Monday, December 6, 2010

P6.5-B ghost surplus

The elections of 2010 brought out one of the most unique transitions in the annals of Philippine local government history. The old regime in Quezon City (QC) turned over its reins to its anointed mayor, vice-mayor, and team of officials. Whereas in the past, the new, incoming local government, especially if from the opposition, usually discovered “ghost projects” stemming from the looting of local government coffers left behind by the past administration, such was not the case in QC — or so it seemed.

That should have been very good news to everyone concerned. Many, in fact, expected him to have a splendid time fulfilling his campaign promises, especially since his predecessor was said to have left a budget surplus of P6.6 billion!

But poor little new mayor of QC: He suddenly realized that he won’t have a chance to be such a spectacular mayor after all. With his city’s coffers actually running empty, how on earth can he deliver on all his campaign promises? How could this have happened when QC is RP’s richest city, with a budget well over P9.5 billion that surpasses even that of Makati? And if there had been that surplus kept intact, where did it go?

Much to his consternation, the new mayor found that he was not going to have that claimed P6.5-billion inherited from his predecessor after all. Worse, he could not even talk about it nor explain to the public why he can’t do anything at all because the previous mayor is his mentor and his vice-mayor is the previous mayor’s daughter. He knows that he’d commit political suicide when he comes out with this in the open.

The significance of this revelation about the ghost QC budget surplus is far greater than the importance of the city itself, which neither has the business significance of Makati nor the political significance of Manila. It lies in the fact that the previous mayor of Quezon City represents a far greater political culture and clout than just local city politics because that previous mayor is now the Speaker of the House; and among the wards he trained and employed in his city administration is now Executive secretary in MalacaƱang.

Lurking in the shadows of this chief factotum of the Chief Executive is a coterie of Rasputins of the former QC mayor, such as the one whom more than a decade ago served the most unpopular Chief Executive then (beaten only by Gloria Arroyo), Fidel Ramos.

This coterie of Rasputins include the draftsman turned public housing developer nurtured by the former mayor when he was head of the premier public pension organization of the country. This housing estate developer dummy figured in the recent urban settlers demolition and relocation project in QC, which was reportedly due to the failure of this housing developer’s relocation site preparations that was 80 percent short of his promised delivery.

But since he’s a relative of the ward of the former mayor who is now Secretary No.1 of you-know-who, there has been no sanction for this failure. The National Housing Authority has been left to hold the bag. But this latest failure of this team of the former QC mayor is no longer new as it has been the greatest sandal of the city in the past 10 years — so much so that despite its almost P10-billion annual budget, Quezon City remains the largest squatter city in the country.

How is it that a grandly ballyhooed P6.6-billion surplus, supposedly accumulated by the previous mayor over nearly a decade of “superb” management, turned out to be a complete hoax and nobody was the wiser all that time?

This speaks of the link between media ownership and politicians in the country, as the mayor in question owns (or used to own) one of the mainstream newspapers and commands serious leverage in the community of journalists and journalism. That newspaper, founded by the former mayor’s late wife, was used to propel the Yellow movement, as well as the former mayor, into power. That newspaper gave this former QC mayor starring role in the Yellow movement that has dominated Philippine politics for two decades and a half and running. The Yellows’ gratitude is such that they named a street and an LRT station after his deceased wife.

This coterie of shadowy figures is now the real powerhouse in the present government. They have their tentacles not only in the House but all the way inside MalacaƱang as well as in Quezon City Hall itself. Moreover, they continue to control the quiet real estate scams that transfer QC properties to private titles.

The former QC mayor, meanwhile, assumes a greater political role today as the “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” i.e. the channel between Gloria Arroyo and Aquino III, as he ensures the smooth continuity of policies between the two, such as the Conditional Cash Transfer and Public-Private Partnership projects (previously known as BOTs), the unbroken protection of the oligarchs in the privatized public utilities, namely, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines, Meralco, Manila Water, Maynilad, Energy Development Corp., AboitizPower, ad nausea.

Will the ghosts of Christmas ever really come to save the Philippines?

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