This will be my last column for the next 14 weeks. Under Commission on Elections (Comelec) rules, journalists like myself who are running for office will have to take time off until election day, May 13. I am the first nominee of our party-list, Abakada, which is gunning for another stint in the House of Representatives. I had the honor of representing the party in the 14th Congress when, on April 2009, it managed to secure a seat under the so-called Carpio rule which ordered, in the landmark Banat vs Comelec case, among others, the fill up of the constitutional provision allocating twenty percent (20 percent) of the total House membership to party list representatives.
As everybody knows Abakada are the first four letters of our very own alphabet, one of the first if not the very first lesson in the reading and writing classes which our kids have to learn when they get to school. We were fortunate to have been able to “appropriate” and secure the same as our party’s name since we are principal advocates of educational reform as a critical means for social change.
As an organization dedicated to educational reform and social change, we represent teachers and non-academic personnel in all learning institutions, formal or non formal, in the public and private sectors, as well as students and their parents and all others advocating and providing training, continuing education and other alternative learning systems including overseas Filipino workers, out-of-school youth (OSYs), PTAs and day care workers, among others. We believe as I am sure most of us do that educational reform at all levels and in all aspects is the key to societal reform.
We have come a long way from our humble beginnings in 2004 when a group of lawyers and professionals organized the group. Since then, we have actively participated in the promotion of the rights and welfare of our constituents, initiated various inquiries on the state of the education and training sectors including the salaries and benefits systems, i.e., GSIS, PPSTA and FAPE, for workers and retirees in these sectors, organized forums on the use of I/T and alternative learning systems, appropriate jobs/skills matching and livelihood opportunities, provided free legal and related assistance and supported increased funding for salaries and benefits for workers in the sector. By God’s grace and the support of our electorate, we will continue to pursue these initiatives, in and out of Congress, and ensure that opportunities for advancement in education, jobs and, in general, the uplift of the quality of life of our people remain on top of the national agenda.
Education and jobs. For the past week or so, the administration has regaled us with statistics pointing to the growing strength of the economy and the prosperity which may just be around the bend, so to speak. At the 40th Neda anniversary, P-Noy himself and his Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan advised that the country’s full year gross domestic product growth reached 6.6 percent with services emerging as the main growth driver with a 7.4 percent expansion, followed by industry at 6.5 percent and agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing at 2.7percent. The growth spurt exceeded all expectations as government earlier targeted only a five percent expansion.
This prompted Balisacan to advance the view that the “five percent to six percent target was a bit low as we were coming from a 3.9 percent growth in 2011.” No doubt the country under this administration has reaped the benefits of years of endurance prompted by our people’s hard work and creativity under a lingering global economic crisis and, of course, a semblance of “good governance” for which President Aquino should be credited.
But even as we hope this spurt will be sustained in the remaining years of this administration we hasten to note the need to have the same translated into more jobs and better quality of life for our people. Not even the most loyal administration drumbeaters can hide the fact that despite this growth the unemployment and underemployment situation remains dismal. If we go by the latest statistics fully 14 percent of our workforce or close to 8 million Filipinos are either unemployed or underemployed. That is a drag and a curse which we have to overcome the glowing statistics notwithstanding. How the administration addresses this problem will go a long way in divining the legacy it will finally turn over to the next administration and the next generation of Filipinos.
Sadly, we have yet to come across a creative and comprehensive jobs, employment and livelihood plan which addresses the years old problems of slowing job creation, jobs/skills mismatch and a livable and sustainable environment for self-employment or, as they say in ore advanced economies, livelihood nurturing.
Rule of Law: Finally, we have to focus on proper and responsible governance, not just the hazy and indeterminate “good governance” mantra we have been hearing from the administration and its loyalists. Proper and responsible governance not selective “good governance” needs to be institutionalized.
If we cannot entertain the “corruption and abuse of power” of the previous administration neither should we allow the selective administration of justice and adherence to the Rule of Law.
"Unchanging through time; unalterable; ageless: immutable laws” “Immutable: unchangeable; abiding, changeless, constant, enduring, fixed, immovable, inflexible, invariable, permanent, perpetual, sacrosanct, stable, steadfast, unalterable, unmodifiable”
In other places and other climes, the final judgments of a country’s highest court of justice are considered immutable as in constant, enduring, abiding, stable, steadfast and unchangeable. More than any other document, save perhaps the country’s Constitution, these final judgments are accorded the highest respect and can only be unhinged on the most critical and fundamental questions of law or public morals.
That is in most other countries where the Rule of Law is scrupulously adhered to and democratic processes are observed with utmost care.
Sadly, this truism has been turned on its head a number of times by our High Tribunal. The latest such incident involves the long drawn out legal battle between Pioneer Insurance and Surety Corp., one of the country’s biggest home grown insurance companies, and the Singaporean multinational company, Keppel Cebu Shipyards, Inc., which saw the court overturn its very own judgments three times.
This case involves a liability claim pursued by Pioneer against Keppel Cebu Shipyards over the payment of the insurance of a WG&A Superferry ship that caught fire while dry docked on the latter’s shipyard supposedly for repair. After years of litigation and investigation, it was established that improper welding procedures caused the fire. Being the insurer, Pioneer, upon proper investigation, paid WG&A’s insurance claim of P360 million. Since third-party negligence was established, as standard practice in the industry, Pioneer filed a liability suit against Keppel to recover the amount paid to WG&A, an action which was contested by Keppel all the way to the Supreme Court (SC).
From a decision of the CIAC arbitration board all the way to a Court of Appeals special division, Pioneer Insurance and Keppel wrangled over all decisions including one which held that Keppel must be solely liable for the P360 million which is the full value of the loss paid out earlier by the insurer.
The case was finally elevated to the SC and on Sept.25,2009 when the high court’s third division rendered a decision modifying the CA ruling by awarding Pioneer the amount of P360 million (full value of the loss), less P30,252,648 salvage proceeds realized by WG&A from the sale of the vessel’s wreck or a net amount of P329 plus million with six percent interest per annum counted from Aug. 22, 2000 until finality and 12 percent interest on the total value from date of finality until fully paid.
As expected, Keppel filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied with finality on June 21, 2010 prompting the Singapore multinational to file a second MR with a request to refer the case to the SC en banc. Four months later, on Oct. 20,2010, SC denied Keppel’s second MR and its request to refer the case to en banc.
Finally on Nov. 18, 2010, the SC issued an Entry of Judgment certifying the that SC decision dated Sept. 25,2009 became final and executory on Nov. 4, 2010.
That should have ended this ordinary commercial case. But no. Keppel filed a 3rd motion for reconsideration disguised, as Pioneer Insurance lawyer Arthur Lim said, as a motion to reopen the case. Sadly and to the surprise of Pioneer, on June 2011 the SC en banc accepted to review the final and executory SC decision of Sept. 25, 2009. By itself, that was already questionable enough.
What was really shocking and truly disgusting was for the Court en banc to issue a resolution on Sept. 18,2012, practically throwing out its earlier “final and executory” decisions.
In the questionable Sept. 18 decision, the high tribunal modified its own September 2009 ruling, by reducing the award of P329,747,351 (excluding interests) to a mere P50,000,000 (excluding interest at six percent ). It also held WG&A and Keppel liable as jointly negligent and applied the limitation of liability to P50 million. Whew!!!
How’s that for the immutability of final judgments and, yes, stability of, and inspiring public confidence in our judicial system?
It was not too long ago that the high tribunal then headed by Chief Justice Renato Corona was skewered for “flip flopping” on a number of cases. Indeed, we had half expected that since the Corona court was skewered for what daang matuwid’ advocates had time and again intoned as a “high incidence of flip flopping,” Chief Justice Sereno would have taken it upon herself to insure that no such thing ever happened under her watch. Sadly, she has now presided over what a group of respected lawyers noted was a highly condemnable act of “flip flopping” anchored on highly questionable grounds.
So shocking was the Sereno court’s “flip flopping” on this otherwise ordinary commercial case that no less than Associate Justice Arturo Brion, one of the more even tempered and erudite member the court, was prompted to issue a strongly worded dissenting opinion pointing to the immutability (that word again!) of final judgments.
“By accepting the referral and reopening of the case despite its finality, “ Brion emphasized, “ the SC violated the most basic principle underlying the legal system — the immutability of final judgments — thereby acting without authority and outside of its jurisdiction.”
In his own dissenting opinion Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes expressed similar concern that “reversing an SC decision that has already been recorded in the Book of Entries of Judgment and therefore a part and parcel of the law of the land and its jurisprudence is... indeed distasteful and an affront to one’s sense of justice and fairness.”
Brion’s elaboration is instructive as he emphatically advised: “What runs throughout these cases, where the court took an extraordinary step is the presence of an exceptionally justifying circumstance of a fundamental value which goes beyond the interests of the litigants. It is the presence of this exceptional character that imposes upon the court a measure of self-regulation to prevent itself from committing the very grave abuse of discretion which under the Constitution it is designed to perform as a checking measure. Without this exceptional character the underlying public policy in the crafting and applying the doctrine of immutability should dictate the court’s action; for, parties come to court to litigate on a dispute and not to prolong and perpetuate the dispute itself at the expense of the supposed victor.”
It came as no surprise then that a group of lawyers issued a full page “Statement of Concern” expressing shock and, yes, alarm over the said “flip flopping” under Sereno’s watch. Said the group:
“We are alarmed beyond words ...by the ruling of the court en banc in the case between Pioneer Insurance and Surety Corp. and Keppel Cebu... as it transcends the private commercial interests of the parties ...and involves the abandonment of sacrosanct legal doctrines that are the strength of any legal system. In this case, a judgment has been rendered by a division of the court in favor of Pioneer Insurance and Surety Corp. Under the Constitution, a judgment rendered by a division of the court is considered a judgment of the entire SC, However, despite the fact that the entry of judgment has been made on the case, Keppel Cebu Shipyard Inc. succeeded in lifting the entry of judgment and having a dead case resurrected through a letter to then Chief Justice Renato Corona asking for a third motion for reconsideration which is prohibited under the SC rules.”
With Corona’s departure, the said questionable review should have been stopped with a strike of Sereno’s pen. Sadly, that never happened. The case morphed into a monstrous travesty of the law. “On Sept.18, 2012,” the lawyers’ group advised, the court en banc surprisingly reviewed the case anew and went on to modify its own final and executory judgment, without adequately explaining why it reopened a case that involved no constitutional issues, no public policy considerations, no question of life and death, no legal question of first impression.. this precedent has opened the floodgates for zombie cases... from now on, no final judgment will ever remain final.”
Need we say more why savvy investors and really huge investments continue to evade our shores despite the administration’s furious drumbeating? It is such inexplicable moves by the highest arbiter, the interpreter of the Constitution and our laws which make them shy away.
CCT is, of course, the conditional cash transfer program initiated by the Arroyo administration in 2008 as part of government’s overall poverty alleviation plan.
Popularly known as the 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program), it was given an initial allocation of P4 billion which was supposed to be distributed as “cash grants” to the “poorest of the poor” families in the country meant to assist them in improving the health, nutrition and education of their children, especially those zero to 14 years.
To be enrolled and to remain in the program for at least three years, the families’ were obliged to meet the following conditions, namely, a) children 3 to 5 years old must attend day care/pre-school at least 85 percent of the time; b) children 6 to 14 years old must attend elementary school at least These same objectives constitute the government’s commitments for grants and financial assistance provided under the US sponsored Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
When it was inaugurated four years ago Arroyo critics many of whom now occupy senior positions in the Aquino administration lambasted the said program as “wasteful and graft inducing” and, worse, a brazen political tool to enhance and perpetuate the sitting government’s hold on political power. Well, these guys not only have embraced the program, they have also infused billions of pesos into it in a complete reversal of their stance while they were in the opposition.
From P4 billion in 2008 to P10 billion when Arroyo left office, the CCT has since seen its funding increased to P23 billion in 2011 to P36 billion in 2012 and now to P45 billion, a four fold increase in less than three years.
So dramatic has been the increase in CCT funding that two of the administration’s allies in the Senate, Senators Serge Osmeña III and Ralph Recto, have since questioned its efficacy as a “poverty alleviation-cum-social development tool” and, yes, the implementing agency’s, in this case the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), handling of the funds and the program itself.
Said Recto: “The government has yet to prove that the CCT grants were received by the intended beneficiaries. The DSWD has yet to come out with a comprehensive report on the progress of the program beneficiaries. I have not seen a single report on how many kids stayed in school, how many kids whose weights increased, how many mothers have taken pre-natal and post care and where.”
The same concerns, specifically the impact on enrollment, were echoed by Sen. Serge Osmeña III who posited that “there should be a feedback mechanism that allows government to monitor the class attendance of the student beneficiaries.”
Indeed, except for the cheery but unsupported statements of DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman who had claimed earlier that, first, the program has led to more consistency and less absenteeism for the children-beneficiaries who go to school and, second, that the said beneficiaries have become healthier because of better food and the immunization they get from health centers, no written, comprehensive reports have been released on the progress of the program thus far.
Instead, what we have been hearing are horror stories about how Soliman and her cohorts have transformed the CCT into a highly politicized operation skewing standards and targets in favor of known political allies and associates. Which is not surprising considering that in the countries where similar programs have been in place, the CCTs, even in their strictest format such as partly in Brazil and Mexico, have been used to foster pro-incumbent support.
The problem with this is that the politics almost always trump the program’s otherwise innovative features such as making the cash transfers contingent on the so-called MDGs (millennium development goals), i.e., retaining children in school, pre and post natal care for mothers and other medical requirements which are supposed to enable future generations to rise above their poverty. As Senators Recto and Osmeña noted, no conclusive reports of the same happening have ever come out three years after the Aquino administration declared the same as its centerpiece “poverty alleviation and social development program.”
Under the circumstances it is not heretical to insist that DSWD Secretary Soliman and her cohort, Budget Secretary Butch Abad have become masters in “the manipulation of government spending for electoral purposes,” which sadly, has been the rule rather than the exception, in most CCT operations worldwide. Even New York’s version has not been spared from the plague as it were.
Which is why we enjoin Soliman and Abad and all their pro-CCT advocates to seriously consider the latest proposal of the League of Governors through Bataan Gov. Enrique “Tet” Garcia to set aside a portion, say 10 or 15 percent of the total CCT allocation as a special fund for a national feeding program in all our public elementary and high schools, possibly including day care and kindergarten, to be administered jointly by Department of Education and the DSWD.
I have no doubt that this initiative if properly implemented will be a more efficient and definitely more effective way of attaining the MDGs ascribed as the principal considerations for the CCT in the first place.
The impact of a healthy and affordable school feeding program on student attendance cannot be over emphasized. Records show that malnutrition and, worse, lack of food are primary reasons for drop outs specially among the “poorest of the poor” across the board.
Children of school age are actually raring to go to school. Rather than being “child workers” roaming the streets or accompanying their parents to the fields or even their work they prefer going to school if they can help it. They are eager to be with their peers in a setting which affords them training and preparation for work in time.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to such being done is lack of food and malnutrition. The school feeding program can be the answer to that critical need. Additionally, if the kids get primed up with such a plan to go to school and stay there for most of the day that leaves their parents more time to look for work or handle household chores which they may not be able to if the kids remain in the house.
Now, if Soliman and Abad are worried about the “political impact” of this minor shift they should cast those away. What better way to get to the children and their parents than through their stomachs. Having full and healthy meals can bring innumerable benefits to the kids and their parents and ultimately the communities. I am sure Soliman and Abad realize this.
As for their politics, well, there is no better proof of good governance and making a difference than having a focused feeding program benefitting millions of children implemented across the land. The results may even exceed their wildest dreams.
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