Abad should irrevocably resign now; promptly convict Napoles and all her cohorts, including top gov’t officials; full auditing of DAP; abolish all pork barrels

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BUDGET Secretary Florencio Abad must irrevocably resign now to ensure an impartial investigation and full audit of the illegal presidential Disbursement Acceleration Program, which should pave the way for abolishing all forms of pork barrel and prosecuting all those who plundered and misused the public funds, including Janet Lim-Napoles and her cohorts who looted both the DAP and its congressional counterpart, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

This was reiterated by the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa while President Aquino expectedly reaffirms his intransigence in defending Abad and the DAP during today’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) overshadowing his usual economic “growth” reports – despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that essentially declared DAP as unconstitutional.

“There must be full, honest and independent accounting of the DAP, which requires a complete and untainted list and description of DAP projects to be scrutinized, as well as who requested or received or managed the funds that were released,” Frank Mero, Sentro chair, emphasized.

Sentro also expressed its suspicion on the belated and piecemeal approach of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in issuing lists of DAP projects both on its website and press releases, and more so why it continues to withhold disclosing all the DAP project proponents, especially Aquino’s partymates and other political allies.

Reports said that this enormous and potent presidential discretionary fund allegedly reached close to P353 billion “illegally” sourced from state savings and unprogrammed funds in two years only or from 2011, when the DAP was started, to 2012.

The DBM countered that the available fund in that period was P136.75 billion “only” and a total of P114.57 billion was actually used. However, revealing its inconsistency, the DBM later reported that it released DAP funds amounting to P75.1 billion in 2011 and P53.2 billion in 2012 – or a total of P128.3 billion – aside from P16 billion in 2013.

Josua Mata, Sentro secretary general, retorted that whatever the amount and legally aside, “the DAP and all other ‘pork’ for that matter are primarily if not exclusively geared towards political patronage, and not really to pump-prime the economy but to curry favor with the senators, congressmen and other politicians to achieve vested personal or political interests.”

Sentro earlier posted on its website a more detailed statement analyzing the DAP issue – SENTRO STATEMENT ON P-NOY’S ‘PORK’

Nagkaisa Labor Coalition Demand Aquino to Fulfill Promises to Workers and Account for Workers’ Money Utilized in DAP

A coalition of 49 labor centers, federations and workers’ organizations to promote workers’ interest, the Nagkaisa today issued a statement to give labor groups’ perspective on the fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III tomorrow, Monday, July 28th. Below is the coalition’s pre-SONA statement:

“Millions of Filipino workers and their families remains deprived of the benefits of the inclusive growth they deserve from the so-called high Philippine economic growth they helped built since 2010. It is shameful that the President in Benigno Simeon Aquino III they elected in power four years ago, has tactfully failed them.

With around 700 days left in office, there are bold indications that the man in Pnoythey thought could lead them out of vicious pit of poverty and help them cope with the rising prices of commodities caused by a liberalizing economy is, in fact, slowly abandoning the hope of the working people.

Siding with employers’ interest, President Aquino deliberately refused to break the cycle of poverty by freeing up a large segment of 25 million contractual workers when he turned down outright the Nagkaisa plead to certify the pending Security of Tenure (SOT) bill designed to responsibly eliminate the very backward contractualization work scheme imposed by the business elites.

Aquino is just staring at workers being mangled by a very exorbitant and world class electricity rates controlled by a monopsony cartel of a very few families despite persistent advice from Nagkaisa to act, form and lead a multi-agency, multi-sectoral task force that will figure out within two-year period a secure power supply and a competitive electricity rate.

The stakes just get higher with the ominous crisis in power supply.The hiatus is so real that it would reckon businesses to make significant retrenchments of workers and render the country uncompetitive and unattractive to investments that are necessary to create more new jobs.

The absence of a national strategic plan on power will surely force the state to make knee-jerk but expensive fixes that, in the end, workers, especially minimum wage earners, would have to pay more from their take home pay—reminiscent of the same blunder committed by his mother the late President Cory Aquino.

Aquino is doing nothing while watching workers profusely bleed from the day-to-day stab of recent man-made and phenomenal sudden price increase of rice, garlic and ginger.

Without any significant increase in wages amid hikes in prices and costs of other basic commodities and services during his tenure, he has, in fact,coldly insulted the workers by issuing an executive order that would raise by P10,000 the disability and burial benefits of workers the moment concerned government agencies accrue excess funds.

He has reneged on his promise to “get back” a month later with presidential response on important laborpolicy issues raised by Nagkaisa labor leaders he invited to a pre-labor day breakfast dialogue inside Malacanang Palace on April 30th.

In the light of the controversial discovery of the Disbursement Allocation Program DAP), Mr. Aquino and cohorts should account for every single centavo in the billions of pesos of workers’ money in the scheme.The Nagkaisa demand Mr. Aquino to prove that the people’s money was not siphoned off to ghost projects and illusory expenditures as payoff for political patronage.

Mr. Aquino has squandered all opportunities to make a difference in the lives of workers especially those of the rank-and-file. He has failed to commiserate with the warm bodies that broke their back in earning a living while building the economy. The Nagkaisa has performed its critical part in bringing the case to the table. Now, it cannot entirely put the blame on workers who will claim their piece of social justice on the streets.

SENTRO STATEMENT ON P-NOY’S ‘PORK’

Secretary Butch Abad must go!

Full accounting of the funds must be made – promptly!

Those who misused DAP must be punished!

THERE is still a consolation to the half-baked ruling of the Supreme Court, which, while specifying that certain “acts and practices under the DAP” are unconstitutional, does not categorically declare the entire Disbursement Acceleration Program as, well, unconstitutional. A leading newspaper correctly editorialized that the decision “merely strikes down certain ‘acts and practices under the DAP’ … (but) not the DAP itself … (although) those ‘acts and practices’ … form the very core of the DAP!” Anyway, this supposedly economic stimulus program has at least been formally categorized as an illegal presidential pork barrel similar to its congressional counterpart, the much despised PDAF or Priority Development Assistance Fund that was bilked by Janet Lim-Napoles and her cohorts.

Hence, the ruling has removed the DAP’s “legal” justification, forcing the government to prove beyond doubt that the funds were indeed used to “fast-track” the economy or have bankrolled projects that really benefited the masses. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) later clarified that P114.57 billion was used in 2011 and 2012 from the P136.75 billion available DAP funds. Malacañang also later professed that it “spent properly” 91 percent of the DAP funds, but admitted that it “could not vouch for the remaining 9 percent” or about P12.8 billion that it “allocated for projects identified” by senators and congressmen. Incidentally, any of these amounts given within two years only would make the P10 billion looted by Napoles, et al. over the span of 10 years looked like peanuts.

In this regard, as pointed out by a research think tank, the problem with the DAP lies not only on its legality but also on its propriety. It is very plausible that both the executive and legislative DAP funds were used for “patronage purposes” or bestowed by Malacañang to curry favor with the legislators. Indeed, it is even “economically irrational … (as) the supposed stimulus effect is only a cover for various self-serving political agendas.” For instance, there must be something fishy about issuing multibillion-peso DAP funds to members of Congress at the height of the impeachment trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona, a nemesis of President Aquino. Although Corona deserves to be ousted from office, using public funds to ensure this objective is patently wrong.

In reality, little was known about the DAP until Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, in his privilege speech last September, disclosed that senators who voted to impeach Corona each received P50 million “incentive” of “additional PDAF” from the DBM. It was only then that Florencio Abad, DBM secretary, finally identified the funds as the DAP, not PDAF, while denying that these were a form of “bribe.” Interestingly, the DAP was launched through a DBM memo – based on National Budget Circular (NBC) No. 541 – approved by Aquino on October 12, 2011, which authorized the initial release of P72.110 billion, parts of which were intended for “fund requests” of legislators starting November 2011 – or during the time when the Aquino camp was intensely gathering support for the Corona impeachment. The next DAP memo allowing the release of P13.379 billion for “additional projects” was issued on December 21, 2011 – or 10 days after 188 congressmen had impeached Corona. Another DAP memo approving projects worth P32 billion, including P8.3 billion for “various local projects,” was released on June 27, 2012 – or about a month after the impeachment trial, when 20 senators voted to convict Corona. In particular, there are allegations that a total of P6.5 billion DAP funds were used “before, during and after” the said impeachment trial – as much as P5 billion went to the House of Representatives, and P1.5 billion to the Senate.

Likewise, coinciding with the May 2013 midterm elections, at least three multibillion-peso DAP releases were approved, as shown in the DBM memorandums on September 5, 2012, December 21, 2012 and “sometime” in May 2013.

At first, the Supreme Court ruling was seemingly silent on whether those unconstitutional “acts and practices” – withdrawal of unobligated allotments from implementing agencies in the middle of the fiscal year and redeployment of funds already allocated by Congress in the annual national budget or the General Appropriations Act – are punishable posthaste or will only become a crime after the release of the said high court’s decision. This worried the citizenry that the apparently principal “offenders” – led by Abad, who cunningly crafted these enormous presidential discretionary funds that allegedly reached close to P353 billion from state savings and unprogrammed funds from 2011, when the DAP was started, to 2012; and Aquino himself, who knowingly approved these very potent coffers – might go scot-free.

Of course, Aquino, as a President, has immunity from suit while in office; him renouncing it is highly improbable. He also rejected Abad’s purported resignation the other week, which was not irrevocable and already belated. As a portent of things to come, Aquino apologists are floating the idea that his government should invoke the “doctrine of operative fact” or it should not be held liable for implementing a program thought to be legitimate – or done in good faith? – but only later found out by the court as unlawful.

Yet even the individual justices’ concurring opinions somehow provided “hints” to the government on how to redeem themselves: That while Aquino “castrated” or “usurped” Congress’s power of the purse, the “noble end” of DAP was recognized, which led the high court to specifically cite the doctrine of operative fact in allowing “noble” DAP projects to stay or could no longer be undone; and that while “(T)he doctrine of operative fact … cannot apply to the authors, proponents and implementors of the DAP,” an exception may be allowed if “there are concrete findings of good faith” among them.

Getting this cue, the Aquino camp will therefore insist and highlight the “noble end” of the DAP and its implementation “in good faith.” Thus, one of Aquino’s mouthpieces brazenly stated that no apology is needed over the DAP fiasco because the so-called economic stimulus program was crafted in “good faith.” This evasive pretext must be vigorously questioned by the Filipino people so that truth and justice will prevail.

Interestingly, again, Aquino cannot claim ignorance of the law or of not knowing that DAP is illegal and prone to misuse and abuse. On March 4, 2009, when Aquino was still a senator, he filed Senate Bill No. 3121 or “The Budget Impoundment Control Act,” which sought to limit the power of the President in impounding or refusing the release of funds already appropriated by Congress. This anti-pork bill supposedly aimed to stop the misuse and abuse of the President’s discretionary funds, which was rampant during the regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Aquino’s arch foe. This bill was later consolidated with other similar Senate bills and apparently was not passed. Clearly, SB 3121 of then Senator Noynoy Aquino and the DAP of now President Noynoy Aquino are poles apart and utterly contradictory.

In the same vein, Abad, with a topnotch educational background, a lawyer, and a congressman for about 11 years, including chairing the House Appropriations Committee, which handles budget and budget-related legislations, should know full well both the legal foundations and the workings of state funds. This prompted one Supreme Court justice to comment that Abad “may have knowingly” created the unconstitutional DAP.

Almost two weeks after releasing the 92-page decision on July 1, the Supreme Court announced – finally, but with a “twist” – that heads will roll in the DAP anomaly but did not say who exactly will be held liable. A similar half-baked ruling was also issued for the PDAF scam case. The high court said that it will just provide “guidance on how to determine accountability.”

 

We cannot have the political situation exacerbated further by the intransigence of the President’s apologists and other political interests exploiting the opportunity to destabilize the country’s political institutions. At this stage, Secretary Abad has to resign irrevocably, if only to facilitate an orderly transition into an impartial investigation and accounting by government institutions. We therefore call on social movements, civil society organizations and other vigilant groups to initiate a Citizens’ Audit and investigate where the DAP funds actually went. The Office of the Ombudsman and the Commission on Audit (COA) should work with the Citizens’ Audit to ensure that there is a full and scrupulous audit, – meaning, examining complete and unadulterated list of DAP projects as well as identifying the specific persons (senators, congressmen, etc.) who received the funds.

This is no longer just about the intentions of individual people. This is about where our taxes really go – and who should truly enjoy them.

Therefore, the Filipino people, including the trade unions, must demand full disclosure of the DAP allocations, whether released to the executive branch or to congressmen and senators or local governments. Either a joint or separate but complementary auditing and investigation of DAP funds and system must be conducted by the COA, Office of the Ombudsman, and an independent body composed of civil society. This must be done judiciously and without delay. All culprits, even top government officials, must be tried – promptly. The trade unions and other mass organizations and the public must intently and consistently guard the entire process of auditing, investigation and trial to ensure that the DAP and similar pork barrels will be abolished, and the guilty will truly be punished.

Defending rights from corporate power: The case for a Peoples’ Treaty

More than a year has passed since the Rana Plaza disaster, which on 24 April 2013 claimed the lives of more than 1,100 garment workers. Those who died, mostly women, were making clothing in terrible working conditions for high-profile retailers including Walmart, Benetton, Bonmarché, the Children’s Place, El Corte Inglés, Mango, Matalan and Primark.

Public outrage over the avoidable disaster forced retailers to join initiatives such as the Bangladesh Safety Accord (BSA) to prevent future workplace deaths; the Accord which covers 1600 factories in Bangladesh and which legally enforces fire and safety standards is a significant step forward.

However neither the BSA nor other similar agreements signed in the wake of the tragedy provide any recourse for victims to seek damages from any of the transnational corporations (TNCs) that profited from the unsafe, low-wage clothing production; in fact, only half of the companies linked to Rana Plaza deigned to offer compensation to the survivors and families who lost loved ones.

Sadly, the impunity of TNCs related to the Rana Plaza disaster is not an isolated case. In Ecuador, Amazonian indigenous communities have been waiting for three decades for compensation from oil giant Chevron for the oil spills that contaminated their soil, rivers, forests and groundwater. Chevron has not only failed to clean up their mess but has also fought every legal recompense, refusing to pay $9 billion dollars in damages awarded by Ecuadorian courts.

The same story goes for the people of the polluted Niger Delta, where victims of violence and pollution have been blocked from justice and compensation on countless occasions.

Encouragingly though, a meeting of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in Geneva this week (23-27 June) could offer the first steps towards an international legal process that would provide avenues for justice against corporate crimes.

Ecuador,  backed by 84 governments has proposed a binding legal instrument for TNC operations in order “to provide appropriate protection, justice and remedy to the victims of human rights abuses directly resulting from or related to the activities of some transnational corporations and other business enterprises.” The call has been backed by more than 530 civil society organisations(CSOs).

Ecuador’s proposal is being fiercely resisted by EU member states, US, Canada and other nations – an indication of a bumpy road ahead in a world where public policy in most nations is influenced so strongly by corporate money.

Nevertheless,  the fact that the proposed binding treaty has received significant government supports marks an important turning point in a global economic order where until recently the very idea of introducing laws to regulate corporations was seen as heretical.

It also reflects growing awareness that international codes of conduct and corporations’ own voluntary, self-policing efforts known as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) may have been great for projecting positive images of corporations, but have had much less impact in actually changing corporate behaviour.

One of the largest EU-funded systematic investigations of CSR released in 2013 assessed the impact of CSR initiatives by 5300 small and medium enterprises and more than 200 large firms . The investigation hardly minced its words in concluding that: “There is little empirical evidence which explains the concrete impacts of CSR activities and programmes on the organizational performance of companies, the wider economy, or the social and environmental fabric of Europe, its nations and regions.”

In order to expose the  ‘architecture of impunity’ that continues to protect corporations, human rights activists in various countries have held Permanent Peoples’ Tribunals – includingone to be held this week in Geneva – to hear testimonies from affected communities and to publicise otherwise undocumented abuses committed by TNCs.

Hundreds of organisations have also got together in a global campaign to dismantle corporate power and to demand a Peoples’ Treaty (PT) to regulate corporations, which includes a call for legally binding codes taken up by Ecuador’s government.

A people’s treaty seeks to end the current framework of privilege and impunity enjoyed by TNCs. It is rooted in a belief that improvements in corporate behaviour should not depend on public outrage at avoidable tragedies such as the Rana Plaza, but should instead be integral to our laws and society.  This will require a shift away from corporations policing themselves towards allowing society to police them; making corporations subject to public regulation and public interest rather than controlling it.

Transport union asks SC to junk ‘excessive, illegal’ JAO 2014-01

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STEPPING UP the widespread opposition of various transport organizations to the Joint Administrative Order (JAO) No. 2014-01, members and supporters of the National Confederation of Transportworkers’ Unions (NCTU-APL) picketed today the Supreme Court and filed another petition to nullify the said order for being unauthorized, unreasonable and unconstitutional.

The NCTU complaint described JAO 2014-01 as “ultra vires” or beyond the legal capacity of the government agencies that created it because they do not have even “quasi-legislative power to revise fines and penalties.”
It added that the said ordinance is “unreasonable” for its “extortionate” or excessive fines, and also “unconstitutional” for usurping the legislative powers of Congress.

“In short, JAO 2014-01 is illegal, unjust and a form of ‘legal extortion’,” Ernesto Cruz, national chairperson of NCTU, said.

The JAO 2014-01, which substantially increased “fines and penalties for violations of laws, rules and regulations governing land transportation,” was jointly crafted by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and later approved by their mother agency, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

Issued last June 4 by the DOTC, the JAO 2014-01 supposedly aims to instill discipline especially among drivers of public utility vehicles (PUVs), prevent road accidents, ease the perennial traffic jams, clamp down on unregistered or “colorum” vehicles, among others.

Romeo Macailao, NCTU secretary general, reiterated that transport workers and union members support road courtesy and safety, concern for the commuters as well as pedestrians, and other programs and policies for the well-being of the riding public.

“We do not condone abusive and unscrupulous drivers and other transport workers, and we also want better and safer transport services, but the government should not use JAO 2014-01 at the expense of the lowly transport workers and small-time operators,” Macailao stressed.

The labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) to which NCTU and APL is affiliated commented that higher fines will not force “discipline” but will in fact “encourage further corruption” as “added penalties mean added kotong or bribes” particularly to traffic enforcers, whether staff of certain LGUs (local government units) or staff of the nationwide task force composed of LTFRB and LTO enforcers.

The DTOC-LTFRB-LTO JAO took effect last June 19 after the Supreme Court failed to grant a temporary restraining order (TRO) filed against it by several transport groups last June 10, when the high court merely ordered the three agencies “to comment within 10 days from notice (of the complaint).”

Short of a general strike, a “transport holiday” was also held by different transport groups last June 19 in protest of JAO 2014-01. Thousands of commuters were stranded.

Under the JAO colorum bus operators will be fined P1 million; truck and van operators, P200,000; sedan operators, P120,000; jeepney owners, P50,000; and motorcycle operators, P6,000. It likewise covers “other PUV-related violations like refusal to convey passengers to their destination; overcharging; employing reckless, insolent, discourteous or arrogant drivers; operating PUVs with defective parts; using tampered taximeters; and trip cutting. Each violation has corresponding fines and penalties as specified in the order.”

The JAO specifies that LTFRB will create a nationwide task force composed of LTFRB and LTO enforcers who are the only ones authorized to apprehend violators of said offenses, thus excluding any other LGU traffic personnel or even enforcers of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).

NCTU-APL-SENTRO is also a member of the global union International Federation of Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).