12:14 AM June 14th, 2013

By: Neal H. Cruz, June 14th, 2013 12:14 AM

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile’s resignation as Senate President was a surprise even to his closest allies, Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Tito Sotto. The best thing in JPE’s privilege speech that day was not the resignation itself but his call for a transparent audit of Senate finances.

Enrile said his irrevocable resignation was intended to make it very clear that he wants all senators, himself included, to be put under a microscopic scrutiny on how they utilized their fund allocations.

There were those who dismissed Enrile’s resignation as an empty gesture because it came on the second to the last day of the 15th Congress. As I see it, however, his resignation was such an important precedent that it should henceforth be the standard practice in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Senators and congressmen will be much more cautious in using their fund allocations if at the end of each Congress they know that a full and transparent audit is coming. I believe that by resigning, Enrile raised the bar of public accountability.

The puzzler in all of this is that those senators who have been asking for Enrile’s head by raising a howl over his disbursement of Senate funds to individual senators are now the ones who seem to be opposing a full-blown audit of the utilization of Senate funds.

Why are some senators moving heaven and earth to prevent such an audit? Why, indeed? Are they afraid that the Senate funds that they received will be found to have been diverted to buy pricey mansions in expensive addresses?

Who among the senators are afraid of the transparent audit Enrile has pushed by resigning? Let’s look at the noisy ones in the Senate to determine who they are.

As Senate President, JPE repeatedly stressed that he would be able to account for every centavo that his office had disbursed. This is something that many of his colleagues may find difficult to do because they have merely issued certifications on how their allocations were used.

For ordinary citizens and taxpayers, the real issue is what happens to the funds disbursed by the Office of the Senate President to the individual senators. After all, the end-users of the funds—in this case the individual senators—are the ones who should account for the money.

As Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago once said, “Ang sarap maging senador (It’s nice to be a senator).” Maybe not anymore, if the transparent liquidation and audit of Senate funds that Enrile called for is institutionalized.

In his speech, Enrile said he and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chair of the committee on accounts, had taken “the position that if we (senators and congressmen) were to be sensitive to the public pulse and with the agreement of both houses of Congress, we should revert back to the old system of liquidation and accounting for each centavo of public money entrusted to us.”

To that statement of Enrile, I say: By all means, let’s return to the old system and refuse to vote back into office any senator or congressman who will refuse to properly liquidate taxpayer money.

Pay special attention to the pork barrel, which is deodorized as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). Some contractors claim that some legislators demand at least 30-percent kickback on projects. Include the bribe money given to engineers, treasurers, cashiers, local government officials, etc., and the loss can easily go up to 50 percent or more. That is why we have substandard public works projects: The contractors have to finish the projects with what is left to them after paying off government officials.

The PDAF amounts to several billions of pesos every year. Half of that is lost to corruption. Imagine how that lost fund could have contributed to improving the lives of all Filipinos—in terms of housing for the homeless, for example, or creating jobs for the jobless.

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A reader, Moises Norman Z. Garcia, a professor at the University of Santo Tomas, reported in a letter that 350 mature trees along Lacson (formerly Governor Forbes) Avenue will be cut by the Department of Public Works and Highways to give way to an underpass intended to ease traffic at the intersection of España and Lacson avenues. According to Garcia, the loss to the environment far outweighs the benefits of an underpass there. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide oxygen, filter the pollutants from the air, and serve as shelter from the heat of the sun. Trees also moderate the hot microclimate in the urban jungle that Metro Manila has become.

“The cooling effect of a single tree is equivalent to 20 air conditioners,” Garcia said. Imagine how much electricity we would all save simply by planting more trees.

And why an underpass? Why not a flyover, which would require less excavation and therefore save the trees?

The DPWH (and the Metro Manila Development Authority) are quick to cut trees as it is the easy way to do things. We should plant more trees instead of cutting them. We have a National Greening Program that aims to plant 1.5 million trees. But here is the DPWH cutting grown trees instead.

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KAPIHAN NOTES: In celebration of Father’s Day on Sunday, the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel will have as guests two sets of prominent fathers and sons: JPE and JPE Jr. (aka Jackie Enrile) and Rep. Rodolfo Biazon and Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon.

Next week we hope to have Manila Mayor-elect Joseph Estrada and his two feuding sons: Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and Senator-elect JV Ejercito Estrada.

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