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AFP pensioners deserve respect

/ 11:54 PM December 01, 2013

Last week I wrote about the tsunami that hit the province of Aceh in Indonesia in December 2004. Although the effects of the tsunami were felt in other countries in the region, Aceh was the worst-hit with fatalities of close to 200,000 people.

Concerned about the slow pace of rehabilitation and reconstruction in the disaster area, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono created a high-powered agency known as the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency for Aceh and Nias (BRR), appointing a former minister of mines and energy to head the office.

This central agency headed by Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto quickly established better levels of coordination and speed in the reconstruction efforts.

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Mangkusubroto focused on three priorities:

• The first was the accelerated construction of permanent housing for more than 500,000 homeless Acehnese living in tent camps

• The second was infrastructure starting with roads but expanding to schools, hospitals, harbors and religious facilities

• The third was rebuilding livelihood, a process of clearing tsunami debris to allow the recultivation of rice paddies and fishponds

Highly sensitive to the issue of corruption, Mangkusubroto established verifiable protocols for the disbursement of funds.

One interesting lesson from Aceh. Giving cash to disaster survivors, either as grants or in exchange for projects such as clearing debris, was effective and popular. Old-school thinking was against the doles, but studies by aid agencies and academics have shown that cash handouts can be effective.

In a recent Bloomberg article on “What the Philippines Can Learn From the 2004 Tsunami,” Indian writer Akash Kapu stresses that “disaster management is to a large extent a problem of coordination. Governments play a central role in this coordination and… those that had the most effective response to the tsunami benefitted tremendously from centralized and empowered decision-making and from an emphasis on accountability and minimizing what is euphemistically called ‘leakage’ of donor funds.”

Clearly the need is for one high-powered entity capable of making decisions that would cut through the usual bureaucratic red tape that is encountered under ordinary circumstances. Accountability remains very much a part of procedures and as the Indonesian experience in Aceh has shown, this is doable.

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According to latest news reports, President Aquino is eyeing former senator Panfilo Lacson to be the “rehabilitation czar” in the wake of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” Earlier, a task force headed by Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla was formed for post-Yolanda rehabilitation and reconstruction work.

One agency with one head is what should be established.

* * *

Commissioner Ruffy Biazon is facing charges of malversation, direct bribery and graft filed by the Department of Justice in connection with the alleged misuse of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). In his State of the Nation Address last July, the President did not mince words in his criticism of the Bureau of Customs, saying, “Where do these people get the gall?” But Mr. Aquino

singled out the commissioner saying, “My confidence in you remains the same.”

Since then, the President has always been supportive of Biazon’s continued stay at the bureau. This time, however, Palace reports indicate they are leaving things up to Biazon whether to go on leave or resign. When asked if Biazon should resign out of delicadeza, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. indicated that there is no legal compulsion for him to do so and that “delicadeza is an individual decision.”

Somehow I am reminded of an interesting story about the last days of President Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986. In the book “President Reagan: the Role of a Lifetime,” author Lou Cannon describes how Reagan handled the hot potato that was Marcos.

There were two positions in the White House with respect to Marcos: the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff headed by Admiral William Crowe were for change; on the other hand, Reagan’s Chief of Staff Don Regan was for sticking with Marcos. He was worried about the example of Iran, when the United States, by abandoning the Shah, encouraged the forces of Ayatollah Khomeini.

“Admiral Crowe and Secretary of State George Schultz insisted it was necessary to find a democratic alternative in the Philippines. Under Schultz’s prodding, Reagan sent Senator Paul Laxalt as an emissary to Marcos. Laxalt’s mission had the dual purpose of demonstrating to Marcos that the concerns of the State Department had reached the White House, and of giving Reagan a first-hand appraisal of the situation. Laxalt realized that Marcos was sinking…. In the end, Reagan accepted the advice of Schultz and issued a plea for Marcos to resign.

“The next afternoon, Laxalt received a call from Marcos wanting to know if the statement represented Reagan’s view. Laxalt returned the call and offered him asylum in America if he peacefully abdicated. ‘I think you should cut, and cut cleanly,’ Laxalt said. ‘I think the time has come’.”

Perhaps the time has come for Ruffy Biazon to “cut and cut cleanly.” There should be no need for the President to tell him what his next move should be.

* * *

Retired AFP personnel are up in arms over a new directive from the Department of Budget and Management. The memorandum, recently issued without prior consultation with the affected sector, requires all military retirement pay to be deposited with the Land Bank of the Philippines. The retirees would then be required to open accounts with the Land Bank in order to access their pensions.

During the Arroyo administration, GSIS retirees were being paid through the Land Bank. After her election in 2004, Gloria Arroyo decided to favor a private bank with limited branches nationwide instead of the Land Bank, making it difficult for many GSIS claimants to draw their pensions.

Transferring military pension funds to the Land Bank could one day place those funds in jeopardy of being utilized to repay political favors by moving the funds to another bank as was done during the Arroyo presidency.

AFP pensioners deserve respect. Their pensions represent services rendered to the nation, services that often resulted in physical disabilities and in many cases, the loss of life itself.

Consultations are a sign of respect if only to get their views on matters that affect them personally.

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TAGS: Aceh, Indonesia, Military, nation, news, pork scam, Ruffy Biazon, Tsunami
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