October 29, 2004

Only in the Philippines

I got this angry text right after DILG [Department of Interior and Local Government] Secretary and former DND [Department of Defense] head and AFP [Armed Force of the Philippines] chief of staff Angelo Reyes testified testily before the congressional committee hearings on corruption in the military.

"Quote of d day 'Leave my mother alone,' Angelo Reyes, after implicating his 94-year-old mother in his Statement of Assets n Liabilities. The asshole. Pls pass."

We were itching to pursue a line of questioning similar to that of Rep. Imee Marcos, when we read about the reason given by Secretary Reyes regarding the phenomenal rise in his assets and net worth. How and when did Mr. Reyes's 94-year-old mother, a former schoolteacher, accumulate a whopping PhP4 million? we wanted to ask.

Moreover, Mr. Reyes's plan to "have access to her account should something happen to her" would appear to be a circumvention of the law that requires him to pay an inheritance tax should his aged mother suddenly dies, leaving him her entire fortune.

Tsk, tsk. Not a good example by this high government official to the rest of us lowly citizens being exhorted to pay our share of taxes to support a government bellyaching about its bankruptcy.

Mr. Reyes went further than warning the congressmen not to drag his mother into the inquiry. He pointedly rebuked the members of the House committees on national defense and banks for "destroying the AFP" by imputing dishonorable activities on an honorable profession -- that of soldiering.

Reyes attempted to gloss over and divert public attention on the glaring fact that it is the web of sleaze and corruption in the AFP and the accompanying systematic, even murderous, cover-up by those in the top brass that is causing the rot in his beloved institution and causing it to reek to high heavens. Members of the perceived equally corrupt Congress can't resist grandstanding on the AFP carcass.

On the other hand, President GMA's attempt at statesmanship to paper over the horrific corruption scandals engulfing her government smacks of plain hypocrisy, and falls flat on her face.

Who will believe her when she says, "Reform, professional loyalty, honor, discipline and morale shall be sustained by an Armed Forces engaged in its share of sacrifices and acts of redemption. The spirit of change shall be driven from within."

The facts of the matter are that AFP chief of staff Narciso Abaya merely transferred Gen. Carlos Garcia, the guy caught with his hands in the cookie jar, to J5 or Plans, from J6 or Comptroller.

It took a recommendation from the Ombudsman, a full seven months later, for Abaya to suspend Garcia and, apparently, only then to start investigations in earnest.

It took a congressional probe to pry loose from the AFP generals bits and pieces of Garcia's heinous crime of plunder and other shenanigans going on under their very noses, if not with their active participation, then with their tacit consent.

Malacañang, in an attempt to distance the President from the Garcia brouhaha, announced that Arroyo had directed the AFP Command to initiate court martial proceedings. This presidential directive was apparently needed despite an open-and-shut case of high thievery; up to press time, the only charge the AFP Command could come up with is violation of Article of War 96 for "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman."

Now all this talk about an impending coup or series of coups. Before we catch the coup jitters and start stocking up on canned goods and candles, let's scrutinize the latest rumors sparked by the headline-grabbing House committee hearings.

One possible source of the coup rumors is said to be AFP officials who want the probe to stop at the doorstep of Garcia.

The two-star general can be sacrificed as the bad egg in the entire basket of otherwise good eggs, the statistically predictable and tolerable aberration in the institution that, according to Arroyo, remains "loyal to the chain of command."

No need to burn the house down when one wants to get at only one rat.

This line of thinking tries to turn the tables around and make it appear that the public outcry for the truth about corruption in the military is itself causing the political instability and provoking the members of the military to rebel in defense of their "honor" and to preserve the institution.

Aside from being illogical and obviously motivated by a desire to evade prosecution and punishment, it is unlikely that such a coup will even get off the ground considering it is fatally flawed, having nothing to stand on, not even the slither of a legal or moral justification. If such a coup takes place, it is doomed from the start.

Since this coup rumor places the Commander-in-Chief and the President of the Strong Republic in a bad light, it is also likely to remain just that, a rumor, albeit a fumbling attempt at psychological warfare.

How about a military rebellion ala Oakwood mutiny that rests on the junior officers and enlisted men's abhorrence of the undeniable rot of corruption and mendacity in the AFP as well as this administration's utter failure to stop it?

Yes, that's highly probable and is bound to sprout once more from fertile ground enriched by the latest revelations of official wrongdoing.

It remains to be seen, though, how much time it will take to pick up steam in the light of the Oakwood leaders' retraction of their testimony and apology to the Arroyo government.

What then should be the people's unflinching and principled demands in the face of threats of a coup from whatever quarter? For starters, we suggest the following:

Punish Gen. Garcia, his cohorts and other plunderers and forfeit their ill-gotten wealth; use the latter for social amelioration programs, most especially for the exploited and oppressed foot soldiers.

No whitewash, get to the bottom of corruption in the AFP/DND and PNP.

All the generals should resign. The AFP and PNP helm should be taken over by young officers with nationalist and pro-people reorientation under direct supervision by highly credible and morally upright civilian authorities.

Reverse the total-war policy and junk the militarist mindset that perpetuates unjust wars and provide the boundless opportunity for graft and corruption.

Oct. 29-30, 2004

October 22, 2004

Red flags and the red bogey

The news item was small and tucked away in the inside pages of the broadsheets. After all, there was nothing earth-shaking in President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's seemingly off-the-cuff statement that she would not be swayed by protest actions seeking the removal of GSIS [Government Service Insurance System] president and general manager Winston Garcia.

Arroyo intoned, "Whether I'm personally satisfied with his performance or not is beside the point when the red flags start coming out and demanding the ouster of anybody, that's the least effective thing."

The presidential message was loaded and meant to drive home several critical points about her leadership.

To the hundreds of GSIS employees who poured out of their offices for several days to denounce the mismanagement, corruption and oppressiveness of Garcia and call for his ouster, Arroyo has this sharp retort: Your protest actions turn me off and reinforce my inclination to ignore your appeals regardless of their merit. Moreover, stay clear of militant groups like COURAGE (Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees) because they are leftist troublemakers who have absolutely no persuasive powers over the Office of the President.

For Wall Street and the foreign chambers of commerce, Washington D.C. and the Heritage Foundation as well as Manila's rich and famous, Arroyo has this reassuring line: Contrary to rumors, I remain the decisive leader of a "strong republic" committed to free enterprise and the rule of law; therefore, I will not be swayed by Left-instigated mass actions regardless of the claimed validity of protesters' demands.

For the general public, Arroyo has this solemn pronouncement: Rallies and demonstrations are counterproductive, have no influence over the Executive and are nothing short of mob rule (just like President Erap said). After the EDSA II popular uprising that made me President, these protest actions have no place in a functioning democracy such as the one I now preside over by virtue of my having "won" the presidential elections.

But lest we get sidetracked by the presidential warning about "red flags," let's briefly take a look at the issues raised by the GSIS and other government employees.

The most compelling issue is the fact that under Garcia's administration, GSIS members' benefits have been drastically reduced and processing of claims intolerably delayed due to new rules such as the "premium-based policy" that penalizes members for the non-remittance and delayed posting of their monthly contributions for reasons beyond their control.

Contrast this with the ease with which Garcia and other favored GSIS officials receive their perks such as a combined PhP12-million housing and car loans for Garcia alone, not to mention six-digit salaries despite the Arroyo government's loud protestations about its fiscal crisis.

Ironically, while Garcia claims the GSIS is doing so well financially it can be likened to "a company generating substantial income and headed by an efficient and capable corporate executive with a six-figure income," it is miserly towards its millions of members who are the sources of GSIS' guaranteed income and who rely on the trust fund to help them with survival needs such as education loans, to tide them over life's exigencies such as illness or death in the family and provide social security when they inevitably retire from government service.

Then, there are highly questionable management decisions: the transfer of PhP19 billion of GSIS funds from the government-owned Land Bank to Union Bank, a private commercial bank owned by the Aboitiz family, said to have business interests closely allied with the Garcia clan; the purchase of the Juan Luna painting as a single, big-ticket investment item; and before we forget, the PhP1-billion loan to the Philippine Estates Authority for the overpriced President Diosdado Macapagal Avenue.

The proverbial "last straw" that sparked the walkout by the GSIS employees was alleged unfair labor practices that include the sacking of the president of the GSIS union, abusive and oppressive treatment of personnel, including non-favored GSIS executives, and the unprofessional patronage politics-driven management style of the embattled Garcia.

For far less, Arroyo has been known to blow her top and dress down publicly, if not peremptorily sack, erring subordinates. There is now more than enough controversy billowing from the GSIS that Arroyo, if she is serious about stamping out graft and corruption under her administration, should be calling for the fire brigade to immediately remove probable causes of the raging conflagration.

At first glance, the Arroyo government's oh-so-delicate handling and apparent foot-dragging on the GSIS and AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] scandals appear to be signs of indecisiveness and inaction on two explosive issues that Arroyo herself had been aware of for some time.

However, a closer and longer look would reveal a firm consistency and tight logic in Arroyo's decision -- and action through inaction -- to ignore the problem and thus allow it to fester, and then cover up instead of excising the causes of the problem so as not to stir the proverbial hornet's nest.

That logic is not so much due to patronage and utang na loob, even as Arroyo believes -- mistakenly -- that she owes her ascension to power largely to the AFP, and -- correctly -- her election "victory" to the Garcias of Cebu.

What determines Arroyo's action, inaction, and reaction is the fear of losing these pillars that she continues to rely on to prop up her morally and fiscally bankrupt presidency, standing as it does amid a destitute economy and rocked by continual protests from an enraged and hungry citizenry.

This is most clearly displayed in her recent pronouncements that her government will intensify its campaign to crush the CPP/NPA [Communist Party of the Philippines/New People's Army] because of its proven links with "international terrorists." Seemingly coming from out of the blue and totally without evidence or logic, even the most disinterested observers and commentators quickly dismissed this as part of the effort to divert the public's attention from the AFP corruption scandal.

It is in fact that and much more. This outburst of anti-terrorist rhetoric is clearly a cheap shot at shoring up US support for her beleaguered regime, coming as it does in the wake of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation's evaluation of her leadership as one of the weakest among the US allies in the region, and of an apparent US attitude of allowing the exposure and prosecution of the errant Army Gen. Carlos Garcia.

Indeed, Arroyo's nightmare, more than the specter of the AFP generals turning against her, is the threat, or even the mere perception, that the US would decide to dump her, as they have habitually done with many of their erstwhile marionettes, whenever these have become so discredited that US interests themselves are under threat.

The very measures that the Arroyo administration is resorting to in order to shore up US, the AFP's and the local elite's support for her floundering regime are precisely those weakening it to the core because they impose greater suffering and hardship on the people and push them to hoist up the red flag of protest and clamor for radical change.

Oct. 22-23, 2004

October 15, 2004

Worse than terrorists

The story about how the son of a Philippine general, earning less than PhP40,000 a month, was caught by US Customs officials carrying a substantial amount of undeclared US dollars; how the general's wife mindlessly confessed to her husband's shenanigans as AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] comptroller in amassing his unexplained wealth; how the AFP top brass tried to hush-hush this scandal by merely transferring the involved general to another "less sensitive" post; and how the Commander-in-Chief, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was irked that too many "detailed" questions are being asked of her about this latest corruption case when she is more concerned with weightier matters of the state -- all prove once more that the rot of avarice, dishonesty, abuse of authority and disdain for the public good have infiltrated government to its very core.

The case of Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia is still unraveling even as this column is being written, but several points stand out.

Garcia couldn't have done it alone and specially not without the toleration or connivance of his superiors. The mere fact that the position of comptroller is a position of confidence directly under the supervision of the AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Narciso Abaya, makes the latter immediately culpable. Gen. Abaya should resign if he has any sense of honor. In Japan, public officials have committed hara kiri for much lesser offenses.

Since Garcia served under several AFP chiefs, including former Defense Secretary and now DILG [Department of Interior and Local Government] head Gen. Angelo Reyes (he, too, with the unexplained wealth that sparked the Oakwood mutiny), his is clearly not an isolated case. Which is why we are not surprised at the kid gloves treatment of Garcia, who, by all accounts, is liable for the heinous crime of plunder several times over. It must be because if he went down, he is liable to take others, the bigger fish, down with him unless he is assured he will somehow be protected by his cohorts in crime and will be allowed to get away with his loot when the hue and cry has died down.

Worse, the official cover-up started even before the news broke out in the news. It has been months since the authorities learned about what happened to Garcia's son and his wife's inadvertent confession to US authorities in a desperate bid to recover the confiscated $100,000. The lame explanations of the AFP top brass about why they failed to move against the suspect officer, at least to investigate further and secure vital evidence like the PhP19 million he supposedly withdrew from his AFPSLAI account, just doesn't wash.

The initial vagueness and dismissive statements to the press by Malacañang officials fueled rather than doused speculation that something big was about to be exposed and that damage control efforts were in high gear. Too bad for the AFP and Mrs. Arroyo, they can't dismiss this as the handiwork of the usual suspects -- the so-called Left and Right "destabilizers." The can of worms that is the systemic corruption inside the military establishment has been opened for all to see and no amount of manufactured rumors about another coup-in-the-making nor Mrs. Arroyo's legendary "taray" will put the lid back on.

The general public is justifiably repelled and angered by this latest corruption scandal whose magnitude and reach has yet to be fully exposed. Yet, there are more dire implications to this country's future than have so far been the subject of congressional investigations, newspaper editorials and investigative reports. As former Army Capt. Rene Jarque, who joined two coup attempts 1987 and 1989, said, "A corrupt Armed Forces, tolerated by the civilian government that presides over it, is nothing more than a mercenary unit and an instrument of tyranny and oppression."

For corrupt generals are criminals worse than their sworn enemies, the so-called "terrorists."

"Terrorists" don't send their troops to the battlefield with inferior helmets and kevlar jackets, to be shot at by an enemy to whom the corrupt generals sell arms and ammunition. The foot soldiers and young officers facing the communist New People's Army (NPA) and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Movement (MILF) in the countryside would not hesitate to revolt once more when they realize that this is what the corruption in the AFP boils down to.

"Terrorists" don't strafe and drop bombs on villages, destroying crops, homes and schoolhouses and driving the elderly, the sick, the women and the children from their homes and farms into virtual concentration camps while they maintain luxurious homes and send their children to expensive schools abroad.

"Terrorists" don't steal or kill in the name of national security. They don't swear to defend the Philippine Republic and the Constitution to their last breath while holding green cards that betray their canine loyalty to the USA.

Corrupt generals want war from which they gain power and privilege and amass unimaginable wealth. Thus, they detest peace and block the peace process. They do everything to undermine confidence in negotiated political solutions to the raging armed conflicts in our midst, and would rather stick to purely military solutions such as failed counter-insurgency programs and disastrous "all-out war" policies.

Whether the AFP's and the Arroyo government's cover-up will work -- and there will eventually be a whitewash even in Congress -- whether the controversy will die down after some charges are filed, Gen. Garcia is placed under some form of detention and perhaps another independent commission is formed to study the phenomenon of corruption in the AFP, ad nauseum, it cannot be back to business as usual.

On the surface, it may seem like the guilty parties get away with their crimes, but the rot and stink of corruption, immorality and anti-people policies will continue to undermine and sap the strength not just of the AFP, but the entire political system. It will erode the very legitimacy of the Arroyo government and may even lead to its early downfall.

Oct. 15-16, 2004

October 08, 2004

Consistently harebrained

At the height of the Arroyo government's military offensive against the MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front] in 2002, in the middle of a much publicized ceasefire and just before the President left for a state visit to the US, I remember DSWD [Department of Social Welfare and Development] Secretary Dinky Soliman appealing for donations of toys to be distributed to Moro children in evacuation centers.

The bright idea was this: by giving the displaced children toys to play with, government could somehow alleviate their sad plight, occasioned by the government's strategy of bombing populated areas to flush out leaders of the Pentagon criminal gang who were purportedly being coddled by the MILF. (Maybe this is what the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] learns from those joint RP-US war games; that is, how to wipe out the "enemy" by causing as much "collateral damage" as you possibly can.)

In fact-finding missions of Kalinaw Mindanao during the "all-out war" waged by the Joseph Estrada-Angelo Reyes tandem in 2000, Moro evacuees were one in saying that they didn't want the government's charity. They demanded that government stop bombarding their homes, that the military stop occupying their houses and stealing their chickens, and that basically they be allowed to return to their devastated communities and be left in peace to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. The same pleas reverberated during the Arroyo government's own mini version of "all-out war," this time trendily decked out as "counter-terrorism."

Now this idea of distributing PhP6 billion worth of food coupons to around five million poorest and hungriest Filipinos is about as harebrained as the one about bombing the daylights out of those Muslim Filipinos who happen to live in areas the government believes to be MILF strongholds, then doling out food, not to mention toys, to ease their misery and pain.

Aside from being oppressive, this government is downright duplicitous with all this talk about fighting hunger and poverty. Why so?

In a recent study presented at the Ninth National Convention on Statistics, researchers Jose Albert and Paula Collado of the Statistical Research and Training Center, pointed out that that poverty in the country "is largely a rural phenomenon," with seven in every 10 poor Filipinos residing in the countryside.

The implications of these findings are unmistakable: "The overwhelming numerical importance of the rural poor means that poverty programs must be concentrated in improving the plight of peoples' living standards in rural areas and that we ought to promote policies on rural development...," the authors said.

Instead of giving a man fish, teach him how to fish. That's an old adage found in the Holy Bible that's so much quoted it has become a trite truism.

In the actual conditions of our largely feudal countryside, that exhortation translates into nothing less than giving land to the landless tiller, thus breaking the centuries-old stranglehold of landlordism over the hapless peasantry and laying the solid foundation for raising people's incomes and standards of living. It also means infusing capital in order to undertake rural industrialization that will generate new jobs, provide basic consumer goods to rural families, and staunch the flow of migration towards the towns and cities.

Among the urban poor, it's about jobs that pay decent wages, job security, and humane conditions of work. It's also about modest but livable housing and affordable food, water, electricity, and transportation. Regardless of urban or ruling setting, it's about adequate healthcare when one gets sick, education for the youth, and support for the elderly.

It's not about doleouts, no matter how government packages their latest gimmick as an "intensified food voucher system." It's about sound economic fundamentals -- land reform, national industrialization, economic sovereignty -- anchored on social justice and powered by the will to do what's right by the Filipino people no matter what the bastions of finance capital such as Wall Street and the IMF-World Bank-WTO combine say.

Staunchly capitalist economic managers in Malaysia, exemplified by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, share their country's experience in fighting poverty while coaxing the underdeveloped economy to grow.

Mahathir cited the need to increase real wages while keeping costs low; the way to do this is for government to minimize inflation by controlling the prices of essential goods. Further, the poor should pay less or no taxes while their incomes should be reasonable through government supervision of indirect and direct subsidies and provision of social services that ease the burdens of the poor.

What the former Malaysian strongman had to say to his audience of government officials, big business, and the media must have caused many of them to flinch if not raise their eyebrows in disbelief. "Equitable distribution of wealth must be attempted (even if) this invariably gets in the way of growth. Failure at equitable distribution of wealth almost always results in class or racial confrontations and violence of one kind or another," he warned.

Compare and contrast this with Mrs. Arroyo's spiel, "We cannot shut our eyes to the truth of hunger and poverty...The immediate causes are unemployment in the cities, and pockets of conflict in the countryside, but the overall challenge is structural and strategic, encompassing the entire run of human development issues."

So what does she show for all the fancy words? Let's cite a few.

"A new and improved" system of food coupons in lieu of wage increases and price controls demanded by workers and consumers on essential items like food, water and medicines. This is simply tokenism considering that the overwhelming number of poor people are in the rural areas and will likely have great difficulty just to go to town to queue up, be screened, get the vouchers, and only then go to the duly accredited groceries to claim their rice, noodles, and sardines.

With runaway oil prices after deregulation, all the government can do is throw up its hands in the air, plead with the oil companies to spread out their increases, and call on the people to cut back on their already meager consumption. Of course there is the hype about reinvigorated plans to develop alternative energy sources that have been gathering dust in some bureaucrat's drawers until the next oil crisis comes along.

With austerity as the government byword, social services already receiving far lower budgets than what is really needed, are also the first to be further cut back to the bone. What safety net then is the government prating about?

In the meantime, water and power tariffs are being allowed to go sky high while all sorts of government fees are being escalated as if it was just the government and not the people themselves who are in desperate economic straights. Last but not the least, there are the new regressive tax measures to squeeze blood from stone so that government can convince foreign creditors and investors that debts will be religiously serviced, profits can be freely repatriated, and a modicum of governance can be sustained -- in particular, that the military and police will be kept in fighting form, the better to keep the hungry and angry masses at bay.

With all these, who is to believe President Arroyo when she tries to get away with attributing the poverty and hunger to "pockets of conflict in the countryside?" It's like the proverbial cart before the horse. Ever heard of a cart pulling the horse? Consistently harebrained.

Oct. 8-9, 2004

October 01, 2004

Making sense of it all

It hit me at half past midnight and sent me straight to bed to dream about my column instead of working on it using that indispensable writing aid called the word processor. I refer to none other than the looming power crisis, by way of an unannounced, therefore thoroughly unexpected "brownout."

Crisis is the buzzword these days. Inundated by all this talk of crisis, emanating from no less than the President, ordinary citizens like us must try to make some sense of what is really going on.

To our political leaders and economic policy makers, the fiscal crisis means the people should accept the inevitability of more and higher taxes, higher prices, wage freeze, further cuts in social services, and shouldering the debts of government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) like Napocor and government financial institutions (GFIs) like GSIS [Government Service Insurance System].

We are told that the bulk of the government budget will go to servicing our public debt because there is no way we can get around it except to keep paying so that we can go on borrowing or else our fiscal crisis can become a full-blown financial crisis once our creditors decide to stop lending us the money to cover our budget deficit.

We are advised that external forces beyond our control are causing mayhem on the economy. The runaway price of oil and the sharp slide of the peso versus the dollar translate into a ballooning import bill. On the other hand, the future of our top export commodity, Filipino labor, is uncertain in the face of intense fighting in Iraq, Palestine and instability elsewhere in the Middle East, stiff competition from other similarly impoverished, labor-exporting countries and the heightened racial discrimination and state paranoia in the labor-importing countries generated by the so-called war against terrorism.

Finally we are assured that this period of enforced pain and self-abnegation will lead us out of the crisis and into a brighter future where the Arroyo government's promises of food on every table, jobs, a roof over one's head, education for our youth and health care for all those in need will be a reality rather than a promise tiresomely repeated during the President's yearly state-of-the-nation address.

Thanks, but no thanks. Many ordinary folk are beginning to ask questions the government will find consternating if not "destabilizing."

Instead of imposing new taxes on the people already burdened by a regressive tax system that taxes the poor and not the rich, why not collect the PhP100 billion lost annually since 1995 due to drastic tariff cuts resulting from the government's over eagerness in hewing to the trade liberalization regime of the IMF-World Bank and the World Trade Organization.

Instead of raising government fees including court and other legal fees, why not put a stop to excessive fiscal incentives and tax exemptions for foreign investments amounting to PhP179 billion lost yearly.

Rather than pass off the burden of bailing out GOCCs to consumers and taxpayers, why not run after the crook/s that approved onerous contracts and gave sovereign guarantees that reward profiteering and inefficiency of IPPs.

Why not get rid of the incompetent fat cats who run their GOCCs to the ground and enjoy hefty salaries and perks while they're at it? (By the way, may we ask why we continue to pay for what Senator Lorenzo Tañada called the Marcos "monument to folly," the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant?)

How about taking President Arroyo to account for deciding to cut the purchase power adjustment (PPA) to 40 centavos per kilowatt hour without any clear objective except to raise her popularity rating from an all time low.

What about the billions of dollars of ill-gotten wealth stashed away by the US-backed dictator Marcos and no less hefty sums of money plundered by the corrupt Estrada regime? Will these be "negotiated" away on the altar of reconciliation without justice?

Will government look the other way in the face of reported losses in revenue of up to PhP120 billion yearly due to graft and corruption? Whatever happened to the hue and cry over the scandal-ridden IMPSA IPP negotiated under the month-old Arroyo administration with a reputed kickback of $14 million and the billion-peso Diosdado Macapagal Avenue scam involving the Philippine Estates Authority and the GSIS?

Belt tightening says the government. But why not trim the fat off the President's pork as well and not just the notoriously venal Congress. Why not get rid of unaudited intelligence funds allocated to all sorts of agencies of government starting with the Office of the President, including- -- you won't believe this -- Pagcor.

Why lop off 2005 budgetary allocations for health, education and housing when total debt servicing is projected at a whopping PhP645.8 billion or more than half the government's total projected expenses in 2005? Put another way, why allow debt servicing to consume 85% of government's projected revenue next year leaving only 15% for everything else.

Why blindly continue the debt policies of all the governments that came after Marcos including that of not questioning, not repudiating nor renegotiating onerous debt incurred by the dictator with the connivance of the multinational banks? Why not a moratorium or at least a cap on debt service instead of the automatic appropriations of scant public funds for debt payments?

A thoroughgoing and transparent audit of the debts incurred from the Marcos time to the present is certainly in order. In particular, the Arroyo administration must answer some hard questions as to why the last two years of its first term saw the highest sustained borrowing in two-and-a-half decades making this government the most indebted in Philippine history with a total public debt of PhP5.9 trillion by September 2004.

Certainly, there can be no quick fix solutions to the current fiscal woes of the Arroyo government. The long running, deeply rooted and systemic underpinnings of the fiscal crisis in our backward, semi-feudal and pre-industrial economy that is at the mercy of foreign monopoly, especially finance, capital and subject to the vagaries of the international market economy, does not auger well for any solutions in the intermediate future either.

Yes, any real solutions will entail painful measures that will certainly be borne by all, including the mass of toiling people who have been carrying the brunt of sacrifice for ages.

For this reason, it is imperative to ensure that any prescription and harsh therapy will lead us out of the crisis of this rotting system towards a long-term cure, rather than merely tide us over, if at all, until the next major convulsion, the next acute exacerbation of our chronic socio-economic, political and moral crisis.

Oct. 1-2, 2004