>> Thursday, August 3, 2017

Letters from the Agno
March L. Fianza

After a year under the administration of Mayor President Duterte, I regret that crooks completely disguised as smooth operators are still in government. Their illicit acts are noticed by an observant public but they are highly positioned just like the power that appointed them that any ordinary citizen who grumbles expects his complaint to fall on deaf ears.
Rushing from a meeting with the Benguet Provincial Project Monitoring and Evaluation Committee just to catch President Duterte’s second SONA (state of the nation address), I expected to hear from him local matters that are important to probinsyanos, considering that the country consists of provinces lumped in one archipelago.
Although he talked about matters that were important as far as his governance was concerned, most of his speech was detached from the reality on the ground. While he warned corrupt officials in between breaks in his speech, he did not follow up on fighting illegal gambling as he had done so in his first SONA.
The President intimated in his first SONA that gambling is a local social disease but it is widespread. While some gambling operations are sanctioned by the government through the Philippine Amusement Gaming Corp or PAGCOR, Duterte’s prepared speech that admittedly he did not write, obviously strayed away from talking about the rules that gambling operators violate.
In Baguio, the operations of electronic bingo that are still considered gambling because this involves money, violates PAGCOR’s distance requirement of not less than 300 meters from churches, schools, public buildings and public markets. E-bingo operated by Highland Bingo Corp. and Bingo Palace Corp. still violates the distance rule if managed at Albergo Hotel, Baguio Center Mall and SM Baguio. Whoever and however this was approved, I call it “raket”.
Another government racket that Duterte did not mention this time is Jueteng that was recently legalized by operating it as STL (small town lottery). There were no big changes in the operations of Jueteng to STL because the workers and bet collectors of both are the same, except that now the workers were provided with uniforms and may no longer move around incognito.
Of course, the police and public officials, including barangay officials benefit from Jueteng cum STL because of its legitimized status, so that expectedly, Digong may not get rid of the incumbent corrupt politicians anymore since they keep winning the elections because they are backed by funds coming from gambling operations. In Baguio, illegal bingo operators do not see eye to eye especially in Kayang in a barangay beside the main police station because one Nardo Isuzu was stopped by the police from operating but a certain Toyoyta got the blessings of the authorities.
The government racket I wanted to hear from Duterte was about the graft charges against former DOTC secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and six other officials of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) for the scandal-tainted purchase of P3.8 billion worth of motor vehicle license plates during Noynoy Aquino’s term.
At least, that was how congressmen criticized the license plates project, calling it an unnecessary “racket” within the LTO where every new administration changed license plates to the disadvantage of the motoring public.
In 2013, the Land Transportation Office registered 7,690,038 motor vehicles nationwide. Out of that number; 3,439,371 were cars, utility vehicles, sports utility vehicles (SUVs), trucks, buses and trailers. Registered at the cost of P450.00 for each motor vehicle, the total amount reached P1,547,716,950. For 4,250,667 motorcycles or tricycles registered at P120.00 each, the total amount of registration reached P510,080,040.00.  
The Commission on Audit found out about the anomalies in the middle of 2015 and stopped the implementation of the project. But up to now under Duterte’s administration, nobody is saying who pocketed the P2 billion to P2.8 billion collected by the LTO for license plate fees paid by motor vehicle owners before COA stopped the contract. That to me was the biggest racket ever that needed serious investigation. People should be jailed, at least.
I also expected to hear Duterte talk about firing erring government line agency directors. He warned them once before in his visit to the inauguration of the PTV8 building in Baguio. We do have line agency directors in the Cordillera who are ignorant of their mandate. They should be sacked since they have become the problem in the region.
But I got a little pleasure from the President when he talked about stopping the issuances of Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) that delayed the full implementation of major development projects. Gesturing at Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes A. Sereno who was seated in front and appearing amused during the SONA, the President mentioned that a TRO issued by the SC two years ago resulted to the wastage of medicines worth P350 million and impaired the government’s implementation of responsible family planning methods of the RH Law.
Shifting his talk about the environment, Duterte said that mining companies have the right to mine, but in doing so, they destroy the rivers where the poor people fish. They have profited from mining, getting as much as P70 billion a year, but have neglected the responsibility to preserve the environment.

With that, the President said he is holding all mining companies and officials responsible for the “full and quick cleanup, restoration and rehabilitation of all areas damaged by mining activities”. He ended his lecture to mining company officials with the line “either spend to restore the virginity of the resource or I will tax you to death.”


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