractured. But that includes all trips, not just local sallies, Ms Vargas said.

Profligacy is contagious. At the Press Office, COA stumbled across “ weak control over use of cellular phones” in 200. That rang up a P5.53 million chit – four times the P1.27 million paid the year before. “That was before my time,” explained Secretary Cerge Remonde. Compared to other agencies, the phone bill was chicken feed. “COA accepted our explanation. That’s why our budget was approved,” Remonde said.
Gripes of extravagance are valid in a country where 30, out of every 100 ill-fed kids, are stunted. Pro-forma regrets do not uproot causes of these splurges. Or will this drill end up, in the Thai proverb’s striking image of , “writing on water”?

Look at the track record. “Adverse audit findings are often unresolved,” asserts Philippine Human Development Report 2009. PHDR analyzed audit opinions for 45 government firms between 1992 to 2007. This de-facto impunity guarantees the excesses recur with treadmill regularity.
Agencies do not hold themselves accountable for performance. “Congress does not check,” PHDR observed. “One problem is lack of any mechanism for legal or administrative sanctions against agencies (flaunting”) such behavior.”

Thus, the “crocs” have a field day. And in the rampage, they castrate oversight functions that no less than the Constitution vested in COA.
Leaf through audits of Department of Public Works and Highways over the last 15 years . Without exception, all were “adverse, ” PHDR’s matrix of audit opinion reveals. In such a crocodile pit, the World Bank’s report of DPHW road-bidding collusion, and the rush of congressmen to whitewash those blackballed by the bank, was inevitable.

“Joc-Joc” Bolante wedged his P728 million fertilizer scam the Department of Agriculture. Audit reports for the DA, from 2003 to 2007, were uniformly adverse. So were Department of Agrarian Reform audits for the same period. Not a single audit for the Bureau of Internal Revenue got the good housekeep seal of “Unqualified”.

When agencies get away with debauchery year after year, people die..Our health facilities, for example, ,are fund-starved. Eleven mothers die everyday from pregnancy related causes. These deaths are preventable.

In the UN Millennium Development Goals, we vowed to slash Filipina maternal death rates from 162 ( Compare that to 62 for Malaysians). down to 55, out of every 100,000 births. Because of “buwayas” we won’t achieve this Goal by 2015.
“COA’s findings are not used intensively during budget preparations. Congress pays scant attention to whether “deliverables” from previous year(s) have been implemented or not.. “. PHDR notes.
(E-mail: johnnylmercado@gmail.com)

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