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Need for truthfulness and transparency

/ 05:20 AM January 20, 2018

I was flabbergasted when I read presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s statement during a Malacañang press conference last Dec. 19 that the Philippine government had withdrawn its application for a Second Compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) for the reason that the Duterte administration needed to focus on the rehabilitation of Marawi City.

I could not comprehend why the government would have to withdraw this application, which we had worked so hard to obtain. The MCC board announced in December 2016 that the Philippines would be eligible for a Second Compact due to its very good performance in the First Compact, generating $434 million in grants for three major projects that resulted in enormous benefits for Filipinos.

The First Compact supported reforms and investments to modernize and enhance the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s capacity, expanded and improved the community-driven development project named Kalahi-CIDSS, and established a secondary national highway in Samar, one of the poorest provinces in the country.

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The substantial benefits realized from the First Compact are summarized under four categories: infrastructure, revenue administration, the Revenue Integrity Protection Service or RIPS; and social and gender initiatives.

Under the infrastructure category, among the significant accomplishments were the rehabilitation of 222 kilometers of secondary national roads from Samar to Eastern Samar; construction of 1,440 farm-to-market roads with a total length of 2,513 km; construction or rehabilitation of 175 major and foot/small bridges; construction of footpaths and access trails in mountainous towns and island barangays; construction of more than 1,000 classrooms, some of which were used as evacuation centers and temporary shelters during disasters; and provision for the priority needs of poor communities such as potable water systems (386), drainage systems (335), day care centers (269), health stations (274), sanitation/solid waste management facilities (91), and river/flood control (85).

In revenue administration, some of the more significant accomplishments were the development of four modules of the electronic tax information system in 13 pilot sites of the BIR; expansion of the Automated Auditing Tools in nine revenue regions; a public awareness campaign focusing on the tax revenue system and duty of Filipinos to pay correct taxes; increase in the tax registration of professionals from 9 percent (2013) to 16.6 percent (2014); and a total collection of P8.4 billion from March 2013 to December 2015, and VAT audit collection of P5.2 billion as of 2015.

As for efforts to enhance RIPS, 262 revenue officials were investigated and administrative and/or criminal cases were filed against 183 government personnel for graft, corruption, and questionable lifestyles.

In the social and gender initiatives category, the following were accomplished: payment of compensation to 11,650 project-affected entities in Samar and Eastern Samar; a community-managed road maintenance program to maintain good road quality while providing local employment opportunities to poor communities; planting of 969,178 seedlings in 931 hectares under the tree replacement program; development and implementation of a Social and Gender Integration Plan; and an education campaign to detect and deter trafficking of persons in project areas.

Clearly, the quantifiable and qualitative benefits realized from the MCC First Compact were quite substantial and impactful. The question thus arises: Why did the government withdraw its application for a Second Compact that is intended to focus on infrastructure, agri-business, and education projects? It makes one wonder if there is actually another reason, such as the government’s fear that the MCC board would disapprove the application because of poor performance in two factors of the MCC scorecard (i.e., rule of law and control of corruption).

To me, the reason provided by Secretary Roque—that the government has to focus on rehabilitating Marawi—does not hold water because the programs and projects under the Second Compact, which is normally for a 5-year period, can proceed even while rehabilitation efforts are ongoing.

Is it too much to ask that our government officials be truthful and transparent?

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Jose Cuisia Jr. was a Philippine ambassador to the United States.

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TAGS: Duterte administration, Harry Roque, rehabilitation of Marawi City, truthfulness and transparency
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