Tue. Dec 1st, 2020
Editorial Cartoon (Courtesy by Manila Times)

(Part 3: Dolomite megascam for lunch?)

The Palace had to act fast.
The faux pas of Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda was not just putting the otherwise impeccable record of Secretary Roy Cimatu in peril but would have proven once and for all that the Duterte government has been on auto-pilot.

The Duterte Diehard Supporters (DDS) did not help any with its defense of Cimatu when the dimwits illogically suggested in social media that any denial of support for white sanding of the Manila Bay walk near the American Embassy, necessarily meant preference for the garbage that settled there during the previous administration.

Of late, former AFP Chief of Staff Eduardo Ano also came to the rescue of former AFP Chief of Staff Cimatu, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) defending the Manila Bay beautification project amid ongoing objections, saying that what critics were saying against the program were “misplaced.”

Just recently the attention of another former AFP Chief of Staff was called on a seeming unrelated issue, as an alert reader has taken issue with The Manila Times’ depiction of Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. as a Health executive, as he openly contests the position of the Department of Health and its top officials on what is the cause of the persistent rise of new Covid cases in the country.

The IATF/DOH Covid updates are presented daily by Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire who said over television that the inhalation of crushed dolomite rock in Manila Bay can cause respiratory problems.

Less than 24 hours after, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno was showing Karen Davila a tabloid report saying “DOH clarifies: Crushed dolomite in Manila Bay project ‘not known health hazard’” Benny Antiporda, who is known since the time he was floor manager for a plush nightclub in Quezon City and his wheeler-dealing days at the Bureau of Customs, is definitely good at manipulating the press to control any damage to his principal.

But the apparent clarification sounded more like a doublespeak – “The Department of Health (DOH) agrees too, that any type of dust, including dolomite, could lead to symptoms such as chest discomfort, shortness of breath, and coughing. The DOH, however, also notes that the crushed dolomite being layered on Manila Bay is two to five mm in size, or 100 times bigger than dust, and therefore does not pose such a risk.”

Another teflon mayor bruited to run for national position in 2022, Vico Sotto also expressed their support for the dolomite beach project.
Except for the “mistah” angle, I really do not know why Secretary Ano keeps dabbling on the issue.

The DILG chief noted that dolomite — which was used as artificial white sand in Manila Bay — “is common material used in beach nourishment” in resorts around the world.

If this were just an issue of dolomite, then anybody can go to the French Riviera to sunbathe on top of it.
More snowjob won’t work

Ano’s sidekick, Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya issued a hardsell rejoinder that the project expenditure was only P28 million, contrary to reports.

“That already covers the price of dolomite sand, transportation cost, taxes and other fees. That’s the package of the cost including delivery from Cebu to Manila Bay. It’s not 389 million but 28 million,” Malaya said.

Malaya’s peg was of course intended to deodorize the whiff of corruption that was spawned in the social media by former congressman Terry Ridon.
But corruption is already all over the place because the presumption of regularity can no longer hold for Cimatu or Antiporda.

Three days after the shipment arrived at the Manila Bay, Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia issued a cease-and-desist order on the dolomite supplier, Dolomite Mining Corporation, from further extracting, processing, selling and transporting dolomite.

The governor cited “The Provincial Government of Cebu and the Municipal Government of Alcoy were not informed of the beautification project, nor was there any consultation…” in violation of Section 8 (a) of the DENR Administrative Order No. 2010-21 dated June 28, 2010 in pursuance of also of Section 8 of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, Republic Act 7942, the Local Government Code and other pertinent laws.

So what was Undersecretary Malaya distinguishing after all?

The violation of the law and the utter of transparency holds whether this project was worth 28 or 389 million! Nobody needs to prove that Cimatu or Antiporda even pocketed even one peso or one million, because they have already breached public trust.

Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 on graft and anti-corrupt practices act states “Causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.”

No wonder when Benny Antiporda sought an audience with Bong Go a few days ago, the senator quickly disappeared from sight, leaving the beleaguered undersecretary clueless.

Antiporda has already been on the bad side of the senator since the end of the 2019 elections. It appeared that the undersecretary promised to actively campaign for the senator but got lost for three months and only reported back after Senator Go had already been sworn into office.

The senator when he was still with President Duterte in the executive branch, was credited for the appointment of Antiporda to the DENR.

All things considered

But other things remaining equal, who would object to beautification of a beach even if the seawater there is still toxic?

Vergiere does only due to health issues that we have already discussed in Part 1 of this Series. Perhaps, Secretary Leonor Briones also, because P28 or 389 million could mean a lot for the distance learning requirements for the benefit of poor public school students.

Even the funding technicality aired by DILG undersecretary Malaya does not hold water. Malaya earlier asserted “The project was approved by Congress under the 2019 General Appropriations Act, it underwent competitive bidding under RA 9184 and was awarded prior to the global pandemic. The government cannot simply stop a project when it is already under contractual obligation to proceed.”

The anomaly was already exposed by Cebu Governor Garcia.
The procurement process was flawed and reeked of lack of transparency. Governor Garcia’s line reverberates – we are beautifying Manila Bay as we are defacing a Cebu mountain.

And as I have hinted at the beginning of this article, it shows that the President’s cabinet is rigidly compartmentalized, and the Secretaries do not talk to each other outside of any inter-agency mechanism.

There is definitely something wrong on how this government identifies hierarchy of needs and sets priorities. Programs simply are not integrated, and projects only come as many as there are proponents. Tunay na pagbabago is hodge-podge.

To illustrate, Malaya’s further overstretch that the dolomite project did not affect the government’s coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic response is simply an insult to common sense.

We have already incurred 3,875 deaths due to the Corona virus. Can he categorically say that P28 or 389 million would not have made any difference in saving even ten or so lives if the country had additional tertiary hospitals and better-paid health frontliners?

Where is the dolomite urgency in the midst of a national health emergency?

When we say we cannot eat dolomite, we are not saying let us not beautify Manila Bay. What we are saying is what about the 93,000 commercial establishments employing 2.5 million workers that have been displaced by the pandemic? What substitutes for their continuing loss of income?

Inversely, how does a dolomite beach mitigate our economic contraction or contribute to the Philippines’ fast recovery past the dramatic crippling of our economy?

Agriculture revolt

How does this cosmetic legacy of Cimatu and Antiporda put wheels back to our productivity?

As we speak, rice farmers all over the country are close to an open rebellion.

Farm gate prices in Mindanao goes down to P11 per kilo, or P1 lower than production cost, down to half its P22 levels two years ago.

The crisis is so bad leaders in Mindanao, including the Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), congressmen and governors passed a unanimous resolution asking Congress to “review the Rice Tariffication Law in the face of irrefutable evidence that the unimpeded rice importation has caused injury to the local rice industry and the rice farmers of Mindanao.”

This low farm gate price will definitely affect Mindanao’s economic recovery following the Covid-19 Pandemic.

I have shared again and again that even my farmers in Tiaong, Quezon are already surrendering to me their rights in exchange for amelioration funding. If they, whose average age is 57 years-old, resign their role in our society, who will take their place?

Studies conducted by the Federation of Free Farmers showed that while rice consumers benefited from the lower rice prices at an estimated value of P6-B, rice farmers lost about P80-B because of reduced income as a result of very low farm gate prices.

Additional losses which have yet to be quantified were also reported in ancillary activities to rice production, including land preparation equipment utilization, milling and processing and by products like rice bran and rice hulls.

Passed last year by the Senate which discarded the Lower House version of the bill, RA 11203 or the Rice Tariffication law (RTL) aims ” to provide affordable rice prices for consumers, coupled with the goal of raising the income of palay/rice farmers.”

In the process, the law allows importers to bring in as much imported rice provided they pay the tariffs which in turn will be placed under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) which assures the rice industry of a P10-B annual support for the next six years.

The solution is very simple, provide P11 subsidy to rice farmers which when added to their farmgate income of P11 makes P22/per kilo livable total income. They do this in Japan, they do this in the USA, they do this in Europe and other industrialized countries because they cannot afford to lose their agriculture.

Where to get the money if the RCEF is not yet available? Try the Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program, or 4Ps, a government program that provides conditional cash grants to the “non-productive” poorest of the poor in the Philippines. 

Try the P28 or 389 million, spent for dolomites that we cannot eat. (IAmigo)

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