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Badmouthing

/ 01:18 AM September 16, 2016

It’s kind of expected, given the toxic quality of politics in this land, that officials coming in with a newly-elected administration would try to paint the “old regime,” especially if it was in the opposition, in a negative light.

This was so in the P-Noy and Arroyo administrations, and in most other regimes of previous presidents. And so it is, predictably, in the new official family of President Duterte.

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Already, P-Noy and some of his Cabinet members have been named in court suits alleging corruption during his term, with spokesmen quickly and not so subtly laying the blame for neglect or omission on former officials. Although I was impressed when Transportation Secretary Arturo Tugade acknowledged that many of the current projects being undertaken to ease traffic in Metro Manila and other urban centers, as well as to untie knots in air travel, shipping and even railways, actually began during the Aquino years.

Still, the badmouthing of the old administration continues. Readers and news followers were jolted, I am sure, when news stories last week asserted that over at the National Anti-Poverty Commission, “overpaid consultants outnumber NAPC staff.”

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New NAPC Chair Liza Maza, who used to sit as a party-list representative for the women’s party Gabriela, has announced that she terminated the services of consultants hired over a nine-month period by her predecessor, Joel Rocamora.

News stories said the 155 consultants and 82 people under contract were more than the total “organic internal staff” hired by the NAPC. “This is an insult to NAPC’s mandate to serve the interest of the poor,” Maza declared.

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On the surface, the reports read like a serious indictment of the system of hiring consultants to skirt government regulations on the hiring of workers, as well as the caps set on staff salaries.

Indeed, revelations that the amount paid monthly to the consultants averaged “about P3.4 million” and total compensation over the nine-month period reached “about P30.6 million, or about 15.4 percent of the NAPC’s annual budget,” are shocking indeed.

But surface impressions can be misleading.

In a counterstatement, Rocamora said that “far from being a drain on NAPC resources, the consultants added resources to NAPC’s meager budget and extended the agency’s services to the poor.”

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In the first place, Rocamora pointed out, the NAPC seeks to fulfill its mandate of eradicating poverty through projects carried out by the different government agencies. Regular employees in the NAPC are limited to only 50, so the consultants were hired to carry out its work and mandate to undertake local, often community-based, projects. The amounts paid to the consultants came not from NAPC funds but from the different departments, covered by the appropriate memoranda.

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Of the 158 (not 155, as Maza contends) consultants, said Rocamora, the largest number, 75, were doing “social preparation” for fisher organizations. “Social preparation” is another term for community organizing, involving fisher groups who are capacitated to organize themselves, manage their groups which will become cooperatives eventually, and develop entrepreneurial and management skills. The joint project with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources is aimed at building fish landings in 520 sites throughout the country. It is meant to help more than 50,000 fisher families who “needed assistance in organizing to maximize the benefits of these fish landings.”

Fishers, it must be pointed out, are the “poorest” sector among the poor, with the highest poverty incidence in rural areas. The fish landings, which would be equipped with freezers and other necessary technology, explained one such consultant, were meant to enable the fishers to deal directly with customers, cutting out the middlemen. “Unless the fisher folk are organized and equipped with skills,” said the consultant, “the fish landings could just fall into disuse and could be taken over by local government officials or private fishing interests,” leaving the poor fishers in the lurch.

Another group of consultants, numbering 58, said Rocamora, worked on two projects of the NAPC’s Local Affairs Coordination and Monitoring Services.

One is the establishment of community vegetable and fruit gardens in 309 municipalities which were funded from the bottom-up budgeting (BuB) in 2016. Some 50,000 families are being targeted to benefit from the project, which is seen as “a practical response to persistent hunger.”

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The other project is the Citizens-led Monitoring Program meant “to monitor and hasten the pace of implementation of BuB projects,” which were conceived with the active participation of community members themselves.

Eleven consultants worked with the Bases Conversion Development Authority conducting a survey of informal-settler families in two large BCDA properties in Bonifacio Global City. The community organizers were tapped, said Rocamora, because the urban poor families “trusted NAPC,” and the consultants helped the families “negotiate generous relocation packages.”

Ten consultants “undertook research projects to strengthen NAPC’s capacity to oversee government anti-poverty projects,” while six consultants worked on a World-Bank-financed research project.

Other consultants worked on NAPC projects like assisting informal settlers to negotiate relocation programs in the National Capital Region; others served on the NAPC’s secretariat work on a large government program to provide potable water to waterless communities.

Overpaid? (Maza overstates the total amount paid out, actually.) Superfluous? Unnecessary? Maybe Maza needs to revisit again the mandate that created the NAPC.

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TAGS: Aquino administration, Benigno Aquino III, Duterte administration, Joel Rocamora, Liza Maza, National Anti-Poverty Commission, Rodrigo Duterte
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