Monday, December 15, 2008

“Evil” no longer?

Just when civil society, legitimate business, Church and the political opposition were busy protesting over Cha-Cha in Makati, “like a thief in the night” came the announcement from the stinking palace beside the stinking river that SSS Administrator (with cabinet rank, hah!) Romulo Neri has been tasked by the resident “evil” to supervise a 100 billion peso fund for pump-priming efforts of the regime aimed at neutralizing the expected negative effects on the economy of the global recession.

Still remember him? He was the guy who used “executive privilege” to cover-up Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s role in approving the ZTE-NBN deal, after damning then Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos for trying to bribe him with 200 million pesos, to endorse said deal as NEDA chair. Because he was shaking all over in an executive session, and almost retched in fear on their carpet, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee then chaired by Alan Peter Cayetano took pity on him and allowed him to leave the premises. Thus did he save his master, whom he later called “evil” before Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Senator Ana Consuelo Madrigal, Jun Lozada, this writer, and four others.

Apparently, being called “evil” is nothing to his president, provided he covers up “legally”, which he did, even going all the way to the Supreme Court to invoke his right to keep confidential what his president directed him to do, and to hell with public interest. The Supreme Court upheld his right to be silent on “evil”.

This has earned Romulo Neri the “trust” of his president, so much so that, chafing at the manner academics of the land derided him most “unfairly” as then acting chair of the Commission on Higher Education, she next appointed him to oversee the pension fund of all the employees of the private sector of her realm, and conferred on him further the encomium of being yet a member of her cabinet.

There ought to be little prestige in being part of a cabinet filled with political rejects, recycled because retired generals, and toadies, except for three, maybe five at kindest measure. But, nunca te olvidare, “executive privilege”. He who keeps secrets must remain secretive. And how better to do so than by arming him with the legal cloak, armor even, sanctified by no less than a Supreme Court many of whose members possess the same dubious credentials as her cabinet?

Supervising the use of his boss woman’s 100 billion peso anti-depression pill means Romulo Neri would be looking over the shoulders of Hermogenes Ebdane and Leandro Mendoza, the former police generals who now preside over the infrastructure machinery of government, DPWH and DOTC. It means looking over the shoulders of Agriculture’s Arthur Yap, with his farm-to-market roads and irrigation projects in aid of food productivity. Not to forget --- stepping on the shoes of Ralph Recto, who lost Senate re-election on account of VAT, and got a cabinet title in return for the same onus. Wow, Romulo, you really are going places, aren’t you? “High flying”, but wonder if “adored”, as Andrew Lloyd Weber’s celebration of Evita goes.

But as always in government, look for the reason, or reasons, through the funding. Remember the bureaucracy’s ever-present caveat ---“subject to the availability of funds”? With the BIR unable to collect more, whether on VAT or on sin, and the customs unable to collect more because business is bad, which means lower imports, then 100 billion pesos in anti-depression funds may be too much for Romulo’s president to afford. The deficit is expected to soar, and foreign funding is expected to be scarcer and scarcer. So, how does Romulo’s president makes certain that “funds are available”?

Aha! Government financial institutions, that’s where. The biggies are the Development Bank of the Philippines and the Land Bank. But the latter’s funds are supposed to be “special purpose”, in support of farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries. If she touches too much of it, Congress and those pesky party-list representatives will howl. As for the Development Bank of the Philippines, well, how much is left after discounting the supposed losses from Lehmann, et al?

But then there are the pension funds --- GSIS and SSS. They have just sold their holdings in Meralco, and they will sell their holdings in other blue-chips, however you define them in this benighted land. Who the actual beneficial owners of these last-minute sales binges are, we the citizens of this benighted republic will probably know only after June 30, 2010 --- if we ever hold such elections. That should make these pension funds awash with cash. It is not government money. It is the money of the working class of the land, deposited in fiduciaries ran by men and women appointed by the person they are supposed to trust most, having elected a “president” in whom they repose their trust.

That person happens to “legally” be --- by the grace of Congress presided over in proclamation by Senator Francis Pangilinan and then Representative Raul Gonzalez, by the bayonets of the military and the sticks of the police, as well as the water hoses of the firemen, and by the meek sufferance of the most docile, the most patient people on planet Earth --- Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. That SWS and Ibon and Pulse Asia periodically say that she is also the most distrusted president in Philippine history --- bar none --- is of little moment in a land where “legal” covers up for the lack of any appreciation of the “moral”.

Already the “legal” president (by her government’s self-serving definition), has announced that half of her 100 billion distress fund will be sourced from such GFI’s, and the other half from private banking institutions who will be made to participate in the pump-priming program. So that explains why it’s Romulo. But why not Winston?

Winston has never called her “evil”, publicly and I understand neither privately. The dinner guests he entertains lavishly at Mactan Island’s ultra-expensive Abaca by the bay, have never heard Winston dishing anything but the best about his president. The GSIS board of trustees are peppered with their president’s most trusted, including a senior citizen of dubious reputation who swears on a stack of a hundred bibles that his lady president’s esposo is nothing but “marangal” and “may busilak na puso”.

So what makes Romulo more “trustworthy” than Winston? Or for that matter, Vilma’s Ralph, who as NEDA director-general, should be by our bureaucratic set-up’s standards, the more technically capable?

Ah! It is because Romulo has gone through a “baptism of fire”. Tinimbang na siya (by his president’s amoral standards), at hindi nagkulang. Nagpagamit. Magpapagamit. Forever and ever.

But won’t Vilma’s Ralph and Juan Luna’s Winston not be made of sterner stuff?

Why do you think the emperors of China and the pashas of Persia treasured their eunuchs? Because they have no more ambition than to serve their masters most dutifully, most unquestioningly, with utmost fealty normally reserved only for the gods.

Why do you think the next Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces shall be a former presidential security guard commander, sooner perhaps than normal if she would deign?

Loyalty. Blind, unquestioning, and unreasoning loyalty. Not to the Republic and certainly not to the people of the Philippines. Like eunuchs of old, theirs but to follow, theirs but to fawn, theirs but to blindly obey, their mistress, their president.

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Erratum: Fellow FSGO’er, Ric Tan, who presided over the PDIC during the time of FVR, approached me in the Friday rally at Makati, to correct my antiquated perception, as written in our Saturday, 13 December column, that PDIC insures deposits of 100,000 max. It is now 250,000, Ric informed me. Mea culpa.

* * *

And something more which I learned over the week-end --- the “Legacy” honcho, one Celso de los Angeles, whose banking fortunes collapsed recently, is supposed to be extra close to the current speaker of the House that wants to cha-cha-cha for perpetuation. Why, someone who does not look like my friend Digong Duterte of Davao, even whispered that Speaker Nograles also lost a whopping hundred million in “investments” in the crumbled empire of his friend Celso. Oh well---fortunate are those who have that much to lose.