Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Crime without punishment

A friend of mine has been stranded in the town of San Fernando in Sibuyan Island, one of the three major islands that make up the province of Romblon. He is there to report on the start of the salvage operations to be undertaken on the MV Princess of the Stars which sank last June.

The salvage operations intended to extricate the drums of endosulfan from the ill-fated ship could not however be started because a storm has engulfed the area with four to five-foot waves and sheets of rain. The heavy rains started pouring Saturday night, and by dawn of Sunday, the small town was knee-deep in water, even as the helpless residents were asleep. Many were unable to save their few belongings. An old lady was weeping on Sunday noon while she tried to dry what probably amounted to a sack of rice in some concrete structure. What would her family eat, she asked? This was all she had saved for the rainy day, and the rain drenched their food.

Residents told my friend that the only way he could get back to Manila was for him to ford the river that separated San Fernando and Cajidiocan, and from there, hire a pumpboat that would take him to Tablas Island. Ford the river, he wondered? The residents told him the relatively new bridge had been washed away by the rampaging waters from rain-soaked Mount Guiting-guiting early Sunday morning.

When he got to the site where the washed-off bridge was, he was shocked. What manner of beast, what kind of profiteering or tongpats-paying contractor built this kind of bridge? For there its smashed pieces were, slabs of concrete with hardly any sturdy reinforcing steel bar. Talagang pinagka-perahan lamang. Built to be destroyed by the first rush of river water.

If this was a DPWH project, both the supervising DPWH engineer and the contractor should be hanged. If this was financed by a "congressional insertion," well, the money literally washed off. And since this is such a remote municipality in such a remote island, the national officials and the national auditors will likely not even know about this criminally-constructed bridge.

The governor will just declare a calamity, appropriate whatever funds he could scrounge for the people of San Fernando, and next time around, the congressman will ask for another appropriation, perhaps an insertion, or likely as part of his PDAF, otherwise known as pork barrel, to construct a replacement bridge. And likelier than not, this favourite contractor will construct the same kind of bridge that was washed down by the floods from Guiting-Guiting. So when nobody is looking, yet another insertion or yet another pork barrel allocation will be wasted on sub-standard construction of the most criminal kind.

Do crimes like these ever get punished? They are everywhere in these benighted islands.

Senators and congressmen, governors and the national government fund river-dredging projects where hardly any real dredging is done. Scoop a little here, scoop a little there. Anyway, when the rains come pouring, who will know how much has been dredged? Who will bother to measure the cubic meters of sludge or sand retrieved from river beds? It’s robbery, it’s plunder, but does anyone ever get punished? No. Because the perpetrators are the high and the mighty, the politically powerful and their economic backers, and never mind if the people get screwed over and over again.

OPM no longer refers to "original Pilipino music" which at one time during martial law was regulation music for a quarter of each hour over radio. OPM means "other people’s money", which is what the high and the mighty use to further enrich themselves. Banks use our savings, and when they go bankrupt, people suffer the consequences. Crooks in government, in cahoots with crooks in business, waste our people’s money with overpriced and sub-standard projects like that abomination in dirt-poor San Fernando in dirt-poor Sibuyan.

Will these crooks ever be punished? Don’t bet on it.

Joc Joc Bolante has failed once again in trying to stave off his deportation so he can answer for his fake fertilizers sprayed in the concrete of Metro Manila. When he gets back to these benighted islands, expect the Ombudsman to either drag its feet on prosecuting him, or file a case so weak that the co-opted Sandiganbayan will dismiss for "lack of evidence."

Jun Lozada was clearly abducted from the NAIA, taken on a forced ride to Laguna and Rizal by persons unknown and menacing, yet the government reasoned that they were only escorting him on a joyride. And the absolutely discredited and almost completely dishonourable Court of Appeals sustains this demonic rationalization. Meanwhile the police colonel who Lozada charged for complicity in his abduction has been promoted to a police general, and the airport security officer who brought him from tube to waiting agents of the Presidential Security Command is still as smug as ever in his post. Worse, the conspiracy to rob Filipinos with the mind-boggling sum of 329 million dollars in future tax money remains among the high and the mighty in a country where impunity is the rule.

Oh, but I am being unfair. Some do get prosecuted by our venerable Ombudsman.

Last week, the Ombudsman announced the filing of graft charges against Tamantao Amerol. regional director of the Bureau of Internal Revenue in Cebu City.

It also ordered the dismissal of one Beltran Dy, revenue district officer of Balanga, Bataan. Great!

Problem is, Beltran Dy has already retired. And Tamantao Amerol is dead.

Don’t you find all these revolting?

Well, your president is back in the United States, purportedly to address the annual junket for heads of state of the United Nations. She had earlier cancelled this trip (wasn’t she in the US of A just three months ago?) because of the situation in Mindanao (kuno), but when Lehman Brothers went down, and Merrill Lynch was absorbed by Bank of America, and AIG is under rehab, infused with billions of US Treasury money, and who knows what’s next, Doña Gloria suddenly decides to go back to her US of A.

And whaddaya know? Just before she left Sunday night, with a "lean" delegation of seventy-one hangers-on kuno (did a GFI president and a lady stockbroker, among others, precede her entourage?), Malacañang announced that among the things she will "accomplish" in the suddenly resurrected visit is a "high-level discussion with financial and banking experts" on the crisis rocking the foundations of capitalism centered on the banks of the city that never sleeps.

Is it really how the crisis affects our puny economy, or how it has affected their fat pocketbooks?

Go figure.