Watch the money
Politicking in aid of election was in full swing at the ruling PDP-Laban’s national council meeting convened in Cebu City on May 31 by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi. Earlier, Sen. Manny Pacquiao reminded PDP-Laban members that, per the rules, only he or President Duterte as party president and chair, respectively, could call for such a meeting, and not the likes of Cusi, the party vice chair. But the meeting was held anyway, with the Palace announcing the President’s imprimatur.
The rebuff was only one in a series of digs by the Palace at the boxing champ, its longtime ally, who had been behaving as though he were nursing high political aspirations and also making less than filial public pronouncements. For example, he said he was finding Malacañang’s response to China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea quite lacking—“nakukulangan” was the term he used.
At any rate, a trial balloon was floated at the meeting (hardly surprising given how fully PDP-Laban has contorted from its original anti-dictatorship stance in 1983): A resolution seeking to convince Mr. Duterte to run for vice president and to choose the party’s standard-bearer in the 2022 presidential election. The document — a “mockery of the Constitution,” according to law dean Mel Sta. Maria, and an “insidious move to circumvent the constitutional provision on reelection,” according to Charter framer Christian Monsod — was swiftly adopted by those present and approved by the national council.
The display of power could not but leave the weary observer slack-jawed. Earlier on Zoom, Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. moved that the meeting be adjourned at once because he, the party secretary general, was to have signed and served the notice of assembly, per the rules. But Teves’ motion was blocked, he was not recognized as secretary general, and the meeting went on. (No, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said at a press briefing, there is no conflict within the ruling party.)
Yet another provocative resolution was passed at the meeting: one calling on Congress to maintain and even raise the budget for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Insurgency (NTF-Elcac), which certain senators had threatened to wholly defund. Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone proposed the resolution, a number jostled to second it, and Cusi approved it amid the din of applause.
The task force, widely assailed for Red-tagging activists, critics of the government, and other dissenters, has been allocated P16.4 billion for its Barangay Development Program (BDP) that awards P20 million to each village “cleared of communist influence.” Critics say, correctly, that the money would be better used in fighting COVID-19, but National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon wants even bigger funding for the BDP next year, to award “communist-cleared” barangays supposedly now numbering 2,220 from 822.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon suspects a whopping election “war chest” of P28 billion in the proposed additional funding for the NTF-Elcac, and has served notice that he would fight it “tooth and nail.” In the face of the enormous power of the incumbent, it is legislative resistance, alongside efforts at raising Filipinos’ awareness of the issues that now and will impact their daily lives, that is necessary to thwart the dynasty-building ongoing even as the pandemic ravages the country.
Despite her studied silence, after all, and although her father may appear to hem and haw, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte looks set on making a stab at Malacañang. The pilgrimage of officials to her turf on her birthday last week amply demonstrated the power and promised perks of patronage. The support-ensuring activity in the barangays, supposedly run by volunteers to skirt the ban on village officials using public resources for partisan politics, exposed the initial spade work. It’s important to view the push for her to run for No. 1, whether in the form of tarps, motorcades, or minions mouthing the purported wisdom of continuity in governance, as what they are: hackneyed campaign devices contemptuous not only of poll rules but also of their targets.
And, as Drilon warns, it’s imperative to watch the money. Deputy Speaker Lito Atienza has just sounded the alarm on a possible misuse of energy funds in 2022. Atienza urged his fellow lawmakers to throw out a proposed bill of Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo—truly his mother’s son—seeking to exempt Philippine National Oil Company from budget and procurement checks. The PNOC is an attached agency of the Department of Energy headed by Cusi, who, as Atienza aptly observed, “is one most keenly engaged in partisan political activities.”
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