Juan L. Mercado

Yes, you — Sir

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“Who, me?” asked Sen. Jinggoy Estrada. He denied raking in from the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam. At the blue ribbon hearing, whistle-blower Benhur Luy said he visited the senator’s office in 2011 and 2012. “Sexy” had slimmed down, he added.


Sure, I lost weight, Estrada said. “But I don’t know Benhur Luy.” The whistle-blower claimed lawmakers creamed 50 percent in kickbacks from their Priority Development Assistance Fund. Detained Janet Lim-Napoles bagged 40 percent, and implementing agencies, the crumbs.

“Mamatay man (Let me die if I’m telling a lie),” Estrada, told the Inquirer. Wait. No need to lay down one’s life for one’s pork. Was he ever called “Jingle Bells”?

The Dec. 14, 2000, hearing of the impeachment case against President Joseph Estrada heard Maria Carmencita Itchon testify that she checked jueteng collections. The P6-million batches came from Jinggoy Estrada or “Jingle Bells.” These were handed to Erap’s accountant-auditor: Yolanda Ricaforte—who has since fled the country.

So did Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile’s former chief of staff Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Gonzales-Reyes. Whistle-blower No. 11 testified that he drove a Napoles courier and saw him plunk bundles of cash in front of “Attorney Gigi” between 2009 and 2011. “There was no one else in the living room… I stood at the door and from there I could see,” No. 11 said.

Reyes stopped answering her phone. Then, she scrammed on a Cebu Pacific flight (5J 362) for Macau. She had no return ticket. The chiefs of staff of some senators suddenly took leave, too.

“Large numbers here start dying after they are born,” says the report “Winning the Numbers, Losing the War.” Scrawny Filipino kids compare to underweight children, under 5 years of age, in Sub-Saharan Africa. About 3.4 million families today periodically must skip a meal. Only four out of every 10 Filipino households get “the recommended energy intake per person,” the last national nutrition survey reports.

“The story of man runs in a dreary circle, because he is not yet master of the earth that holds him,” Will Durant once said. What will it take to break out of this dreary treadmill?

A total of 14.6 million jobs must be created over the next four years to accelerate “inclusive growth that whittles down crippling penury,” says World Bank Development Report 2013. “And there is no effortless way to do that…. The issue is linked to deep-seated, structural problems.” Only a comprehensive reform agenda, implemented across sectors, can achieve that in the teeth of “institutions that concentrate power in the hands of a very few.”

It is true that the Philippine economic growth crested with the current GDP as the second highest in Asia. “That looks great on paper,” writes Jillian Keenan in The Atlantic. “But the slums of Manila and Cebu are as bleak as they always were. The economic boom appears to have only benefited a tiny minority of elite families…”

Income inequality in the Philippines persists. In 2012, Forbes Asia reported that the collective wealth of the 40 richest Filipino families surged from $13 billion during the 2010-2011 period to $47.4 billion. That’s a breathtaking increase of 38 percent.

The increased wealth of those families was “the highest in Asia,” Inquirer columnist and economist Cielito Habito notes. It was equivalent in value to a staggering 76.5 percent of the country’s overall increase in GDP at the time.

Construction cranes top Manila skyscrapers and the emerging beach town of “El Nido” unveils plans for its newest five-star resort. (But) tens of millions of Filipinos continue to live in poverty. And little is being done to destabilize the Philippines’ oligarchical dominance of the elite, notes Louie Montemar, a political science professor at De La Salle University, Keenan says.

“There’s some sense to the argument that we’ve never had a real democracy because only a few have controlled economic power,” Montemar told Agence France-Presse. “The country dances to the tune of the tiny elite.”

Nonetheless, there are strong macroeconomic fundamentals, political stability and a popular government, World Bank says. “The foundation needed for the Philippines to achieve more inclusive growth is in place.”

World Bank also pointed out that the country has to get on “an irreversible path toward inclusive growth”; that it is crucial to have a broad reform coalition; and that government, business and labor, with the support of civil society, need to try to agree on a package of reforms.

Without that, “reforms made under a strong president can be reversed, as the country’s history had shown.” Piecemeal reforms also self-destruct. Experience shows they only trigger powerful opposition from vested interests.

Development Report 2013 recommends that the reform coalition agree on the following responsibilities: Government needs to craft policies that can broaden the reform coalition and thereby give rise to “reform beneficiaries.” These officials will then have a vested interest in continuing the policy.

Businesses of all sizes need to embrace the principle of a level playing field. They must extend “their corporate social responsibility to their own employees.”

And labor groups need to look after the welfare of all workers. This is most critical especially among informal sector workers and agriculture workers.

Civil society can perform its role as an active agent of change and serve as a watchdog over governance and adherence to coalition principles and objectives.

“Jingle Bells,” “Pogi,” “Tanda” and company will dig in their heels at reforms that would include plunder charges. But if implemented, our grandchildren need not “drink the tears of orphans or play deaf to the sighs of widows.”


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