Friday, August 6, 2010


Journalist Ding Gagelonia re-posted this morning a press release sent to his inbox.

“MCC Board Approves $434 Million Philippines Compact,” says the release from the Millenium Challenge Corporation of the United States of America, which has graphics as American as anything can be without Uncle Sam himself.

The release says non-government organizations, private sector firms and the Philippine government and people worked to come up with a “homegrown program.” MCC Chief Executive Officer Daniel Yohannes praises the stakeholders “for tackling difficult challenges to create tangible opportunities for growth and prosperity.”

“The Filipinos have articulated a clear vision to improve the quality of their lives through a technically, environmentally, and socially sound plan,” Yohannes adds. “I am confident that the country’s ongoing commitment to positive reforms, accountability and transparency, and the timely implementation of the compact will deliver tangible results.”

It’s understandable, President Benigno Aquino III, sir, that your very high trust rating should attract offers of help and all kinds of partnerships, whether of a bilateral or multilateral nature.

After the heavy baggage of corruption that saddled the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, it must be a great relief for government and private sector leaders to be hailed as advocates of hope instead of co-conspirators in crime.

For example, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Philippines, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), GTZ, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), have expressed their willingness to help the government come up with a National Action Plan against Climate Change (NAPCC), which must be put in place by April 2011, based on the Climate Change Act or Republic Act 9729.

In the case of the MCC, $54.3 million of the total aid package will go to computerize and streamline business processes in the Bureau of Internal Revenue, to improve revenue collection and reduce opportunities for corruption.

Some $214 million will allow the construction and repair of 200 kilometers of Samar Road, which passes through 15 municipalities.

Anybody who has been to Samar will not begrudge residents of that beautiful but impoverished island this badly-needed help. It will be interesting to see how the engineering works will go. Samar is one of the few places in this country with a still significant New People’s Army (NPA) presence. I can imagine American troops coming in for some medical and disaster relief missions. The USAID, which has a Filipino-American director (Maryknoll-educated Gloria Steele) for the Philippines, should also be shepherding a number of projects in Samar, especially those aimed at ensuring “availability of high-quality medicines to treat life-threatening diseases including HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.” Samar, one of poorest areas in the country, suffers high incidence of the last two diseases.


The portion of the MCC release that intrigued me was this:
“… the compact includes $120 million to expand Kalahi-CIDSS, a community-based, rural development program. This innovative approach to development strengthens local accountability and empowers poor communities to design and drive the projects they need to increase their incomes and improve their lives.”

That’s big money and, unlike the Samar road project, will be dispersed throughout the countryside of this archipelago. I initially imagined an NGO and asked what umbrella it belonged to. After all, the term NGO no longer has the purer-than-Caesar’s-wife cache that it enjoyed before Agile consultants and women urban poor leaders with mansions, not to mention Peace Bond “commissioners” – all self-proclaimed activists for good governance -- had sectors wondering about the need to police the police.

But a cursory skimming of a notebook confirmed that Kalahi is the critical conduit of government's cash aid.

Its website states:

“KALAHI-CIDSS is the Philippine government’s flagship poverty-alleviation project implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development through the financial support of the World Bank. It stands for Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan- Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services.

KALAHI CIDSS entrusts the poor with greater powers, supports poor LGUs in local development, and invests heavily on people, not just projects.

KALAHI-CIDSS believes the poor know who need help the most and that their skills and potentials could be harnessed to undertake development.

Funds are released directly to the villager’s KALAHI-CIDSS bank accounts. Villagers also manage, monitor and supervise the implementation of sub-projects. These sub-projects were implemented faster and cheaper compared to traditional implementation of projects in the Philippines (Mid-term Review, 2006).

KALAHI-CIDSS’ built-in transparency mechanisms have nearly attained for the Project a nil record in graft and corruption. Through a complaints and grievance system, issues pertaining to the project are addressed expeditiously."

The DSWD Secretary (currently Corazon “Dinky” Soliman) is the national project director of Kalahi. Her short message on the website notes:
“With 5,236 community sub-projects, KALAHI-CIDSS has been able reach 4,583 barangays in the poorest 200 municipalities in 42 provinces and benefited 1.1 million households and an estimated 6.6 million poor Filipinos nationwide.”

Now, let me be clear. Covering Dinky when she was DSWD secretary, I thought her efficient, effective and certainly capable of motivating her “troops” to march to hell and back.

That’s not just a figure of speech. In Mindanao you will hear plenty of people speak in awe of the social workers who brave the battle lines between government troops and rebels to get civilians out of harm’s way.

It is no picnic. There have been a number of times social workers and their wards have been literally caught in the crossfire just minutes after wresting a ceasefire pledge from both sides.

Dinky can be hokey and corny and her aggressive good cheer can actually make grouchy seem attractive, but she has been effective in the DSWD.

She has also faced charges of benefiting from the scandalous issuance in 2001 of the P10-billion Poverty Eradication and Alleviation Certificate (PEACe) bonds.

The government will soon have to pay P38 billion for the P10 billion issued. I don't know about you, Mr. President. You're said to be, um, careful with money. If you think paying three times the original amount of debt in less than ten years doesn't stink, consider that the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (Code NGO), brokers of the deal, took in a P1.4-billion commission. That should get your ranting and raving!

It was Marissa Camacho-Reyes, the sister of former Finance Minister Jose Isidro Camacho, who engineered the deal. But Dinky’s Peace Equity Access for Community Empowerment (PEACe) Foundation received part of that commission.

The DSWD secretary says she was no longer part of Code NGO when it negotiated the PEACe Bonds but expresses willingness to face the Truth Commission on the matter. Columnist Alvin Capino notes that Dinky was very close to Mrs. Arroyo (as, by all accounts, she is close to Mr. Aquino).

Close ties
In his column, Capino points out:

“Just to highlight the influence of Code-NGO at that time, just a month after the issuance of the controversial Peace Bonds in October 2001, Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was the guest in the Code-NGO 3rd National Congress held at the UP Diliman where Mrs. Arroyo acknowledged the key role of Soliman, Deles and Songco in EDSA 2 and in her administration.”

It does pay to have the guts to warble saccharine anthems like “If We Hold On” (to a beleaguered Mrs. Arroyo, just days before ditching her) or ask questions like, “what will you sing?” (to you, Sir, after you bared plans to join the post-inaugural sing-a-long).

Sometimes, Dinky’s penchant for theatrics does get the better of her, leading to verbal somersaults that insult the intelligence of her audience. For example, take the following paragraphs from a November 17, 2005 article by Luz Rimban for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ):

“FORMER social welfare secretary Dinky Soliman has confessed to being part of a government group that used public funds for President Arroyo’s 2004 presidential campaign.

“Appearing as witness at the resumption of the Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability, Soliman apologized for helping distribute free insurance cards from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) to voters in areas considered strongholds of Arroyo’s rivals, among them movie actor Fernando Poe Jr, during the 2004 campaign.

“The CCTA heard testimony yesterday which said that money coming from the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) was diverted to pay for the Philhealth cards. Philhealth card holders are supposed to pay insurance premiums of around P1,000, but during the campaign, voters got them for free.

“In areas where the opponents are strong, especially FPJ, we decided to increase government assistance by way of Philhealth cards distribution…. I personally went to Pangasinan to distribute Philhealth cards as part of the campaign,” said Soliman, who resigned from the Arroyo cabinet in July. Pangasinan was Poe’s home province.

“Saying she had “decided to speak my truth here today and publicly apologize for the betrayal of trust when I was secretary of the DSWD,” Soliman said she did not realize then that what she was doing was electioneering.”
(itals and boldface mine)

The President seems to consider every criticism is a sign of a conspiracy to drag him down. Actually, it’s an indication that he is taken seriously.

It would be easy to dismiss his pledge to institute a transparent, honest and morally and ethically upright regime as just another burst of hot air. I won’t. So I’m going to repeat an earlier plea:

Mr. President, you cannot toy with accountability. You cannot orate about new dawns and a Truth Commission, yet refuse to even acknowledge perfectly legitimate concerns involving your hand-picked men and women.

We don’t expect you to kick out Dinky and other aides facing the same challenges. But we do expect you to order Dinky and the rest – and that includes the head of your Truth Commission – to face the people and, without smoke and mirrors, confront accusations of unethical conduct.

You promised us a rundown of the nation’s problems after an “inventory.” You even made us journalists look unreasonable for asking a man who’d asked a nation to stake their hopes on him, to give his roadmap to progress.

What you’ve given us so far are charges against your predecessors, including some that have had to be tweaked because certain folk played fast and loose with figures and processes.

“Modified” has become your administration’s favorite term.

I’ll take the misses; Filipinos didn’t elect you for efficiency or for any track record of achievement. What’s disturbing is when your administration starts modifying its stress on core values bannered by your campaign.

You cannot demand full trust from the people just on your say-so, Mr. President. Rather, you owe them daily proof of adherence to the compact you'd sold them in the campaign


Anonymous said...

This issue is a major test for the President. I know Dinky is close to the Aquinos but the conflict of interest not to mention her involvement in the CODE NGO fiasco is breathtakingly abhorrent.

Noel Sales Barcelona said...

When I've learned Ms. Soliman is returning to the DSWD, I just told myself: Wohooo! Why did Noynoy put her there?