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Taking stock

It turns out I wrote 40 columns this year for this newspaper. I know, it should be more than that because my column should appear every Saturday, but I got sidelined by illness, among other reasons for my column not appearing. To satisfy the almost universal urge at this time of the year to take stock of output or performance no matter in what field, I decided to browse my byline in the Inquirer website. A columnist usually writes about matters of current interest, and I wanted to find out what topics I wrote about this year, how frequently I wrote about them, and their current status.

This year being election year, it was a no-brainer: Six out of the 40 columns, written as early as Feb. 5 and as late as Dec. 6, but mostly just before and just after the May elections, or about 15 percent of the columns, touched on election-related issues: on “epal,” on disqualifications, on election fraud, and on the failure of the automated election systems. Questions were raised, but except for the disqualification case I wrote about (a lousy decision by the Supreme Court), they remain burning up to now: how the Commission on Elections declared winners among the senators with 35 percent of the vote still uncounted; the failure of the Comelec to implement the safeguards provided for by law on the AES (automated election system); the 40-30-10 voting pattern detected; the purchase by the Comelec (against advice) of the Smartmatic voting machines.

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At the pace that the issues are being resolved (slow to unmoving), there is a real chance that our automated election system will fail to reflect the real intent of the voters in the presidential election of 2016, especially if the election is close (unlike in the P-Noy situation). I sincerely hope that Congress puts the resolution of these issues at the top of its agenda.

But the pork barrel took the prize in terms of number of columns devoted to it—eight of my 40 columns, or 20 percent. As early as January of last year (the issue didn’t get “hot” until late July), I started harping on the pork barrel in another of its manifestations. Since 1998, the Senate and the House of Representatives have had a sweet thing going, which I focused on: Their maintenance and other operating expenditures (MOOEs) were being treated like “confidential and intelligence funds” in the sense that when liquidating these expenditures, the legislators do not need to produce receipts or any other documentary evidence to justify them. All it takes is a certification from them that the money was spent on MOOEs. Neat, huh?  No wonder that the budget savings of both chambers were being realigned to the legislators’ MOOEs. “Liquidation by certification” is how the Commission on Audit’s Grace Tan put it.

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However, the later pork barrel funds related to the Priority Development Assistance Fund took center stage. Everyone knows what their current status is: The Supreme Court made short shrift of the PDAF, and similar funds are no longer allowed (great decision). But the status of the “liquidation by certification” funds I unfortunately could not ascertain. But knowing Grace Tan, and Heidi Mendoza, things are well in hand. I have great faith in those two people. (By the way, Heidi Mendoza has still not been confirmed as COA commissioner—but that’s for another column.)

A third major topic in this year’s columns, insofar as number of column inches devoted to it, was the Sabah issue, and the Sultan of Sulu’s claim. Four columns (10 percent of the total) were devoted to sharing with the Reader the historical background: the perfidy of the United Kingdom, the Cobbold Commission and its findings, the statements of our foreign affairs officials—all gotten from research materials mostly from the University of the Philippines Library. What is the status of this issue? The election issue is slow to unmoving; this is just unmoving. That the Sultan of Sulu has died complicates matters even more.

Economic issues, both macro and micro (aside from the pork barrel), including economic growth, the price of utilities (water and electricity), and taxes took another 15 percent of the column number. Status: the basis of the prices of water and electricity still unresolved; economic growth prospects maybe deteriorating; tax effort targets unclear.

The Philippine Commission on Good Government and its wimpiness took two columns, or 5 percent. Status: still wimpy. Its main failure is its inability to retrieve from Lucio Tan the government’s share of his enterprises (the government claims the Marcos share in the Tan enterprises).

Issues surrounding the Catholic Church also took two columns. They had to do with Vatican II and the position on birth control, and the SWS survey on church attendance and leaving the Church (for catholics).  Historical.

The rest of the issues had to do with the case filed against Carlos Celdran by some representatives of the Church (he lost the case), the kidnapping of Jonas Burgos (still unresolved), the culture of impunity (alive and well), Apeco (unresolved), the poor service of Globe (the case of my daughter Tami Monsod is now in court), the effects of “Yolanda” (not yet determined), Roxas-Romualdez, and Manny Pacquiao.

From the perspective of Reader reaction, based on the number of comments made and the “recommend” icon in the Inquirer website, the Jonas Burgos story elicited the least interest, with 10 comments and 64 “recommend.”  Compare that to the Manny Pacquiao column (on his tax woes), which elicited 953 comments and 15,000 “recommend.”  There must be a lesson in that somewhere.

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I wish the Reader a Happy New Year. Keep your comments coming.

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TAGS: AES, Automated Election System, Carlos Celdran, columns, Comelec, Commission on Elections, Inquirer Opinion, maintenance and other operating expenditures, May elections, MOOEs, PCGG, Smartmatic voting machines, Supreme Court
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