Friday, September 12, 2008

Seeing double (1)

Literally, it was a case of seeing double. As in double entry, double costing.

While reviewing the General Appropriations Act of 2008, the current operating budget of the Republic, Sen. Panfilo Lacson saw on page 563, under Budget Item B of the Department of Public Works and Highways for locally-funded projects, sub-classified as "Urgent National Secondary and Local Roads and Bridges" an 200 million peso allocation for the construction of the President Carlos Garcia Avenue Extension from South Luzon Expressway to Sucat Road in Parañaque.

Then, some 90 or so pages of the three-inch thick GAA, also under the DPWH, this time under sub-section H for "Urgent Infrastructure including Local Projects", Item No. 7 provided another 200 million pesos for the "Extension of C-5 Road, also from the South Luzon Expressway to Sucat Road in Parañaque".

Was this a case of double entry, a human error, a printing error? But if it were, why "C-5" and why "Carlos P. Garcia"? A quick check showed that C-5 has been re-named after the Bard from Bohol who preceded Doña Gloria’s father as president. Clearly, this was not a human error, as in that of a cross-eyed printing proofreader.

Lacson sensed that the executive was up to its usual tricks again. A contractor bills the government twice for the same road construction. DBM issues two SARO’s and two NCA’s, one for the real McCoy, and another for the deliberately inserted double. Nothing is impossible, as far as creative ways of making money is concerned, in this lying, cheating and stealing government after all. The contractor is happy. Boys in DPWH and DBM, or someone else in Malacañang, would be happier, while Juan de la Cruz is dunned 400 million for a 200 million peso project.

The opportunity to ask DBM Secretary Rolando Andaya came last Monday during the first budget deliberation hearing on the President’s submitted budget of 1.4 trillion pesos for 2009. When Lacson asked Andaya to explain the double entry, Andaya first showed surprise. He asked for a suspension of the hearing so he could consult his staff, and then, properly advised, he said the additional 200 million was actually a "congressional insertion", with an impish smile on his lips.

In fine, the Doña’s minister of the purse was saying, "Search me. It’s Congress that inserted that additional 200 million, not me, not Malacañang". The chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Juan Ponce Enrile, looked genuinely surprised too. Paano nga naman nangyari ito? But there the entries were in black and white, part of several kilograms of paper that make up the budget of the Republic.

Later, Andaya answered, upon further questioning by Lacson, that they had not yet released the 200 million more, and will no longer. One recalls how Eduardo Ermita and every other Palace apologist tried to explain the humongous "tongpats" of 200 million (dollars) in the ZTE-NBN project. "Tinigil na ni Presidente ang project. Kaya wala namang inilabas na pera." He, he, he. Mabuti na lang nabuking.

The people saved 329 million dollars. How much ZTE lost because of advances to the matatakaws they dealt with is their problem. All because Lacson delivered a privilege speech in the Senate, and Joey de Venecia and Rolex Suplico blew the whistle on greed so gross.

Now Lacson does it again. Hawk-eyed, eh? He spots double accounting, and sees red. DBM’s Andaya, in a situation where for once it’s not Malacañang’s dirty hands in the cookie jar, gleefully says, "It’s Congress! He, he he."

But who in Congress caused the insertion?

By Tuesday, Lacson was asked by radio commentators to amplify his case of the double entry. He did, and Andaya even tried to claim credit for his discovery. Andaya praised the DBM staff for discovering the double appropriation early in the year, which thus prevented, he now claims, double payment. But if so, why did he keep quiet? Why did he not order an investigation? Isn’t the budget of the Republic such a sacred document, that it must be kept pristine from double entries, double dealing, double appropriations?

Only when Lacson brought it up in committee hearing, and only after his staff "reminded" him, did Mr. Andaya "stop" the anomaly, and "save" the Republic 200 million pesos. Kung hindi pala nabuking, tuloy sana ang ligaya, eh? When would the SARO and the NCA be made to pay for the C-5 extension, as distinguished from what was paid for Carlos P. Garcia Avenue extension? Likely in December 2008, just as Christmas carols fill the air and make politicians happy, while the poor, both the always poor and the nouveau poor, wonder what joy there is in life so miserable in the benighted isles.

So whodunit?