LP SENATE BETS, MAR ROXAS, KRIS AQUINO TOUR CALAMITY AREAS
Allegations that President Aquino is using the recent disaster from the massive flooding in Metro Manila and its suburbs caused by days of monsoon rains to prematurely campaign for the administration’s senatorial candidates for next year snowballed yesterday with progressive groups expressing disgust over what they branded as distasteful politicking.
Official Malacanang photographs show Aquino on board a military truck with Akbayan spokesman Risa Hontiveros, Aurora Rep. Sonny Angara, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority Director Joel Villanueva, and Bureau of Customs Chief Ruffy Biazon while going around flood-stricken areas in Metro Manila last August 8. All four have been announced as the Liberal Party’s senatorial bets for next year.
Also with them was Aquino’s celebrity sister Kris Aquino who is also being reported to be interested in seeking the post as governor in Tarlac, the home province of the Aquinos, and Transportation and Communications Secretary and Liberal Party (LP) president Manuel Roxas II, who is also reportedly gunning for the presidency in 2016.
“President Aquino is obviously turning relief operations into campaign sorties for his senatoriables.
People can easily see through this shameless use of government funds and exploitation of people’s miseries aimed at getting these people elected,” said Elmer Labog, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) chairman.
“These cheap gimmicks won’t boost these senatoriables’ chances of winning in the elections. Judging from reactions online, these are already backfiring on the president and his candidates,” he added.
One of such photos went viral on Facebook with 864 shares as of press time.
Last Thursday, a priest appealed to politicians and non-government organizations (NGO) affiliated with Aquino and his civil society groups to avoid publicity mileage and from ‘showing off’ when offering help to calamity victims.
Fr. Ransom Rapirap, OCD said public officials should help victims of calamities with the genuine desire to serve and not for photo opportunities.
That appeal sent off a wave of condemnation and criticisms on the supposed disaster relief sorties of Aquino.
Rapirap, a Carmelite priest from the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Shrine in New Manila, Quezon City said politicians must not use the victims of calamity to gather media mileage in view of next year’s election or just for documentation.
Rapirap emphasized that people should avoid this kind of practice because it is improper.
He shared an experience they had once when some foundations and politicians took the opportunity to document the ‘services’ they had done. He said they don’t want it to happen again in their parish.
“People need help and genuine solidarity during disasters, not pretty faces that look oh so eager to get their votes. The people won’t be duped by politicians who make so much noise condemning traditional politics but nonetheless practice this kind of politics,” Labog said.
“These senatoriables may even suffer from being associated with the president, whose performance amidst the disaster is deplorable. It’s more likely that the president’s approval ratings will continue to drop,” Labog said.
“President Aquino allowed oil companies to increase prices and power companies to announce a rate hike, provided an opening for call center companies to force employees to work amidst the intense rains, and blamed the poor for our misery,” he added.
In a separate statement, Anakbayan also condemned the sorties as “political gimmickry.”
“We understand if they want to win the 2013 elections. But please, not at the expense of our fellow Filipinos still reeling from the effects of the floods” said Vencer Crisostomo, national chairman of Anakbayan.
This week, TV stations aired advertisements featuring two of the four (Villanueva, Hontiveros) along with another LP senate bet, Quezon Rep. Erin Tanada.
“Out of delicadeza, they shouldn’t even argue that it’s not ‘politiciking’. It is so obvious. Best thing that they can do is keep their peace and go about their individual relief efforts without fanfare, like the thousands of volunteers participating in various relief operations across the country” said the youth leader
Aurora Rep. Sonny Angara issued a statement saying his joining Aquino in the disaster sorties was not early campaigning.
“We didn’t think of that as early campaigning. We were asked to help and we didn’t think twice. Between helping and staying, I chose to help. Most would have done the same,” Angara’s statement read.
Angara was with Aquino when the President’s helicopter made an emergency landing at a portion of Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway last Friday morning due to bad weather.
“We understand if they want to win the 2013 elections. But please, not at the expense of our fellow Filipinos still reeling from the effects of the floods” said Vencer Crisostomo, national chairperson of Anakbayan.
Also under fire was a Palace proposal for the creation of a P17.5 billion to P25 billion funds supposedly for flood control that would be taken from next year’s budget, when incidentally national elections are to be held.
Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, also an LP senatorial candidate, even said that the “budget space” will allow the fund to be raised to P25 billion, although Malacanang is only seeking a P5.2 billion increase that will bring next year’s flood control budget to P17.5 billion.
“I think we can source another P7.5 billion for flood control without cutting any agency’s allocation or disassembling the proposed P2.0006 trillion 2013 national budget. Only a minor tweaking will be needed,“ he said.
Tañada said the P7.5 billion in additional funds can be sourced from the Unprogrammed Fund , the traditional source of presidential stand-by spending authority, which has been allocated P117.6 billion for 2013.
Another possible source is the P22.4 billion Priority Social and Economic Projects Fund (PSEPF), a new feature of the budget which Tañada described “as some sort of a ‘holding area’ for funds for projects details of which have yet to be fleshed out by agencies.”
“P200 million has been earmarked for flood control in the PSEPF but this can still be increased to accommodate shovel-ready flood control projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority,” Tañada said.
The MMDA, Tañada added, “particularly needs augmentation because its proposed P300 million budget for flood control for 2013 is actually lower than this year’ budget of P322 million.”
Tañada said the passage of the sin tax law, with the P30 billion in fresh revenues it will bring, “ will make any drawdowns from the unprogrammed fund possible.”
He said under the General Appropriations Act, the fund can only be tapped if revenue targets are exceeded or when a new tax measure comes into stream.
“This can be a one-time provision , good for one or a couple of fiscal years. After which, whatever funds given to flood control from liquor and tobacco taxes will go back to universal health care. In short, we’re just building a diversionary canal that will channel part of the stream from sin taxes to flood control,“ he said.
Based on the President’s budget for 2013 which he had sent to Congress, the DPWH is given P12.1 billion for “flood control and drainage projects, “ P3.5 billion in “foreign-assisted flood control projects”, P425 million for flood control right-of-way (ROW), P200 million for “rain collectors, “ P300 million for “other flood control projects,” among other flood mitigation activities.
Big-ticket items in the DPWH flood control fund are two packages of the Japan government assisted “Pasig-Marikina River Channel Improvement Project” with a 2013 combined budget of P2.33 billion.
Another foreign–assisted project is one that will be implemented in former President Arroyo’s bailiwick, the “Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation Measures in Low- Lying Areas of Pampanga Bay”, which has a budget of P122 million next year.
Apart from the DPWH, other agencies getting flood control funds next year are the Pasig River Rehabilitation Council (P317 million), the Department of Agrarian Reform (P10 million), the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (P4 million).